- The rain. May was rainy, June's been worse. We've had more than 9 inches in the month of June, which turned the clay soil of Vermont into an absolute mess. For those of you who go/went to Calvin, think walking through the Mud Bowl, for 150 miles. Yesterday was the first time in a week and a half that my feet stayed dry. Protip: if you saturate your socks in mud for 4 days, they will literally fall apart when you throw them in the wash.
- Actual mountains. It's all about readjusting your expectations. The mid-Atlantic was pretty flat (with the exception of half of New York, which contained a bunch of absurdly steep, rocky, and generally horrible pointless ups and downs. NY earns very low marks. Plus, I did it in the one week of heat that we've had so far (heat index 100+). But once I hit Vermont, the Greens were a nice change. Killington was over 4000 feet; Stratton was nearly that. If the terrain is going to be steep and/or rocky, I much prefer going over big mountains as opposed to this pointless up-and-down stuff.
- The blues. I managed to avoid them in VA and through most of the rocky, flat horribleness that is PA. From NY through about mid-Vermont, I was in a twilight zone where there were zero thru-hikers around me. The monsoon, heat, and pointless nature of the miles was really getting me down. I suppose every hiker gets it at some point. One particularly rough day in CT, I realized that "THIS is where I earn Katahdin". It's no accomplishment to hike when you want to hike. You earn your stripes when you soldier through the drudgery, knowing that it's worth it in the end
- Those moments. Sometimes the AT wears on you, but there are also those moments of pure, undiluted awesome. I had one of those days in northern Vermont. It was the first beautiful day in about three weeks. I was hiking through a state park and got stopped by this lady's puppy, who was doing the typical puppy thing and jumping up on me. We got to talking, and soon enough I was sitting at their (Kim and Patrick) trailer drinking coffee and eating fresh fruit. An hour later, I had to leave and hit town on my way. But as soon as I got to the main road running through the campground, I saw Passover and Witchdoctor for the first time in more than a week. And of course we all three made a happy ruckus, and Kim walked out and invited them for coffee as well. So all three of us headed back to their trailer, and feasted on cinnamon rolls and more fruit. And didn't leave until three hours later. A complete waste of a morning, hiking-wise, but I can't think of a better waste. And that was just the second best part of the day. There's a cabin and lookout tower just a tenth of a mile off-trail on top of a mountain. It's on private land, but the owners allow hikers to crash there for the night. After spending all morning not hiking, I realized that I could still make it to the cabin, if I hustled. So I got on my horse and made it there around sunset. I climbed the lookout tower to check out the view. I'm not normally a sunset person, but on this occasion it was simply overwhelming. I unfortunately had no way to take a picture, not that a photo would have done it justice anyway. There were several layers of mountains in view, the first green, almost black. The subsequent ridges were progressively bluer, then grayer, and finally, in the distance, a purple ridge. The jagged peaks were a sharp contrast to the smooth contours of the thin layers of clouds, fading from dark gray into yellow, to bright orange. Right in front of the setting sun were three puffy cumulus clouds, "the size of a man's hand", I joked to myself. In the Bible story in question, Elijah prays that God sends fire on his sacrifice in order that the people may know that "there is a God in Israel". And that's exactly what I experienced. If nature is a "theater" of God's glory, as John Calvin put it, then I was certainly on Broadway.
- The Whites! I've been looking forward to the White Mountains of New Hampshire for a long time now. They're apparently brutally hard (think 1500 feet of elevation gain in a mile), but beautiful. Most thru-hikers say that New Hampshire or Maine were their favorite parts of the trail, even though they're undoubtedly the hardest. Makes me think that the difficulty has got to be worth it!