Day 121 – Friday, July 8: Little Rock Pond to Governor Clement Shelter, 19.7 miles, 1,690.2 total AT miles.

I woke up to dampness everywhere. My tent didn’t leak – nothing seeped in from below. I was still soaked from trying to set it up in the rain the night before. Greyhound’s tent fared worse – she had a few puddles seep in. I put on wet clothes and started packing up. We were hiking north by 7:30am.

At 9:00am, we came across a field of stone cairns. Black Santa hates cairns. A brief spat of destruction ensued. I couldn’t stop laughing – the only other person present was a startled day-hiker who kept repeating “Oh no!” over and over again. There was another field of stone cairns a mile or so away – Black Santa went easy on these.

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After all that rain the night prior, the trail was beautiful. I ran across a Red Eft – some sort of a salamander. I’ve been seeing these guys intermittently since North Carolina.

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It was 12:30pm, we had already hiked 12 miles on the day, and the sun was starting to shine. We crossed the Clarendon Gorge and headed down VT 103 towards a restaurant listed in the AT Guide. We came across Qu’s, a little place located close to the trail head. The owners were super accommodating – they gave us drying racks to let us take up their front lawn.

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We sat on the patio and ordered lunch – I ate wings and the meatloaf dinner. The food was exceptional. They gave me so much meatloaf and mashed potatoes, I ended up having enough leftovers for dinner. After about an hour of relaxing on the porch and enjoying our meals, we started packing up our now-dry tents – my socks had even dried out a bit.

Black Santa borrowed the owners van to make a quick run to the local market – when he returned, the three of us set off. I checked my phone before entering the woods – more rain was forecast for tonight. At least my tent is dry now – that’s truly the important thing.

The three of us were looking forward to hitting another AT milestone – at some point this evening, we should be less than 500 miles away from Katahdin. After a few tough ascents leaving Qu’s, we finally started making good time again on the level terrain. And at 7:00pm, we hit the mark – only 500 miles left in this crazy adventure.

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Black Santa sped off towards camp – Greyhound and I lagged behind. When we arrived it was getting dark and looking like it might rain. Black Santa was set up in front of the shelter – and there weren’t any other campsites close. We ended up tenting behind the shelter – there was plenty of room for two tents.

After a delicious dinner of meatloaf and mashed potato sandwiches, I went to sleep. Today was tiring.

Day 120 – Thursday, July 7: Manchester Center, VT to Little Rock Pond Shelter, 19.8 miles, 1,670.5 total AT miles.

We woke early as planned and headed into town. I couldn’t get ahold of Black Santa – I was sure I’d see him at camp tonight as he was catching a ride back to the trail from the hostel. We packed quickly – Greyhound needed to attempt to clear up the fraudulent charges to her credit card before we left town. We stopped at the gas station for some last minute snacks and then to McDonalds for breakfast.

In Pearisburg, VA, Savage, Black Santa and I caught an unexpectedly fast hitch simply by standing by the exit of a fast-food restaurant, kinda near the drive thru. I hoped the same would happen here. It didn’t take long before a station wagon quickly pulled in to scoop us up. I sat in the back seat.

But this wasn’t any ordinary hitch – we were quickly informed by the driver that she preferred to play a special CD for hikers. She asked if we were easily offended. I was intrigued. The CD starts playing and this nice lady starts singing. The songs are all vulgar, comedy-style songs – middle school Cool Dad would have probably liked them. They were mostly about “boobs” – I don’t feel comfortable going into further detail.

As were pulling up to the trail head – the lady politely informs us that she wants to perform a little song and dance routine. Why not!? Greyhound and I hop out of the car and watch as this lady performs an entire vulgar song complete with suggestive body movements. It was hilarious! We politely thanked her and left. I was speechless – it took a while to get it out of my head and focus on the day ahead.

Our goal was to make it to Little Rock Pond – I was fairly sure I’d catch up to Black Santa there. But that lay almost 20 miles ahead. Three miles up trail, we summited Bromley Mountain and hung out by the ski lift for a little while – it was 11:30am. We both put our heads down and cruised.

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At 1:30pm, we stopped at Styles Peak to have a snack. And then the coolest thing ever happened. A chipmunk darted out of the bushes and started gathering crumbs extremely close to Greyhound’s foot. He wasn’t afraid of people at all. I told Greyhound to feed him a cracker – she tried but he skirted off into the bushes.

A few minutes later, he popped out again – this time he shot up a boulder and right next to my shoulder. I slowly moved my arm towards him, holding a cracker. He ran up and grabbed it! He held it with two hands in the air and took a few bites before scurrying off. I wish I could have gotten this on film.

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Riding high, we set off. I had cell service and made a few calls. I also checked the weather – there was a near 100% chance of thunderstorms, due to arrive that evening. The clouds were already starting to build as we crossed Baker Peak at 4:30pm – camp was still seven miles away.

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The trail was rocky and rooted – and slick from a recent rainstorm. But it was very pretty out. Even though I knew rain was on the horizon, I was lulled into a false sense of security by the beautiful late-afternoon sun. The trail was very pretty.

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We were less than a mile away from camp when we felt the first drops of rain. We started booking it. As we approached Little Rock Pond, we came across clusters of tents – and sure enough, we found Black Santa’s tent with plenty of room to set up ours.

The rain was getting heavier. We scrambled to set up out tents. As soon as my rainfly was tight, I threw my pack in and began trying to dry everything off. At least it wasn’t cold. Because I’ve got a double vestibule tent, Greyhound came over and utilized my extra space to cook dinner.

Note: Cooking dinner in a tent is dangerous – we both kept the vestibules partially open. Still probably not too smart. We did get to enjoy a hot meal at the end of a long day.

Black Santa was hanging out with some hikers he met at the hostel the night prior. As I was cleaning up, he returned to his tent. The three of us talked for a while before passing out.

Day 119 – Wednesday, July 6: Manchester Center, VT, Zero Day, 1,650.7 total AT miles.

The three of us woke up early – I walked down to the office and grabbed a cup of coffee and a muffin. I also confirmed that we’d be staying another night. The Palmer House is a cool place – not only do they have a stocked trout pond, they also have a 9-hole golf course. When I found out it was free for guests to use, I got excited. Black Santa and I would have to play a round later.

I headed back to the room and the three of us set off. Black Santa needed to accomplish all of the same things Greyhound and I did yesterday (laundromat, outfitters). He set off – Greyhound and I decided to head down to the grocery store for our resupply.

I was very serious about never eating tuna anymore. That meant cans of meat. I know its heavy, but I seriously think it tastes a whole lot better than tuna or salmon packets. I stocked up on regular chicken, buffalo chicken and BBQ pork. I also bought a loaf of rye bread – it seems to last just as long as tortillas or bagels and tastes great.

Greyhound and I were loaded down with bags and tried to find a shortcut through town. We ended up following a small path that followed a creek – and terminated in the side of a dirt hill, probably about 100 feet below the sidewalk we were shooting for. As we made our way up the hill, I stumbled on something sticking out of the mud. I reached down and pulled an old horseshoe out of the earth. It was definitely old and very cool. I decided to keep it.

We returned to the hotel and hung out, waiting on Black Santa to return. About an hour later, he arrived with his purchases and the three of us walked across the parking street to enjoy a round of golf. While we were heading to the first tee, Greyhound watched as something furry fell from a tree. She ran over and called for Black Santa and me to come over. It was a hawk or falcon of some kind. It still was downy in places – it probably fell out of its nest trying to learn how to fly or something.

It hopped around in the grass, flapping its wings – it was definitely frightened of us. I called Vermont Fish and Game to see what I should do. It was determined that, as long as the baby raptor wasn’t in immediate danger, we should leave it alone. So we played golf.

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Black Santa destroyed me – I couldn’t seem to hit the green to save my life. Even Greyhound admitted it was a bad beat. After golfing, the three of us headed back down to Gringo Jack’s for dinner. Black Santa informed us that he wanted to stay at the hostel tonight – there apparently was a hiker he wanted to catch up with.

After dinner, Black Santa headed off to the hostel and Greyhound and I headed back to the room. As soon as we got back, Greyhound connected to wi-fi and received some bad news – her credit card info had been stolen. She spent the next hour talking to her mom, trying to get the fraudulent charges removed. In the end, over $2,000 had been recently spent all over North Carolina. She hung up, knowing she’d have to spend extra time in the morning getting all this cleared up.

We both went to sleep fairly early – I was pretty tired, but excited to start hiking the next morning.

* * *

The burn on my ankle looks horrible. It’s not healing yet either. I’m doing my best to keep it clean and covered.

I think I like these new Montrails. But I’ve said that before about shoes.

Day 118 – Tuesday, July 5: Stealth Camp to Manchester Center, VT, 20.7 miles, 1,650.7 total AT miles.

I woke up very early, probably close to 5:00am. The burn on my foot had blistered, and popped, overnight. It truly looked serious – I was staring at half-dollar sized patch of burnt flesh on the side of my right foot. I put Neosporin on the wound and slapped a gauze patch on top of the mess. I laced up my shoes and was surprised that I could move around as if nothing even happened.

We packed quickly. I choked down a few protein bars and we hit the trail. We high-fived at our early departure – we were leaving camp at 6:20am. Manchester Center, VT lay 21 miles ahead. Despite our multiple detours into towns lately, Greyhound and I had both been hiking some serious miles. We knew we wanted to stay in Manchester Center – I needed to address some serious gear concerns. And I hadn’t had a zero day since Brooklyn, NY.

Our challenge today was Stratton Mountain, some seven miles away. After that, the elevation profile called for an easy 14-mile descent towards the trailhead at VT 11 – Manchester Center was rumored to be an easy hitch.

We set off early and cruised on the easy terrain – at 9:30am, we ascended Stratton Mountain. It was a challenging climb – I felt like I was back in Virginia again. Greyhound coaxed me to climb the fire tower – we got some pretty nice views.

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After having an extended snack, we set off, excited to get to Manchester Center. By 11:00am, we had hiked an additional three miles to Stratton Pond. The weather was starting to warm up a bit – there was a nice cool breeze coming off the water. We ate another quick snack and hiked on.

We stopped briefly at Prospect Rock before making the final five-mile push to town. After an extremely weird hitch (the guy acted like he was being forced to pick us up), we stopped at the Palmer House and checked in to our room. It was a little pricey, but well worth it. There was plenty of room should Black Santa make it into town tonight – regardless, I knew I’d be seeing him tomorrow.

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We both quickly showered and headed to the outfitter. I bought new Montrail trail runners to replace my busted Merrells. I also bought a pair of Patagonia hiking shorts and immediately ditched the Wal-Mart swimsuit.

We headed down to the laundromat and stopped at the New Balance outlet store. I scored a pair of cheap running shorts – looks like my clothes problems are solved. After putting away our clean clothes (and my new purchases), Greyhound and I walked down the street to Gringo Jack’s to grab dinner – we’d both been craving Mexican food for a while.

While we were eating on the patio, a familiar voice called out from the sidewalk. Black Santa had returned! He joined us, immediately ordering dinner and a big, cold beer.

The three of us sat and talked for a while – it feels like so much has happened since last I saw him. I also had to keep reminding myself that this was the first time he was meeting Greyhound – they briefly met in a hostel in Delaware Water Gap, PA.

After finishing our plates, the three of us headed back to the hotel room. Black Santa hopped in the shower while Greyhound spoke on the phone with her mom. After hanging out and watching tv, the three of us decided to call it a night.

Day 117 – Monday, July 4: Stealth Camp (City Stream) to Stealth Camp, 19.4 miles, 1,630.0 total AT miles.

We woke late – making camp and cooking dinner definitely took its toll. We started hiking north at 9:00am. We both lamented our late start – we’re still getting our miles in but hate making camp so late. It’s become a theme, apparently.

We had a difficult 1,500 foot ascent to start the day and took our time – after that, we’d essentially be ridge walking the entire day. Near Porcupine Ridge, the trail leveled off, and Greyhound and I really started making some serious time.

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After hiking hard for nearly three hours, we stopped and had a quick lunch on this huge boulder before pressing on. We eventually reached the fire tower atop Glastenbury Mountain, a full 11 miles away from where we started – we wanted to get there quickly to make up for lost time. After putting our heads down, we finally made it to the fire tower at 1:30pm – we hungrily ate at the base.

I’ve got a thing about heights – a debilitating thing. I’d refused to climb to the top of fire towers the entire hike. Leave it to Greyhound to convince me to climb up. And boy was it worth it! The views were amazing – we were surrounded on all sides by a dense pine forest. Welcome to the Green Mountains!

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We resumed hiked north at 2:00pm. Greyhound noticed we seemed to be in the middle of two AT bubbles – we hadn’t been running into many AT thru-hikers at all. Lately, we’d been crossing paths with folks attempting to hike the Vermont Long Trail. It’s been kind of fun watching these hikers start out on their own epic journeys – they’re just as much rookies as I was when I started the AT. We met another teenager attempting the VLT by himself as well as a couple of college-aged women.

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After leaving Glastenbury, we made great time. We stopped and had a snack at 5:00pm – we still hadn’t hiked anywhere close to 20 miles. As we ate, we decided to tent at the next available campsite past Story Spring Shelter. I made a chipmunk friend.

At 7:00pm we gathered water and started looking for a place to camp. Greyhound took the lead – I was in a crummy mood and she found a campsite quickly. We made camp in record time – given the circumstances, we actually ended up in a pretty decent spot.

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As I was cooking dinner, I accidentally kicked a pot of boiling water (cooking the semi-frozen sausages) over and onto my foot. Despite the fact that I still had on my trail runners, a wool sock and a sock liner, the scalding hot water burned my flesh. I ripped my shoe and socks off, but it wasn’t quick enough. In fifteen minutes, an angry blister had already formed. It was a pretty serious burn. I decided to let it air out and went to sleep after cleaning up from dinner.

Happy 4th of July! We didn’t get any fireworks. Black Santa is catching up.