Long Trail: A New Approach – Day 6

Day 6 – Saturday 7/16/22

Duxbury Road Trailhead (181.9) to Bear Hollow Shelter (218.3)

36.4 miles / 11,263 ft gain / 10,079 ft loss

2.3 mph

Start: 3:04am

Finish: 6:38pm

Elapsed: 15h 34m

When I left the trailhead this morning, my pack was as heavy as it had ever been. I knew water would be scarce heading up Bolton Mountain, so I filled up an extra liter and stashed it in the main compartment. I also knew I was getting ready to face some of the most challenging miles yet over the next two days or more, and I would need to eat even more than I had been. Plus, I didn’t know how long it would take me to finish and packed extra food. I felt very aware of the time and how I spent every hour would count a little more in the next couple days. If I wanted to give myself a chance to do that last day push and achieve a record, I would need my second-to-last day (today) to end early, for a chance to sleep for at least a few hours before the long haul.

All that being said, I didn’t think I would actually do it. I had already moved on toward making some “B” and “C” goals. The time I would need to finish within for a fastest known time was 6 days, 11 hours, 33 minutes, the unsupported women’s time set by Mikaela Osler last summer. Now, my hike was not unsupported like Mikaela’s (where you carry everything you need with you from start to finish and accept zero help along the way)–I went self-supported, which means I can cache supplies for myself, buy things along the way, stay at motels, beg for help from strangers; the main thing is being self-reliant and not having any pre-arranged help. In order for a self-supported FKT to be officially recognized, I would have to beat Mikaela’s unsupported time, considering the advantage of being self-supported. The women’s self-supported record belongs to Jennifer Pharr Davis, set in 2007 with a time of 7 days, 15 hours, and 40 minutes (an overall record at the time).

So in my head I had basically already thrown out the possibility of finishing in six and a half days knowing how hard the trail ahead would be, but still had thoughts like, “How cool would it be to try and go under seven days? I could say I finished the Long Trail in under a week!” Or “How neat would it be to try and go for Jennifer’s record?” She’s a legend and awesome human being, and it would bring a great deal of personal satisfaction even if my hike didn’t get accolades or recognition.

Anyway, while I was feeling aware of all of this, I didn’t stress about it. I didn’t feel attached to the FKT goal, because I didn’t want to feel the crushing pressure that I’d put on myself on the past. I was here for myself, I was here to have fun, I was here to enjoy the Long Trail. I still liked having goals because that makes it fun to me. At some point David Horton called me and asked how things were going, and if I was still on record pace. I responded, “Well technically, yes… but I would have to do the 88 miles from Duxbury in two days. And not just 88 miles but 88 really hard miles. So I don’t know.” He told me to just see how far I could go that day, and that’s all I could do. He was with Steve Feller (New York Steve! he hiked with me on the AT and made an appearance in Jennifer Pharr Davis’s book detailing her record AT hike), and he told me that he and Steve would still like me either way. I laughed and said thanks.

Somewhere along the way up Bolton

A view of Mt. Mansfield way up ahead

I very slowly made my way up the long ascent to the top of Bolton Mountain. Again, my pack just felt unbelievably heavy. I knew it wouldn’t do any good to try and power through or rush, so I just took my time and accepted that the ups today would be hard and slow- but you know what? The more I ate and drank, the lighter my pack would get, so that was a motivating way to continue eating, drinking, and taking care of myself. I was glad to be knocking out the section between Bolton and Mansfield (“ManBolt”) early in the day, as every time I’ve done it in the past has been hot and in the afternoon. It meanders and seems to go on forever. The Hellgate 100K has a “forever section” and on the Long Trail this is my personal “forever section”. It dips down to some ponds somewhere in the middle and it gets kind of weedy, and for whatever reason I just hate it. Maybe it is blasphemous to say I hate part of this trail that I love, but considering I’ve felt that way in this section every time, it’s just the truth!

It was Saturday, so there were lots of hikers out and about, and I even saw several trail runners. One woman in particular was moving very lightly and quickly. I had just started backtracking as I’d lost the trail for a second. I asked her, “Hey, I think I lost the trail, do you know which way it goes?” and she pointed down the direction from where I’d just come. Hmmm. I told her I wasn’t so sure that was right, did she see a white blaze? She seemed to be in a hurry and clearly was not wanting to poke around with me and figure it, and on she went! A few days later, I read about a woman that set an FKT on the LT from Bolton to Mansfield that same day, so that must have been her- no wonder she was in a hurry! Then I felt like a doofus for holding her up. I found where I’d made the mistake and got back on track.

Getting out of the “forever section” was a huge giant relief. Now I had the huge giant ascent up Mansfield to look forward to, but similar to Camel’s Hump it’s one of those climbs where the effort pays in dividends with amazing views and just feeling like you’re on top of the world. On the way up were some big boulders with treacherous drop-offs, ladder climbs, and sections where I definitely wanted to make sure I was hanging onto something. I had to remember to keep my weight forward, as my heavy pack made it easy to tip backward if I wasn’t careful. Climbing Mansfield was the hardest I’d breathed the entire trip, to a point I got a nosebleed; surely cumulative from breathing in all the dusty, dry mountain air all week. Also, TMI (but whatever), I’d started my period that morning but hadn’t thought to pack any feminine products so I was just bleeding everywhere. Cool, cool! I guess another reason my pack was a bit heavier, instead of taking a minimal amount of baby wipes in a sandwich bag, I just threw the entire package in my pack knowing I’d probably want it.

Looking south from the Forehead – you can see Camel’s Hump in the far far distance, and Bolton just ahead of that, and even closer, the “forever section”
Tired and sweaty but still smiling

Still climbing, making my way to the Chin up ahead

Heading north on the Mansfield ridge line for the first time proved to be much harder than going south. Because even after you get to the southern summit, the Forehead, the trail continues upward until reaching the highest point of the Long Trail (and the highest point of Vermont!), the Chin. It was very crowded up there, as it was Saturday, and there is easy access to the top via the toll road and ski lift. Tourists and day hikers everywhere! I weaved my way through the crowds as politely as possible, though I did have some impolite/selfish moments when I got impatient going down the other side of the Chin, and skipped on down some of the steep, treacherous, technical bits, dancing around other hikers as they made their way up while hanging on for dear life. Forgive me, hikers!

The rest of the descent to Smuggler’s Notch went by quickly. I felt energized and invigorated from Mansfield and actually excited for the next section. Smuggler’s Notch was where I’d quit my self-supported attempt a couple weeks ago, where my dad had come and picked me up. I remembered just how physically depleted I felt then–it was awful–and I could just tell I felt so much better today. I knew I’d be okay for this next section. The next ascent was a long one, but never too steep or physically demanding (comparatively to Mansfield). I passed by Sterling Pond, where more day hikers and families were enjoying their Saturday afternoon. Madonna Peak (my favorite), a grassy ski slope, was filled with wildflowers and looking as beautiful as ever. Before disappearing back into the woods, I turned around and took in the view of Madonna sloping upward and Mansfield peeking out behind in the distance. I was moving!

Two hikers resting on a ski lift (PS – don’t do this, they can start moving at any time even in the summer – I’ve seen it happen!)

Looking south to Madonna Peak, Mansfield peeking out from behind

The summit of Whiteface – not so bad as before!

Climbing up Sterling (Whiteface) was beastly, as usual, but it didn’t bother me so much because it was the last tough climb of the day. After that, all I had to do was sail down to Bear Hollow Shelter on the other side. I briefly considered continuing past Bear Hollow Shelter as it was still very early in the evening (6:30pm) and I’d “only” gone 36 miles that day, and wouldn’t it be nice to have fewer miles tomorrow? But wait… I’d stuck to my original plan this entire week, besides ending the fourth night a little early, and it had worked out spectacularly so far. I was feeling great, and it’s probably because I wasn’t maxing myself out every day as I’m usually prone to do. So I stopped.

Giving myself a chance and turning in early

Having learned my lesson from my experience at the Emily Proctor Shelter, even though there was only one other hiker at the shelter so far, I decided to set up my tent close by instead. That way I wouldn’t have to worry about more hikers coming in later and disturbing my sleep (especially since I was turning in and waking up early), and I could get ready in the “morning” as quickly as possible without worrying so much about disturbing anyone else. I treated myself to my last real-ish meal, a packet of tuna in olive oil wrapped in a tortilla. I had packed almost exclusively Spring Energy gels for the last stretch, knowing I’d want to be able to eat as efficiently as possible with the little time I had. I changed into my night clothes and laid out my gross sweaty shirt, sports bra, and bloody shorts out to dry, hoping the scent wouldn’t attract bears (it didn’t- maybe my hiker stench was enough to ward them off!). I was in bed by 7:15pm or so and debated when to set my alarm. I had until 11:33pm the next day to hike 53.5 miles with nearly 17,000 feet of elevation gain if I wanted to break the record. I had to assume many of my miles would be 2mph, plus there would be some tough climbs that would just take a while. And the weather was predicted to be very warm and humid with highs in the eighties, the warmest it would be all week. Honestly it could take me 24 hours depending on how I felt. So I set my alarm for 10:45pm and zonked out.


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! With your support I have so far fundraised $953- that’s like starting from the MA/VT border (mile 0) and making it all the way to the big climb up Killington (mile 95.3)! 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


Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Who is Mercury?

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

Newsletter 💫

Subscribe to Liz’s weekly newsletter full of inspiring stories about running, music, trails and life.

Success! You're on the list.