And here are Two Bad's reflections from his most recent trip through Vermont.
Two Bad and Gretel back on the Trail
Becca, aka Gretel had been off the trail as she was getting a few things sorted out. Our “Wonder Woman” has law school beginning in August and needed time to get some things worked out so her trail legs would need to be worked back into shape. I told her that Two Bad would be happy to hit the trail and help her ease back into the 20+ mile routine she had worked up to. So Vermont would be our entry point back onto the trail and we’d do a few easy 10-12 mile days ahead of Hansel until he would catch us somewhere in the middle of the state.
Our best laid plan then met “Murphy’s Law”! The “easy” ten miles on our first day failed to account for the fact that there is no access to Vermont at the Massachusetts/Vermont border. We set off at noon from Williamstown, MA adding four miles to our day. The other discovery we made is that Vermont is more accurately known as “Vermuck”! An unusually wet spring has turned the trail into a mass of puddles and mud. Our boots quickly became mud covered and the footing was tricky because it was so slick. Rocks and roots were slippery so we had to slow our pace but also needed to make the shelter before nighttime.
In spite of the tough going on our first day back, we still had been making decent time until at about 10 miles in; I slipped and fell while crossing a stream. The wet rocks were slick and I fell hard onto the rocks and landed in the stream. Water filled my boots but my right forearm broke my fall and I had a gash and large swollen area surrounding it. Gretel helped me get pressure on the area and wrapped it with my bandana. I also had begun the process of daily falls by banging my right knee and hip on the rocks when I fell. Tired legs and slippery rocks are a recipe for problems. Becca was great, helped me up, got me bandaged and then off we went.
As we hiked together over the next few days we had plenty of time to talk. Becca set a good pace and found her trail legs very quickly while I struggled with the mud and slipperiness of the wet rocks and roots. For some reason, my right knee and hip seemed to absorb most of the impact of every fall. She recognized that my leg was taking a beating and whenever her pace set her ahead of me she’d patiently wait as I caught up. We maintained our two mile per hour pace over the first days we hiked together, slow for her but just fine for me.
That first night found us arriving late into the shelter which was quite crowded. We met a section hiker named “Fish Man”, he is a retired professor and an expert in fish farming. Very neat guy to talk with, he has three children and was very impressed with what Becca and Jarrod are doing both hiking and fund raising. As usual, Gretel did the cooking and we got a decent night’s sleep, I knew already that I’d be sore the next day!
Our second day was a 15 mile trek! We started with a very long and rocky downhill; I prefer a climb since they are easier on the knees! Our reward for this major descent, we got to cross a road! The mud and muck continue to be the dominant features of Vermont. Becca and I both have some slips and falls but hike on. The first day she picked me up, literally out of the stream, but today she is struggling with what still lies ahead and questions her strength to finish the trail. So now I have the chance to pick her up! Several hugs along the way, reassuring her that I will be with her every step of the way through Vermont and then Jarrod was there to the end, and telling her that I have come to see that she is perhaps the strongest person I have ever known helps to settle her a bit. It is still a very tough day! But the shelter is really cool with a nice view right out the front. We have a piped water source which gushes freezing cold and delicious fresh spring water. And we meet “Crockett”; he is hiking the “Long Trail” which runs from Vermont to Canada and overlaps with the AT through part of the state. We’ll travel with him for several days. He shared an insight for keeping black flies away, place a fern on the top of your head. As goofy as it sounds, Gretel and I both try it and it works! I look like Caesar and Becca has a leaf growing out of her head but we avoid the flies! We enjoy a good laugh and decide that the next time we see “Crockett” we will thank him for the advice!
Our next morning begins with “Red Rider” rolling into our camp! He is a through hiker that Becca knows. We’ll cross each other’s path several times while hiking through Vermont and “Red Rider” will be one of my favorite hiking acquaintances. In the course of our travels together we will have several times when the two of us talk at length about life and family and society. The kinds of conversations you have when there are no distractions like TV or the telephone. Though I may never have a chance to see him again, I believe that I got to know him well and will be thinking of “Red Rider” and his daughter as they summit Katadhan on July 28th, God bless you my friend!
We make plans to push through to Manchester Center. There is a hostel there which will allow us to dry out, do laundry and get a shower. We’ll also need to cover 18 miles! We enjoy the best trails thus far, dryer and much less muck to contend with, I manage to keep my feet the entire day! We enjoy some nice weather, a great view from Stratton Mountain and good discussion. Becca is planning on getting a cat when she starts Law School. She has been thinking about names and arrives at “Collins”! She’ll listen to Phil as she drives her kitten home and then read Billy to it every night! As we hike, I think about a nice Tom at the end of the day, does anyone drink them anymore I find myself wondering?! A short break for lunch at a shelter and I leave a message in the trail ledger saying we were in for lunch and then on to Manchester, we don’t often write in to books but this turns out to be a good idea, trailing right behind us is Hansel and when he reads our plan he pushes harder to catch us and spend that night together in the hostel. We pass a group of hikers and one of them happens to have just graduated from Union College, she roomed with someone that Becca knows, small world!
When we reach the road, the cell service is spotty. We call and find that the hostel is open and has room for us. Then we get a call from Hansel, he is just minutes behind and looking forward to being reunited with Gretel and Two Bad! It’s great to see Jarrod and after big hugs all around we set off with a driver named Joe LeBlanc, he is a local who recommends that we get some dinner at a restaurant on the way to the hostel. We enjoy an outstanding meal at “The Perfect Wife”! I wish my perfect wife could have been with us, but she is just finishing her last day at school. We call her and catch her up on all news from the trail. The day ends at the Green Mountain Inn. An amazing hostel run by Jeff who has turned a house into a thru-hikers dream! Hot showers, laundry and a kitchen stocked with cereal, bread, eggs and soda! He is one in a million and will be remembered as someone very special. His walls are covered with hiking memories and he has assembled photo collogues from hikers who over the years have stayed at the hostel and then sent pictures from Katadhan.
From this point on we have rain each day. Over the next few days we’ll all have some memorable slips and falls. The highlight will be the airborne full horizontal fall that Jarrod takes on a bridge! The Russian judge would have given him a perfect “10” for that one! He gets up unhurt, but in the course of the day I will end up with a turned left ankle and a sprained left wrist. My knee is now “super- sized” and hip aches. But I wouldn’t trade this for the world! Being here with these two is very special and I couldn’t be more proud of what Jarrod and Becca are getting so close to accomplishing!
Once again I find myself amazed with the nonstop banter that Jarrod maintains throughout the day. He keeps us all laughing and I know that both he and Becca are glad to be reunited! You can’t have Hansel with no Gretel!! We have fun in spite of the rain, slips and Vermuck! I have no doubt that Becca can finish the AT with Jarrod. They are planning the last two states and shelters they will make and timeframe to reach the end, the target is around July 18th. Finishing in less than 4 months will be quite an achievement; over 500 miles walked each month!
Thank God for Becca! With another toe nail coming off on my left foot, my socks turning pink from the bleeding and no way to keep them dry, Gretel came up with the plan! The Inn at Long Trail is a legendary hiker’s haven. We could stay there, get dried out and “slack pack” out of the Inn for two days. We’d be able to cover more miles and get dry each night! We’d also have some good meals at the Irish Pub at the Inn. Connor, Murray, Patty and of course Oaky are the owner and family who own the Inn. They are super nice and very helpful. Oaky, the front desk manager has some great stories he shares and we truly relished our time there. The Pub food was delicious and each night we had entertainment from the “Blarney Rebel Band”. A Celtic Band from Utica, NY made up of three Italian brothers! How can you ever beat that! I recommend them highly! Our evening ended with an Irish coffee and the best Irish Soda Bread Pudding in the world!
My days with Hansel and Gretel are but a few and will be over much too quickly! The memories and experiences will never be forgotten! Becca demonstrated throughout our time that she is a tremendous planner. Always thinking through all the options and keeping a level head. Her inner strength and will remain undimmed by personal challenges, she is a formidable force! Jarrod has shown that he can lift you up and keep you going through his example and his light heartedness. His leadership will serve him well and people will always gravitate to him and stand firmly with him in whatever future endeavors he may undertake!
I’ll never get my 20 mile day in, coming up about .4 of a mile short but still not bad for an old man! I will long and fondly remember the group of thru-hikers I have had the chance to share the trail with, many I have mentioned in these comments I share. The bumps, bruises, aches and pains will go away, the laughs, challenges and memories will not. I thank all of you who have read these words and hope that maybe they will inspire you to get up and go take a hike, it isn’t hard and we’ve got some beautiful places to explore, you may find you really enjoy it! I thank all of you who have graciously supported Hansel & Gretel in their efforts to raise money for MS; your support has been outstanding.
But most of all, I’ll forever be thankful to Jarrod and Becca (Hansel & Gretel) for having shared this time and their adventure with me. I remember well how the AT provided my children with their first backpacking trips and now it is the venue for this experience of a lifetime! To them I simple say “Keep it up, don’t let anything get you down and I’ll see you guys at Katahdin!”
Two Bad and Gretel at the MA/VT boarder