Long Trail: A New Approach – Day 7

Day 7 – Sunday 7/17/2022

Bear Hollow Shelter (218.3) to Northern Terminus / Canadian Border (272.0)

53.5 miles / 16,909 ft gain / 14,918 ft loss

2.6 mph

Start: 11:28pm (Saturday 7/16)

Finish: 8:12pm (Sunday 7/17)

Elapsed: 20h 43m

I woke up to my vibrating phone alarm, bzz-bzz-bzz-bzzzzzzBzz-bzz-bzz-bzzzzzz. I had chosen the “Beethoven’s 5th” setting which always amuses me. It was surprisingly easy waking up. I was also delighted that I had actually been able to fall asleep right away, as it usually takes a bit of tossing and turning before I can settle down, trail or off-trail. I took some time to tape my feet even though they were still looking and feeling pretty good to that point, as I didn’t want to have to stop later in the day to fix any hot spots. I preemptively slathered on some anti-chafe cream on my thighs and butt, brushed my teeth, and did all my morning things. I wanted to feel really good starting the day. I put my dried out hiking clothes back on, packed up my tent, had a caffeinated gel, whispered goodbye to my friend in the shelter who I’d clearly woken up (ugh, sorry!) and she whispered, “Good luck and have fun!!” back to me.

I set off at 11:28pm. 24 hours and 5 minutes of time left to spend. I had this thought of how going for records/FKTs is just like being given an allowance; an allotment of dollars and cents. You’re given a certain amount of time and it’s up to you how you’d like to spend it. It’s all about finding the right balance that works for you. Like those backyard ultras when you’re given an hour, on the hour every hour, to complete four miles (okay 4.167 miles). You can take up that entire hour to complete four miles at a more leisurely pace, but then it means you have to go right into the next four miles with no rest. Or you could hustle and finish up the four miles very quickly and have more time to rest and take care of yourself, but possibly put more wear and tear on your body from the speedier pace. So, how do you spend your time?

The Lamoille Valley at 12:25am

This was on my mind for the first few miles of the day, which were all downhill on a forest road. Super easy. I could go crush it down the hill, but I still had many miles to go beyond that, and how much was too much? So I held back and just tried to relax. These miles would be fast no matter if I ran or walked, so I walked. It was a peaceful way to start the day. Crossing a field in the Lamoille Valley, I paused to turn off my headlamp and admire the raging moonlight. Incredible! I honestly didn’t need a headlamp but I also didn’t want to mess up my last day doing something silly like rolling my ankle in the dark, so I clicked it back on.

Doing this section northbound so soon after I had done it southbound in my last attempt was a neat way of hitting the “rewind” button. Like going back in time and getting a redo. I gave a little fist pump as I passed the Roundtop Shelter, where I’d ended my first night. 45.7 miles to go! And gosh, it was only 1:30am. After that I wound my way through the sugar bush, with skinny blue maple tubes criss-crossing all over the forest, back through Codding Hollow, and up to Laraway Lookout. At this point I felt like I knew the trail like the back of my hand.

The view from Laraway Lookout at 3:37am

The climb up Belvidere was hard, but I had received an encouraging text from Jeremy Howard (who has his eye on the unsupported FKT and knows the trail well) that really helped me to break it down mentally. “The section to Belvidere is friendly and then a nice easy climb over Jay and you’re home!” I had to wonder if he was being sarcastic when he said the climb over Jay was easy, but honestly it didn’t matter. I just told myself it would be easy. Easy easy easy. I had already done the “friendly” section to Belvidere. Between there and Jay would be a lot of ups and downs, but a lot of nice little milestones in the form of mountains, hills, domes, and peaks. I told myself to just bag those peaks. We’re peak bagging!

A spooky little tunnel in Devil’s Gulch

I didn’t want to get my hopes up about how the day would go. I stuck to my 2mph pace prediction for the remaining miles, to be on the safe side. Every time I made it to another mountaintop, I’d check on my map how many miles were left to Canada, and divide it by two, and that’s how many more hours it would take me to finish. My predicted finish time stayed pretty steadily around 10pm (I had until 11:33pm), and I was definitely moving faster than 2mph anyway. I was fine! I was literally doing it!

But in the moment I didn’t feel fine. It didn’t seem like enough wiggle room, and what if something happened? What if I bonked? What if I couldn’t do it? I was getting so close and felt positive it would be taken away from me. I started to feel extremely anxious and mentally crumble. When I feel this way, what always helps is looking at the facts. I tried to talk myself down by reviewing the facts. I had a little over 23 miles to go and 13 1/2 hours left to do it. I was making great time. I knew the trail well. I had covered that distance in a day before, I had pulled off 21-22 hour days before on the AT, in much worse physical condition.

The facts just weren’t helping me this time though. I couldn’t think rationally. I didn’t know what to do. I called Glenn as I was walking and told him what I was feeling, and that I was afraid I couldn’t do it. His response was, “Why does it matter?” Huh. Not the response I expected. Then I thought about it and replied, “Actually… it doesn’t!” It actually helped to think about it that way. Why was I letting this form of external validation hold so much power over me? What was I so fearful of? Glenn reminded me of how far I’ve come compared to the first two times, which was already a huge win. That helped. After that I called David Horton to update him on how things were going. I reviewed the facts over again with him, and he said “Good. You’re doing it! Enjoy this moment. Just think about how neat this is. You have it.” I wanted to respond, “No, I don’t think you understand, I don’t have it,” but it still helped to hear him say it.

I needed water, which had been scarce on the trail as usual, but I remembered from my last attempt there was a barely-trickling stream at Hazen’s Notch Camp. I turned down the side trail to get to the stream and what I found was just a few puddles, no flowing water. Ughhh. I dipped my bottle into one of the puddles and was able to fill it up about halfway and hoped for the best. After that I consulted with my map. Oh wow. Only three mountains before Jay Peak (the last higher peak), and they were all in a row. Buchanan, Domey’s Dome, Gilpin. I recited the names of the mountains to myself like Arya reciting her list of names in Game of ThronesBuchanan. Domey’s Dome. Gilpin. Jay. Buchanan. Domey’s Dome. Gilpin. Jay.

The climbs were not as bad as I feared and I checked them off pretty quickly, one after the other. My water was getting low again and I consulted my map and saw there were no great options coming up. Uh oh. It sounded like maybe there was a chance for water at Jay Camp, but it was a quarter mile off trail, and I really didn’t want to add half a mile to my day if I didn’t have to. I had over forty miles on my feet and they were starting to hurt, the pain surely exacerbated by getting dehydrated. Oh no, I thought, this is what will finally do me in. I knew it was too good to be true.

A glimpse of Jay Peak

Again I found myself starting to panic- what if I couldn’t find water? What if I had to hike up Jay Peak in the heat of the day and bonked the same way I did a couple weeks ago? What if, what if, what if? I descended from Gilpin down toward the next road at Jay Pass. I crossed over a muddy, dried up stream and briefly considered trying to filter some water from a mud puddle, but it was reeeeally muddy. So I passed. Then maybe a few hundred meters later, I gasped when I heard the glorious sound of trickling water. Water! A tiny unmarked stream went right over the trail. I walked upstream a little bit and found the perfect place to sit on a rock and collect a steady trickle of clear water coming down off of some bright green moss.

I sat and drank for maybe ten minutes, knowing my body needed it. After filling my bottle to the top, I continued on my way. But standing up again made me realize that I must have some sores forming on my heels, because they really hurt. I walked for a few minutes thinking, “Well if they haven’t bothered me all day, why would they bother me now?” I had fewer than twelve miles to go. I walked a few more painful steps, then decided, “Nope, I’m fixing this,” and stopped once more. I sat down, took off my shoes and socks, and tended to my wounds. Some dirt had gotten down into my socks and had been rubbing on my heels all day, causing some nasty sores. Somehow the constant movement all day enabled me not to notice. I cleaned them up with an alcohol wipe and threw some bandaids on, then Leuko tape on top of that to hold them in place.

I crossed the road at Jay Pass and laughed when I saw someone had left a bunch of jugs of water as trail magic at the trailhead, after all that effort collecting water at the little stream. At least I would have been covered either way! And I was just glad I hadn’t attempted to drink that muddy water earlier.

I reminded myself the climb up Jay Peak was “just an easy climb”, as Jeremy said. It’s not actually easy, but in a way it is very user-friendly, with built-in stone steps and not too many climby, rooty, laddery obstacles like some of the more rugged sections of the trail. I followed the white blazes painted on the rocks the best I could to the very top of the mountain, and got treated to the most spectacular view of the many, many mountains I had climbed. Wow.

From there I had 9.7 miles to go. It was just a little past 4:00pm. I was doing it. I finally relaxed, and then I sat down for a few moments. I took some videos and photos of the spectacular scenery. I chatted with some families that had walked up from the Jay Resort, who saw me with my pack and asked if I had hiked there. I said, “Yes, from Massachusetts!” to which they gasped, and then I said, “And if I can hike from here to Canada by 11:30, I’ll set a new women’s record!” They told me, “Well, you better get going!” I smiled and said, “Yes, you’re probably right!”

I ate a gel, my third to last, then practically frolicked off of Jay Peak, down the ski slope, and into the woods again. Despite feeling energetic, hydrated, and fed, my feet were starting to scream at me. I had been moving for nearly 17 hours and they were just done. I took some Advil, but it didn’t even seem to do anything. It was mainly the impact of landing on rocks going downhill that hurt the most. I was desperate for a softer surface. Then suddenly my foot slipped out from underneath me and I landed hard on the side of my leg and forearm, and let out a yelp. That one hurt. I laid there for maybe half a second, wondering if I broke anything and thinking, “I knew it was too good to be true, this was the thing to do me in!” But then I popped back up and tried to just shake it off. I was okay, though for the next week or so I donned a very nice green and purple bruise on my forearm and outer thigh.

Now I just had three baby mountains left. Doll Peak, Burnt Mountain, Carleton Mountain, home. Holy cow. I don’t even remember going over Doll Peak, and before I knew it I was crossing the last road at North Jay Pass. From there it was 2.6 miles, 2.6 easy miles to the end. I brushed by some tall grass and pretty wildflowers before heading back into the woods.

The sun was beginning to set and it cast bright flaming orange rays of light throughout the darkening forest. I saw no hikers in this last section and I had the forest all to myself. I sang songs to myself as I shuffled along to alert any animals out there to my presence. I didn’t feel rushed, I felt calm and relaxed, and I allowed myself to think back on the whirlwind of all I experienced the past week. The first day seemed like such a long time ago. I felt so much gratitude for the gift of this time in the mountains and I just started saying “thank you, thank you, thank you” over and over again. The feeling of “rewinding” from my past experiences continued as I made my way north on this familiar section of trail for the very first time; I’d only ever taken it south. The forest was quiet and peaceful. I emerged at the outcropping where the pillar marking the US/Canada border and the northern terminus of the Long Trail stood.

My friend Ted was waiting with his camera out. All I could do was smile, laugh, and stumble down to the pillar. I reached out and touched it at 8:12pm, then immediately sat down to relieve my feet. The sunset was beautiful. I couldn’t believe it. It didn’t seem real.


Thanks for reading. This concludes the retelling of my Long Trail journey!

To celebrate completing my thru-hike and with 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 $1,063. 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.