“I’m gonna kill that rooster,” said a southbounder from inside her sleeping bag. The bird began crowing at 5.a.m. on the dot.
The rooster crowed behind a barn with chipping paint as the hazy gray-blue shade of night left the world tinted as if underwater the night before.
A trail angel named Linda has been welcoming Appalachian Trail hikers to camp in her yard and sleep in the ramshackle barn next to her home for years. A southbound hiker sang on the back porch and played ukelele into the night. I stayed here two summers ago — that night feels worlds away.
Today, I’ll cross into New Hampshire before lunchtime.
A few nights ago I was slipping into my sleeping bag under the stars on top of Bromley Mountain — my first foray into cowboy camping. I reached the peak just as the sunset cast an orange glow on the surrounding mountains. A few other hikers had already staked out spots on the peak. One man slept on a chair of the ski lift.
I put on all the clothes I carry and nestled deep into my sleeping bag, hoping it would be a sufficient buffer against the night’s wind. I groggily peeked out of my sleeping bag in the middle of the night to see the sky lit up brilliantly. I smiled to myself and burrowed back into sleep.
I woke at 5 a.m. to the sound of a woman singing Beyonce’s “Bootylicious” and a bulldog sniffing me. A family had decided to do an early morning summit to catch the sunrise.
Clearly, there's no winding down after a rendition of a Yonce classic so I gave up on sleep. I stuffed my belongings in my pack and decided it would be a good day for big miles. If I had 30 miles in me, I could make it to the first road crossing into Rutland and stay at a donation-based hostel run by the Twelve Tribes. The spiritual group runs restaurants called the Yellow Deli all over the country including both Rutland and Oneonta where I went to college. With freshly baked bread, hot soup and tea on my mind, I set out to do my highest mileage day yet.
The miles flew by and the terrain was beautiful in a way I hadn't expected. Living so close to this section of the trail all my life, I almost dreaded its familiarity. Instead, I was wowed again and again by scenery I've often taken for granted. The way the light broke through the trees and lit up the forest floor at the end of the day always brings a smile to my face and a lightness to my gate. “Gardens” of cairns bloomed beside the trail. Cairns were stacked expertly on tree branches, fallen logs and on razor thin ledges of other rocks.
By the time I reached the road, 29.6 miles after waking up on top of Bromley, it was nearly 7:30 at night. I rushed to the road to hitch before it got dark and hopped into a car with an old man who had told me about traveling much of the country. He brought me to The Yellow Deli Hostel and wished me luck.
I found an empty bunk and threw my pack down. There were dozens of hikers but none I recognized. I inhaled a veggie burger, a cup of soup and a peach mate before hobbling back onto the street for some air. Just outside the deli sat Mojito, Sonic and Waffles. Mojito and Sonic are a couple who have been hiking with the New Zealanders for quite some time. Waffles is the Dutch taxi driver I befriended early on in the trail. I hadn't seen him since North Carolina. We were catching up over cake when the three Kiwis walked up. In all, 63 hikers stayed at the hostel that night. With bunks overflowing, the folks at the deli threw extra mattresses onto the back deck and put one on the roof as well.
Morning came and the smell of coffee seeped through the maze-like building. Killington awaited. Though it may have been the heat, I remembered the mountain as grueling the first time around.
This year, I ate it up.
I've fallen madly in love with hiking again. Though I never lost interest, there were times when I lost sight of what it was about hiking that made me so happy. It’s the same reason I trail run. I'm not hiking for the views, that's not what this is about.
I'm happiest when I find that feeling, that rhythm when everything clicks and I could just as easily be dancing.
It’s a full bodied sensation that draws you forward — a quiet happiness that washes over you again and again.