The weather had noticeably changed, there was a coolness to the air that hadn't been there before. It was still hot, but behind it was something that hinted of change, almost like the way autumn feels. As the day rolled on I kept running into people. Lots of Long Trail hikers just starting out and also I was now starting to meet south bounders, that is what we call the thru hikers who start in Maine and walk to Georgia. It was so exciting to see people who have walked from the destination that I am heading towards. It makes the end almost seem reachable.
Late in the day I ran into "The Noodleheads", they were taking a break by a river and said they were going to camp a few miles away and offered me to join them. They are always great company so I agreed. We set up camp off the trail just as the last of the daylight was giving way to dark.
I got up the next morning shortly after sunrise. "The Noodleheads" had already gone so I packed up and headed out. I went by beaver ponds and through forests of balsam fir that smelled so strong like Christmas that I had to get some video, unfortunately the smell doesn't come through.
After the fir trees the trail turned uphill and I slowly and steadily made my way to the peak of Stratton Mountain. There, another fire tower sat perched upon it's peak, I think I love fire towers. It is almost a requirement to climb them and they offer views that you can't normally get from normal boring old rock ledges. Yup, gotta love fire towers. Stratton Mountain is also where the idea of the AT was conceived, so I felt like I should appreciate the view a little more than normal. I was also told that you can see Mount Washington and Mount Greylock from the top.
The trail went down the other side of Stratton Mountain and to Stratton pond. It was an ideal place to take a dip, but it was still really early in the morning and I wasn't really feeling like it. I chugged through the day seeing new faces on occasion, but not seeing any north bound thru hikers. Every now and then I seem to be in a spot where groups of north bounders are either a day or so ahead or behind me and I'm floating in the middle. That is just kind of how is goes when you are solo. I sometimes hang with a group for a little, but then pace or taking days off put me alone again. I really can't complain, I hike best when I am by myself. I can be lazy when I want to be lazy and then I feel guilty for being lazy, hike real fast and make great time. I can take breaks when I want and naps when I want and eat when I want. I can daydream uninterrupted for hours, at least until I stub my foot on some unseen rock or root. I really do enjoy doing this alone.
Late in the day I came to the town of Manchester Center, Vermont. I still can't believe I am in VERMONT! I got a hitch, in no time at all, to the stores where I got myself some pizza. I was going to try to stay at a hostel "The Noddlehead's" recommended, but they were completely booked. Feeling slightly sad about not getting to stay there, I drowned my sorrows in a pint. A pint of Ben and Jerry's that is. I love Vermont! I got a ride out of town and back to the trail where I hiked a few more miles to Bromley shelter. Again, no thru hikers, just Long Trailers. They were all very chatty with each other and clumsily going about their nightly routines of setting up there sleeping bags and cooking dinner and spilling some of that dinner on the ground and then eating their dinners and realizing they cooked too much so they were offering left overs. Really great to watch because it was a glimpse of how accustomed and proficient I have become at this whole hiking thing.
I rose in the early morning light before the sun had yet broken the horizon. I packed my gear up and quietly made my way out of the shelter as the others still slept. I climbed for a few miles until I reached the top of Bromley Mountain where I sat and had my breakfast with the sunrise.
The rest of the morning I hiked over roots and rock and mountains and streams. By afternoon I made it to the road crossing where I was meeting my girlfriend Susie. She only got slightly lost, but we managed to rendezvous without much problem. We spent the next few days visiting small little towns and eating at local restaurants. She hiked a short distance with me and then I slack packed twenty miles up to Killington, VT. During that section I passed this sign that indicated the mileage left for me. I also manged to rip my short, cut my leg and tear my shoes. She picked me up in Killington at dusk. I was exhausted. I spent one more night with her and some more the following day, but now I am getting ready to head out back onto the trail. I love Vermont.