Or a long run.

It has been a strange couple of months. I haven’t felt lost, like I did right after the hike, but I still haven’t felt inspired to finish writing about the depth of my experience on the Long Trail, or train for something new.  I’ve had the excuse of it being winter, but that excuse will only last for so long… you know, like through a winter. I’ve gained some weight back and have been feeling the itch to move and be challenged. So… I signed up for a 10-mile run.  In Vermont, of course, because I still belong there.

The race is part of a three series 10-miler that my partner, Donna, participates in.  I’m only running the last one, with some smaller races beforehand, to prepare.  To start, I’ll shoot for a 5K that’s coming up at a local farm, in May.  As you know, Donna and I have done a lot of hiking together, and she loves being in the woods, but I’d say she is a runner first and a hiker second.  I’m a hiker first and a runner, like, maybe 9th.  I think it’s important to note here that, these days, Hulu and Popcorn are 7th and 8th, so it’s been quite a start… gasping for breath after 20 feet- as she laps me and I clap-back, “You know what, man? I’m logging it in MyFitnessPal anyway!!”  7 calories burned and done.

It looks like this sport is not going to reward me in honey buns, like long distance hiking did, but whatever.

I told you in my last post that my Dad would “Method Actor” a new hobby and I’m realizing that the apple doesn’t fall that far from the tree. I’ve only been training for about two weeks. Since then, I bought two new pairs of sneakers, saved 19 Pins on Rhythmic breathing, started judging people on their form, and preaching to my -already a runner- girlfriend, who, by the way, is currently training for the Chicago Marathon. She probably knows the things…. but Type A Kelly doesn’t really give a heck about that. I also started binge-listening to a Podcast. The podcast is from this running Coach out of Tampa who gives information on running for beginners; Coach Debbie.

I’m pretty confident that Donna hates Coach Debbie.

“Honey, Coach Debbie says that we should practice form first, because it’s hard to unlearn bad running habits.” “Babe! Coach Debbie says that you shouldn’t run until your exhausted because you won’t build endurance that way.” “Donna… Coach Debbie, Coach Debbie, Coach Debbie….” At one point, I think I was just yelling running terms as Coach Debbie said them, Honey!?” “Yeah?” “CADENCE!!”

Apparently, I have even “Coach Debbie’d” after getting the same advice from Donna; “Coach Debbie says I shouldn’t start-out running fast, because it’s not about speed, it’s about duration.”  “Umm, have I not been saying that to you every day for like 16 days?”  With a bat of an eyelash, “Have you? Oh, strange, I must have missed that.” Recently she’s been choosing to go with a more diplomatic approach though, “That’s great honey, I’m glad you’re really learning from someone.” There’s probably a side-eye attached to that diplomacy, but I can’t tell, she’s too far ahead, I told you, she’s a better runner than me.

The truth is, slow or not, I’m strengthening my body in a different way and I’m excited about starting this process.  Donna supported me through the hike; trained with me, helped me prepare food and equipment, and I’m looking forward to showing her the same support as she trains for her Marathon. It also feels good to discover new abilities in myself and shake the post-hike weight and winter woes.

“SHIN SPLINTS!”

 

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To you, as you were.

I want to tell you about a man I once knew. His name was Martin Patrick Kentigian. He was 54 years old when he died, five years ago. Lung cancer that spread throughout his body, before anyone knew it was happening. By trade, he worked as a paper-maker, and then a plumber. He took pride in his work, and in his jokes. He loved outdoor sports and could fix just about anything. He introduced himself as “Martin”, people who knew him for a long time called him “Marty”, and I called him “Dad.”

Many of you know that part of my inspiration for this journey- the hike, the blog- was my Dad. Today makes five years since he died, and I feel like the best way to keep his memory alive is to remind people who he was or introduce him to those who have never met him- so he lives on, forever.

My Dad, like all of us, was a man of strength and weakness. I’m not generally a person who thinks acknowledging weakness is a weakness, but someone once questioned how I honor my dad in death, if I talk about him like he was imperfect? So, I’ll start this Tale O’ Marty, by telling you how I honor him in death: I keep him human.

I acknowledge the personality he spent 54 years building and give him a memory in the form of the person he actually was. When I talk about my Dad, as he was, it validates my sisters’ memory of him, which is the only connection they have now. I often talk about his quirks, because those are the things that I’ve come to miss the most. You learn that lesson after you lose someone close to you; that it’s our uniqueness and differences that people cherish, because it is all parts of our personality, intertwined, that will most accurately define the person we were. If I talk about my Dad like he was flawless, sans, for example, his enormous carbon foot-print or propensity for road rage, then the memory I have of him, as he was, will fade. I talk about my Dad like he was real and perfect and flawed, because he was real and perfect and flawed, and that’s how I want to remember him; as he was.

My real and perfect and flawed Dad was a self-taught man, who would master any trade or sport he took on. We joke about that now; he wouldn’t just start a new sport, he would method Actor it; immerse himself in the lifestyle of it all. Drown in YouTube videos until he knew everything there was to know about it. He would get all the proper and most reliable equipment and practice, practice, practice. He loved to take on projects and immerse himself in those as well. He once found a grill on the side of the road with a “free” sign on it. He taught himself, as he did, how to fix the grill, and for the next two years, he collected every curb-side free grill he could find. It was like living with Oprah, “and you get a grill, and you get a grill, and you get a grill.” He also wasn’t a man who would pass up a good deal. “Do you even need 6 flashlights, Dad?” “No, but you’ll never guess how much I paid for them.” The benefit of having a Dad who always got the most reliable equipment, and couldn’t pass up a deal? “You get a Maglite, and you get a Maglite and you get a Maglite.”

My Dad was a man who didn’t show a lot of emotion, but when he did, you knew he meant it. He would hug you with a firm pat on the back and a swift “love you”, before moving on to what was easier for him, like humor. He was the funniest person I have ever known. Someone who was so quick to a pun, that you knew he was as intelligent as he was witty. He was also a hard-worker. It was never surprising to us how quickly he moved up into a foreman position, or how sought after he was when it came to work. Some people would describe his work ethic as one with a short fuse, because he had little tolerance for inefficiency. His expectations of people were high but didn’t exceed the expectations he had of himself, as a worker.

Something I remember most about my Dad, and probably acknowledge more now than I did then, was that he was a spiritual person. He believed in God, and was fearless at the end of his life, because in his heart, he knew he was going to meet him. I don’t have as much confidence in an after-life as my Dad did. It’s not because I don’t believe in, for lack of a better word, something, but I’m still collecting information. Blind faith, without information, may keep you kind and disciplined in something, but it can also keep you confined and misguided. I do consider myself a spiritual person though, and I have to be now, more than ever. I need that to hold onto. Anyone who has lost someone close to them has to have that to hold onto, because the alternative is too hard to bear.

It’s been five years and I can’t help but think about how much has changed in that time. I have a different job, a new apartment, a partner who my Dad never met- and I didn’t tell him I was gay. I went on the hike, I’ve tried new things, I’ve met new people, and I’ve become more myself than I’ve ever been. He is frozen in time. Preserved. His memory is as he was on or before December 27th, 2013, and I’ll always know him like that. I’ll know him as the fisherman, and the snow-mobiler and prankster. I’ll know him as the handy-man, with a quick wit, a no bullshit surface, and under-layer of empathy and insecurity, like most people. The tough guy who could make anyone laugh, and knew it brought people joy. He’ll always be the person I knew him to be, but I will continue to change, as the days pass.

Without spirituality, without belief in something, you’re left with fear that if you do continue to change after they are gone, they won’t know you anymore. So, I’ll choose to believe, instead, that he is somewhere, as he thought he would be, and he is looking over me and my sisters, and someday I’ll freeze in time too, and we will meet again; as we are and as we know each other to be, then and now and when.

Until then, I’ll keep telling you and anyone who will listen, about a man I once knew, and know still. I’ll tell you about his strengths, and about his weaknesses, and about his love for his daughters, and about the life he left behind. His name was Martin Patrick Kentigian. He was my Dad.

….but I did it.

As some of you have probably assumed, I’m back from The Long Trail. I’m back, and I finished it. It’s been an unusual month, because I’m moving, so my time to re-acclimate from the hike was disrupted by the chaos of packing, but also because of the emotional state I’ve been in since my return. I have a few half-written blogs about my experience on the trail, and I will complete and post them as the inspiration comes to me, but first, I’ve decided to start with the ending…

When I stood at Journeys end, touching the obelisk that I so fervently anticipated, through eight months of training and 29 challenging days in the Vermont Wilderness, I felt…. nothing. I thought to myself, “maybe it’ll hit me when I’m home. I am here. I did do it. Maybe I’ll feel something when I get home.” I hiked the last five miles with someone I met at Buchanan Shelter, and continued seeing through the remainder of my hike; trail name: “Sail On.” We stood at the small monument, steps from Canada’s border, wondering who maintains the well-defined space between the two countries; the space we can now see for miles. Sail On said that he didn’t know how to feel about the finish; a statement that made the anti-climactic nature of this whole experience feel more normal to me. See, he doesn’t know how to feel either.

We got to Journeys End parking lot before our ride. Sail On was riding back with me and my family, because, as it turned out, he was from Maine too, but had, as he put it, “no exit strategy.” We drank some water, had a snack, and Sail On changed into his “good clothes”; a pair of pants he’d saved until the end, a t-shirt and the red and black flannel I had come to identify him by. I maintain that Sail On was a faster hiker than me, even though he said it was because he was an earlier riser. When I passed a South Bounder on the Trail I’d ask, “did you see a guy with a white beard and black and red flannel?” “Yeah, he’s about five miles ahead of you.” “Of course, he is.” I’d roll into a shelter around dusk (or just after), and there he was… “you made it.” We should add “you made it” to my list of trail name options, because I heard it from many who left the shelter before me in the morning and ended at the same place. It came with various inflections, but always accompanied a sense of pride. It made me feel like I had accomplished something and someone else knew it too.

We were sitting there at the Journeys End Trail-head, waiting. We hiked every step we were required to hike. We climbed every mountain we stood in front of. All we had to do now, was wait. A few more minutes and it’s home-bound on four wheels. He looked in my direction and said what I was thinking, “I mean… we could… just start walking.” We laughed, threw our packs back on and started down Journeys End road; Canada on one side, U.S on the other side, The Long Trail behind us, in more ways than one. We got close to the end of the road, when we were picked up by my sister, mother and grandmother. We drove towards home, stopped for trail-less food, and laughed through New England. To me, it felt like just another supply stop though. Soon, I would be dropped off in the woods and go back to a life of trying to catch up to Sail On before dark. The first emotion I felt that day, was when we dropped him off at his car. The last tie to a life I’m leaving behind. My friend.

Another trail-mate “Green Trousers”, and I have checked in on each other since our return. She and I started talking before the trail, on The Long Trail Women’s page. There, I learned that she was already following my journey on Instagram. I knew we were starting our hikes around the same time, so I left her a note in a few log books along the way. It turns out that she started a day or two before me, but we caught up to each other right before Peaked and Styles Mountain, after she took a day in town. I was waiting for a friend to drop supplies and I hear, “I think that’s Kelly.” Then louder, “Kelly?” From that point on, we leap-frogged each other until App Gap, when she went back into town, and I kept on. When she finished the trail, she sent me a Facebook message asking how I was doing, and returned the question with, “it feels like I never left.” She didn’t really have to tell me what that meant, because I knew. Hiking, sleeping, the food, the relentlessness, the healing nature of it all, the struggle of it all; day after day after day. I had a couple people hike with me for a few days, while on the trail, and they probably come closest to understanding both lives, but even that doesn’t account for how you view something over time. How different day 2 is from day 27. Step after step after step, tree after tree after tree, mushroom after mushroom, and brook after stream after spring. There were some sections where you didn’t see summits at all, or people at all, and it was still just step after step after step, day after day after day. Everyone at home is as they were before, and so am I, but with this experience I can’t explain, so I don’t. The only response I could give to questions about this hike was, “It was really hard, but I did it.” When you get back, if you can’t explain it, the only thing to do is to go on as normal, and it literally starts to feel like you never left at all.

I didn’t know how to make the transition back to my pre-hike life, and even though you blog readers warned me about the emotional aspect of the return, I really didn’t see it coming. I felt a sense of melancholy and anxiousness; like I didn’t belong at home anymore. My first full day back, I was standing in my bathroom, after taking a shower. Everything felt so easy. Too easy. On the trail, you have to work for everything you need. From the moment you wake up, you start packing all of your belongings, and work to get to the next place you’re laying your head. You have to work to stay clean and dry, work to keep your feet in reasonable shape to prevent blisters, and work to use the privy. Its work to make a meal, and work to get through nights that are cold or rainy and nights that find you in shelters that are too full, or worse- empty. You have to work through fear of the outdoors or unknown, and then after a while, the unknown becomes known and you have to work to stay sane and motivated in the known; in the knowledge that tomorrow will likely be as hard as today and require as much work. Get up and pack your stuff, again. Hike, again. Find a water source, again. A place to lay your head, again. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a positive experience, but you have to fight for it. When I got out of the shower, I looked towards the hallway where my full pack still sat and started crying. I didn’t even know why, nor do I have the words to explain it now, it was just too easy and I didn’t belong.

My partner came to my side, and said nothing, but embraced me tightly. All I could say was, “I didn’t expect this.” As a hiker herself, all she said back was, “I did.” In the community that evening, everything was loud and fast, and I felt genuinely nervous. Defeated. I was supposed to be better. I was supposed to gain clarity, be one with nature. Stronger. More emotionally intelligent. Why did I come back more anxious and afraid?

As you know, in the past, I have used physical activity as a tool to combat stress and anxiety. Well, like any hiker returning from a long-distance trek, I had abused my body. My knees and hip started to hurt a few days into the hike, mostly on the descent. Somewhere around Mt. Ellen, the knee pain just stuck around. Somewhere around Belvidere, my toes started tingling at night, and somewhere around Hazen’s Notch, every step hurt. When I got home, and my body realized it could rest, my knees locked up, and I could barely get up and down the stairs. One toe stayed numb for three weeks and my hip hurt to sleep on. I went from training five days a week, to hiking 10 hours a day, to nothing. It wasn’t just the lack of activity though. I spent nine months with this hike on my mind. Everything I did was in preparations for it; training, researching the trail and equipment, writing the blog, Instagram. It became the thing I talked about most, the thing I cared about most, my identity. All of the sudden, it was over. It was over, and I couldn’t explain it in a way that would explain it. My life became packing and moving, and healing. Moving is stressful for anyone, and regular life has had its own stressors too, so as I said to start, it’s been an unusual month for me; a hard month for me. Through it all, I lost part of my identity. A fat girl on a long walk came to the end of her walk.

The truth though, at the expense of sounding remarkably cliché, is that life is a long walk. It’s full of ups and downs, and adventures and lulls. Adapting to change isn’t easy, but I have to believe things are put in your path when they are needed. I needed the hike to prove to myself that I was capable, that I could start something hard and finish it. I needed Green Trousers to remind me that people back home were rooting for me and watching my journey. I needed Sail On and the “you made its” when I got to the point in my hike where it physically hurt to go on and I wanted to quit, and I needed you all to tell me that it was ok to feel a little lost when returning from an adventure like this.

I am recovering, day after day after day. I’m figuring it out. I feel stronger this week than I have since I returned, because I’ve allowed myself to process this for what it is and give it the acknowledgement that it takes to move on from it. But it’s also because I have decided not to resist my pre-hike routine; work and friends and family. That sense of self that permeates in me, can’t be drowned by this transition, or any transition. I’ve decided not to baby my strains and sprains, and not to stop myself from finding a new adventure. Who knows what that entails, it may not even be a hike. I’m on this walk nonetheless, and I’ll keep going, step by step by step, regardless of where it takes me.

So yeah, like I said, I’m back and it was really hard, but I did it.

Oscar the Grouse.

The stench of thru-hiking gets to you after awhile. All of your food has a distinct smell. All of your clothing has a distinct smell. Like old sweat meets forest meets new sweat. Not the food, of course. If your food starts smelling like old sweat, you should probably go home. Your food has a certain smell too though, like the contents have unified and mixed with plastic. One guy out here said that all of his food smells like BBQ sauce, and he doesn’t even have any BBQ sauce. I don’t know what mine smells like, it’s nothing in particular, but I would know it anywhere. It smells like trail food. This post isn’t about how I smell, or how my food smells. No, it’s about trail names, actually. In order to get to the part about how I got my new trail name, I have to tell you about the day I was trying to figure out what kind of stench a hiker has.

I was hiking up Mount Lincoln and I noticed a fly buzzing annoyingly around my ear. There are long hours to hike out here, up and down mountains, and sometimes the only escape from the isolation and physical challenge, are your own thoughts. So, when one single fly won’t let you have them, it’s enough to drive you mad. Van Gogh mad. The fly followed me for a long time; definitely a long time for the life of a fly. He must have relocated his whole family. That old sweat forest cologne put him in a trance. He was mine. Or more accurately, I was his. Just before I pulled out the knife, ready to prepare a package for my girlfriend, I got distracted by a thought about some cartoon character that embodied this fly attachment. I couldn’t put my finger on it. “Was it Pig Pen from Charlie Brown? That should be my trail name, Pig Pen.” “No, he had the cloud, but that’s not the one I’m thinking about.” “Was it a newspaper comic?” “Who the hell was it?!” “Well, whatever is it, that should be my trail name. So, when I explain how I got it, I can say that my smell is so bad that I get followed by flies.”

Eventually the fly moved on, and so did I.

Even though I didn’t come up with a trail name that day, I knew that I’d get one eventually. A few ideas had even been thrown around already. My friend Marge, who joined me for a few days on the trail, said it should be “Three Miles Left”, because I say that throughout the hike, to make myself feel better. If there are nine miles left, three seems more bearable. If there is only one mile left and you’re expecting three, that last one will zip by.

Then there was “Lipstick.” I’m a bit of a femme, or at least I used to be. I’ve always liked the outdoors; camping, and kayaking. Even hiking, I just didn’t feel physically capable of long distances. You were more likely to see me with bangles than hiking poles though, so when someone acted surprised by my love of the outdoors, I’d say, “don’t let the lipstick fool ya.” I guess I’ve traded in my heels for something with more of a tread, as of late, so it’s a little less surprising these days. Through my training, I started choosing the sporty or efficient over the flashy and studded, and Donna always responds the same way, “who are you and what have you done with my girlfriend?” I joked that I was still going to wear lipstick on the trail, and she said that should be my trail name. Yesterday I told her I tossed the lipstick at a supply stop 22 mountains ago and she said, “who are you, and what have you done with my girlfriend?”

Well, I guess “lipstick” is out.

That brings me to “Lightswitch.” Lightswitch isn’t my trail name, but it’s the trail name of a guy I have leapfrogged a few times out here. Marge and I met him at a shelter on a rainy day, and we shared a bit about our stories and what brought us on the trail. I told him about my Dad’s death and the transitions I’ve encountered since then, most of which have left me feeling fragile, and in search of some strength and adventure. It seemed as if he was in search of something too, maybe solitude; an escape into the wilderness. You meet a lot of people out here in passing. Most of the time you never really see them again, so I was surprised when I saw Lightswitch, about a week later. We both ended up at Birch Glen Camp, before Camels Hump. I was meeting my sister and her husband the next afternoon, and he was meeting his girlfriend, so we both had some extra time that morning. He told me he had a trail name for me, but it was going to sound worse than it was. That’s probably a metaphor for life in some way, but go on… “Grouse.” You know the birds that wait until the last minute, and bolt out of the the trees when you hike by and startle them? He said they were a symbol of empowerment. I said it’s also kind of fitting, because I too wait until the last minute to move.

Lightswitch and I hiked together, slowly (for my benefit, I’m sure), and shared some stories about our life and our trail expirience. It felt like the kind of interaction that was made for the trail. The one that pops into your journey, gives you some perspective, and leaves it just as quickly. I think I felt free to share my life or ask questions about his, because we both knew we’d be leaving it in the mountains.

We got to the point in route where I was meeting my sister, and we had a little lunch on a large trail rock, before he carried on. After he left, I kept replaying something he said, something about the happiest people being unapologetically themselves. It had me thinking about how that just might be the key to self discovery out here. You have no choice but to be yourself unapologetically. At least you dont if you’re an overweight girl who is hiking beyond her capacity in order to reach her goals. I can’t hide the sweat. I can’t slow my breath. This is me up a mountain. This is what you get. Grouse. As I sat there on the rock, I said to myself…

“Grouse. I like it.”

“It kind of reminds me of….

… OH MY GOD! IT WAS OSCAR THE GROUCH!!!”

Prickly Little Pests

I made it passed the 100 mile mark. Can you believe it?! I’m currently sitting at The Inn at the Long Trail’s breakfast table. (At least I was when I wrote this.) I’m staring down a plate of cinnamon pancakes. When I get on the trail with a full belly, I might regret the pancake decision, but right now, I’m standing by it. These pancakes are the best thing I’ve had in… well, in at least 15 days. Food has been a bit of a barrier for me on the trail. I just don’t have an appetite. I have to force myself to eat. In my regular, non-thruking life, I’m counting calories so I don’t go over some daily allowance. It’s a different life out here. I have to purposely stop every few miles and take a fistful of almonds to the face, just to keep on. Soon I’ll go back home, and have to runs a 5k just for looking at a cupcake through a bakery window… but for now, I’m counting calories to make sure I have enough.

I didnt take a zero day, to be at the Inn, but certainly an almost zero, and I’ve been eating since I got here. Potato spuds, Cavappati Alfredo, Nachos, pancakes… and let’s not forget one Long Trail Ale. This Inn has rejuvenated me in a lot of ways. Laundry, shower, real bed… and food, food, food. It won’t eliminate the trail food barrier, but it’ll give me a bounce back for today.

Food hasn’t been the only barrier out here. I feel like every day comes with a new one; the blisters feel better, and then your back hurts, but as one trail friend said, “at least they seem to come one at a time.” Some barriers were expected… blisters, mice, difficulty sleeping, mosquitos and pack weight pain in my shoulders. Then there were the unexpexted, like getting a face full of spider web with every step you take, particularly after a rain storm. Itsy bitsy spider has taken on a whole new meaning. I thought it was just a jingle. We were learning, you guys. We were learning.

The most unexpexted barrier of all… freakin’ porcupine. Those prickly little sons a b’s will eat the bench you’re sitting on. No one told me. None of y’all told me about the porcupine. Everyone says “you’re going backpacking, watch out for bear.” Not Vermonters. Vermonters laugh when you mention bear. “I only know the sound a bear makes when its running away” is the joke out here. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still bear bagging. I’m scared as shit. I don’t want to hear the sound a bear makes running towards me or away, but apparently, if you ask a long-trailer about trail barriers, porcupine trump bear. Who would have thought? They are attracted to salt, (sweat) and will chew your shoes, walking sticks, anything they can get their prickly little paws on. The other night, there was a pack of porc’s circling my tent. I felt like I was about to be initiated into some gang against my will. It’s a consent reminder of how irreversibly sweaty I am out here. When you attract porcupine in your sleep, you’ve got real problems.

Barriers or not, I’m doing it! One foot in front of the other, I’m hiking The Long Trail. I might just get to the end after all. Unless, of course, the porcupine eat me in my sleep.

Here we go!

The day is here! Well, the week is here. My mom wont let me tell you the exact day that I’m starting my hike, because she thinks i’ll be tracked and murdered. I know, know, the trail is safer than town, but she’s a Mom, what can I say? I will tell you that I’m off to Vermont tonight, to camp with my partner, for somewhere between 1-5 days. Then, we say adieu and I head off on my own.

She’s been really patient with all my last minute jitters. I might be panicking a little, and she might be able to tell. I didn’t realize that I got a free-standing tent, and we tried to put it up yesterday. I started vibrating with anxiety, “what if I don’t have a place to stake it?!” She slowly puts the tent back together and tells me not to worry, she will take care of it.

“What does that mean?! I’m leaving tomorrow!”

“I have a plan, but I don’t want you to freak out, so just trust that Ill take care of it.”

“I need to have a plan for myself.” (There’s that Type A Kelly coming out to play.)

“Ok, we got the wrong tent, but its ok, I’m going to go get you a new tent tomorrow, before you get out of work.”

“What? How will you know what to get? I don’t know how much money to give you. How do you know what to get?! WHAT ABOUT WEIGHT?!

“See. This is why I didn’t want to tell you. I’m going to take care of it.”

She did, of course. She has done so much for me, in preparation for this hike. Too much, really. All of the people close to me have. My family had a little party, and they all wrote letters to me. My youngest sister took those letters and wrote them on a tiny scroll, so I could take it on the trail. My older sister, Mom, and Grandmother are picking me up in the end, and they have all encouraged me the whole time. I even have a few friends who are going to meet me at certain sections and hike a bit. I know it’ll help. I know it will keep me going; keep me strong.

In my panic, I started thinking about the training I could have done, or the people I could have gotten advice from… but whether I like it or not, we are here. The training is over, the conversations have finished, and the only thing left to do now, is hike. So, I’m off. Thanks for being part of my training journey, and I hope to post along the way, if I can. Ill leave you with my tentative itinerary. It could change, of course, because as I have said before, I have no idea what I’m doing. See you on the trail!

Note: If you are a Long Trail/AT hiker and see any itinerary red flags, feel free to shout it out!

Long Trail Itinerary Total trip: 273 Long Trail miles, 8.6 side trail miles

Day 1-Total Day: 6.1 miles

*Williamstown approach, Pine Cobble Trail- 3.3 miles to the start of the Long Trail

*Continue hiking 2.2 miles to Seth Warner Shelter

Day 2- Total Day: 11.5 miles

*From Seth Warner Shelter, continue 11.5 miles to VT9 (camp off-trail)

Day 3- Total Day: 10.1 (Start of Division 2- Resupply)

*From VT 9, continue 10.1 miles to Goddard Shelter

Day 4- Total Day: 9.1 miles

*From Goddard Shelter, continue 9.1 miles to Story Spring Shelter

Day 5- Total Day: 11.2 miles

*From Story Spring Shelter, continue 3.6 miles to Stratton (Start of Division 3)

*Continue 7 miles to Willis Ross Clearing, .6 to Stratton View Campsite

Day 6: Total Day: 12.5 miles

*From Stratton View Campsite, continue 12.5 miles to Bromley Shelter

Day 7- Total Day: 12.8 miles

*From Bromley Mountain Shelter, continue 3.5 miles to Mad Tom Notch (Start of Division 4- Resupply)

*Continue 9.3 miles to Lost Pond Shelter.

Day 8- Total Day: 10.1 miles

*From Lost Pond Shelter, continue 10.1 miles to Greenwall Shelter.

Day 9- Total Day: 8.8 miles

*From Greenwall Shelter, continue 1.5 miles to VT 140 (Start of Division 5, meet Marge)

*Continue 7.3 miles to Clarendon Shelter.

Day 10- Total Day: 6.1 miles

*From Clarendon Shelter, continue 6.1 miles to Governor Clement Shelter.

Day 11- Total Day: 4.3 miles *Killington Mtn

*From Governor Clement Shelter, continue 4.3 miles to Cooper Lodge

Day 12- Total Day: 7.7 miles

*From Cooper Lodge, continue 7.7 miles to The Inn at Long Trail (Resupply)

Day 13- Total Day: 12.7 (Start of Division 6)

*From The Inn at Long Trail/U.S. Route 4, continue 12.7 miles to David Logan Shelter

Day 14- Total Day: 12.6 miles

*From David Logan Shelter, continue 7.2 miles to Brandon Gap (Start of Division 7)

*Continue 5.4 miles to Sucker Brook Shelter

Day 15- Total Day: 11.4 miles

*From Sucker Brook Shelter, continue 11.4 miles to Emily Proctor Shelter.

Day 16- Total Day: 12.2 miles

*From Emily Proctor Shelter, continue 5.7 miles to Cooley Glenn Trail (Start of Division 8)

*Continue 6.5 miles to Battell Shelter

Day 17- Total Day: 7.3 miles

*From Battell shelter, continue 7.3 miles to Starks Nest (2 miles further to off-trail camp)

Day 18: Total Day 13.3 (Possible 11.3, depending on Day 17)

*From Starks Nest, continue 5.1 miles to Bean Trail (Start of Division 9)

*Continue 8.2 Miles to Hump Brook Tenting area (Pay site)

Day 19- Total Day: 4.2 miles (Camels Hump)

*From Hump Brook Tenting area, meet Kourtney and Bory (Resupply)

*Continue 4.2 miles to Bamforth Shelter

Day 20- Total Day: 11.8 miles

*From Bamforth Shelter, continue 5.3 miles to U.S. 2 Parking Lot (Kourt/Bory depart)

*Continue 6.5 miles to Buchanan Shelter

Day 21- Total Day: 9.7 miles

*From Buchanan Shelter, continue 3.7 miles to Mtn Bolton

*Continue 6 miles to Twin Brooks Tenting area

Day 22- Total Day: 9.9 miles *Mansfield

*From Twin Brooks tenting area, continue 9.9 miles to Sterling Pond Shelter (Pay site)

Day 23- Total Day: 7.3 miles

*From Sterling Pond Shelter, continue 7.3 miles to Bear Hollow Shelter.

Day 24- Total Day: 7.4

*From Bear Hollow Shelter, continue 4.1 miles to VT 15 (Division 11)

*Continue 3.3 miles to Round Top Shelter

Day 25- Total Day: 14.7 miles

*From Roundtop Shelter, continue 14.7 to Spruce Ledge Shelter

Day 26- Total Day: 8.4 miles

*From Spruce Ledge Shelter, continue 8.4 miles to Tilston Camp. (Division 12)

Day 27- Total Day: 11.7 miles

*From Tilston Camp, continue 11.7 miles to Jay Camp

Day 28- Total Day: 7.5 miles

*From Jay Camp, continue 7.5 miles to Shooting Star Shelter

Day 29- Total Day 4.5 miles

*From Shooting Star Shelter, continue 4.5 miles to Journeys End

Dear Eleanor,

The tallest peak on the Long trail is Mount Mansfield, 4393 feet. I’m sure that’s a regular Saturday afternoon for you more experienced hikers, but my first post-Long-Trail-training hike was Burnt Meadow Mountain, standing in at 1575 feet. I couldn’t make it to the top, because of snow drifts, but truth be told, I was tired and winded anyway. More than winded, I felt done. Like, I did it. I took steps up a mountain. I’m a hiker. Everyone can go home now. Because Mount Mansfield is the tallest peak on The Long Trail, she has been the goal peak lingering in the back of my head, as I train. She’s my Eleanor. The unicorn. The unattainable. The 1971 Ford Mustang Sportsroof. The fable creature who is impossible to capture. I went back to Burnt Meadow Mountain recently, with my partner, to see if I have made any improvements; to see if I’m any closer to the unattainable. I made it to the top and though there were still some tough spots for me, it was easier. I don’t normally go back to the same mountain. Im sure I’ll cycle through them at some point, but I’ve been trying to pick a different mountain every week, so I can use my training as a way to keep pushing myself. I’m glad I went back to Burnt Meadow though, because it didn’t just provide me with insight on how far I have come, it also provided me with a few laughs.

As we head down the mountain, there was a rustle in the woods. It got closer and closer, and I thought to myself (as I usually do) “this is it, this is the day we are going to be mauled by a bear.” My partner grabbed a stick. Not a stick, a tree. It was a tree. I started running and thought she was tailing me, until I heard screaming. I had it in my mind that she was back there defending my honor, in some kind of inter-species duel, as she yells, “OH MY GOD, OH MY GOD, OH MY GOD!” I get back to her, and she’s flailing her arms, bear-less, and covered in fire ants. When the screaming stopped, she said, “I hope I didn’t scare that bear.” The look in my eyes quickly goes from panic to more of a “are you kidding me?” She explains that her intention was to use the stick (tree) to make noise enough to deter the bear from approaching. She recovers from the ant invasion enough to continue walking, and says “what did you think I was going to do, physically fight a bear? I don’t want to take a long dirt nap right now.” (Long pause) “I have to buy contacts.” Well folks, we bought another day, she needs contacts. (Small pause) “I feel bad that I disrupted that ant habitat.” To be clear, she isn’t avoiding death to buy contacts, but I wanted to show you how her brain works. It’s not unlike her, actually, to be a log-toting, bear fighting, little lady protector… but only in the least restrictive way, of course. We wouldn’t want to scare a bear or disrupt a habitat. She also quickly pointed out that I would be neither a lady protector, or a bear fighter, because my instincts were to run, and that’s just what I did.

We all know how I respond to threats of safety, I’ve written about it in multiple blogs. I’m not proud of myself, but as my grandmother always says, “whatta ya gonna do?” I am who I am. One time, I was with a group of children, who were being attacked by Guinea Hens, and still ran. I worked in Recreation program at a shelter for survivors of domestic violence (yes, I know, that makes it worse). We took the kids on a field trip to a local farm, and the Guinea Hens started to revolt. My instincts, as they are, were to run. I got about twenty feet away, remembered the children, and turned back to see my boss fighting off Guinea Hens and bleeding from the leg. I ran to help her, but the damage was done. We all knew who the hero was. I told my partner this story, as we continued down the mountain, trying to reassure her with this wisdom, “if I didn’t save a group of homeless children, I’m sure not saving you.” Of course, she responded as she does, by saying that although my first instinct is to run, in both scenarios, I stopped myself and came back for the fight. She’s right, I suppose. If there is a space somewhere between fight or flight, that’s likely where you will find me nesting.

Oh yeah, I guess I should stop here and say, you know that girl I was telling you about, back when I realized I was Titanium? Yeah, she’s back. Actually, she’s sitting next to me now, in a book store. I can see her face in the reflection of my lap top, and I keep stopping to look at her. She’s very expressive when reading, it’s like you can actually see her mind expanding. She keeps laughing in her book, which intrigues me, because she’s reading a finance book about living simply… but we all have our things, I guess. For those of you who didn’t read that post, it involved a brief romance in the fall, that ended abruptly and felt unfinished. Well, I guess it was unfinished for both of us. The truth is, we have this habit of finding each other. I’d like to think that this time is the one that counts. If you’re still struggling with the mustang reference, her name is not Eleanor, just to be clear. This post isn’t really about her. Well, in a way it’s about her, if added to a list of fears to conquer; Mount Mansfield, failure, commitment, vulnerability, trust… but again, we’ve all got our things. It’s about the things in your life that are too hard. Or at least seem too hard, until you fight harder for them.

I’m looking at my long-trail calculator, with 39 days before the start and a half a month more before I meet my Eleanor. It’s upon me. These mountains are still tough, and maybe that won’t change. I think I imagined that at this point in my training, I’d be running up a mountainside without breaking a sweat. Well, I’m not running up them, but I am getting up them. One after the other, I am getting up them. When I started this adventure, Eleanor did seem unattainable, but I have started using her to calculator to my progress, and I gotta say, she’s starting to feel less like a Ford Mustang and more like a Ford Explorer. I’m learning that when you start believing you can do something, it stops feeling unattainable. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure I’ll reach the top of Mount Mansfield chanting “Eleanor” through my tears, but that’s a story for another blog. This blog is just an Ode to Eleanor; a letter, if you will.

Dear Eleanor, You’re no unicorn. You’re just a mountain. Stay right there. I’m coming for you.