In July three years ago I spoke with my brother several times a week. We talked about baseball, our families and our futures. He took his bass boat out regularly and spent hours walking in the woods. Life was good. Two years ago in July Don and I rode bikes we had bought after his ALS diagnosis. He said riding made him feel like a kid again. We hoped progression of the illness would be slow. He talked of death and dying. I listened. Last year on July 17 I sat with my brother after he had lost his ability to talk. I spoke of life and death. He listened. Six weeks later he was dead. Today when I walked past Stratton Pond, quite possibly the prettiest lake on the AT, I thought about my brother.
Our day began with another shuttle back to the trail from Steve. Banzai, Pilgrim, and I walked back into the woods at 8:00, beginning a 19.5 mile day. Like the first two in Vermont, isolation dominated the day. Banzai chose to hike ahead for much of the morning, and I also put space between Pilgrim and myself. I suppose we just didn’t have much to share with each other. Even when hiking with companions, sometimes it feels good to be alone. Today I hiked in a solitary mood, contemplating on various aspects of what waits ahead, on the trail and in life.
The trail remained the same. It consisted of mud, rocks, mud, roots, mud, rocks over streams, footbridges, mud, leaves, mud, and dirt. There were uphills and downhills. As Pilgrim stated yesterday, it’s the sameness that gets to you. Other than Stratton Mountain with its lookout tower and Stratton Pond, there was nothing noteworthy the entire day. The gentle terrain made for a reasonably comfortable day even though the heat, humidity, and biting flies detracted from any potential enjoyment.
The climb up Stratton Mountain in the morning highlighted the day. At the crest we met the caretaker Hugh who enlightened us on some of the history of the Long Trail. It was here that Benton MacKaye conceived the idea for the Appalachian Trail. Pilgrim and I climbed part of the way up the lookout tower for a view of Greylock to the west and Killington to the north. Banzai chose not to do the climb. He has decided to avoid what he calls “extra credit.” Past the mountain we stopped at Stratton Pond Shelter, another nice one, for lunch. Then we passed Stratton Pond. I paused and took some pics before moving on.
Throughout the afternoon we continued to hike alone. Banzai stopped at Prospect Rock to let Pilgrim and me catch up. From there we steadily made out way to VT 11 to Manchester. Needing to hitch a ride into town, we were fortunate to get a lift from Walter, a day hiker from the area. When we reached town we ate at an Italian place before getting a ride from Jeff to his Green Mountain House hostel. Other hikers are here including Spoon and Blue Eyes.
So after today I have 538 miles remaining on my AT thru hike. If all continues to go well, I should finish my hike in around six weeks. Six short weeks. Six long weeks. Six weeks of beauty and grandeur. Six weeks of potential distress and loneliness. Six weeks to define existence. Six weeks to realize the fulfillment of a promise. Don lived six weeks after that hot afternoon last July 17. Six weeks to reach a goal, a destination, an end. Tomorrow starts the final push. Six more weeks on the Appalachian Trail.