Long-Ago Memories on the Long Trail

It’s no secret that I love hiking – it’s my favorite vacation activity, beats (for me) meditation, and is usually when Julie and I have our best conversations. We’d done a good number of hikes on this trip – up huge mountains, along bluffs, through rolling hills and country lanes…

In Vermont we did one last one. And for me it might have been the most special of all. See, 21 years ago I end-to-ended the Long Trail, all 270 miles of it (OK, well, we took a blue blaze at one point and hitched around a section due to a medical problem, which was actually a section we’d hiked before, but that’s neither here nor there) with my late friend David.

“Late” is key to the special part of all this – David died in 2015. He was the best hiking buddy you could imagine – tough, stubborn, and a great conversationalist. When we finished that hike I started my first trip around the world – it kicked off a year or so of wandering. For me, finishing up this nearly half year of wandering with a hike on the Long Trail was a wonderful echo of that time.

I wanted Fiona to see it. So I found a suitable-looking trailhead at Appalachian gap and the four of us (niece Josie came along) headed out on a beautiful late-summer morning. 73, sunny, low humidity, light breeze. Our hike was only 2.6 miles round trip, and we started at around eleven. I figured that even with little legs along, we’d be done in time for a normal-late lunch.

Trailhead. I was here almost exactly 21 years before.

What I’d forgotten – and always forget – is that the terrain on the Long Trail is totally insane. Roots and rock steps are the base case, and give way to three-points-of-contact rock flume climbing and stream fording. All without switchbacks; those flinty New Englanders never need ’em.

We clambered our way slowly along the trail, getting passed in both directions by young, absurdly ripped trail runners, until we got to Molly Stark’s Balcony, where the trees open up to a wonderful view of the Camel’s Hump and the Green Mountains to the north.

Our walk back was slow – more clambering and pulling ourselves up muddy, difficult hills. I was lost in thought much of the time. We finished at around two in the afternoon, making it just under three hours for two and a half miles. That’s some hard hiking. Luckily, Lawson’s Finest Liquids was just down the hill, and we rewarded ourselves with what comes naturally in Vermont. I raised a glass to my dear departed pal, and I looked proudly at my globe-trotting, hiker-tough daughter. I hope she grows up to have many more achievements like these and friends like I have had.

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