I’m writing from Norwich, VT, the final town the AT goes through in Vermont before crossing the Connecticut River into New Hampshire, the penultimate state on the trail. I’m currently staying with some extended family members who live close to town and generously welcomed me to stay with them when I arrived. It’s storming outside as I type, which makes me especially grateful to be inside.
Vermont has been one of my favorite states on the trail so far for a number of reasons. First, the Green Mountains are beautiful–challenging to hike but rewarding to summit and enjoy the views. Second, continuously hiking the AT through VT has been a series of flashbacks to when I hiked the same trail (though in much smaller segments and for shorter periods of time) as a camper at Camp Sangamon in central VT. My memories of day and overnight hikes as a young kid just becoming interested in hiking to Stratton Mountain, White Rocks, Clarendon Gorge, and Mount Killington were put together like pieces of a puzzle as I retread them over 10 years later. Finally, having family and friends in VT means having some nice places to get off trail and briefly stay. After hiking my first really long day (30 miles) since my fall in NJ, my grandparents picked me up by Manchester, VT and I spent two nights and a much-needed day of rest with them. The night I got back on trail I made it to Danby, VT, where an old friend of mine from Massachusetts happens to live less than 5 miles from the trail. Two days after that I arrived in Rutland, where I had lunch and ice cream with a camp friend of mine who lives in the area, before spending the night and following day at camp to catch up with old friends, meet and interact with new campers, swim in the pond, and eat plenty of good food. And now three days out of Rutland, I’ve arrived here in Norwich, where it’s great to be spending some more time with family.
Tomorrow I begin hiking New Hampshire, and will be arriving at White Mountain National Forest within a few days. I’ve heard from southbound thru-hikers that the White Mountains are very difficult but absolutely spectacular, and I’m excited for both the challenge and beauty. I’m also excited to be taking Monday evening off and meeting up with my girlfriend Francis and her mom (who is visiting from Brazil) in Lincoln, NH. It will be so nice to see Francis and meet her mom for the first time.
I’m feeling good physically. Apart from being itchy from bug bites and some subsiding poison ivy, and usually a bit stiff and achy in the mornings before I get going, I really can’t complain about much. My body feels strong, I’m eating a lot, and my weight loss seems to have plateaued, which is good. I’m also feeling good mentally. Around the time of the last update I sent, it seemed I was encountering fewer thru-hikers each day, getting cell reception less frequently, and generally feeling lonely as a result. Whether it’s perception or reality, that seems to have changed in the past hundred or so miles, and I feel I’m having more meaningful interactions with other people on trail and by phone each day. I’m feeling the best I ever have spiritually. I’ve been hand writing about my spiritual experiences and reflections in the journal I carry with me, and at some point in the future I will be writing more about them, but for the most part I think they can be summed up in this wonderful John Muir quote: “I would rather be in the mountains thinking about God, than in a church thinking about the mountains.” I certainly miss the community of the Unitarian Universalist church I attend in Amherst, and I’m looking forward to continuing to attend when I move back to the area in the fall, but I feel a more constant spiritual connection out in the woods. As I progress on this journey, I continue to learn more about myself and my beliefs in God and the universe. I certainly could not have made it this far alone, and all of the encouragement, kindnesses, and encounters I have had along the way have made me believe deeply in greater forces at work.
Wish me luck in hiking the remaining 440 miles of the trail, and keep me in your thoughts and prayers. If you have the time to write back, I always appreciate hearing from you and will write back.
If you haven’t yet had the chance to donate to my Hike for Mental Health fundraiser, please consider doing so, as it’s a great organization that supports important research and advocacy work. We’ve currently raised over $7,400, or over 84% of the extended goal of $4 per mile. That amazes me! Thanks to all of you who have donated so far–your support means a lot!
After a massive amount of text like that (I usually don’t intend for my updates to be so long but I get into a writing rhythm and that takes over…), I feel a few pictures would be appreciated.
Thanks and be well,
Joe “Psych” O’Donnell
Thru-Hiking, Fundraising, and Advocating for Mental Health
“It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.” -Sir Edmund Hillary