Two Weeks on the Volunteer Long Trail Patrol
Have you ever heard of the Long Trail?! The oldest long-distance hiking trail in the United States is found spanning the length of Vermont, from Massachusetts to Canada. The bottom half of the trail is also part of the Appalachian Trail before the trail turns east to New Hampshire. The Long Trail is 273 miles long and when you hike it in one go (compared to breaking it up into sections over multiple weekends) you become an End-to-Ender. In 2014, freshly graduated from college and with dreams of moving out west, I embarked on this hike with a friend, starting in Massachusetts. We were “NoBos,” north bound hikers with the goal of hiking to Canada! We planned for 21 days and managed it in 18. We surprised ourselves in so many ways during the most challenging three weeks of my life.
After completing the hike I answered my western dream, packing up my Subaru and driving west. I had only a list of possible places I wanted to move to and a dream of mountains in my mind. I saw the Tetons of Jackson, WY and the grin that took over my face was the first sign that I had found home. Within 24 hours I had a waitressing job and embarked on the next hardest month of my life, moving to a new town where I knew no one, had nowhere to live, and struggling to get a nursing job with my new RN license. Hiking the Long Trail showed me a new level of determination, independence, and grit within myself though, and I was able to stick it out and make Jackson, WY my home. After some of the most incredible years of my life, I started travel nursing, enjoying more of this beautiful country before starting to turn my sights back east.
Now it’s time to move home to Vermont. The next adventure, the next great challenge. And how better to make this transition then on the Long Trail, the place that prepared me just a few years ago to leave?! I signed up for two weeks of the Volunteer Long Trail Patrol, a force of volunteers about 7 strong led by our fearless leader Rosalie and Green Mountain Club intern Silas to tackle whatever mud pits, overgrown trails, and overhanging branches may lie ahead! Two weeks of trail life broken up by a midweek “weekend” in between.
My first week we set up camp at Branch Pond. A tarp covering our stove and propane made the kitchen, and we scattered our tents around the area, making a little tent village. Day one the new volunteers learned about brushing. Brushing is the process of trimming branches and clearing away wooded plants to prevent any obstruction of the trail for the next few years. We used loppers and hand saws as we walked, leaving a clear and safe trail in our wake. The day was hot and I gulped water from my Turtle Fur Vapor water bottle I appreciated the cool and fresh taste of filtered mountain water. Day two we went to our rock site: a muddy patch of trail (as deep as my knees in spots!) that required stepping stones laid across to better serve hikers and outdoor enthusiasts. This was our real project for the week! Rock work constitutes first excavating and quarrying rocks, digging them up with pick mattocks and shovels, looking to see if they are the right size and have a good flat walking surface. If they pass inspection, it’s time to roll them out of the ground and downhill to the mud site using rock bars (heavy metal bars) to slowly lift and then roll these heavy boulders to their new homes in the mud. Each heavy rock required a team of 2-5 people to move down the hill. Then to seat these stones solidly in the mud, we use “crush,” a bunch of crushed rocks that we split apart with sledgehammers into golf ball sized rocks that can fill the gaps around the bigger stepping stones. Crush is necessary to help with drainage and it doesn’t decompose or wash away as sticks or more dirt would tend to do. And after all that work, you now have one stone for your stepping bridge! Only 10 more to go!
My second week we worked on a Long Trail and Appalachian Trail section near Congdon Shelter. Part of the trail was eroding into the river, so our job was to reroute the frequently flooded trail into a section more inland. Day one we brushed, clearing out our future path. Day two we dug, trying to get down to a stable soil layer underneath the decaying leaves and mud. Because we had a sloping section of trail, when it rained it got slippery and we needed to pack a lot of crush (our broken-up rocks) and mineral soil into the trail sections to stabilize it. We moved some stepping stone rocks to create a solid drainage system at the bottom and at the end of the week we “brushed in” covering up our newly turned up mud with old leaves and branches, trying to make it looks like we were never there.
Trail work is incredibly satisfying. Seeing projects being fulfilled, building trails, and moving heavy rocks leads to a great sense of accomplishment. The days were long and hard, but well worth it. I appreciated my ability to be out in the woods, working on the trails that I love. I also love the simplicity of camp life. Days are ruled by the sun and bedtime comes when the sun goes down. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are all serviced by one utensil, my Turtle Fur Spork. Afternoons spent relaxing in a hammock with a book or enjoying the company of the people around you. So take some time to get outside this week or next! Find some trails to follow! Appreciate the weather, rain or shine, and maybe take the time to notice the path underneath you!