We left Hanover for the next leg of the trip. Back in 2000 when we realized we were not going to have enough cash to finish, we skipped forward to Hanover and walked the White Mountains section of the trail. We're glad we did as it's considered to be the most challenging part of the trail. So having completed Vermont we can now skip forward to where we got off the trail at the end of the Whites. We arranged a shuttle with a 'trail angel' who goes by Golden Waldo who met us in Hanover and took us right through to Wildcat Mountain, some 170 miles by road for not much more than it cost us to get a taxi 3 miles from the supermarket to our motel! When we finished the White Mountains in 2000 we got off the mountain by coming down a gondola at a ski resort. We'd planned to go back up the gondola this time (of course) but due to high winds, we had to walk up the hill... never mind, we needed the exercise!
So, although we considered we had walked the Whites, technically we still had a few days to go to leave the park that is called White Mountains National Park, and then of course the 'mountains' don't magically just disappear. We have another 12 days of hiking after then until the mountains turn into large hills, then things will settle down to just hard as opposed to near impossible. Still, the views and the general scenery in this area is really incredible. It reminds me a lot of Fiordland National Park, except over here they have roads going to the top of the highest peaks... (Seeing this makes me want to protect the New Zealand wilderness from unnecessary roads.) The other thing they have in the Whites are lodges. They are run as non-profit businesses staffed by young people catering to older people who don't mind spending $130 a night to stay in a bunk room and eat food cooked in dirty kitchens by the same young people. As a rule, the AT hikers hate them. In this section of trail you must stay at designated shelters and camping is not permitted in most areas. This means that all the way through the Whites, the AT hikers 'stealth' camp in out of the way places and secret spots. Leading up to the Whites, everyone you meet asks you about the stealth spots you may know so they can avoid the horrendous expense charged by the club. The club is The Appalachian Mountain Club, AMC for short. We all call them the Appalachian Money Club... They do offer on first come first serve, a work for stay arrangement and seeing as the last lodge was the first one we came to on our new section, we thought we would give it a go. I should add at this point that they only offer this to thru hikers, not section hikers like us. So we were in luck! No other hikers had been through and we lied and said we were thru hikers, and we had somewhere to sleep and all the leftovers we could eat! Still would have preferred to camp but didn't want to go the extra miles to the next stealth spot. The chef was up at 5:15 to start breakfast so it was an early start for us that day but we saved some money so it seemed worth it.
Within a few days we were crossing the last state line for this trip. The Maine/New Hampshire line is much anticipated as it means less than 300 miles until the finish. It also means the start of the bogs. Like the rest of the trail, it still mostly goes over the tops of each mountain in our path but here in Maine some of the tops have large ponds or lakes and always mud. The day after crossing into Maine on the top of Mt Goose Eye I slipped off a boardwalk that was floating on a large pool of thick mud and the only thing that stopped me disappearing was my pack! I went in right up to my waist and still didn't reach the bottom... not too happy I have to say and I was covered in mud! No shower or washing for days too...
The mountain tops here are really beautiful, which is good as we don't go to many valleys but one of the most talked about stretches of the entire trail runs for 1 mile through a valley called Mahoosuc Notch. It's like a big steep sided valley about 30 meters wide that is filled with giant car and truck sized boulders. The guide book we have calls it the most difficult and fun stretch on the entire trail. When we reached this section it was another 30 degree day with bright sunshine but a fog was rising from the ground in places and we felt the cold like someone had left the fridge door open. In places below the boulders snow and ice still sits from winter! Due the the steep sides the sun hasn't reached for long enough to melt it away. It was fun! The 1 mile took us nearly 2 hours and we managed to complete it without a fall.
Our new packs are excellent and to say we love them would be an understatement. We have also changed some of the things we are carrying and have bought new clothes as well. Out here people know who you are by what you are wearing. We can tell from a distance who is ahead as they have the shorts and top combo of ... whoever it is, totally unique to everyone. Us AT hikers do not have many changes of clothing to wear so when we get soaking wet it can be difficult sometimes. This has happened to me on more than one occasion.. The soaking wet bit, and unlike Christine who carries some fleece paints to wear, I only had 1 pair of $1.99 black underpants I bought from K-Mart in Perth to put on while my hiking paints dry. That's right, wearing underpants hiking gives you a rash so it's 'Freeball Friday' everyday for me because I carry the absolute minimum of everything including clothing! In fact, if it's cold and wet, I will be wearing every item of clothing I have! So, we have had a few fun nights standing around at shelters while it's raining outside talking to people and I am wearing just my underwear! The only person to have said anything about it was Christine so I guess it was ok? I have now bought some lightweight Icebreaker leggings to wear.. still underpants of sorts but not obviously just underpants..
We have put together 'food drops' for Maine and mailed it to the places we are going to stay. We do this so we can be assured that we will be able to eat the food we like right through the trip. Great idea until we get behind or change the schedule. This happened from the first day! As we had to walk up Wildcat Mountain we ended up being half a day behind and missed staying at the first hostel. We didn't send food to that place but we had planned to buy a dinner and breakfast there. It wasn't until later that we realized we were short of food and then had to get to the next place a day earlier. All in all no problem as we can get back on the schedule by doing what's called a slack pack. That's where the hostel owner drops us off and collects us at roadends and we walk with just a day pack. Great for the hostel owner as we stay 2 nights and great for us as we can do more miles without full packs. So tomorrow we will head off on the next full section of the Maine trail. Maine has been great so far and it reminds us both a lot of New Zealand!
This week we parted company with the Vermont Long Trail. It went left, we went right! I remember when we were on the trail in 2000 a lot of people spoke of the LT and some even walked the additional 160 miles to complete all of it as well as the Appalachian Trail thru hike they were doing. I don't remember thinking too deeply about it at the time, we hardly had enough time and money to do what we wanted to do on the AT, let alone the LT. Even this time I did wonder how much better the forest could get to make all these people want to walk it. Truth is, it's pretty much the same forest! The difference is the people walking the long trail. For AT thru hikers who have come all the way from Georgia, the long trail is a pleasant distraction for them. All of a sudden the trail is full off fresh faced hikers that look at them in awe and marvel at their achievements so far.
We stopped at the state line, (Massachusetts to Vermont) right where the LT starts. Nothing special about the day, it was a Saturday though and it was also a long weekend. Then out of the green, a couple.. then another and another. All excited and getting photos at the start of the LT. And then it began. From then on the trail community swelled to at least 4 times the size it had been. For me, someone who likes to meet and chat with people, it was great! New people everywhere.
For the next week we had lots of new friends, it was great. We did have a few days where we didn't go anywhere near the miles we had planned but it was loads of fun.
The LT can be walked in winter with snow shoes. Hard out! It is the oldest long trail in the USA and was constructed by the Green Mountain club from 1910 to 1930. The AT follows the LT for around 100 miles and runs all the way to Canada. We are saving it for later..
As mentioned, the trail was a bit quiet after we left the LT, but not for long. We are now meeting south bound hikers that started at our destination. They are SOBO's and have decided to do the hard bit first! A lot of them will walk right by us with the standard greeting of just 'enjoy your hike' that's it! Some will chat but only a few. Most of them have started in the north to avoid the crowds in the south, some because of school and some because it's just harder. We met some kiwis! They started in the north just due to timing. They are www.twotravellingkiwis.com and are doing daily updates!! Don't ask us for that, we are too tired. We had a long afternoon break with them and some of their hiking friends at a country shop in the middle off nowhere. It was good to catch up with some kiwis even if they had been living in Perth for a while.
To finish Vermont we walked through the second to last trail town, Norwich. This town is right on the Connecticut River and is a pretty nice place. We stayed at the Norwich Inn that was built in 1791. It's been renovated since then thankfully. Next stop was the last trail town and one you might have heard of. Hanover, New Hampshire. It's the home of Dartmouth college. It's an Ivy league college so the town is full of students. Have to say not your normal looking uni students. This college is one of the expensive ones and Audi Mercs and Volvo cars are everywhere in town.
We are having a few days rest in town and decided to treat ourselves with something special, new backpacks!! The pack I have used to this point was one I bought in the USA in 2000 so it's had a pretty good long life,16 years! I was working out the hiking days it's had and counted up around 350. It's walked around 1000 miles of the Appalachian trail, the Bibbulmun track twice, it's walked half way across Tasmania and many many tracks in New Zealand including some of the most difficult, and it's even been involved in a full on helicopter rescue.. hehe. I have been looking at packs people are using and I've talked to a few people about their packs. I have to say some of the hikers I've spoken to would not have even been walking when I bought my old pack!! Showing my age. We are getting new ultra light packs that will last us another 16 years I hope! Look out for the pack in new the next blog post and photos.
Vermont has to be one of the most beautiful places I have been. I guess if helps to find green spaces and forest beautiful because that's most of Vermont. I'm sure you wouldn't know the capital city of Vermont. In fact I'm betting you wouldn't have even heard of the state before this years USA presidential election race! Am I right? Yes, Vermont is where Bernie Sanders comes from. Talk to anyone from this state and they are all smiles when they mention him. He made there state famous not just in the USA but around the world. Love him or not, he's well known and now so is Vermont. I'm also betting it won't last for too long though. It looks like he won't be the next president, how long would someone in their 70s keep trying for that sort of job anyway?
So then Vermont will go back to just being a green state in the north east of the USA. How green? Well, a whopping 75% of the state is forest. Some of it is for logging but most of it is just for.. well just the birds and animals. Like almost all of America the forest is far from virgin. When the settlers arrived in the 1500's they started on the coast and felled every stick of wood right across the country, more than once. We often pass what looks like stone walls and wonder what a stone wall is doing in the middle of a forest. Fact is, it was once a field. When I say stone wall, I really mean collection of old rocks that are to straight to be natural, I did some research on the stone walls of New England and found that in the late 1700's each wall had to be certified by an accredited stone wall inspector or your neighbor couldn't hold you liable for damage to his crop from your stock or vice versa. To me as I walk through the forest and see this its like the land has had another life before and has some scars to prove it. Although they stopped farming the land we are walking in many many years ago, we seldom see trees that are more than 75 years old. I have to say, it's not obvious at all and if I hadn't researched it I would be none the wiser but for many years, trees were the main commodity throughout most of eastern USA. Vermont at one stage had almost completely deforested the entire state, up to 80% of the state was clear felled.
Sadly like a lot of places around the world, the trees in the USA are not taking to globalization at all well. The story of the American chestnut is a very sad one but one that sums it up. In the 1930s the entire Appalachian mountain range was covered in an estimated 4 billion giant chestnut trees. They were a source of pride, food timber and wonder to the people. So were zoo animals it turns out and to feed some exotic animals in a California zoo, feed was bought in from Asia that contained a blight. Within 40 years it had spread through the entire country and their are now no America chestnut trees at all. (In places, the root system still lives on and sends up shoots but they soon die) it's a good lesson and a reason that boarder security is so important in places like New Zealand and Australia.
Some Vermont fun facts that might surprise you.
Vermont has the least populated capital in the USA. Montpelier population is less than 8500
Billboards are not permitted in Vermont and sign advertising is strictly regulated.
Montpellier is the only capital city in the USA to have no McDonald's restaurant.
Vermont was the 1st state of the Union and the first state to abolish slavery.
It's really like another country, it feels and looks so different to the rest of the USA!
We walked to a busy highway crossing that led to our overnight stop in a town called Manchester Centre. We crossed the road and stuck out our thumbs for a hitch. The second car stopped for us! Great, but we hadn't had time to cool off so we were still literally dripping with sweat. We got into a nice new looking Subaru and headed off. Within 30 seconds of taking off, the driver put all 4 windows down. Yep, we must smell pretty bad! They dropped us right in town by the supermarket and we did our shopping. We were asked if we needed a lift anywhere while we were shopping and later at the post office a lady asked if we needed to go anywhere! We were told this is normal for Vermont.
We stayed the night at a hiker hostel run by a guy that had such a good time when he hiked the trail that when he finished he went from town to town looking for a place that needed a hostel. It was really great at the Green Mountain House hostel. Included in the $35 each was laundry, a tub of Ben & Jerry's ice cream and a can of soft drink each, wifi, a bottle of Vermont Long Trail beer, breakfast and a shuttle back to the trail! What's more, the bed was excellent and I slept really well. Oh, and he had a New Zealand flag flying while we were there too (international guest are special..)
We headed back out on the trail the next day to the first full day of rain we have had. Actually it's only the second full day of rain we have had to hike in since we left New Zealand so we have been pretty lucky really. Still, it wasn't too much fun and it rains for two days straight. That night we stayed our first night in a shelter since we started on the AT. It was a good change to be in the shelter .We shared with 3 of the people we had spent the night with at the hostel. One was a lady who's trail name is Show Cub. She has a dog called Ollie and they are hiking the Vermont Long Trail. We had been on the same day with her for a few days and her dog had gotten used to me and that evening we had a good snuggle together. That's Ollie and me, not Show Cub and me! It was good to have a pet to pat and made me miss my cat a bit...
We have now walked more than 200 miles. We are heading into Rutland for a quick resupply and a night in a place with a shower tomorrow. I'm hungry because I didn't buy enough food so I am really looking forward to some food that was not dehydrated and rationed. We pass by a restaurant in the afternoon. It's on the top of a very high mojitos of course! What else would you build up there? Soon we will have finished Vermont. Shame, it's been great!
Some people we met this week
Boulder, Instigator, Bubbles, Ass Captain, Ben, Show Cub, Leprechaun, Jitterbug, Phoenix, Two Socks, Luau, Forrest, Hoosier, happy, BoDangles and many more we cannot remember
The Appalachian Trail is a very social trail. We are meeting people all day every day. It's a lot of fun! As soon as we talk, people are interested in where we come from. It's surprising how many people know where New Zealand is compared to when we were here in 2000. Thanks to Peter Jackson for that!
Some of the people we have met so far.
Adventure, Crasher, Rocky, Antsy, Rugby, Not Bob, Blue Feather, Daisy, Mr Fix It, Juice, Monster, Veggie Stu, Jon & Jen, Flash 52, Whisper and quite a few more who's names we cannot remember.
When we walked 1500miles of the trail in 2000 we started in Georgia, the southern terminus and walked north. Due to the popularity of the trail now, quite a few people are doing what's called s 'flip flop' where they start somewhere in the middle and walk north to the northern terminus then head to the end and walk north to where they started, to finish. This year in a 3 week period around the end of March and start of April more than 3000 people started the trail in Georgia!! Imagine the campsites intended to cater for up to 10 tents trying to cope with 50 or more hikers. They all want water, a flat spot to camp and they all want to poop too! So, this year the flip flop was a popular and sensible option for many. It's been great for us too as we we are new on the trail along with a lot of other hikers. As we have already hiked 625 miles on the Bibbulmun Track, we really do have the jump on the new hikers with trail fitness too which is a really good feeling. We have however, been passed by some thru hikers that started in Georgia in mid March. These hikers are mostly 'ultra lite' hikers doing an average of 20 miles a day, sometimes more! But like I said, it's a social trail and meeting people and spending time socializing along the way is what it's all about for most hikers including us.
This week we crossed the state line from Massachusetts into Vermont. For the next 100 miles we will be walking on the joint trails of the Appalachian Trail and the Vermont Long Trail. The Vermont Long Trail (LT) runs the entire length of the state, around 260 miles. It's a very popular trail and the first night in Vermont was a big one at the campsite with around 15 new hikers on the trail hiking the same day as us. With all the LT hikers we had lots more people to talk to. That night we camped with around 36 hikers!
All the hikers on the trail brings up the topic of toilets... In New England it snows and in places the ground freezes during winter so the sort of composting back country toilets we are used to in New Zealand won't work here as its too cold. They have a quite different system they call 'moldering privies'. We are taking some time to get used to them... The toilet sits quite high up and has several steps to get in or are built on a slope. The underneath area is screened off with planks and the waist quite simply builds up underneath and is broken down naturally by the bugs and elements. They are often built so the seat can be moved along sideways to a new spot to allow some time to decompose. They smell and worse, can often be sited in the centre of the camping area. Still, it's better that 30+ hikers a day are all going in the same place. In some parts of the southern Appalachians Trail they only have 'areas'.
Today it's the 4th of July, Independence Day. The day America celebrates independence from British rule. It's quite cool to be in Bennington Vermont as it was a town that was central to the struggle with the British and some pivotal battles were fought very close to this town. Tonight we are expecting to see some great fireworks go off. The British EU exit has been big news here. It's been very interesting to read about it from an American perspective, after all the USA is a union of states like the EU is a union of countries. One thing for sure is that Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are going to have a vote to stay in the union. It could be 'Little England' all alone in big bad Europe. They will be able to celebrate their own Independence Day with cups of tea and jam scones? Or maybe warm beer with kippers and chips? Either way I am sure it will be a day to remember for them, or maybe not...
it's Our Epic Trip...
David & Christine are from New Zealand and are embarking on a trip around the world the slow way, on foot and by personal vehicle. This could get interesting!