Monday, June 17, 2013

Trekking in Vermont- Part 2

After hiking and camping in the Killington, Vermont area I ventured Southwest into Bennington. It's one of those towns with a "Main Street" which is still undeniably "Main Street". A place where unlike certain fictitious Boston haunts, everyone still does know your name. Unless you're an outsider like me. Then they refer to you kindly as "friend" and make you feel like you live there, or at least like you'd really like to live there. A place with which  anyone who isn't a self professed "city lover" is bound to fall in love. 

Stopping in to replace my worn out ATM card, I question Emily about the vividly decorated large cat statues all around town. She explains that the " Catamount" is a nearly extinct predator which happens to be the town's artistic focus for the year. Fiberglass statues of the cats are made available and various artists add their color and finishing touches to them. At the end of summer they are auctioned off for a good cause. Two questions pop into my mind: 1) How "nearly" extinct are they? and 2) Are these purported cats as big as the statues? (Because the statues are the size of oversized panthers!)  Never having heard of such a creature I'm skeptical as to whether they are fictional or non-fictional, but intrigued. As someone who is about to camp out on the outskirts of their town I'm understandably somewhat concerned! Especially now that I have thoughts dancing in my head along the lines of "Werewolves in London".

After checking out the Bennington Monument I decided  that I'm probably as likely to run into a Catamount as I am to swim with the Loch Ness Monster so I back track a bit east along State Road 9 and turn down Forest Road 74. It's not real wilderness camping, but it sure is convenient to drive down a road a mile or two and find a place to pull off and camp that feels like you're in the middle of nowhere, even if a huge carnivorous cat could be lying there in wait. As a consolation there is a great fire ring and more than enough fire wood within a couple of dozen yards to keep things cozy for the evening. Hopefully Catamounts are afraid of fire!

Bennington Monument
After retrieving my allotment of wood I decide to do some trailblazing. Literally. Hiking without a trail  and going where no man has gone before.... Probably! Okay I admit that I'm no Lewis or Clark, but there wasn't a trail, I swear! Having proved my "Manliness" to myself I venture back before I get lost and start crying like a child. I head towards the beaver pond, but alas find no beaver. Just once I'd like to find some good beaver in the woods , but apparently you have to trap and import your own.

Settling in for the evening I stoke up the fire. There is something very special about the campfire, fire in general. I don't want to come across as a pyromaniac, but when was the last time you sat before a campfire? It's mesmerizing. Some say god creates and it is not my intent to debate that notion. However, it is undeniable that fire creates. Fire burns, fire heals, fire destroys, fire creates. Within the bellies of stars, fire creates the elements, the building blocks of all material things. Without fire there would be no cause to ever build a fire place. Man would never cook or forge the steel used to create tools. Without it the Iron wouldn't even be in existence to forge. Steam and Petrol  engines would never be invented let alone do work. It is fire that facilitates the life cycle from start to end, from creation to destruction. And back to destruction. And again to Creation. To every season a turn.  To every cycle a beginning without end and no starting point.  A Cycle. A Circle. A Zero. A whole, empty yet existing in nothingness. Circumscribing nil and containing It. 

If you take away everything, what do you have? Nothing is what you have! Nothing! No Thing! Nothing is substantial. I don't mean "nothing is substantial"! I mean "nothing" IS Substantial! Only one thing in the universe is substantial, "nothing".  In that lies the secret. But don't tell anyone. Anyway, they wouldn't understand, 'nothing' is hard to grasp.

Forgive me, fire can take you to some strange places.....

Vermont- Part 1

Driving into Vermont I had to pull over and bang a U-turn after driving over the Quechee Gorge. The silver gray, thick and looming clouds threatened rain, but I figured I had time to snap a few pics. I figured wrong! The skies opened and although I was quite sure I wouldn't melt in the rain, I was concerned that my camera wouldn't be as resilient. Even with it under my shirt, hunched over and running like a mad dog for the van it got a little too moist for my liking. I wasn't the only one the downpour caused consternation. Driving towards Killington some power lines were downed causing the locals some problems and forcing me into a big detour around no man's land. 

Eventually I spotted the landmark I was looking for as I drove by it, the "Inn at Long Trail".
Some previous research uncovered a little gem of an outlook called "Deer Leap" which was just a very short hike from the Inn and just off of the Appalachian Trail. So I pulled in and saw a notice stating that parking and camping on the grassy knoll were free courtesy of the "Inn at Long Trail". That was very welcoming and I decided immediately that they had definitely won over my patronage as I looked forward to a nice frosty beverage and hot food at their Irish Pub. 
View from Pico Mountain

Whenever hiking or camping in unfamiliar territory it is imperative to have done your homework and be prepared. I say this unashamedly with full hypocritical awareness. In this particular instance, I was too relaxed and nonchalant, thinking the shortness of the hike didn't require much if any forethought. The problem was that the hike I was intending to do was on the other side of the road! I don't want to create any undo suspense: nothing dramatic happened and all went well, but it was one of those times when letting down my guard could have easily bit me in the butt. Hard!

It's been a really long time since I've done any Appalachian hiking, but the impression clearly lasts a lifetime! As soon as I stepped back on that trail I knew it. You could see it, smell it, hear it, feel it. Hell, you could even taste it after wiping that little fleck of dirt off your lip after that last slip! I don't know what it is, but it's noteworthy and it's wonderful. How do you know you're on the Appalachian Trail? If you hike south for 3-4 months and wind up in Georgia, you've been on the Appalachian trail! But seriously, it's a treasure and my hats off to all those who pioneered it, built it, maintain it and to those who experience it. It's something quite unlike anything else, even if you only travel a short bit of it. 

So as it turns out I was not on the trail to "Deer Leap", but on a section of the Long Trail/Appalachian Trail leading up Pico Ski Mountain. Which, with hindsight, explained why the intended 45 minute hike shortly before sunset and just after torrential rainfall was taking a hell of a lot longer than expected! The fact that as I was hiking up, while small rivulets were streaming down the trail didn't bother me. Nor did the fact that it was slippery, longer and steeper than expected.  What did bother me was that I really wanted to get some photos and get back down before sunset and for some reason it looked like it might not happen. The fact that I was ill prepared and could easily injure myself and spend a long miserable, cold, wet night on the mountain REALLY bothered me. 

Floating around Vermont
Just as I was about to cut my losses and turn around I heard voices higher up on the trail. I waited and greeted the hikers and asked if I was close to the lookout. Their affirmative answer and "Oh, you have a camera. You're gonna get great photos!" spurred me on at a frenzied pace. Calculating the minutes I used going up and how many I needed to get back down, I reached the scenic outlook with just a few to spare. Soaked with perspiration I quickly stripped off my t-shirt and got down to the business of capturing the beautiful expansive mountainous landscape and wisps of rain clouds before me. Somewhat ironically I found myself taking pictures of the area I had originally intended to ascend!

Packing up my gear, the minimal amount I brought with me, I began the descent with some haste, but mindful and careful not to slip or turn an ankle. I wasn't sure if I would meet the two hikers (plus their small puppy) on the way down, but I did catch up with them. At which point I relaxed my pace for a more social and leisurely descent down. After all, even though I neglected to be prepared, they had flashlights so even if the light diminished we'd be alright. And I'd be saved from my ineptitude. Luckily I wasn't a Boy Scout. I fear after this tale they'd ask for their badges back!
View of Pico from Deer Leap Overlook

I very much enjoyed the conversation with my downward descent companions. Beth used to have a house on Long Beach Island (my old haunt) and Mark was a Montana mountain and river guide so the talk on the way down was lively and continued to be so after they invited me to join them as we repaid the kindness of the Inn by throwing down some dinner and drinks.  

The next morning I managed to find the trail I had originally intended  to hike and made it up to "Deer Leap Outlook".  Not surprisingly it gave an excellent view of the mountain I hiked up the night before as well a panoramic view of the surrounding area. The afternoon facilitated mulling over the lesson of the day, which is, of course, to be prepared! 

So if you have a chance, get a hike in and then stop by and say "Hello" to Owen behind the bar at the Inn at Long Trail. The veggie burger and homemade coleslaw are pretty darn good.  Just watch out for those Irish Car Bombs and make sure you know the correct trail out of there!