I got an early start this morning to work my way into Hanover. The rain started around 4 and made it a tough morning to leave the comfort of the shelter despite a leaky roof. But I wanted food and wanted to get a solid mileage in today to back up that I can do the 40 mile days back to back.
In town the gloominess persisted. I went to a diner, Lou’s Restaurant and Bakery, where I had eaten 6 years ago when I came through. I pulled off my poncho to keep from looking too homeless inside and rolled it up and put it in my pack. I was dripping wet, shorts absolutely soaking and shoes squeaking with each step. While I wandered around looking for an outlet to charge my phone another customer asked if she could lend me her towel to dry off. It was very thoughtful of her and I told her thanks but I would just be getting drenched in another hour so I declined the offer.
On the way in I had seen a stack of basketball size pancakes and was committed to ordering those. But the goat cheese omelet caught my eye too and I decided to just get both. When I started my order with three pancakes, the waitress looked at me and said, “Sweetheart, they’re big pancakes, are you sure you don’t just want two?”
“No, three is good,” I responded, and then continued, “And I would also like…” and then ordered an entire other entree with a side of fruit and hash browns. I’m certain thru-hikers had come in before but I think the sheer volume of food we eat is still surprising to her.
I loved my breakfast and ate every last bite. When I had finished she came over to grab my plate and said “Well,” then scanned the plate and declared, “I’m impressed.”
I grabbed my phone and left in a deluge. The streets were flooding and rain was finding a way in through the sleeves and neck of my poncho. I walked over to the CVS where I resupplied on cookies, candy, and granola bars and then started working my way out of town. My next mail drop was at Kent Pond just over 40 miles away so my pack was light and I was excited to be switching back into my own shoes soon after wearing the replacements I picked up in the hiker box in Gorham for the last 150 miles or so. They were great shoes but their wet weight, the weight of them when soaked, was drastically higher than the Saucony Peregrine 5 shoes I was used to.
Walking down the road to being on the Vermont Appalachian Trail section, the rain persisted and even strengthened. By now the roads full blown creeks running through them pouring down to the Connecticut River which divides New Hampshire and Vermont. With water leaking in through my sleeves and soaking nearly every inch of me, I was getting tired and fed up. I couldn’t deny that my legs felt weak and the huge breakfast was making me crave a nap. I was really struggling. I called my mom and told her about the rain and she told me the trail was just seeing how tough I was. It was exactly the right thing to say and I knew I was tougher than this. At the next shelter I said I would take a quick nap and then get going and hike hard for the rest of the day.
But once that nap was over I still felt sluggish. Mosquitoes took the place of rain but I still struggled to get my legs moving. I started working through all the things that could be affecting me. Starting the day in the rain always bummed me out, the wet shoes definitely were pretty heavy, the big breakfast probably wasn’t as effective or smart as a big dinner would’ve been. The trail was marked by constant short ups and downs which are tougher to get a rhythm on than the long climbs up north. And likely more than anything, I had done a poor job keeping up with the calories I was burning and was becoming emaciated only two weeks in. I had some ideas on what was going on; now I just needed to make some changes and hope they kick in quickly. I vowed that after a big day I’d make sure to get a solid dinner in to help me recover and load up my glycogen for the following morning. Additionally, I needed to keep a better sleep schedule. If I came in to the the shelter late, I needed to sleep in a bit. I couldn’t run on 5 hours of sleep and expect to not suffer.
About 1 mile north of Woodstock Stage Road in Vermont I decided to call it a day. Each step was a tremendous effort and I didn’t want to ruin my chances of pulling myself back into this down south because of stubbornness and poor recovery this early on. I was sad and really wanted to go home. Burying myself deeper would just make me less inclined to get up the next day and go hard. I convinced myself that the next day would be better, and knew that it very likely would. I ate my food without rationing, knowing that I could very easily resupply at a farm stand just down the road the next morning.
I set up my tarp and a nice duff bedding, stretched, ate a solid dinner, and laid down before the sun set. I was to the stage of exhaustion when I began to feel the weight of my limbs, when even holding my head up became a conscious effort. I rolled my buff over my eyes to shield from the sun and was out.
Earlier in the day I started to realize that I never would catch a break on this trip. I had been constantly hoping for it to get easier, thinking there was no way I could continue through the unrelenting rain and suffering. But each day I kept getting up and kept hiking. When the rain would stop, the mosquitoes would come. When the mud dried, the trail switched to a rocky mess. When I safely passed all the hairy fords of Maine, the high summits of New Hampshire through me through the wringer. Albeit a daunting realization, it was comforting to come to accept it. I simply knew now that the trip was going to be way harder than I anticipated, not solely because of the miles, but because of the conditions, the solitude, and the reality of independence that comes with an unsupported hike.
So when a porcupine stumbled up to me in the late hours of the night, sniffing away, likely targeting some mint Milanos in my bag, I wasn’t surprised in the least bit. It was just the next order of business. No one ever told me what would be next but it didn’t matter. I needed to be prepared for anything. Being woken up by a hungry, persistent porcupine normally would’ve been incredibly annoying but to me it was everyday life. I woke up, slipped out of my quilt and barefoot ran after the big guy, throwing sticks along the way. It wasn’t enough and he was back a half hour later, just as I really got comfortable and sleepy again. I got up again and this time nearly clocked him with one of the sticks. I sort of felt bad, but not really. I didn’t hurt him and he probably wouldn’t be coming back. It takes a minute to fall back asleep after a debacle like that but I was getting better at winding down since the trip had begun. I didn’t see him again and slept soundly the rest of the night and didn’t wake up until shortly after sunrise the next morning.