About the Author, Leah LaRocco: “Hi there, I’m a Long Islander who lives in Franklin, Tennessee. My first love was the ocean, but growing up camping and hiking around Vermont also contributed to a deep appreciation for the mountains. Public lands are some of my favorite places to hike and Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a regular weekend getaway. I work full time, but believe dreams and passions can and should be pursued outside of the everyday 9-5. As a naturalist, I hope to convey how incredibly healing the woods, water, and wildlife can be when we make the choice to step outside.” Find her via her Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Website.
Click on Leah’s name above to read more about her adventures!
Day 14: Mt. Greylock to Seth Warner Shelter, 13.5 miles
September 16. Today was harder than I thought it would be and took way longer than I thought it would, but I’m in Vermont!
Starting off the day with 6.5 miles of downhill kind of wrecked my knee. Usually if I start off with an incline I do a little better. I met a couple on the way down who have been section hiking the AT for 14 years. They’re from Maine and are making their way home.
Once the never ending downhill got me into North Adams, I crossed over a bridge, did some more road walking and headed back up into the woods without realizing how exhausting it would be. The trail felt like it just went straight straight straight up up up without stopping. Then I reached a “rock garden” that was nothing more than a huge field of boulders that had to be climbed. At this point I was feeling pretty tired and the air was really still.
Plodding on, closer to VT, I ran into a man named Lazy Boy because he carries a camp chair. He was so excited because he’d just completed the Long Trail southbound. He said he’s 62 and wasn’t sure if he could do it, but it did and felt so good about it. We talked for a while about the northern part of the trail. It’s amazing to watch people out here achieving even more than they thought they could. When we said our goodbyes, I turned to leave and felt like someone had stabbed a knife into the side of my knee. It must have just locked up on me so I had to work it out a bit.
This is so discouraging. I have two pills left in the pack, but the anti inflammatory effects are wearing off already. I have two more packs of pills and it doesn’t look like I’ll be able to spread them out like I’d hoped. Part of me sees this whole thing ending sooner than I want it to and it makes me so sad.
When I stumbled and limped my way up to the Long Trail sign, I got so emotional. I’ve seen pictures of this sign for years and here I am, finally standing in front of it, feeling like I can barely walk. I sat there for a while with the sign and just tried to enjoy the moment of being there and actually walking across the border into another state.
The rest of the way to the shelter was me just gritting my teeth and getting there. There is a young guy here who is on his first thru hike of the long trail. He is very quiet and I feel stupid trying to keep a conversation going. I asked him what direction the privy was in and he said he didn’t know what that was, so I told him and headed off to find it. I set up my tent and am having my own space tonight.
The bear box here is an old tool box that doesn’t close. Now I wish I hadn’t sent my ursack home. I found a tree to do a hang and managed to get it over the branch on the first throw which is a small miracle.
I’m exhausted. Meeting friends tomorrow will be amazing. I’m already worried about how long it will take me to get to them with the knee. Hopefully sleep will be healing.
Day 15: Seth Warner Shelter to Woodford Hollow (Bennington, VT)
September 17. Every time I have a rough day, the following one seems to shine a little brighter. This morning I packed up earlier than usual because I wanted to get to Bennington as quickly as possible since friends would be picking me up.
As soon as I got on the trail and headed up the first mountain, I began seeing these perfectly ripened blackberries that were late in the season. A deliciously sweet treat after a breakfast of rice and goat cheese on a tortilla. There were a lot still on the bushes and I swear I ate every one I could find.
The trail did its usual rooty, rocky thing and I was in the zone when I came to the first beaver pond. These placid spots are so gorgeous and every time I’ve seen a pond, I’ve stopped and looked for a beaver. As I was rounding a bend in the trail and had just pressed record on my phone, a beaver glided into the frame. It was all I could do not to shout out loud and scare the little thing off, I was so excited! The trail skirts along the edge of the pond so I was able to stay really close and watch this sleek animal glide back and forth and flip in the water while doing the morning’s round of inspections. What a peaceful, graceful dance. The morning sun was sparkling off the water like diamonds and every time the beaver swam into the light, it was like a fairy tale.
Moments like this in life are few and far between. I find myself reconnecting with wonder, reveling in all the beauty that is bestowed so freely on the trail. I could have watched him all morning, but quietly bid my beaver friend farewell and headed on.
I ended up passing several hikers this morning. Mulligan hiked the entire AT a couple of years ago and is back doing some sections. Satellite is an attorney from Knoxville who is doing the same exact section as I am, except in opposite directions. We took a selfie together and parted ways. Two others followed, one who was quite ready for his Long Trail hike to be ending.
After passing them, I came to another beaver pond and looked up to see two huge moose grazing on the other side of the pond. I seriously couldn’t believe my eyes!!! Mulligan had just been saying that he’s never seen a moose and was planning to take a trip to find one. I felt bad that he had just walked past these so recently. The pair stayed for a while until the female decided to exit the pond. This was a rather clumsy endeavor because of her size and the boggy marsh she had to climb through. I watched them until they disappeared into the woods, totally blown away.
Now, the week before I left for the trail, I was In the Tetons with friends and we had moose walking through our campground, which was totally incredible. However, when I was a kid we looked for moose in VT for years and never saw one. Plus, to hear of people taking trips up here to see them made this feel like an extra special find.
Feeling buoyed by the blessing of nature, I went as fast as I could, dodging mud and rock hopping, until I started the climb down into Woodford Hollow. Harmon Hill was a gorgeous vantage point where the town of Bennington lay spread below. Rob and I stood atop the monument a few years ago, so seeing it from that spot made the memories come back. The climb down today was rough, holy cow. Huge boulders to step on with a steep drop the entire way. I am seriously not looking forward to climbing up the other side.
When I got to the bottom a southbound thru hiker was waiting for a hitch. We started talking and I was asking for tips up north. He said he’d basically zoned out since Killington and didn’t remember much. All I could think was how sad this was. What’s the point of being out here if the miles eat away at the experience and don’t leave you with memories you can hold onto? I am desperately journaling everyday because I don’t want any of this to fade.
My friends who have known me since I was 4 years old came and picked me up and we headed for lunch in town. John and Laurie are family. They are some of the most fiercely warm and loving people I know, and I just felt so taken care of by them. I had been expecting a box at their house that contained more medicine for my knee pain, along with some other pills and items I needed. For some reason, the post office returned the box to sender and I have no idea when I’m going to see it again. The prospect of not having the medicine makes me a bit nervous, so I’m staying one more day to sort this out and hopefully get in touch with my doctor.
Sometimes even a ton of planning can go awry, and that’s ok. I’ll figure it out. It’s part of what everyone out here learns to do.
Day 16: Zero in Shaftsbury, VT
September 18. Due to my resupply box not arriving in Vermont (thank you, rural mail) I stayed an extra day with friends so I could sort out getting prescriptions from my doctor. Thankfully, he called in more anti inflammatory medicine for the knee, but when we went to pick it up at the pharmacy, they had to place a special order for it because they didn’t have any available. So, tomorrow morning I’m hoping they’ll be able to get it in quickly so I can head back out on the trail and make my way to Manchester.
I’m also having charging issues with my battery pack, so I ordered another one to be shipped to my parents’ house because they’re coming to VT this weekend to meet up with me on the trail. Keeping my phone charged is top priority because my Long Trail map and end to end guide were also in the box, so I’ll be relying heavily on Guthook.
All of this stuff was able to be solved and I’m heading out tomorrow with everything I need. I’m so thankful I was with friends in a place that felt like home. I can only imagine how much can happen over a thru hike that could really throw someone for a loop.
One thing I need to figure out after my parents leave is food. You can’t just buy 3 snack cakes, or 4 tortillas, or half a package of rice. So far I’ve been able to buy these things and split them up between towns thanks to knowing people in MA and VT, so further up north I might end up throwing away the extra tortillas because those things are heavy. It’s crazy, shopping for food for the next several days and passing on something because it weighs half a pound.
Mac and cheese at night has been a good warm meal. I’m not feeling the rice sides or the ramen right now. Freeze dried fruit is the best crunchy snack, and Skittles toward the end of the day really help me get through those last miles. Cashews are a great in between snack too. In towns I’ve been able to eat real fruit and salad which has been so wonderful after being limited to what comes out of a bag. Being in VT, the cheese game is strong, so I’m taking advantage of that! The next few days, lunch will be cappicollo on a tortilla with hummus, goat cheese, and freeze dried apples. The individual wrapped coffee cakes have also been a great little breakfast because I kind of hate eating in the morning and they’re all I can stand right now. Hikers eat some weird stuff.
Tonight, Laurie and I went for a drive and stopped at Stewart’s for raspberry fudge torte ice cream in a cone. As soon as I tasted it, all the familiarity of Arlington came back. Rides down River Road, the campground…this place will always be a part of me. Vermont is in my soul. Norman Rockwell’s old place is up for sale. The inn looks weathered and is all angles as it settles into its history. The gorgeous covered bridge down the lane still spans the Battenkill. I hope someone who adores the spot takes gentle care of it, spiffs it up a bit, but not too much. The beauty of New England and eastern Long Island, and all these places that feel like home, is that they don’t change too much. The old business are still around, or have been lovingly revitalized. The farm fields still supply the local stands with seasonal produce. The flavor of the area is still sweet, still takes you back, like an ice cream cone enjoyed as an adult from the same place you went as a kid.
Day 17: Bennington, VT to Kid Gore Shelter, 14 miles
September 19. Today was a great day. The CVS in Bennington was able to put the medicine I needed together and even laminated the instructions for me because they knew I’d be on the trail. The one checking me out said she and her husband did the Long Trail years ago and were stranded at a shelter for 2 days at the end of September when a snow storm rolled through. EEK!
Saying goodbye to John and Laurie wasn’t easy because it was so wonderful to be with them and catch up on years missed. Their place was an oasis when I was dealing with the mail mishap. I have been blessed with the most gracious trail angels during this hike.
The climb out of Woodford Hollow wasn’t as extreme as the climb down into it. A couple of miles up I was sitting on a rock and a hiker named Matt came by. He sat down and let me ask him a bunch of questions about the Long Trail because he finished it last year. We ended up passing each other all day long and chatting along the way. Talking with him felt like having a conversation with an old friend.
The woods here are filled with beech trees, more than I’ve ever seen. Also balsam firs on the mountaintops that remind me I need to start Christmas shopping. The aroma is intoxicating.
I also ran into Forever Young, Big Blue, and their dog Denali. We’d met at Bascom Lodge on Greylock and it was great to connect again and catch up on the last day.
When I got to the Goddard Shelter at 3:30, I decided I had it in me to go another 4 miles to Kid Gore, so I headed up Glastonbury Mtn to the firetower and enjoyed the spectacular view from up there. To the south stood Greylock, towering above the smaller peaks around it. To the north stood a whole lot of larger, more imposing mountains that will surely be the toughest hiking I’ve done up to this point in my life. I’ve been on the trail all year and this portion of the AT is still giving me a decent ass kicking each day.
The rest of the way to the shelter was downhill and I got to a point where I was slipping a bunch and feeling stumbly. A sure sign of fatigue and being finished mentally for the day.
When I got to the shelter, there were 4 other hikers in the lower bunks and the two top ones were free for Matt and I. Perfect! Two ladies are hiking north on the AT and have finished every section from Springer up until this point. There’s a couple who’s going north on the LT, so I’m encouraged to see more NOBOs!!
Tomorrow all of us are planning to be at Stratton so this will be the first group I’ll actually see two days in a row and that makes so happy.
Can we talk about what an ordeal it is to get out of bed and pee at 2 am? This happens to everyone because we all go to sleep after the sun sets. It takes half the night to build up a sufficient amount of warmth in your sleeping bag to the point where you feel snug and comfy and never want to move, short of having to deal with a bear trying to steal your food. Then you have to unzip your loud as heck sleeping bag zipper, thereby waking everyone within a 10 minute vicinity. Once this embarrassing inconvenience occurs, you have to put shoes on, find your headlamp and pstyle, then hightail it out of there quietly without falling and breaking an ankle. No one in their right mind makes it all the way down the side trail to the privy, so then you have to determine a good distance that is acceptable enough so you’re not heard. But oh look, the moon is shining and you never get to see the stars like this at home. Maybe you’ll just sit a spell and enjoy it. So you sit, and at once feel the cold seeping into your bones. Time to go in and wake everyone up again as you clumsily try to get up onto the bunk you almost died getting out of. Then there’s the dreaded zipper noise that wakes everyone up a second time. Now you have to rebuild the warmth you lost and hope your kidneys behave themselves for another 4-5 hours. The stress of this event can not be underestimated.