Tuesday, August 31, 1999
We climbed Mt. Killington where the Rev. Samuel Peters stood stoically upon the peak and named the area in a bold voice, “Verd-Mont.”These mountains are full of beauty and color making it a pleasure to be able to hike through. On the descent we came across an alpine sled run that is owned by the mountain ski resort and they offered us a free ride down… how could we pass that delight up? The people who ran the coaster made it so fun and easy for us, we were able to send our packs down the mountain on a ski lift so Llama and I were able to ride the Alpine Blaze down. We flew down the track like Olympic luge athletes whipping and twisting and turning through the woods on an adrenaline breathless ride. This was definitely our most exciting and creative blazing yet.
In the Hogback Mountain region of the Green Mountains, surveyors in 1785 discovered a hermit hiding in some of the local caves, a German named John Broadt. For 12 years he had lived in the wild mountains of Vermont because he thought he had murdered a man in New York and exiled himself. It turns out that the man he thought he had killed was alive and well, so John’s guilt and fear of prison dissolved and he returned home giving up his life of solitude.
Wednesday, September 1, 1999
I’ve had the joy and honor of traveling for over two months with the amazing Llama. I feel pretty lucky. She is responsible, reliable, trustworthy, a tough as nails hiker, she sacrifices for others, emotionally stable, not making mountains out of molehills (we have enough mountains already), anticipates problems and is great at problem solving. She’s generous independent and interdependent. She’s confident and in no way arrogant. She has courage and opinions and also very teachable. She’s not what others would think I would be attracted to but I don’t think people really know me. I like stability and steady. I like calm, it helps me stay grounded and rooted as my own mind is flying in a million directions. Her gentle spirit is what I want more in my life than crazy and chaos. She’s a pretty cool Llama.
We spent the night at the Inn on the Long Trail (the Long Trail is a trail that runs through the state of Vermont and runs with the A.T. for about 100 miles before they split and head in different directions. The Long Trail is the oldest long distance trail in the states.) and had ourselves a rest. The hotel was full of hikers, rock climbers, and normal tourists just passing through. The hotel is plain and rustic, the rooms have no phone or TV in the room so I just sat and read and slept in peace. I was wonderful. Breakfast was amazing because real Vermont syrup was used on the rich custard french toast. I was raised on regular store-bought syrup which I found out is mostly corn syrup with a little maple flavoring added. I’ve been fooled my entire life. Now I suppose I could have read the label of the syrup container but I never knew that there was a difference to even take the time. Real maple syrup isn’t thick and sticky or coat your tongue with a film. Its crisp and rich and thinner that sparkles with flavor. I love this new discovery. I don’t think I can ever go back, my eyes have been opened and I will never go back to the darkness of the cave.
Thursday, September 02, 1999
Here further up the mountain slope
Than there was ever any hope
My Father built, enclose a spring
Strung chains of wall round everything
…The Mountains pushed us off her knees
And now her lap is full of trees.
As I walk the trails I know when I am getting closer to a town because more people are out on the trails taking day-hikes. I love seeing fresh new faces, but with the influx of travelers there comes a larger amount of trash buildup along the sides of the trail.
The early pioneers had the worldview that the wilderness was a physical obstacle that had to be beaten and conquered. They saw it as a threat to their survival that had to be tamed, and I don’t think they were wrong for having that view. From the book of Genesis in the Bible I was taught that mankind was given dominion over the earth, so they were to impose their will over nature, they were to conquer and win. That is how I saw nature. But over the last few months I’ve been seeing a glimpse of something else. A different basic assumptions about life. When I first began hiking my body did not like the tortures I put it through. As my body experienced aches, swelling, blisters, chaffing, restless nights learning to sleep on the hard ground, and even tendonitis, I would get frustrated and even angry. I didn’t like this. I didn’t enjoy the struggle, I was uncomfortable. So I would go out everyday and beat the next 15 miles into submission and not let it beat me. It was me verses nature.
I’m not some mountain man survival expert, but I am changing how I see creation. It’s the writers and artists that point out the positive aspects and values of the wilderness, that universal truths of God are reflected, a mirror to the face of God. That changes how I approach the wilderness. That changes how I view my pain as a result of my hiking. How is all of this an opportunity to hear and connect to God and to know God in a new way? I am not fighting, I am joining. I am joining and I have hard things to wrestle through. My goal is not to beat it or overcome it, I need to just allow it and to not let it distract me from what is really happening, what is even more real and true.
My mind was also unused to the lack of stimulation in the ways I had grown accustomed with tv, phones, music, activities and events to always fill every blank spot in my life. And what all that noise was doing was masking some deep hurts and pains that I was not wanting to ever look at. I have some hurts in my heart that I don’t ever want to look at or face. They terrify me and I don’t know why they scare me so much.
The time of the trail has plunged me into the waters of my own fears, panic rose up my chest as I hiked and processed with God some of my trauma. I really had to fight to let my mind relax and not quit the trail and run for distraction. But over the months I’ve learned to better listen to God and to even enjoy who I am. I’ve been working on some of the deep wounds that are inside my heart. And what I hate learning is that I have a long way to go in my recovery but I feel like I’ve turned to go in the right direction. I’ve learned that facing my junk won’t kill me like I believed it would. I’m picking up trash as I see it. I’m not ignoring it, inside me and along the trail.
Hiking for five months has shown me many beautiful wonders of God’s hand, but even more importantly I have been sensitized to the voices around me. The wind, rain, the cool streams and the changes of the trees. My emotions have been clarified and in some areas amplified. My faith in God has increased and in some areas renewed. It has not been easy to pick my pack up every day but it has been something I have felt compelled to do. I have tried to own the words of Thoreau to be my words, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
Friday, September 3, 1999
I walked into Hanover this morning, home of Dartmouth College, and a marker telling me I am now in New Hampshire, my 13thstate and positioned at the toes of the White Mountains. The movie “Animal House” was written by Chris Miller (Dartmouth ’63), based on Miller’s experiences in Dartmouth’s fraternity Alpha Delta Phi.Dartmouth does not have an official mascot, although the controversial Keggy the Keg (an anthropomorphic beer keg) has become an “ingrained part of Dartmouth culture.” The story behind Dartmouth’s school color (forest green) is surprisingly simple: back in 1866, it was the only color not used by another college. And the last piece of weird trivia is that tea and cookies are served at 4pm each weekday at the school library. It is estimated that around 1000 cups of teas are served every year.
Saturday, September 4, 1999
Hanover seems to be a large mousetrap for hikers. The hikers Prince Albert and Tennessee have been here for nine days, others for six, many for five and on and on. Many hikers have expressed to me that this college town is their last chance to get drunk on a continual basis, nightly keg parties and morning hangovers. Moezass saw me on the school quad and ran to me and gave me a big bear hug. I love that boy. He has put on some weight which surprised me. He has a growing belly. And the only reason I noticed is because he’s never had one and hikers lose weight not gain it. He told me he’s been sucked into the party vacuum and can’t seem to get out of. He doesn’t want to get out of it. His drinking habit has loaded him up with more calories than he has been hiking off in the last month. He didn’t look good. I felt sad for him. He seems to have found a desire to get trashed drinking. It’s made me wonder what’s going on inside his heart because he seemed so sad even as he raised a beer up to salute me.
The rumor hikers keep talking about is that we have hiked 80% of the trail but have 50% of the work ahead of us starting this week. We’ve been told that all the hiking we’ve done is to prepare our bodies and minds for the hard climbs ahead of us. That seems to be the reason some hikers are delaying from walking out of Hanover. Once they leave, the ball starts rolling from here and the momentum will carry us to the completion of Katahdin in Maine.
It has been a fun town to rest in but the pull to stay long term has thin strings on me. The desire to get plastered with large amounts of alcohol does not entice or persuade either Llama or me. What has sucked us in has been Lou’s Restaurant and Bakery. This restaurant feels right at home. I won’t forget my time here partly because of the great coffee and food and partly because of the great conversations with the wonderful Llama. It’s a cozy, homey, warm, old-fashioned America restaurant with really good baked goods. I never knew I needed Lou’s Cruller French Toast in my life until I visited. Their classic glazed cruller dipped in egg batter and fried until golden brown is honestly life changing. If anything could keep me in town it might be this place. But in the evening Llama and I packed up and walked out into the mountains. My aunt Sue is flying out from Portland, Oregon. She will meet me 16 miles North of here tomorrow to help us for the next several days with what she calls “car and credit card trail magic”to be used any way they can help. She is the most fun and joyful person I know, this is going to be fun, and the first family member to meet the amazing Llama.
Sunday, September 5, 1999
“I can live for two months on a good compliment.”
That is how I feel with my jolly Aunt Sue flying here helping Llama and I battle through our first days of the New Hampshire White Mountains. She is so encouraging, fun, and kind that I feel a tremendous emotional push to help us continue on. She is amazing.
New Hampshire is the third largest producer of maple syrup in New England with the North Eastern U.S. and Southeastern Canada being the only area in the world where maple syrup is produced. The state motto is: ‘Live Free or Die,”taken from John Stark’s heroic cry, (a mighty revolutionary war colonel). The residents of New Hampshire were tough as nails in the new wilderness and were strong supporters of the revolution. They even set up their own government and declared their own independence from Britain seven months before the declaration of independence was signed.
Last night as we hiked in the evening we struggled to find a campsite, so we just kept hiking forward and looking for a spot. But we struggled to find any open areas for even one tent, the ground cover was thick and full. As the sunlight was fading from the sky the cold wind began to blow on us. We didn’t want to go down the rocky path in the dark, so we found a very small area to set up camp on tree roots about ten feet off the trail. Darkness overtook us within minutes, so we took out our headlamps and began the process of settling in for the night. We rushed to set up camp, find a place to hang the bear bags and then dove inside the tent eat in the tent by the light of our headlamps. When we turned our lights off to go to sleep I noticed that off in the distance through the trees headlamps or flashlights were moving around, roaming back and forth as if looking for something. I sat watching silently for what seemed an eternity as Llama fell asleep. They weren’t just hikers or they would have passed us, they were looking for something. They never stopped moving around and I could hear them crashing through the brush as they slowly got closer to us. What could they be doing? I couldn’t lay down, I couldn’t take my eyes off of those moving lights. I grew more and more tense listening for any noise that they might be approaching from any other direction. I must have dozed off because I woke up to the sound of feet kicking rocks and sticks as they approached closely on the trail. I checked the clock, 2:30 am, why would anyone hike at this time of night? What are they doing? Am I in danger? If there was a full moon to give people light then I could rationalize in some small way that there might be people out, I have done it once and many other hikers enjoy the thrill and novelty of night hikes, but it was dark and cold. Then I began to wonder if they would be able to see the tent, were they looking to harass hikers? Would they come at us? Am I safe? Is Llama safe? We have all heard stories of locals harassing hikers and historically it has been locals who have murdered the hikers on the trail. These stories flooded my mind and my heart raced faster and faster. My fear grew with each crunch of rocks and snap of branches as they drew closer.
Ten years ago in the mountains of Santa Cruz California I was with two friends on a night hike. We were having fun in the darkness slowly walking a trail when we saw torch lights off in the woods to our left. We noticed that as we walked the path they were walking parallel to us. Within minutes they turned and came at us and we started to run and pray. When we broke through out of the forest and found our car at the trailhead, we saw a group of Satanists in their robes and torches coming out of the woods and looking at us. We tore out of there feeling like our lives were just spared. I still have nightmares about that experience.
My mind could not help but to wander back and revisit those fears. Who are these people? I slowly unzipped the mesh tent door and reached out of the tent with my right hand and found one of my hiking sticks to feel like I had some measure of protection. Then they were next to us on the trail. They had turned their lights off and they made no effort to be quiet. Llama woke up and I told her to not say a word. Fear flooded her eyes. Both of us were praying for safety and that in the darkness they wouldn’t see us off in the bushes. Several people passed us one at a time over five minutes, six in all. Smashing and the bushes and knocking the rocks around. None of it made sense. As the noise finally faded into the distance we both breathed a deep sigh of relief. Neither of us was able to get much rest after that. Our minds and fears continuing until the sun lit the sky and we were able to move on.
Monday, September 6, 1999
One of Vermont’s greatest products is Bag Balm, a product of the Dairy Association Co. The directions say to, “massage thoroughly and allow ointment to remain for full antiseptic and softening effect on the udder.”
Yes, this was created for cows. “For chapped teats, superficial scratches, abrasions, windburn, and sunburn. After each milking apply the bag balm.” The label says that is for veterinary use only it says, but I have found that it works sonders on me.
My blisters are a minimal problem now but my chaffing is getting worse because my clothes can’t dry in this moist weather. My body remains swamp like, turning me into screaming monster crying out for relief in the clouded woods. But Bag Balm has been my new salvation.
The Bag Balm salve is a thick yellow product and stays put where you rub it on. It has a light medicinal fragrance, but not too strong. I rather enjoy it. It works wonders for saddle sores, great for bike riders to keep their clothes from rubbing their skin raw, awesome for sore cuticles, great for rough volleyball player’s hands and feet who play on the sand or on courts, diaper rash, heals chapped lips, good on Psoriasis – soothes the sores, for use on acne to help fade acne scars, super for Eczema – dry skin, soothes sunburned skin, quilters and sewers keep a can close by to heal their hands, and it helps heal cold sores. These people have created a miracle.