Long Trail: A New Approach – Day 1

In a truly unexpected turn of events, I’m tickled to death and pleased as punch to share that this past Sunday, July 17th I broke the women’s self-supported record on the Long Trail, held by Jennifer Pharr Davis, in 6 days, 8 hours, and 12 minutes (pending verification).

After my first two failed attempts I’m not going to lie- I felt silly and embarrassed for thinking of trying again. Like.. was there something wrong with me? Was I obsessed? Did I not know when to just let something go? Were my priorities screwed up? I had to have a better reason to be out there than trying to be the fastest, because that kind of misses the point of doing a thru-hike. Why did I come to Vermont? Well, I wanted to hike the Long Trail. I love being out there, I love the mountains, I love the adventure of it all. Starting a trail is like beginning the first chapter of a story. If you close the book before getting to the end, you’ll never find out what happens.

Initially this thru-hike wasn’t planned to be an FKT attempt at all. After the first two experiences didn’t end well, I wanted to just have fun, enjoy it, and put zero pressure on the outcome. I like to have goals and challenge myself still, so I started jotting out a more conservative plan that seemed challenging but doable, that way I could enjoy the trail more, get a little more sleep every night, and not feel anxious, rushed, or stressed about meeting my own typically wild expectations. Instead of trying to squeeze every last ounce of energy out of myself every day, I’d stick to my planned daily stopping points. As I was writing my plan, when I got to day six, I scrolled up my Long Trail map, looking for a good place to stop around 35 miles for the day and landed on Bear Hollow Shelter. That’s when it dawned on me… Bear Hollow Shelter is only 53.5 miles away from Canada. Last year in my supported attempt, I ran and hiked from the US/Canada border to the gate at West Settlement Road in a day, which is only a couple miles short of Bear Hollow Shelter. In my first self-supported attempt a couple weeks ago, I ran and hiked the 45.7 miles from the US/Canada border to Roundtop Shelter in even less time than it took me in my supported attempt. Holy crap! Theoretically, I could stick to this more “relaxed” plan all the way up until the last day, and if I felt good enough and wanted to try, bust out the final 53.5 miles in the last day and break the record.

See, this is when I wonder whether something is wrong with me, because even when planning to do something for fun, I can’t help but get excited about all the possibilities of seeing how far or fast I could go. Maybe that is just my idea of fun at the end of the day. Still, I didn’t want the pressure of calling it an FKT attempt. I was going on a thru-hike. I would relax, enjoy it, have fun, and just allow the journey to unfold. Of course being a premier route you have to share your intentions ahead of time, and I wanted to keep the possibility of an FKT open, so I left a note on the Long Trail FKT message board, notified Fastest Known Time and shared my tracking info, texted my family and a few friends that I was heading back out to the trail, and that was that. No social media this time, no big declarations. I just wanted to do this for myself.

I wrote the following in my notes app before starting: I’m heading back to the Long Trail with a new intention: allowing the journey to unfold. I often get caught in the trap of perfection or nothing, which made quitting my second FKT attempt a very easy decision. I’ve often likened my time on trails to feeling like a kid on a playground, and that’s the mindset I’d like to take with me now. I still feel some pangs of nerves as any long hike feels like a leap into the unknown. I’m trusting that once I get started I will feel at ease and in my element again. In times of doubt, I like to imagine that scene in Aladdin where Genie is buzzing around Aladdin’s head like a bumblebee and says, “Remember, bee yourself!”🐝 

In another twist, this time I decided to start from the southern terminus and do a northbound hike. I started my previous attempts from the northern terminus, that way I could tackle the hardest sections first. Psychologically, however, I didn’t want to go into this feeling like I was repeating history. You know, the definition of insanity and all of that (doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results). I think there’s also something to be said about easing in with the “less hard” part of the trail first, that way you can find your rhythm and give your body a chance to adjust to the task at hand. That being said, there is no one right way to do the trail, only what works best for you personally. I’m realizing this to be more and more true.

The Approach

My approach started from Wild Oats Market on Main Street in Williamstown, MA. I stopped there to have a very early lunch of chicken salad and orange juice, and grabbed a breakfast burrito to throw in my pack for dinner that night. My gracious hosts Peter and Sue, whose house I stayed at, were out of town. I didn’t know anyone that I could ask for a ride to my preferred trailhead. There are several ways to get to the southern terminus of the LT and the best approach is from County Road – it’s a relatively easy 3.1 mile southbound hike on the LT from there. However it’s on a gravel forest road up in Vermont, nowhere close to where I was. I tried calling an Uber from the grocery store, but to no avail. The other two options were taking the Pine Cobble Trail or the Appalachian Trail from town, both 3-4 mile steep ascents to the LT. I was closer to the Pine Cobble Trailhead, so I walked 1.7 miles through town to the trailhead, then hiked uphill on the trail for another ~2 miles and 1,100 feet of elevation gain to the Appalachian Trail Junction.


I thought I had seen a few streams on the map of the Pine Cobble Trail, so I hadn’t filled my water bottle at the grocery store, thinking I’d just collect water on the trail. However, it turned out I had looked at the wrong trail map (Broad Brook), and Pine Cobble had zero water. There were no water sources between the AT junction and the LT either, but there was a stream down the opposite direction on the AT. I couldn’t very well start my hike without water, so I turned southbound on the AT, hiked down 1 mile and 500 feet of elevation loss to the stream, filled my water bottle, hiked back up, and then hiked another 1.2 miles from the Pine Cobble/AT junction to the MA/VT border where the Long Trail begins. Before I even began my thru-hike, I had covered a total of 7.1 miles on foot. Oh geez!

Normally I like to get started with this kind of thing super early in the day, but I tried something different this time. I slept in that morning so maximize my sleep and rest going into the hike. Plus, since I didn’t have a plan for getting to the southern terminus, I wanted to make sure I didn’t feel rushed getting there. So I planned a noon start, and half day of hiking to begin with, which worked out perfectly because I arrived at the MA/VT border right around 11:30am. Just enough time to sit down, have a snack (a cinnamon roll from the grocery store), answer a phone call from Progressive (funny timing) and take a picture by the welcome sign before starting.

Day 1 – Monday 7/11/22

MA/VT State Line / Southern Terminus (0.0) to Goddard Shelter (24.1)

24.1 miles / 5,938 ft gain / 4,701 ft loss

3.1 mph

Start: 12:00pm

Finish: 7:51pm

Elapsed: 7h 51m

This was overall just a beautiful and enjoyable day. The sun was out with patchy clouds, the trail was lovely and runnable, and it was all just so very green whether it was in the dense foliage of the forest or the fern-filled meadow atop Harmon Hill.


One mistake I had made in my second FKT attempt the week prior had been not eating enough and bonking hard on the second morning. So this time I planned my nutrition a lot better, measuring out exactly how many calories I’d need per day and then rounding up even more, and then separating my food into different ziplock bags for each day. I had to eat all of the food in the designated bag by the end of the day, as if it were my job.


I only came across several hikers on the trail that day (including Bud, a hiker I’d met on the Pinhoti Trail Alabama earlier this year who has literally been hiking north since- so funny we bumped into each other again), so it was shocking to arrive at Goddard Shelter to see the shelter packed and tents everywhere like a little tent city. It was clear I was smack dab in the Appalachian Trail “hiker bubble”. Two very nice young women that were also thru-hiking the LT asked if I was looking for a place to pitch my tent and pointed me in the direction of a tiny little clearing in the woods. It was definitely on a slope, but I was tired and happy to plop down wherever.


I did read that there were some nice tent sites just a quarter mile ahead at the summit of Glastenbury Mountain, but Karl Meltzer, my coach, had reminded me several times before I started specifically NOT to go farther than I’d planned, even if I felt awesome. So I stuck to my plan. I eagerly downed my breakfast burrito that I’d picked up Wild Oats and had been saving for the end of the day- wow, I didn’t know cold eggs, cheese, and potatoes could taste so good. Like, I am still thinking about that burrito. I curled up on my slope, turned sideways toward the upward direction which seemed to hold me in place, and drifted off for a full night of sleep.

💫

Thanks for reading. Stay tuned for more daily recaps of the rest of my Long Trail journey right here on Mercury on the Run.

To celebrate completing my thru-hike and Long Trail Day coming up on September 10th, I’d like to give back to this trail I love so much by fundraising $2,720 for Green Mountain Club, the maintainers of the Long Trail – that’s $10 for every mile of the trail! Can you donate to support me in my goal?


I’m also working on a special Long Trail-themed project for new and continuing Buy Me a Coffee monthly members. I’m so thankful for your support and love getting to share my journey with this little community. Support me as a monthly member and not only will you get two beautiful Mercury on the Run stickers and a handwritten thanks from me, you’ll receive a one-of-a-kind memento from my time here in VT.


Another great way to support is by sharing this with someone that might enjoy it too, and if you haven’t already, subscribe to my weekly newsletter. ‘Til next time! ~Mercury

2 responses to “Long Trail: A New Approach – Day 1”

  1. Son of BillyGoat Avatar
    Son of BillyGoat

    So awesome!! You are superhuman!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! HUGE CONGRATULATIONS!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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Who is Mercury?

Liz Derstine, trail name “Mercury”, is a distance runner, endurance hiker, writer, and musician residing in Boston, MA. She holds the fastest known times for a woman on the Appalachian Trail (supported, northbound), Long Trail (self-supported), and Pinhoti Trail (self-supported).

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