Then, upon closer inspection, I recognized our blue plastic bucket full of
ice-cold soft drinks and a bunch of our "Runtrails & Co." cards - and realized
that Jim put out the goodies for today's thru-hikers!
I shouldn't have been surprised. He did the same thing when he was able to get a campsite in Shenandoah National Park that was
only about twenty feet off the Trail. This time we're about 200 feet away, but
Jim put the trail magic just inside the woods where the AT joins one of the
paved roads through the campground of Gifford Woods State Park for a quarter of
Thirty of the thirty-two cans of soft drinks disappeared. So did several boxes of cookies
and crackers he put out this morning. He left a note saying the goodies were
from "Runtrails & Co." and invited thru-hikers to come over to our campsite.
Several did, including "Muskrat," "Hitman" (I've met him), "EM," and "Birdie."
He also talked with "Bearcanless," a young woman I remember from Virginia, while
putting out more supplies. (She carried a bear can to keep food safe from bears
for about two months before discarding it, at which point she went from being
called "Bearcan" to "Bearcanless.")
Jim wished he'd thought to get items at the grocery so he could grill
hamburgers for the hikers. Maybe next time, if we're ever camped close to the
Seventeen hikers signed the little notebook Jim left at the site. I know
several of them and hope to catch up with them further up the Trail. I'm in the
process of catching up the second time to many of the hikers I first saw
in Virginia, W. Virginia, and Maryland, and others I haven't had a chance to
meet yet, like "Longhaul," with whom I corresponded before beginning my journey.
By the time I crossed US 4 near Sherburne Pass later this afternoon, there were
about twenty names of thru-hikers with today's date in a register there.
"SNOWMAN" ET AL
I hardly saw any hikers today until I was coming down from Killington Peak,
twelve miles into my run. That's when I met "Snowman" for the first time.
Oh, there was the hiker-wannabe sitting stoned or drunk in the Governor
Clement shelter at mile eight, who asked me in a slurred voice, "Are you hikin'
or somethin'?" He doesn't count. There are so many problems with "non-hikers" at
this location that the ATC cautions hikers to not stay there overnight.
I didn't even stick around to sign the register!
And there were a few AT and Long Trail section and day hikers along the way,
mostly near Sherburne Pass, Killington, and Gifford Woods SP. I exchanged
pleasantries with those folks.
The first time "Snowman" went trucking by, he commented that he'd be mighty
glad when he got off Killington/Pico mountains so he'd be rid of all the tangled
pine tree roots in the Trail. I laughed and said we'd probably find some more on
the next mountain range.
He caught up to me a second time after taking a break at Pico Camp. This time
we hiked together for a few minutes and I was able to get some information
Snowman is a young man from South Wales, here for seven months for his AT
thru-hike. He hasn't hiked much before in the British Isles because "the trails
go through too many villages." He liked the idea of hiking for months through
mostly wilderness and has thoroughly enjoyed his time here in the U.S. He's
averaging about fifteen miles a day now and should finish at least a week
before his plane flight home in early October.
His name was bestowed upon him by fellow hikers a few days into his trek when
he built a little snowman - complete with backpack - on Blood Mountain
(Georgia) back in March during a snowstorm. "I built a few more after that,
too," he said, meaning there were more snowfalls. I've seen his name, comments,
and little snowman drawings in trail registers along the way. I enjoyed meeting
him and listening to his delightful accent.
I met four other thru-hikers sitting on a log at Maine Junction later in the
afternoon. This is the point where the Long Trail and Appalachian Trail
separate. The LT continues north to the Canadian border and the AT turns east
toward New Hampshire.
I talked with "No Show," "Adam," "Chuck,"
(not their real names), and "Chubster" about twenty minutes. The first two have
been hiking together, as have the last two - but the two pairs haven't seen each
other for a couple months, until today. They were having fun comparing notes
about life on the Trail and they seemed interested in "my way" of
running/hiking the Trail.
In fact, Chubster has met David Horton and was very interested to learn that
he recently set a new speed record on the PCT. The guys were all intrigued by Traildog's new AT record, too, marveling how anyone could cover so many
difficult AT miles so fast.
I took the photo of No Show, Adam, and Chuck about half an hour later. They
got to the park just behind Jim and the dogs and me. I don't know what happened
to Chubster in those last two miles . . .
MORE TRAIL SURPRISES
I mentioned at the beginning that Jim's trail magic was today's third. The
first one I expected because I'd read about it in a 2003 trail journal, but it
was fun to see: cans of soft drinks in a little cold stream, floating
inside a mesh corral. They were courtesy of "The Hiking Gnome and The Outhouse
Repairman," who have a sign posted on a nearby tree. It's interesting that
they've been doing this at least two years. (I didn't take one; too early in the
AM, and I rarely drink soft drinks.)
There was an empty cooler and plastic box at Upper Cold Creek Road a little
later on, courtesy of "The Mad Hatter."
I've been thinking recently that many SOBO thru-hikers won't be getting to
the Roanoke area until after we are back home. I'd like to keep a cooler of
goodies for those folks at one of the road crossings closest to our home, as
pay-back (pay forward?) for all the trail magic I've seen on my run.
Many trail angels are former thru-hikers or section hikers who know how much
the surprises mean to hungry backpackers. I usually don't take anything,
preferring to leave it to backpackers who don't have the selection of food to
which I have access every day.
OK, HOW WAS YOUR RUN TODAY, SUE???
Oh, yeah. I almost forgot about a description of today's section!
It was typical Vermont trail - some very soft and runnable, some so gnarly
with twisted pine roots and mossy rocks that I had to slow 'way down to avoid
falling, almost all of it shaded and beautiful, through several eco-zones up and
down Killington Peak and Pico Mountain (mixed hardwoods morphing to birch trees
and ferns morphing to dry pines morphing to wet sub-alpine spruce - and back
There were few views because I was too lazy to climb another 2/10ths of a
mile straight UP Killington, off the AT. I rationalized that the view couldn't
be any better than what I saw from Baker Peak yesterday . . .
A long relocation done in the late 1990s on Killington and Pico added over
three miles to the Trail on Killington/Pico mountains and routed it well enough
below the peaks to completely avoid any sight or sound of the ski business
above. In fact, the Trail doesn't even cross any of the ski runs like on
I got a kick out of the privy on Killington, near the Cooper Lodge, a little
hut for hikers. The privy has a painted wood sign reading, "Cooper Pooper" and a
hand-written sign requesting that everyone pee in the woods first, as the privy
can't handle urine. It's an eco-thing, I guess, because of the delicate balance
of nature in the sub-alpine zone (here, at 3,850 feet).
Speaking of heights, that was today's highest elevation. The lowest was 860
feet at the start. Do the math. Long climb! And there were the inevitable climbs
and descents in between, for a total gain of about 5,000 feet today and 4,200
And to think, I considered this an easy day because it was "only"
Some of the climbs in this section are steep but the long one up Killington
from the south was pretty gradual. What made it difficult in some parts was the rooty, rocky treadway. The Trail was vastly better in all the relocations today,
including a beautifully-runnable two miles down Pico to busy Hwy. 4. Several of
the shorter descents were steep, also.
I wouldn't call this twenty-mile section real runnable. It would be easier
done north to south, with a net elevation loss. Some of the newer sections are
great, but there are still enough rocks and roots on the old sections to slow
down even the fastest runner.
There were several creeks again today but not nearly as many as yesterday.
No ponds. Several cairns - I always smile when I see those.
Today's run of "only" 20.7 miles was more relaxed than yesterday's longer
session. I felt no pressure to be done at a certain time, since I was finishing
in our campground and Jim didn't have to drive to a trail head to retrieve me. I
carried much less water and gel - and didn't use up either. My pack felt so much
lighter (because it was).
I have totally forgotten the luxury of running with NO pack. With my lighter
pack today I felt the same way backpackers do when they occasionally "slack" a
section with only a day pack. Freedom hiking, they call it.
I called Jim about thirty minutes out to let him know I'd be "home" later
than expected because I spent so much time talking to the fellas at Maine
Junction. He sounded like he was in the camper. Imagine my surprise when I could
hear him calling Tater and Cody on the Trail a couple minutes later! (They
wanted to visit with a day hiker.)
So I surprised him by calling the dogs. They always come speeding up
the Trail to greet me. Jim stayed at his mossy perch on a little knoll and
waited till I got to him. The Trail back to camp was full of mossy rocks and
roots, which he dislikes. Shows how much he loves me to come out again to meet
me when the Trail is less than ideal! Thanks, honey.
A word about Gifford Woods State Park - pretty place with reasonable fees,
although there are no hook-ups. Inside the 285-acre park is a 12-acre virgin
stand of old-growth hardwoods with many grand-sized trees, including Vermont's
state tree, the sugar maple, left in their natural state. Somewhere else in the
park is a 400-year-old hemlock tree.
The park is also a major migratory route for birds, attracting birders in the
spring and fall. The AT runs through the park and crosses VT 100 to nearby Kent
Pond. That's where I'll begin my next section on Friday.
Tomorrow morning we'll be heading for the same campground in Quechee where we
stayed a week for the VT 100 race a month ago. (Has it been that long??) I am
taking tomorrow off for three important appointments - massage, chiropractic
adjustment, and a perm (my hair is totally out of control). One of us will write