Sunday, November 3, 2013

Day 27: The End of the Long Trail

Dscn7140September 30: I slept in late, in no particular rush. I had a measly 8.7 miles to the Canadian border, then a mere half-mile to the Journey End shelter for a short 9.2 miles of hiking. And, by all accounts, it wouldn’t even be a difficult 9.2 miles. So yeah, no reason to wake up at the crack of dawn and start hiking!


Eventually I got going, though, because I’d grow seriously bored if I didn’t! But I hiked a little over 3 miles before I reached the Shooting Star Shelter—the last shelter on the Long Trail—and I took an extended lunch break that lasted for more than two hours. Like I said, I was in no rush. Part of the time I used to write an epic 2-page letter in the register to southbounders on the trail fill with all my wit and wisdom. I wrote it upside-down so the southbounders could read it easier. (They were hiking backwards on the trail, after all.) Then I followed it up with another 2-page epic note for northbounders with nothing particularly important to say, but I didn’t want northbounders to feel cheated that they didn’t get a two-page note like the southbounders got. =)


Then I read my Kindle a lot. After filling four full pages of the shelter register, I didn’t have any other ideas for how to kill time. =)


About a half hour before I planned to started hiking again, a southbounder arrived. He was young, blonde, muscular, shirtless, and I had little doubt that women on the trail would swoon every time they passed him on the trail. Be that as it may, however, he seemed oddly out of his element. I’d seen other men hiking on the trail without a shirt. Even Decent, just the day before, I caught roaming around without his shirt, but hikers typically don’t have 6-pack abs nor do they need them, so it seemed strangely out of place.


He set down his pack and introduced himself as Erik, and was planning to thru-hike the Long Trail all the way to Massachusetts. He was planned with himself for arriving at the Shooting Star shelter as early in the day as he did since that was his goal for the day, and he started unpacking his pack.


Dscn7145I told him that I would be continuing on, but that I knew at least one person definitely planned to spend the night there (Purgy No More) and that there were about half a dozen other hikers headed northbound not far behind me that might wind up at the shelter too but I hadn’t seen them for two or three days now so I didn’t really know for certain what their plans were. Just letting him know, though, that there would definitely be more people arriving, and perhaps several, so not to spread out too much in the shelter.


He asked me about how far away the Canadian border was, which surprised me since I thought he had just come from there, but I looked it up in my guidebook and answered him a precise 4.4 miles away, but as it turned out, his friend dropped him off there the trail crossed Highway 105—2.6 miles away from the Canadian border.


“You missed Canada?” I asked, unable to hide my amusement.


And indeed, he had. He wasn’t sure where people started hiking from, and didn’t seem to know anything about the Journeys End Trail which leads 1.3 miles to the northern terminus of the Long Trail—the shortest, quickest way to the end of the trail. You could start from the road crossing where he did, but he would have had to hike north 2.6 miles, then turn around and hike back south 2.6 miles back to where he started from, then continue on to the shelter. But he didn’t do that and missed the first 2.6 miles of the trail. Oops!


As he unpacked his gear, I noticed a full-sized jar of jelly among his items. “A full sized jar of jelly?” I asked, surprised.


“To make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches,” he told me. I’m not really inclined to criticize his food choices, but glass jars don’t make good backpacking companions. Besides the fact that they’re so heavy, if they break, you wind up with a lot of broken glass shards to worry about and a mess of jelly with nothing to put it in, and I gently tried to warn him away from glass jars in the future. “If you slip—and you will slip!—it could crack right in your pack!”


He said he’d put in in the middle of his pack to protect it better. Well, at least he seemed to take my concerns to heart, but his solution seemed less than perfect. I wanted to tell him, “At least get the plastic, squeezable containers of jelly!” but I didn’t want to antagonize him any further and let it go.


He said he didn’t have much backpacking experience, but as he continued pulling gear out, I started thinking that he was exaggerating—I was pretty sure the boy had never spent a single night out in the woods.


Dscn7153The thing that really got me, that I couldn’t hide my shock over, was when he pulled out a 6-pack of Red Bull. I buried my hands in my face, sure I had to be hallucinating, but I wasn’t. He said it wasn’t that big of deal, though, because it was heavy now, but he’d drink two cans per day so it would get lighter with each passing day. But… but… I was in shock. Seriously? Full-sized cans of Red Bull?


“How much do each of those things weigh?” I asked him. Just eyeballing it, I guessed they were 8 ounce cans—that’s half a pound per can!


He looked at the can but couldn’t find any label, and I encouraged him. “It’s usually located near the bottom of the can, probably says something like 8 fluid ounces or something.”


Then he found it, and confirmed that they were indeed 8 ounce cans.


Then he pulled out cans of food. I didn’t look at the labels so I’m not sure what all he had, but there were a lot of cans. I had no doubt he also had the needed can opener somewhere in his pack as well. I hope he never loses it, though, because if he did, he’d starve to death quickly.


I shook my head and thought to myself, This boy is gonna die. He’s gonna die on the Long Trail. I’m going to be watching the news, and they’re going to report finding the half-starved body of a shirtless hiker surrounded by cans of food he couldn’t get into, empty cans of Red Bull, and a broken jar of jelly.


Oh, but wait—that’s not all! Then he pulled out his Therm-a-rest, which was still in its original packaging. He slipped it out of a plastic bag—a bag I knew he’d never get it back into because that’s not what the plastic bag was for.


Then he said he needed to get water. I hadn’t been to the water source yet, but a note on the shelter said it could be found on a blue-blazed trail just south of the shelter, and that there was a pump, but it worked great.


Dscn7158I pointed out the sign to him saying that I hadn’t been to it yet, but the directions on the shelter wall seemed clear enough. He pulled out a water filter and tablets to treat the water, and I asked him why he had two different ways to treat water. Mostly out of curiosity, although I was a little amused that he hadn’t even bothered to remove the bottles with the tablets from its original packaging. He said that he didn’t know which method he would like better, so he was going to try them both and send one of them home at some point.


He’s so going to die out here, I thought. But at least it won’t be from giardia! Which is more than I can say for myself since I hadn’t treated any water at all. =)


He headed down the trail in search of water, and I wondered if he’d have trouble with the pump. I assumed it needed priming, but if it was like the other shelter with a pump as a water source, there would be directions posted about how to prime the pump. Surely he’d be able to figure it out.


I finished the chapter I was reading on my Kindle about 10 minutes later then started packing up for the last 4.4 miles to the Canadian border. Next stop, Canada!


Before I left the shelter, though, I needed to fill up with water. And, I figured, I should probably check up on Erik. For all I knew, he might still be trying to figure out how to prime the pump.


Dscn7166I was wrong, however. He was already passed the stage of trying to get the pump to work and was now working on filtering the water from the container used to prime the pump explaining to me that the pump wasn’t working and the only water available was the stuff from the container next to it.


The thought crossed my mind again: This boy is gonna die out here. Surrounded with his cans of food and two water treatment methods, he’ll die of thirst. But at the same time, I couldn’t help but love this kid. He seemed so earnest and excited about his hike, how could you not like him?


So I showed him that the container on the side filled with water wasn’t for drinking—it was for priming the pump. I poured water on the pump, pumped a few times, and beautiful clear water started coming out. Erik seemed curious how that worked—pouring water on it makes it work? And I couldn’t really answer why it worked because honestly, I didn’t know myself. I don’t really know the mechanics of how these pumps work, but I know you won’t get a drop of water out of them unless you pour water over it first.


There was a sign about priming the pump on a nearby tree, but in Erik’s defense, it was badly warn and difficult to read. Some of the words were completely illegible, so anyone who didn’t know to prime the pump or how to do it would have had a difficult time getting water—not just Erik!


I filled up my water bottles quickly—it goes quickly when you don’t treat your water. =) Erik was working on treating his water when I left, but at least he had water now. He told me I might see him again because he was thinking about hiking back to the Canadian border to cover the 2.6 miles he had missed earlier. I didn’t think that was a great idea with him clearly being so inexperienced. For him to hike back to the Canadian border then back to the shelter would have been 8.8 miles round trip for him. He wasn’t trail-hardened yet. He had a pack that had to weigh at least 50 pounds, but he could have left much of the weight in the shelter. And it was already getting well into the afternoon. It didn’t seem like a good idea to me for him to backtrack with all of his gear to the Canadian border, and it seemed like an even worse idea for him to backtrack without his gear in case he didn’t make it back to the shelter before dark.


So I was a little skeptical he’d hike all the way back to the border. His better strategy, I thought, because he didn’t live terribly far away, was to come back after reaching the Massachusetts border (if he reached it!) and do a day hike of the 2.6 miles he missed to complete that link. For him, that was totally an option.


Dscn7170So we parted ways, and I continued my trek to the Canadian border.


The rest of the hike was largely uneventful. I passed a sign marking the 45th parallel. That took me by surprise—I had no idea that I was anywhere near the 45th parallel, but I liked the fact that I started my hike closer to the equator than the North Pole, and I’d end the hike closer to the North Pole than to the equator. =)


Then I turned a corner and reached the sign marking the northern terminus of the Long Trail. It looked like the sign marked the southern terminus—large, wooden, and lots of text and not very interesting. Kind of boring, really. But I wasn’t fool either. I knew there was a Canadian border somewhere, and it would be a long, deforested line running out as far as the eye could see—and I didn’t see that line anywhere. Clearly, I had not yet reached Canada, despite the sign that claimed as much.


I took another 20 steps further along the trail, though, where it came out to a clearing which stretched out as far as the eye could see to the east and west. Now this is the Canadian border! That’s what I’m talking about!


A large boulder ahead mostly blocked my view, so I climbed up onto it where I got the view I was really looking for, the deforested line marking the US/Canada boundary stretching downhill to the west then up and over a ridge far in the distance. To the east, the view was less spectacular since I was just below the top of a ridge in that direction that largely blocked the view. If I bushwacked a tenth of a mile east, there might be a view, but I didn’t want to do that. I was perfectly happy with the view to the west which also included a monument marking the Vermont/Quebec border.


Woo-who! I shook my trekking pole in the air in triumph. I was officially a Long Trail thru-hiker. I took about a bazillion photos, did a little happy dance. And I decided that I didn’t want to leave. The view was awesome! If I had enough water, I would have been perfectly happy to camp for the night right there at the border. I didn’t have enough water, though. I did have enough to make dinner, however, so I could easily cook dinner while waiting for sunset, which is exactly what I did.


In all, I spent nearly three hours at the border. I did see Erik again—he did hike back from the shelter in order to do the 2.6 miles he had missed. He wisely didn’t stop to chat with me for very long since he came shirtless and without his pack and still had a 4.4 mile hike back to his gear that he left at the shelter.


Dscn7172Shortly before sunset, a gaggle of thru-hikers arrived: Superchunk, Top Shelf, Lucky, Cheesy, Hill, Fire-Eye and one woman I didn’t recognize. It was good to see them all again, although I was a little disappointed that they had all arrived as a single, large group. I like people, but I like them in moderation. I’d have enjoyed their company more if one or two of them showed up every half hour or so. =)


They intended to get off the trail that day, however, and only hung out by the end of the trail for all of about 15 minutes before they headed off on the Journeys End Trail to hike the 1.3 miles to the nearest trailhead. After they left, I was a little sad. Alone, watching my last sunset on the trail. It would have been nice to have had one or two people around to share the moment with.


After the sun set, I pulled out my headlamp, packed up my gear, and started off. There was a shelter a mere half-mile down the Journeys End Trail, appropriately named the Journeys End Shelter. I felt a little giddy at the thought that I’d be hiking after sunset. I hadn’t done that anywhere on the trail because I needed to take photos for, but the trail was done now. I didn’t need photos anymore. I could hike in the dark!


I had my headlamp ready, but I preferred hiking in the dark without a light whenever I can. Under the light of a full moon without any tree cover is easiest, but there were plenty of trees here, and it wasn’t even a full moon so it grew quite dark fairly quickly after sunset. My night vision kicked in, and I started following a vague, undefined path through the woods. It wasn’t easy to follow, but I liked the challenge of navigating in the dark and was determined not to turn on my headlamp until I absolutely needed it—and crossed my fingers that I wouldn’t lose the trail completely in the darkness before I decided it was actually necessary after all!


I managed to make it to the shelter without using the headlamp, and even followed signs to a creek in the darkness where I filled up with water. The water was a lot further away from the shelter than I had expected, though, and I started growing concerned that I wouldn’t find my way back in the darkness. I left all my gear in the shelter—if I got lost now, I’d have nothing. No clothes for warmth, no sleeping bag, no food. (Plenty of water, though!) I started thinking that maybe I should have waited to get water in the morning, but it was too late for that now.


Fortunately, I did find my way back to the shelter without any mishaps. The shelter was empty, and considering that it was now about an hour after sunset, I was pretty certain that nobody else would be showing up tonight. I spread out all of my gear like I owned the place because tonight, I did. =)


This is Highway 105, where Erik started his hike from
and why he missed the first 2.6 miles of the Long Trail!




I had absolutely no idea that I was near the 45th parallel
until I reached this sign!


Can you smell it? Smells like Quebec is getting close!




Here’s the deforested area that marks the
US/Canadian boundary. Except that
stupid boulder is in the way of a great view!


So naturally, I stood up on the boulder, and this was the view!
Excellent! Everything to the left (south) of the deforested line
is Vermont while everything to the right (north) of it is
Quebec. Bonjour, Quebec!


The monument marking the border.


A self portrait—just to prove that I really was here! =)
(I had to take about 20 of these photos before I got
one with both the monument and the border clearly
showing up in the photo.)


From left to right, Lucky, Cheesy, Fire-Eye, Superchunk, and Hill,
celebrating their completion of the Long Trail.


Sunset at the monument.


Just in case you wanted to know how many steps I took
from Williamstown, MA, to the Canadian border: Precisely
705,162 steps in 27 days. =)


I took this photo about 5 or 10 minutes after sunset, shortly
before I’d leave for the Journeys End Shelter.


There aren’t anymore photos after this today because… I was hiking in the dark!!!! =)


Anonymous said...

Congratulation from an older gentleman.

Anonymous said...

BRAVO!!! Fabulous photos of the border!


Papercrafts by Cindyellen said...

i did mine southbound -and have a picture very similar to that, except i'm standing in Canada ;-)

congrats, and welcome to the club.

Okie Dog said...

Congratulations!!!! Love the step counter pic for effect! Woo Hoo!!!

Anonymous said...

Awesome pictures Ryan! Loved the animated Erik story!!! Thanks for sharing this beauty for all to experience! (: