US 4, Rutland, VT

When my home phone rang on the morning of July 20, 1993, twenty years ago today, I didn’t even know what states the Appalachian Trail went through. What I did know was that a friend was offering me four dugout level tickets to the Braves game that night. It took me about three seconds to accept. I then immediately called my brother to inform him that we would be sitting four rows behind the visiting dugout with our then seven year old sons for the Braves/Cardinals game that evening. I’m not sure why dates stick with some people. In this case it was because of the fire at the old Fulton County Stadium before game time. Fred McGriff made his debut in a Braves uniform as the Bravos overcame a 5-0 deficit to win 8-5. Even though the game didn’t begin until after 9:30 and concluded well after midnight, Don, Brent, Sam and I stayed for every pitch. So as I hiked today I relived that wonderful memory of my brother from 20 years ago today.

The day started a little differently in that our trio now has the good fortune of having a full time driver, at least for the next two weeks. Mike (trail name yet to be determined) drove up from Virginia to offer support for his twin brother Banzai and his buddies. So we cruised down to a local diner for breakfast before hitting the trail at VT 103. With rain in the forecast followed by a cold front, we didn’t even mind the humid start to the morning. After a rock scramble within the first half mile, up the mountain we went, climbing about 1000 feet to start our day. At the time I didn’t know it, but a really good day it was going to be. In fact, before the 18.4 mile day had come to an end I would be hiking happy exponentially.

Shortly after the initial climb we came across a detour predicated by Hurricane Irene. We had been prewarned of the road walk that prevented a potentially difficult stream crossing. Since it had rained last night Banzai, Pilgrim, and I chose to follow the advice of the trail maintainers and take the detour. It took us past several very nice rural homes. At one a Vermonter was tending to his horses. Eventually we arrived at where the trail wound back into the woods. We then walked a short distance to the Governor Clement Shelter. Two southbound thru hikers, Braveheart and Stretch, were taking a break. Stretch informed us that there were a lot of roots and rocks in Maine. Sorry to disappoint you Stretch, but that’s the entire Appalachian Trail.

From the shelter we started the climb up Killington, the highest mountain on the AT in Vermont. The actual peak is 0.2 off the trail. Attempting to follow Blue Eyes’ suggestion, I tried to hike happy. For some reason I thought of Fatty, someone with a similar personality to Blue Eyes, that I had not seen since central Pennsylvania. “I’d like to see Fatty again,” I said to Banzai and Pilgrim, “but she’s probably over a week ahead of us.” Just the thought of the positive, vivacious young lady motivated me to keep trying to hike with enthusiasm.

Near the top of Killington the Cooper Lodge Shelter stands. Banzai was already inside the fully enclosed structure having lunch when I got there. Also inside were Roboticus, a 2012 thru hiker, and her friend. Pilgrim arrived shortly after. With a cool breeze blowing through the windows, we took a longer break than usual. Roboticus shared some miniature Hershey’s as we talked about our hikes. Just as we were about to leave, the door of the shelter pushed open. Banzai was the first to see the hiker who was about to enter. He indeed looked surprised. When the door fully opened, Fatty appeared. For me it was more shock than surprise. Bizarre might be an even more appropriate explanation. Only about an hour after I had mentioned her name she suddenly appeared.

So for the remainder of the afternoon I had the pleasure of hiking with one of my favorite people on the trail. She explained that she had gotten behind me when she went into New York twice. One time she did “touristy” things in the city; the other she went rock climbing for a few days in another NY town. With the cooler temperatures after the front had moved through, I hiked with rejuvenation throughout the afternoon. Fatty seemed content to follow me and chat. It was easy to hike happy with Fatty.

When we reached the road Banzai and Mike were standing by a car where some serious trail magic was occurring. Jen, a local resident, had an array of goodies. Most impressive was a cooler filled with Klondike bars. I had two. Fatty had four. We also partook of some cherries, raspberries, and cheese. After having spent the past nine nights in the woods, Fatty accepted our invitation to a night in town. When Pilgrim finally arrived at the road, we gave him time to enjoy a couple of ice cream bars before we headed into Rutland.

Tonight Steady and Spirit joined Banzai, Pilgrim, Fatty, and me for dinner at a local establishment. As we waited for out meal I thought about how fortunate I was to have these hiking friends. From California and Michigan, Oregon, Alberta, and Georgia, we had all set out on different dates to thru hike the AT. Good food and good conversation made this day one of my best. With a starting temperature in the 50’s tomorrow morning, I hope to continue hiking happy on my way to a mountain in Maine at the end of the Appalachian Trail.

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