The Smell of Christmas

June 12, 2018

Destination: Stealth Campsite at mile 1646 Today's Miles: 24.20

Start Location: Goddard Shelter Trip Miles: 1646

My little snack time buddy
It was a brisk 42 degrees when I woke up this morning. I actually woke up a little chilly around 4am and put my grubby T-shirt on over my long underwear top.

It felt good to be cozy in my bag though. When I woke up, I went about my morning routine - pack up the inside of my tent, get my food bag and eat breakfast in my tent, brush my teeth, pack up my tent, strip off my jacket and hike off in my shorts and T-shirt. I was hiking by 6:20. 

Just following the Shelter was the lookout tower atop Glastenbury Mountain. I climbed up and thought that it was locked. It was chilly but offered some nice views. Transformer arrived shortly after me and climbed up. I kept moving to get warm. Later on he caught up to me and said that not only was the tower actually open, but a girl was up there and had slept in it last night! He opened the hatch and they both startled each other. She had been at the shelter when we got there that evening. I don’t know how well I would sleep in one of those towers, especially if it was really windy. 

We took a break after 5 miles and pulled over at Kid Gore Shelter. While I was eating a snack, a curious and brave chipmunk sat nearby eating a snack of his own that he had foraged off the shelter floor. He kept looking at my food hopefully.  I took a picture of him - so cute!

There was another shelter after 10 miles and we ducked in there for a snack break too. We then worked on the climb up to the summit of Stratton Mountain. Everywhere it smelled like Christmas trees. The forest was full of fir trees. It smelled so refreshing! There was another lookout tower here with incredible views - just stunning. I could see ski slopes that would come to life in the winter, lakes, and mountains upon mountains. This was the best view I’ve had in Vermont so far. A nearby summit view is actually where Benton MacKaye was inspired to create the AT. 

Transformer and I talked with a local couple for a bit before hiking on. We walked down to Stratton Pond, which was quite large and gorgeous. You can swim in it, but it’s a little too chilly yet, and I’m not the biggest freshwater pond swimming guy. I like a good sandy beach! We trekked on to the William Douglas Shelter, but the side trail was half a mile, so we opted to stealth camp in the woods just across a brook.

Today, just at the Winhall River, we crossed the 3/4 way mark at mile 1643. I’m now in the final 25% of this journey! I feel good about that. I have enough left to really savor and enjoy it, but I will also get to see my wife and kitty in a reasonable amount of time. Transformer and I were going to make a monument with sticks, but we were tired and forgot about it until we got to camp! This milestone did spark some interesting conversation earlier in the day. We talked a lot about our gear and ways we thought we could go lighter, so I thought I would share a little bit of that. Right now I plan to ditch some things at the next hiker box opportunity or in Hanover. I think I will send home my camp crocs. I haven’t really been using them and I can live without them. I will also get rid of my spare lighter. I brought two bic mini lighters not knowing how long one would last. It’s lasted this long, so the full one will certainly make the rest of the journey. My Nu Skin - this was great in the winter when my skin would crack with the cold, but I haven’t used it in a long time. My pot cozy. I hardly cook in my pot at all, and now that it is warm I don’t need the cozy. There are probably a few other odds and ends I will find that I can do without. Why would I bother with this now? One reason is that I want to get as light as possible before the Whites. I’m expecting the climbs to be quite tough, and the less weight I carry the more fun the hiking is on those tough ascents and descents. I also feel like it is a good time to stretch myself a bit. Lighter is always better, and at this stage of the trip I won’t suffer for too long if I get rid of something I later wish I had. It’s a good time to experiment.

Gear wise, I’m still loving my Z Packs Arc Haul pack, I still use the same water system, I still have my 20 degree Western Mountaineering down bag, the Thermarest neo air pad, and my rain jacket and rain pants. I will be keeping all of that. I actually still have my winter gloves too. I’m considering getting rid of those, but they could still come in handy and they are really light, so I’m not sure yet. I have a new Sawyer filter shipping to Hanover. The flow rate in mine is super light and back flushing doesn’t help so I think it is about dead. I also ordered a new pair of shoes to Hanover. I don’t think I’ll need them yet, but I’m interested in trying the new Altra Olympus 3.0. It has more cushioning than my Lone Peak 3.5s. Having it shipped to Hanover allows me to try it on and see if I might like it. If yes, I will bounce it north. If no, I will return it and maybe get another pair of Lone Peaks and  have them sent north. Either way, I plan to hike the Whites in my Lone Peaks. It’s a responsive shoe and I get a good feel for what my feet are doing. I have well over 1000 miles using this shoe (two pair), so I don’t want to change right before some difficult hiking. At the same time, I don’t know if my current pair will make it to the end of my trek.

Lastly, at the shelter last night I met a German guy named Traveler (not the New Zealand Traveler I have mentioned before). He attempted a thru hike last year but didn’t finish, so he’s finishing the sections he missed this year. He was very interesting. Transformer and I spoke with him quite a bit. He knew very early that he did not want to walk the traditional line - school, corporate or stable boring job, etc. He and a friend left school and went to South America, and he has been traveling since. He’s been to so many places! He does camera and production work to make money when he needs it. He lives cheaply, like a backpacker but also like the locals live in the countries he visits. Simplicity and frugality have been an important part of this lifestyle. I really admired him and feel that he is living his dream. I also believe many people want to live that way, but ultimately are too scared to pull the trigger, or too sucked into the life picture that society has painted for them. I know that for a long time, I did things just because I thought it was what I should do. Anyway, it was good for Transformer to hear his experiences as well. Transformer is 31, from Australia, and has a degree in mining engineering. He had a desk job but hated it, so he started working in the mines. He liked the physical aspect of it, but it was mind numbing, repetitive, and dangerous work. He decided to completely change his life and work only to live an adventurous life. He quit, sold everything, and came to walk the AT. After this he is going to work in Canada for a few years at a ski resort. 

I was grateful today for the wildlife, the views, meeting interesting people, and good conversation. No moose sightings yet! We have been seeing what people say is moose poop, but not the culprits! Cell reception is getting worse. No signal tonight....

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