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 26: Skyline Lodge to Battell Shelter, 15 miles

September 28. The sunrise was worth waking up for. Best one I’ve seen out here, rising straight over the beaver pond, making everything rosy and lavender. Having an enclosed cabin to sleep in had been wonderful and cozy, even if my shoes were still wet this morning.

I had service and when I checked the weather it looked like rain in the afternoon. So with that in mind, I decided to make as many of the peaks today as I could before the rain started. The wind was gusting wildly again and clouds were racing across the sky. Good, let them race straight away from here.

I can’t get over the mud, the Vermud. It’s not as though everyone isn’t warned about this, but until you experience it, you think, what’s a little mud? No, like the whole trail is mud. Except for the parts that are slippery rock or an actual stream with a current that just happens to be flowing in the direction you’re walking. Does it ever dry out?

Today I went over several peaks, Breadloaf, Mt. Wilson, Mt. Roosevelt, Mt. Grant, and several ledges with spectacular views. When I made it to Mt. Roosevelt the view was spectacular!!! The fall colors look like an artist’s palette. I love autumn so much that I’ve started traveling so I can enjoy fall for a couple of months. When I get back, fall will be starting in the mountains in TN and NC, so I’ll have to try and make it out that way.

There was another hiker named Bandana up on the overlook, so we chatted for awhile. He’s done a lot of hiking and was telling me to take my time up north and not push too hard. I guess he knew several folks who had to get off the trail due to injury. This has to happen all the time. There are hazards everywhere. The top of my left foot is starting to hurt with a twinge-y sort of pain, so I need to keep an eye on that. It has me thinking all kinds of horrible thoughts, like what if I pulled something, tore something, broke something? I fell once today as I was sliding down a rock. There were several times I had to just throw my poles down and grab onto trees in order to get to the next step. I’m in awe of the folks in their 60s who I passed heading south. They already tackled all this!!

I did something I rarely ever do and cooked lunch at the Cooley Glen Shelter, which was midway for me. I usually have an extra packet of ramen just in case, and it gave me the boost of energy I needed to keep going this afternoon. Thankfully my energy level was better than yesterday and I never actually hit a wall today. There were moose tracks all along the trail again and I was on high alert.

With the rain in mind, I kept plugging along. I agent been listening to much music lately and today I put an earbud in which really helped me keep a good pace. When I got to the ledges before Lincoln Gap, I started seeing a lot of day hikers. The three who were up there with me had no idea they were on part of the Long Trail and they asked lots of questions and were pretty fun to talk to.

Climbing up Mt. Abraham has been really gorgeous so far. More moss to fall in love with. I can’t get over the green. Isn’t moss one of the most lovely things? Sometimes I have to stop and feel it because it looks so pillowy and soft. One thing that I kept thinking about today was how physically close I am to nature on this type of endeavor. I know I’ve mentioned feeling like a part of the mountains when moving through them like this, but there’s an even deeper level there. The trees are touching my skin as I brush past them. The rain, the mud, the breeze, all of these things are coming into contact with my body. I am drinking the water flowing from the springs, eating the berries, taking part of the landscape in, relying on it for survival. As I was holding onto trees for support today the contact with them made me wonder who else has held onto them for safe passage? Whose feet have also slipped their way up these rocks? Whose skin have these balsam firs grazed before mine?

I made it to the shelter before the rain and sat with Trash Panda and Littlefoot. Trash Panda finished the AT about a month ago and we were talking about how hard it’s been to be back in the real world since then. She said all she wants to do is talk about the trail all the time, and I just understood her heart in that moment. Something so special happens out here, moves you deep within your soul. All the daily walking and processing of emotions that happens out here, you just want it to continue when you get home. It’s a lonely place when few understand what you’ve gone through, how much of you it took. She gave me some hit chocolate and carried my trash out with her. I will forever be grateful.

A group of college students from the University of Vermont on a club outing are in the shelter with me tonight. All super nice, and I’m kind of jealous they’re all doing this in college. How awesome.

Tomorrow I hit two more 4K peaks!!!

Day 27: Battell Shelter to Appalachian Gap, Waitsfield, VT, 9.5 miles

September 29. Good Lord it was cold this morning. I stayed in my sleeping bag an extra long time because the students slept in and I knew I had a shorter mileage day. I’m pretty sure it was in the 30s when I woke up and it took my fingers a good 40 minutes to stop feeling numb after putting my wet socks back on my warm feet and into my wet, cold as ice shoes.

The summit of Mt. Abraham was 1 mile up from the shelter and it felt good to start off the day with a climb. I was in a cloud the entire time and was hoping I’d come out of it at the top, but I was socked in when I reached the summit. Mist was blowing everywhere and the tops of the firs looked so ethereal. I didn’t stop for long because every moment spent not moving allows a chill to set in. The trail was as muddy as ever and I rock hopped all day long as much as I could to avoid the shock of icy water on my feet.

As I continued along the ridge, patches of blue sky began to appear overhead. When I exited the trees at Mt. Lincoln, my breath caught in my throat at the scene before me. I stood there on the ridge looking down at my first view of Sugarbush Ski Resort. Alone on top of the world. Moments like this are exhilarating in every way. The pain, the effort, the mud, the cold…it all fades into memory as emotion overtakes the “inconveniences” of getting to this spot. Mountain ranges lay before me as clouds continued to lay heavy on the peaks I had yet to climb. I wanted to share the moment with Rob so I FaceTimed him and showed him the view. There are so many moments I wish I could share with him, but his support from home has meant everything to me. Being out here solo, I’ve learned to embrace the joy of certain things being just for me. It sounds a bit nuts, but sometimes the light beams break through the trees for a second and then they disappear, or a bird alights on a branch close by before flitting away. These are moments I have to hold in my heart as fleeting delights.

The next several peaks provided sweeping panoramas of the mountains surround Sugarbush, but the crowning jewel was Mt. Ellen, the second 4K of the day. What an awesome spot stop the ski lift. I met two sobo thru hikers named Entourage and Boogie Man, and we started sharing information about the sections we’d each just done, which shelters had the best sunrise, which towns had the best places to stay, etc. While we were talking, some older guy comes up the trail with his dog, talking at the top of his lungs, sauntering up like he was about to bestow his great knowledge on us. We all looked at each other kind of awkwardly. He asked all kinds of questions, where are you going? Where did you come from? Then proceeded to ask me where I was staying (I told home I was just going to town) and told me I should just skip 2 miles of the trail and take the lift down at Mad River Glen to avoid App Gap. I told him I wasn’t interested in doing that. He kept pestering me and I finally copped a “leave me alone, dude” attitude as the other guys were packing up and we said our goodbyes. Then this man proceeded to talk to Siri on his phone at the top of this spectacular mountain like he was negotiating a hardcore business deal in an airport. I couldn’t take it. I headed down from the lift area to go to another vantage point and take a picture, and he yelled over, “Do you need to know where the LT north is?” NO!!!! And kept walking.

As I headed down the LT, Lake Champlain’s shining waters could be seen for miles and miles. The views through the trees were mind blowing and there would be various points where you could look out and just meditate on the vastness of the distant ranges. Mt. Ellen also provided my first clear views of Camels Hump and Mt. Mansfield. Eek!!!

When I came to the Mad River Glen ski area, it was sensory overload. People all over the place, not a single backpacker in sight, and the lift was running. I walked over the to the ramp so I could cross to the other side where the trail was and the guys standing there weren’t going to let me through, but they stopped the lift so I could pass. For the first time, I felt stared at like I shouldn’t be there and I hated the feeling. Getting back into the woods away from the crowd made me feel safe and relieved. It’s a shock to the system when the only thing you hear for days on end is the sound of the wind, birds, trees, your own breath and footsteps, then you find yourself in a crowd of people.

The hike down to Appalachian Gap was every bit as challenging as everyone says it is. There were rebar ladders in the rock, along with unattached wood ladders that negotiated the steepest areas. I slid down on my butt, threw my poles down before me or dragged them beside me, all while being as careful as I could not to slip wrong. The last mile down took me an hour. The hike through that section was gorgeous with great boulders and moss covered cliffs.

When I reached the parking lot, I called the Swanson Inn of Vermont where I’d arranged to stay the night. Little did I know how much of a blessing this place would be. Tim and Rick own the inn, which they purchased a year ago, after they decided to change their lives following their own Long Trail hike 3 years prior. They are the rare breed who understands what hikers are going through on this journey. Lucky for me, Sunday is pie day!! They have a menu full of pies, which they serve with tea in gorgeous teacups and teapots. I’ve officially died and gone to heaven!

They sat me down with two amazing ladies, Maria and Patty, who worked together 20 years ago in Denver. Maria just so happens to have grown up in Centereach, Long Island so we hit it off right away. She told me a story about how when she was a little girl, that part of the island was still full of woods and horse farms. My mom has told me the same thing. Apparently she had this tree fort, and one day noticed that there was smoke in the distance in the woods so she went to investigate. Turns out there were trucks knocking down trees that were headed straight for her tree fort. So for days she would go out at night and in the morning, removing all the markers these workmen had placed in the woods. Well, those markers were placed there as a guide for this new road that was being built, the Long Island Expressway. To this day, there is a bend in the road in that section and she swears it’s because she messed with the markers. I died laughing, as in spit my tea out laughing. What a story!!!!

We talked about traveling and living in Vermont. Best way to spend an afternoon! Afterward, Tim took me to the store so I could resupply before dinner. When we came back I found the other LT hiker staying at the inn. Her name is JZ and she is hiking sobo solo!!! I liked her immediately and we started talking trail details while drinking beer and getting to know each other. She’s a data analyst who also works remotely and got a leave of absence to hike. Dinner was wonderful! Tim and Rick make a meal for the hikers who stay with them, and they ate with us and told us all about their own LT hike, including lots of helpful info for up north. They are seriously amazing and I just wanted to hug them over and over again. Tim is working out his schedule so he can meet me in Waterbury in 2 days and take me to the next place I’m staying. JZ and I shared a big hug before wishing each other well on the rest of the journey.

The dilemma I was having is that the day I’m supposed to hit Camels Hump, one of the hardest climbs on the trail, rain is forecasted. But, I’ve decided to head out tomorrow and get over Burnt Rock, another hellish climb that takes an hour per mile, and get to the shelter below Camels Hump. This way I can get it out of the way as early as possible on Tuesday and beat the afternoon storms. I day hiked the hump a few years ago so if I don’t have a view, it’s ok. I just need to get over it safely. Rain is forecasted for 3 days following that. My poor, shriveled feet! Here on out starts low mileage days that will be the most challenging I’ve ever hiked.

My left foot is still bothering me. I Googled my symptoms, which I know one should never do and it sounds like I could have some tendinitis happening. This is not good. I don’t know how much worse it could get and I’m hoping the meds I’m taking for my knee will also help with this. Today I was able to step carefully and avoid some of the pain, but I’ll basically be re-injuring the foot everyday over and over again. Praying this doesn’t sideline me…

Day 28: Appalachian Gap to Montclair Glen Lodge, 10.1 miles

September 30. Rick dropped me off at the trail after a lovely breakfast of pancakes with the other guests at the Swanson Inn. The climb out of App Gap wasn’t as bad as the climb into it and the time went by pretty quickly before I came to the first shelter where I checked the place out because it had some history.

Today was such a blast! It was basically the live action version of Chutes and Ladders, replete with rock sliding, rope grabbing, and actual ladders! Burnt Rock was a stunning, incredible vista, one of my favorites on the trail so far. The blazes are painted all the way up this sheer rock that goes along a ledge looking out across the most autumnal of scenes. I didn’t want to leave. All the reds!! There is maple syrup up in these hills. Anyone with a fear of heights might have lost their mind here because the drop off was formidable, but I couldn’t get enough of the view. I kept stopping and looking back, saying, “Just magical!”

As I was looking out over something too vast for my mind to grasp, I thought about spirituality and magic. Growing up in the church I was taught certain kinds of magic were wrong. Witchcraft was evil, but Narnia was cool because CS Lewis was a Christian. Disney was mostly cool, but Harry Potter was evil. Not confusing at all. I mean, look at everything we believe from the Bible that is downright crazy in human terms. As an adult, I really love stories that have magic in them because belief in a spirit world sparks my imagination in that direction a lot. Looking out over this scene felt a lot like a fairy tale. I can understand how trees could come to life and have their own language, how magical creatures could exist among the velvety moss and fly on the alpine breeze, how evil eyes could look at this with greed and seek to destroy its beauty. All of it makes perfect sense to me.

I walked the rock slowly, enjoying every second of this view which might be the last I see for several days. There is bad weather in the forecast. More on that later.

I was thinking about how the highlight of the AT was the flora and fauna along the way. The highlight of the LT is the land itself, the wildness of the terrain, the ruggedness that has remained so protected, so wholly unspoiled by man. It is untamable in every way. Out here, we are fragile specks navigating a mighty force of nature. There is no such thing as dominance over the land or control over the situation. We are at the mercy of not only of what juts out of the earth, but what comes from the air and the sky. As much as one can plan ahead and purchase the right gear, being adaptable to the elements is what gets you through.

After burnt rock, the ups and downs were extreme. I did a lot of rock sliding today, throwing my poles down in front of me, grabbing roots and trees, and sliding to the next spot where my foot would catch. Today was technical and time consuming, but really fun. One spot called Ladder Ravine has an aluminum ladder bolted to the rock, but just above the top rung where you have to swing a leg over, the rock is super slippery. So I had to grab the trees and a rope tied to the tree above as one foot slid in behind the ladder, then grab the ladder, swing my other foot over, then swing the foot stuck behind back around. Tricky!!! Because I’m shorter, I also found myself having to heave my entire body up in spots, then hoist myself to a standing position before having to face the next obstacle. My legs are going to look like someone took a baseball bat to them. I hit my shins a lot today and even though I was wearing my rain pants, I have dark red scrapes everywhere. The challenge of today was exciting even though it required a lot of mental focus. I was so glad to not being doing this in the rain.

Tomorrow the forecast looks very iffy for Camels Hump. The imposing peak has been staring at me all day, reminding me of its presence, worrying my mind with memories of day hiking there three years ago. I’m in a shelter at the base of the mountain, so it’ll be the first thing I face in the morning. It’s supposed to rain tonight which means everything will be slick tomorrow. This is not how I pictured this going, but I can’t control the weather. I’m going to tackle tomorrow as it comes, stay overnight in Waterbury and then decide what my next step is. Right now, I’m supposed to hit Mt. Mansfield, Vermont’s highest peak, on Thursday. Today is Monday. There is rain in the forecast every day through Friday. This is the toughest part of this trail and the weather is supposed to be in the 30s with rain when I get to Mansfield. If there is going to be a reason to call it and come back another year, this might be the deciding factor for me. Not only am I solo, I’m dealing with two injuries now, and I get cold really really easily. My feet have been freezing in wool socks doubled up because it’s been so wet. I’d be lying if I said part of me isn’t worried I can’t do this. Like maybe when the weather conditions are good I can pick my way along and tackle this, but when conditions are less favorable, maybe there really are limitations which exist that I just don’t want to admit to myself. I knew there would be mud and I knew it could get cold out here, but the reality of what that means is so different than what I imagined it to be. I hate being faced with this decision because of weather, but I also want to be safe. The best thing would be for the forecast to change so there is a break in the rain.

Slug, the hiker I met at the Inn at Long Trail, and I have been messaging and he said he’s going to press on and make it from shelter to shelter even if the mileage is lower just so he can keep going. It’s not that I can’t do that, but the question now is what do I want this experience to be for me and me alone? Do I want it to be a torturous slog to the finish line, or do I want this to be a challenge that I can look back on with fond memories? I don’t have the answer to that question at this moment. Tomorrow will perhaps reveal more.

Hikers met today:
Alpine monkey AT 2014
Ali and Ian
Alex and Katherine

Day 29: Montclair Glen Lodge to Rt 2, Waterbury, VT (including Camel’s Hump), 10.1 miles

October 1. Not one part of me wanted today to start. Rain was pelting the tin roof of the shelter when I woke, and all I wanted to do was teleport myself somewhere else, anywhere the sun would be shining. The thought of hiking Camel’s Hump in the rain made me want to curl up into a little ball. There was literally nothing else to do but move forward. The decisions out here are often simpler than I make them out to be. Keep going is pretty much always the answer, unless go home also rears its ugly head as an option. The saying goes that you never quit on a bad day, but what if there are a string of bad weather days ahead?

I left the shelter in a drizzly fog that had turned the trail into a river overnight. The 2 mile climb up to the summit took me two hours. At points, I was literally clawing my way up rock, grabbing onto the tiniest of handholds, on all fours at points, just so I wouldn’t slide backwards. There were boulders to squeeze between and maneuver my pack through, and moments where I had to go backwards to move forward or down to go up. Isn’t that a metaphor for life?

Every single step today was measured. If concentration was lost for a second, it could mean a fall. As I got closer to the top, I could see cloudy mist blowing past at a rapid rate as the rocks above loomed over where I stood. When I reached the rocky summit, the wind was blowing so hard I was having to plant my feet very intentionally so I didn’t blow over. All I could think was once I got over the top, I’d be safer. Well, little did I know the hardest part was about to begin.

All the rocks on the other side of Camels Hump where the LT heads north have these little grey lichens on them that turn them into a slip and slide of sorts. My shoes were no match. I went down twice but thankfully wasn’t hurt. I started sliding on my butt a lot. Every time the rock started to slant forward I would sit and scoot and slide.

The trees lent me their hands and arms today, providing safe holds for me, helping me control myself as I used them for leverage or to stop momentum when I was heading down. I ran into Elmo and Big Bird, who had just fallen on the rocks and had a big cut in his arm. They were holding it together with butterfly bandages and I gave them the rest of mine too. What a mess. The poor guy was bleeding a lot. I know what they still had to cross over and my heart went out to them.

Somehow I made it down. I think I’ve blocked a lot of it out. I had to shut my brain off today and just make my body move the way it needed to so I could get to the bottom safely. I was scared and at the same time, I knew I just had to do this. My legs are strong even though they’re sore. My foot hurts, my knee hurts, I have bruises everywhere, but I’m still moving.

The view on the descent was beyond imagination. The peaks kept appearing and vanishing as clouds blanketed and swept away. The fall colors seemed even more vivid today, and I allowed myself to stop and stare, turning around to see how far I’d come. Nothing compares to this.

As I made my way down, which wasn’t always downward, the slick sheets of rock continued. I would think I was finally past them, only to climb back up and have to nimbly pick or slide my way back down. My nerves were shot because I knew there were so many moments where one misstep could mean an injury.

Finally, the terrain evened out shortly before getting to the Duxbury Rd parking area. Then there was a 2.5 mile road/meadow walk that would take me to Rt. 2 where Tim from Swanson Inn would be meeting me to take me to town. He was amazing, so kind, showed me all the places I’d need to go in Waterbury. He and Rick are the most incredible people and are trail angels in every sense.

I’m at the Old Stagecoach Inn tonight, a gorgeous historic B&B in the heart of town. I went to the market, bought food, went to the drug store, bought an ankle brace and more bandages, went to the outfitter, bought flip flops for when my shoes are soaked, and then I went to the Blue Stone and drank local beer and ate poutine.

I kept checking the weather. It changed a couple times during that time period. Then a friend who used to be a backcountry caretaker on Mt. Mansfield got back to me about the bypass trails up there. He said that they’d still be slick if there was rain, along with being pretty thick with trees since they aren’t as well traveled. I wanted to hear that the bypass trails would mean safer passage. I wanted to hear that it wouldn’t be like today.

I checked the weather in Johnson, my next resupply point. More rain, days of it, plus a warning that rivers would be high and localized flooding is possible. Mansfield said partial sun on Thursday, but rain on Friday with possible flurries the day I’d be descending. I have approximately 8-9 days left on this trail, in the most difficult portions, and right now there is rain forecast for 6 of them.

A perfect storm of lousy conditions. The more I thought about today, the more I realized I didn’t want to go through that again on another 4K. I talked to my parents, talked to Rob, sat on the floor and cried…and I finally decided that I can come back and finish the Long Trail next year, maybe a month earlier, in safer conditions.

Making this decision sucks. I feel like a failure because I’m not finishing this thing that I set out to do in this moment. Maybe this isn’t the bravest decision, but right now it feels like the safest and wisest. I also feel like I pushed a major boundary within myself and set a new bar of difficulty for what I can accomplish. So many things were imperfect at the onset of this hike, my IT band injury being the biggest thing, and yet somehow, I completed 332.9 miles on this leg of the journey. One thing I’m pretty terrible at is having grace for my own imperfections. There’s the possibility I will beat myself up over this even though I can still come back and complete the LT another year.

The good thing is that I have time left on my work leave and can head home and continue hiking the AT down south. No winter gear means my pack will be lighter too! I’m not ready to leave the woods and stop moving. I have my trail legs now and want to keep going with the time that I have.

My parents are driving up here tomorrow where we’ll enjoy a meal at the Blue Stone and hopefully some fall color along the way. They have been amazingly supportive, incredibly helpful and selfless in making this happen for me. Everyday they’ve been following the terrain and researching the trail and the weather, completely involved in taking part in this journey with me in any way they can. I can’t even describe what that has meant to me and I’m so grateful to have parents who are encouraging of this adventure.

Rob has also been amazing, keeping tabs on everything at home, snuggling my cats, sending last minute items overnight, and reminding me how much he loves me while I’m out here very much on my own, alone for long periods of time. I’ve had a few people ask why he didn’t want to come with me, as though it should be assumed we would do something like this together simply because we’re married. In my mind we’re a team, and even though he isn’t out here walking the miles on trail, he is very much making it possible for me to do so. This is the ultimate act of love one partner can bestow upon another, to support their wild dreams. He also purchased a new work truck while I’ve been gone, so I feel like he’s not entirely getting the raw end of the deal here!

It goes without saying that none of these miles would have happened, or will continue to happen, without the kindness of others. Many times in our lives we’re able to insulate ourselves from truly needing or accepting help from others. As a hiker, there is no choice but to rely on raw human kindness to help you along the way. I have once again been reminded why I love the northeast so very much and why it will always have my heart. The people I’ve met in CT, MA, and VT who run inns and hostels, shuttle hikers, or say encouraging words in the stores and restaurants, have gone above and beyond for the trail community. This display is such a beautiful thing to witness.

Day 30: Waterbury to GMC Visitor Center, 10 miles

October 2. After an amazing breakfast of huevos rancheros, I laid around until 10 and couldn’t take it anymore, so I decided to walk the 5 miles to the Green Mountain Club Visitor Center. The need to move was greater than the need to rest.

I arrived in an hour and a half, compared to yesterday when it took 2 hours to go 2 miles. After a month of walking on a path specifically designed and intended for foot travelers, with signs along the way decrying the use of mechanized vehicles, the road could not have felt more inhospitable. There is a bike lane the entire way on Rt. 100, but even with this shoulder, the pavement felt like the antithesis to any kind of pedestrian activity. Large trucks passed dangerously close, and the worst culprits for crossing the shoulder line were large RVs towing trailers with cars or bikes on them.

Still, it felt good to be out in the open air. The ridge line I would have been walking today had clouds resting on it with breaks along the way. The colorful trees looked just as pretty from the road, but I couldn’t help but imagine what the view looked like from above. I miss being in the woods today.

Along the road I saw frogs, snakes, and moths violently crushed, their beauty broken by wheels that never looked upon their fragile grace. As a walker in the forest, the slither of a snake through the leaves provided a little jolt of surprise. A wood frog hopping across the path immediately drew the eye into the undergrowth, following the hops quickly in order to catch a glimpse of the amphibious tease. And even in the rain, tawny moths flew past as I brushed by spruce and fir branches. To see these creatures destroyed after witnessing their freedom within the safety of the woods broke my heart.

There are meadows along portions of the road and I could hear the quiet song of crickets and grasshoppers among the din of passing cars. I felt vulnerable out in the open without the insulation of trees and glacial boulders. So many people fear the woods. I’m often asked if I’m scared being out there alone. Sometimes, but mostly not. If anything, there is safety in mother nature’s arms. The peace that exists in wilderness areas eludes the land where roads noisily crisscross. The sound of vehicles on asphalt can travel for miles. I always knew on the trail when I was coming to a road because the clamor could be heard miles before I arrived.

Natural soundscapes are rapidly being invaded by human-caused noise. Even in the middle of vast protected wilderness areas like national parks, airplanes and cars manage to make themselves known. It is a rarity to find a space these days where the sounds of man don’t pervade the senses. I managed to have moments every single day along the trail where I would stop and listen to a silence so complete that my ears felt like they were ringing with it. How often do we experience these moments in daily life? How often do we stop, close our eyes, and truly listen to what is taking place around us? Walk out into the yard, lift your face to the sky, and listen with ears attuned to the sounds of the birds, breeze, and rain. Even the wings of a butterfly make a sound if you get close enough to listen.

After a visit to the GMC and a maple latte at the Vermont Artisan Coffee Roasters, I headed back toward Waterbury with the intent of stopping anywhere that looked fun. The Glass Blowing Studio said they had a demonstration so I went in. There’s a gorgeous shop with some beautiful pieces in it, plus a viewing window with benches where you can watch the artist in action. I’ve only ever seen this once in Murano outside of Venice. Watching him manipulate the glass, heat it, roll it, blow through the tube, and finally cut the excess off was a fascinating process. The thing that caught my eye were all the discarded shards, a kaleidoscope of colors lying rejected on the ground. The master knows what’s worth keeping.

After being inspired by that, I headed to an antique shop where I bought two vintage postcards, one with a view from the Long Trail and one with a view of Chimney Tops in the Smokies as it once was before the fires. The Cabot cheese store was next, along with Vermont Trailwear, before plodding along the road back into Waterbury where mom and dad had arrived.

I passed Ben & Jerry’s, but didn’t stop for the tour. Later on in the evening we went to the grocery store where they had the most impressive selection of B&J that I’ve ever seen! There was a small cluster of people standing around that part of the cooler and one man joked, “They start selling CBD in Vermont and look where we all end up!” They left with a hefty tower of pints for immediate consumption. We opted for the single servings!

We drove through Stowe briefly tonight and I saw Mt. Mansfield. I would have been walking over it tomorrow. I just need to trust that I made the right decision. I’ll be thinking of my trail friends I met along the way passing over the peak soon and cheering every single one of them on with all my heart.