After three weeks of living out of a suitcase and driving my packed-to-the-brim 4runner Tina across the country, I’m happy to have finally landed in Vermont for the summer. I have a little loft apartment all to myself, serving as a basecamp nestled among the most challenging peaks along the Long Trail.
I’ve always romanticized this idea of going off into the mountains and living a life of simplicity and purpose; to have uninterrupted time to train and to write. That is a gift I’m giving to myself this summer, in the “in between” of my old life in Portland and new chapter in Boston.
Last summer I attempted a supported fastest known time on the Long Trail, and disappointingly, gave up after two days. I’ve had nearly a year to think about it and pick apart what happened. The more I learn about multi-day FKT challenges, the more I realize there is still so much to learn. It’s like the Socratic paradox, “I know that I know nothing.”
I am giving the Long Trail another go this summer, but with a different approach. I am planning to backpack the trail self-supported style. I won’t have a support crew meeting me along the way; any support I employ must be equally available to anyone else. This can range from caching supplies in advance, purchasing supplies along the way, staying at motels, to finding or begging for food or water.
I think my biggest personal challenge will be to approach this hike with a much more flexible mindset. I like to plan everything to a T, but I’ve learned curating a perfectly laid out plan can give a false sense of security in the outcome. If, say, I don’t meet my own expectations in hitting a certain pace or mileage goal for the day, it becomes very easy to feel like a failure and mentally spiral downward. Or, let’s say some unexpected obstacle comes up, but I hold myself to the standard I put on paper, I could end up pushing too hard. I’m learning more and more how important it is to allow oneself to bend, rather than force something and break.
I would consider myself an advanced long distance runner and hiker, yet still somewhat of a backpacking novice. To the ultralight aficionados out there, my Pinhoti Trail gear list (and base pack weight) from when I set a self-supported FKT this spring, would be laughable. I would argue that I was well-prepared, but perhaps to the detriment of my legs and feet, judging by how I felt at the end of a 40-50 mile day carrying a full pack, versus how I have felt after 50+ or 60+ mile days with just a hydration vest. When I think of the challenging terrain and plentiful 4,000ft+ peaks along the Long Trail, particularly up north, I think being a little more strategic and picky with the gear I carry will go a long way.
All that being said, just like having the perfect plan won’t guarantee success, neither will the perfect gear. My hope while I’m out here in Vermont is to prepare my mind just as much as I’m preparing my legs, backpacking skills, and familiarity with the trail.
In the week I’ve been here, I revisited some places on the trail associated with some pretty vivid memories from my attempt last year. First, I went straight to Appalachian Gap, where I ended my attempt. I wanted to see if the trail leading to that point was as difficult as I remembered. There were some parts that were bad, but it wasn’t ALL bad. What came back to me the most was the extreme emotional state I was in. I also remember how muggy it had been all day (and the two days prior), and then the storm that dumped cold rain on me in the last few miles to the gap. I quit at a very low moment.
Next, I hiked up Camel’s Hump from a side trail, taking in the views all around me, since last time I was up there was last August under the stars before dawn. I remember feeling so strong hiking up there from the Duxbury Trailhead, but petering out over the next twelve miles to App Gap. I remember how much I was sweating in the humidity, how tired and dead my legs felt, how extremely slowly I was moving, and how emotionally drained I felt.
Yesterday I visited Codding Hollow, where the summer prior I arrived screaming in agony as chafing wounds plagued my legs and butt. I’d never experienced that particular kind of pain before, like someone taking sandpaper to my nether regions over and over again. It was awful. I’ve run and hiked in humid conditions before, so I’m not sure what made that time different.
All of these memories are accompanied by memories of my crew giving me support in many ways; tending to my wounds, making me hot food, giving me encouragement, sharing info about the trail ahead, hiking with me into the night, meeting me on the trail with food and water. I feel humbled receiving so much support, and wish I could have been a better organizer leading up to the attempt and decisive in the moments that mattered.
Something I hope to gain from hiking the Long Trail self-supported is to continue learning how to be more organized, knowledgeable, and self-reliant. To be more adaptable and keep my cool when it comes time to problem solve. The Pinhoti Trail felt like a good start, and I’m eager to discover what the Long Trail will teach me next.
Thanks for reading. To follow along with my Long Trail training and preparations, give me a follow @pinkfeathers on Instagram. If you enjoy my writing, please consider buying me a coffee, or better yet, become a monthly member! As a special thank you, monthly members receive beautiful Mercury on the Run stickers, plus I’ve got another fun surprise for continuing members going out soon. Another great way to support is by sharing this with a friend or family member that might like it too. New readers may subscribe here.
In another news, I was totally thrilled to chat with hiking legend Heather “Anish” Anderson on the latest episode of the Fastest Known Time podcast! We caught up less than a week after I finished the Pinhoti Trail, and swapped stories from our respective experiences on the Appalachian Trail, of which she is the self-supported record holder. I may have had to pinch myself a few times to make sure it was real. I hope you enjoy listening! Until next week… ~Mercury