A Journal From the Long Trail

A Journal From the Long Trail

This Autumn I thru hiked the Long Trail in Vermont. America’s oldest long distance hiking trail would be my first foray into the big American hikes. My goal was to learn about what it takes to do the really big stuff. No proper thru hike would be complete without a trail name. Call me Hobo Joe, or just Hobo.

I estimated the hike would take around three weeks and required some logistics, which I quite enjoyed. This would be the first time I sent myself resupply packages, which mainly consisted of homemade dehydrated meals.

This would also be my lightest hike to date, as I ventured into the world of ‘ultralight’. My base weight (the weight of my bag, not including food/water/fuel) setting off was 4.5kg (10 lb). I have been reducing my weight gradually over the years and this was me getting serious.

Below is my daily journal from the hike. I set off with a rough plan and this quickly got thrown out of the window. I learnt a lot of lessons along the way, including the futility of creating an itinerary, how to hitchhike effectively, how to tarp camp in comfort, not to overestimate my trail fitness and how to overcome adversity on the trail.

This turned out to be a really tough hike for me in a few different ways as you will read. I felt like I really got tested and overcame something on this hike. I like to do things the hard way and it certainly was that, but I can’t help feeling that I could have done with a bit more reward for my efforts.

I honestly found the trail really gruelling under foot and lacking in scenery. As you will see from the photos there were some really beautiful spots along the way… I just wish they had been a little closer together.

07/09/2017, 10 miles
Journey’s End → Laura Woodward Shelter

What a day! Got in to Burlington at 1:30am and slept only for a few hours. I got all of my errands done and got a very long (due to arriving back where we started 20 minutes after we left!?!) ride to the trailhead.

The trail is very wet and muddy and I slipped a few times. The trail was a stream for much of the day. Quite a lot of ups and downs. Decided to stop a hut before intended instead of pushing on. Lots of rain tonight. Quite a few people at the shelter and lots of questions about gear! Time to sleeeeeeeep!

08/09/2017, 15 miles
Laura Woodward Shelter → Tillotson Camp

Long, wet, MUDDY day! Saw virtually no-one on the trail, got to the shelter in the dark to find it full, with 3+ tents outside! Only room to sleep on the floor under the table but beats trying to set up the tarp in the dark/rain.

Glad to be done for the day 🙂

09/09/2017, 7.4 miles
Tillotson Camp → Spruce Ledge Camp

Knees hurting a lot after yesterday, the terrain has been tougher than expected – very technical with roots and rocks everywhere. Extremely wet, slippery and MUDDY! The rain isn’t helping either. Considering my knee, two more 15 mile days can’t be a good idea, so I decided to stop early, which means my resupply will be a day delayed.

I tried to hitch a ride to Eden to get more food, but it wasn’t a good spot, hardly any cars and the rain meant I looked like a crazy person in my poncho by the side of the road. So I decided to just keep going ad try stretching my food.

Two people on the trail had warned me about Devil’s Gulch, but it was my favourite part so far! Very cool rock formations and the trail was relatively smooth, a much needed respite.

Got to the cabin to discover I was the first there, you can never tell. Very nice spot, I expect more people to arrive later. Time to read and relax.

Really inspiring reading the guest book, so many people enjoying the trail. My head isn’t quite there yet – too much Joe, not enough Hobo! I knew it would take a while though, the knee isn’t helping. Struggling on the trail is a new one for me. I hope it passes so I can get in to this.

I’m really happy that my pack feels so light!

10/09/2017, 14.7 miles
Spruce Ledge Camp → Roundtop Shelter

Turns out I had the shelter to myself last night. Got a good rest. Knee wasn’t feeling too bad in the morning, so I headed off towards Corliss, the next shelter, not knowing if I would end my day there. Working on my posture and engaging my core seems to help. Up, flat and gradual down are all fine, but steep down HURTS!

Wasn’t too bad getting to Corliss, so I decided to keep going, which meant the possibility of getting to Stowe to resupply without running out of food was still an option. The food situation is tight, but doable.

Some painful downhill sections, but not too bad. I got to Roundtop shelter to find just one couple there. Watching the sun setting was I write this.

More arrivals after dark, including a dog!

11/09/2017, 14.7 miles
Roundtop Shelter → Johnson/Jeffersonville

Knees still painful. I went straight over the highway as I was on a stubborn mission to make Stowe, my first scheduled resupply but there were too many mountains in the way.

Walking up a gradual logging road I kept stopping, asking myself if I was doing the right thing by continuing. I knew I wasn’t, but like I said, stubborn. It took all of my will power to hike a mile and a half back down the way I came and hitch a ride into town.

12-14/09/2017, 0 miles
Jeffersonville

Found a nice Airbnb to hold up in. A very small sleepy town, but it has everything I need (i.e. beer and pizza).

On reflection I think my legs weren’t strong enough for the terrain. I knew I wasn’t in top shape, but never having had any issues over the years had made me overconfident. I guess I’m not an invincible hiker after all.

Feeling very bummed out that this could well be the end of my hike, for such a rookie mistake as taking on too much too quickly. Either way I will come away from this having learnt a few lessons, which is the reason I am here after all.

15/09/2017, ~4 miles (plus 180 miles hitchhiking)
Jeffersonville → Williamstown

Future Joe here: With my knee still not 100% I decided to travel down to the southern terminus of the trail where the terrain was a little less mountainous. From there I would hike back up to where I left the trail in the hope that this would give my knee more time to recover.

13 rides and 9 hours later I get dropped off in Williamstown. It was a fun adventure, I got picked up within 15 minutes most of the time, with the longest taking 45 minutes. I met some interesting characters, each very different:

  • The guy with the dogs
  • The elderly couple
  • The brothers the day before the wedding
  • The teacher
  • The big truck guy with a bandaged hand
  • The quiet Porsche guy
  • The carpenters, me in the back with all the tools
  • The older, but still young guy
  • The guy I didn’t understand a word of
  • The couple on the way to the fayre
  • The young guy with 3 kids from different women
  • The guy who could only take me 1 mile
  • The crazy guy who talked at me, about everything from ALL the big issues to him having seen Peep Show (an obscure British comedy) and who kindly took me all the way to my destination

I headed straight to the trail before I lost the light. Setting up the bear cache and my tarp in the dark proved difficult. Mosquitos everywhere. It is hot and humid here, so I had to decide between a) sweating buckets cocooned in my quilt, unable to breathe or b) being eaten alive.

I took down camp around 1am and hiked up the hill. Eventually crashing out on the forest floor and getting a few hours sleep. What a day!

16/09/2017, 5.5 miles
Near Williamstown → Near Ed’s Spring

Short day. Had lunch at a shelter and thought about my knee. It’s been tough mentally. I met a few people stopping for lunch, each loving their hikes… which didn’t help. I thought about quitting… and I don’t give up easily.

I eventually decided to pull myself together and have a positive wild camp experience to balance yesterday.

Hiked about a mile and set up camp. My experience couldn’t have been more opposite to yesterday. I enjoyed the setting up process, getting the feel of my surroundings before dark.

17/09/2017, 11.5 miles! 🙂
Near Ed’s Spring → Split Rock

Much better day! Set off fairly early. I took my time, had some breaks. One especially bad downhill which the knee didn’t like, but otherwise good. Maybe I’ll do this hike after all! Sat and washed next to the river in the sunshine which was really nice. Found a wild camping spot after ascending from the river.

Some more days like this would be nice 🙂

18/09/2017, 15 miles
Split Rock → Lyndia’s Rest

Another good day. Long though! I felt strong today and the knee didn’t complain too much. Nice to make some good miles. Wasn’t expecting to do 15, even though that was my ‘secret’ goal. Was glad to find a camp spot, cooler temperatures and no mosquitos so far. Both good! Body is tired. Tired in the good way. About time!

19/09/2017, 12 miles
Lyndia’s Rest → Bottom of Stratton Mountain

Feeling pretty drained today. Put in a few good miles in the morning, then started to lose energy so the knee was hurting more. Must be the last couple of days catching up with me.

Climbed Stratton Mountain and had lunch and a nap at the top of the fire tower up in the clouds, listening to the howling wind.

Decided to stop early at 3:30 – pretty beat!

20/09/2017, 12 miles
Stratton Mountain → Manchester Center

Not a bad day on the trail. Pretty ‘in the zone’. Was going to camp and make town tomorrow, but someone told me about a hostel in town.

Turns out it is closed for the year! Did some errands (laundry!!!), had beer and pizza and now need to find somewhere to stealth camp in town. Wish me luck…

21/09/2017, 8 miles
Manchester Center → Peru Peak

Slept surprisingly well considering I was in a bush in the middle of town last night. Hobo living up to the name! Success running errands this morning. Was talking to Carly in Starbucks when I saw a security guard drive off, leaving his 9mm pistol in the toilet! My newly acquired knee brace is working wonders so far on the trail. Climbed a couple of mountains before setting up camp.

Amazing sunset, but very much obscured by trees! Darn forest, there is a reason the AT (Appalachian Trail) isn’t high on my list!

22/09/2017, 16 miles
Peru Peak → White Rocks

Nearly zero knee pain and my biggest day! The knee brace is really doing it’s job. Felt good today not having to think about the knee. Pretty worn out now though.

Determined not to miss another sunset I am camping near the White Rocks lookout and waiting for sunset with a pretty incredible view. Fingers crossed!

23/09/2017, 15.5 miles
White Rocks → Governor Clements Shelter

Feeling pretty tired and in my own head today. No knee pain though. Made some good miles and looking forward to a couple of nights in a hotel in Killington tomorrow. PLUS CIDER!

An older guy and Jacob at the shelter tonight. Looking forward to some sleep.

24/09/2017, 11 miles
Governor Clements Shelter → Killington

Hiked with Jacob all day. We went to the top of Killington Mountain, then to the cafe there for some ciders. Met a crazy family from Texas! Took a long time to hike down to the highway, but nice to mix it up and chat with someone. Hitched in to town. Must have walked around the store 8 times trying to figure out what to buy! (Grocery shopping is not my forte even at the best of times).

26/09/2017, 19 miles
Killington → Sunrise Shelter

Back on the trail after a much needed zero day. Getting a little bored of walking in the forest with nothing else to look at! Throw me a view, or a lake or river to swim in. I think AT hikers must be crazy!

Officially a heatwave today as the temperatures are again over 30 degrees. I sweated ALL DAY! Managed 19 miles so pretty pleased with that. Could well be my biggest day with the bigger mountains coming up.

27/09/2017, 15 miles
Sunrise Shelter → Skyline

Good day today. Got some views from a ski hill and a lake swim. Boy was it hot! Nice to have a few things to break up the “green tunnel”. Had to carry extra water up the hills due to reports of water sources drying up. I felt the extra weight.

Nearly camp 2 miles back but decided to push on, glad I did as nicest shelter yet. I thought I had miscalculated and wasn’t going to make it, so I pulled out the GPS to find it was just a few meters around the corner! I thoughtI was on a different hill!

Met Whitebeard, the first PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) hiker I have ever met. He says the LT is harder with much more technical terrain under foot. Made me feel really happy as I have been finding the trail really tough… and pretty monotonous at times… plus a heatwave in late September!

I had lots of questions for him and hearing his experiences raised my spirits about doing the PCT, and building up to that is the reason I am out here.

Maybe the LT is just a tough nut. I’m going to crack it.

28/09/2017, 17 miles
Skyline → Lincoln Mountain

Getting in to the bigger stuff now so some nice views. Headed out at 7:30 and just kept truckin’. Much cooler today so nice to not be sweating buckets going uphill. Just as I was realising that I shouldn’t camp at higher elevations because of the near-freezing temperatures I stumbled across an open warming hut at one of the ski hills. The trail provides!

Starting to think about the end and wanting to be done, which makes me wonder if I could do a big 5-month hike like the PCT. Am I just tired? This has been a tough hike in more ways than one and I’m only just starting to get the rewards. I need to make sure I’m not just going through the motions… ups and downs. Ups and downs.

29/09/2017, 14 miles
Lincoln Mountain → Birch Glen Camp

Great views from Stark’s Nest, that is after chatting to Guppy the Kiwi for a while, because it was a complete white out before that. Nice guy and nice to chat to a fellow common wealth. The first non-American I met on the trail.

Resupplied at Waitsfield, cider and tacos at the Mad Taco. Bumped in to a guy who picked me up hitchhiking two weeks ago!

Changed my flights so I will be back in time for Thanksgiving, which I feel good about. Thought a lot about why I have been feeling ‘done’. Remembering back to other trips when I felt the same – alone and not having any fun. Perhaps I get to a wall of being alone that I can’t get past and just want to go home?

Met an Aussie at the shelter and he asked if I was enjoying the trail. I gave a long-winded reply about ups and downs and he just said he was “loving it”. I’ve been out here for a while with the best bits to come. I hope I have a good end to this hike.

30/09/2017, 13 miles
Birch Glen Camp → Bamforth Ridge Shelter

Those were some long 13 miles! A good day though, 3 peaks and some really nice views. Just what I needed. Seeing Camels Hump was pretty intimidating and a LONG way down. Very technical. Feeling pretty beat now, but that’s just what the doctor ordered. Hopefully a good sleep will follow 🙂

01/10/2017, 19 miles
Bamforth Ridge Shelter → Taylor Lodge

Feeling tired today after that mountain yesterday. Hiking in a bit of a zombie trace today. Some nice woodland sections. More like slogging that trucking along today. Hopefully I sleep O.K as it’s getting cold at night.

Made it to the shelter eventually. Mount Mansfield tomorrow, the highest point in Vermont, then one more day and I should be done. I’m looking forward to completing this thing.

02/10/2017, 13 miles
Taylor Lodge → Near Sterling Pond

Not as tired setting out today, which is good as Mount Mansfield is the highest peak in Vermont! Pretty slow going to get up there and some interesting ladder climbs. Wonderful view from the top. Not as tough as Camels Hump, made it down O.K. Very slow going ascending again! Instead of staying at a shelter nearby I made it to an old warming hut at the top of a ski hill. I figured it would be warmer than the open shelter. There is a sofa here that I threw my poncho over, so I might get a comfortable sleep, which is much needed. I’m pooped! Last day tomorrow 🙂

03/10/2017, 11 miles
Near Sterling Pond → Johnson

Pretty motivated to finish today! Slept pretty well last night. Made good progress up the mountains, typical mediocre views where they cut back a few trees: the classic LT mountain-top anticlimax to end the hike. A few miles of logging road to bomb down towards the highway where I call it a day.

No fanfare at the end (as always!). I got picked up by a guy in a VW camper who just picked up another hiker. We went to have cider and barbecue. I need a shower.

4 Comments

Gemma

about 5 months ago

Wow! I know we talked about your experience but I found it so interesting to read this trail journal. And to put images to your story too. I liked being able to see your tarp set-up. I was initially surprised to see you using a different type of sleeping mat but that makes so much sense with tarp camping (no risk of punctures! Lighter too I imagine) Was it free to camp in the shelters? They look basic but it must have been pretty sweet to be able to use them.

Reply

Gemma

about 5 months ago

I forgot to say, I love your honesty in these journals.

Reply

Joe

about 4 months ago

Thanks, that means a lot!

Joe

Jessica Hawes

about 8 months ago

Congrats Joe, on winning through all that pain and discomfort. Next long hike, try to take a mate with you - I'm sure it would be a real help. love, Grandma'

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