Appalachian Trail Section Hike: Bennington to Manchester

Destination

Vermont Route 9 (Bennington) north to Vermont Route 11/30 (Manchester).

The Hike

We planned for our first section hike over the course of several months. Despite our research, pack shakedowns and weighing gear (both physically and with regard to benefits), we continued to modify what we took on the hike up until the minute before we got in the truck to leave.

 

We met up with our friends Ed and Theresa at the Green Mountain National Forest parking lot on Route 9 in Bennington. They sent us off with hugs and well wishes, then quite kindly took our truck back to their house where it was safely parked for the duration of our hike.

Weather at Kid Gore Shelter
Day 1
Trip length: 14.4 miles
Start time: 8:12 am
End time: 5:11 pm

We started up the trail just before 8 am, passing a number of through hikers who were near the trail just waking up or beginning to break down their sites. They all passed us within the next hour or so. We made the 1,069 foot ascent to the Melville Nauheim Shelter 1.6 miles north of Route 9 in 30 minutes and stopped for a few minutes to talk with some of the through hikers that were filling their water bottles. Outlaw was resuming her hike after an injury put her off-trail for 7 weeks. Old Timer was pushing through to make good time with hopes of getting a bunch of miles underfoot.

We continued pretty steadily until finally reaching the Goddard Shelter for lunch. It was tough going; 10.1 miles with a total of 2,492 feet spent ascending in elevation and only 286 feet descending. The stretch took 5 hours and I was tired and hungry...

Lunch was good and lifted our energy levels, so we continued hiking toward the Kid Gore Shelter, our destination for the night. We ascended 175 feet to Glastenbury Peak and stopped at the Glastenbury Mountain Fire Lookout but elected not to go up the tower. I knew that I didn't have it in me to trek up and down all those stairs AND continue to Kid Gore.

The remaining 4.3 miles descended 952 feet and should have been easy; we already had 10 miles under our soles. Unfortunately, it took 3 hours to make that short stretch as my joints were screaming and I was in a great deal of discomfort with every step.

The Kid Gore Shelter was a welcome site when we reached it shortly after 5 pm. There was still much work to be done, but the hiking was over. Mike filtered water. God bless him -- he did this throughout the through hike. It can be a time consuming task when water flow is poor but you have to have water.

We set about making our first meal while visiting with a number of other hikers that were staying at the shelter. Outlaw, who we met at the Melville Nauheim Shelter, was there along with Thanks A Lot, Axe, Old Spice and a number of other hikers whose names we did not get. We enjoyed their banter and had a nice time hearing about their experiences on the trail.

We also scored in a big way at Kid Gore. We had THE BEST CAMPSITE EVER. All caps? Yeah, baby! It was that good. We were on an elevated spot with not tents nearby and an amazing view of the mountains. We made camp, hung out a bit, and were off in Hiker Neverland (where I apparently snore like a trucker) by 9 pm.

We were up and at 'em around 6:30 am on the second day of our hike. The sunrise was glorious from our amazing location. We set out around 8:30 after making breakfast and packing up. Our goal was to make camp at Stratton Pond Shelter, 15 miles away.

Weather at Stratton Pond Shelter

The weather was great and the first 4.6 miles of the hike covered much ground we had already hiked earlier in the season. We reached Story Spring Shelter in just under 2 hours and 40 minutes; an amazingly slow hike for only 255 ascending feet and 237 descending. My joints were still hurting, though I was trying to push through. We had lunch and filtered water before moving on about 20 minutes later.

Day 2
Trip length: 15.3 miles
Start time: 8:28 am
End time: 5:48 pm

I tried my best to make up some time between Story Brook Shelter and Forest Road 71; we covered the 1.6 mile stretch in just 45 minutes. We were rewarded with Trail Magic from Youth With A Mission (YWAM), a Christian youth group based in Richmond Virginia!!!

YWAM offers several ministries, including the Appalachian Trail Discipleship Training School (AT DTS). The AT DTS is a 3-stage program that begins with a 12 week lecture phase with classroom learning. The second stage of the training takes students on 8 weeks of outreach along the Appalachian Trail stretching from Harpers Ferry, Virginia to Mount Katahdin, Maine. Students hike the trail and provide ministry to hikers by hosting hiker feeds along the way. The Facebook post shown here was done 3 days after we met the group on the AT. The 3rd and final stage of the AT DTS is optional and offers students the opportunity to hike the remainder of the Appalachian Trail over a 12 week period.

The trail angels we met had a vast amount of snacks, water, coffee and goodness to offer hikers. There were both north bounders and south bounders at this spot at it was an amazing experience. The YWAM disciples asked us many questions, including some about Mike's sensor for his continuous glucose monitor. As we prepared to resume our hike, they asked if they could pray for us. When we said yes a prayer circle of four (us and two disciples) ensued on the spot. It was an incredibly touching experience. They prayed for Michael's good health with his diabetes, for strength in our marriage and for God to take the pain from my knees and hips and to give me comfort.

We said goodbye and continued on. And you know what? I did not have one bit of pain for the remainder of my hike that day. None. Zero. And it was the toughest ground we covered.

We covered 2 miles in 45 minutes between Forest Road 71 and Stratton-Arlington Road. We were jubilant. Then the jig was up. We were staring at the back side of Stratton Mountain. We had to ascend 1,706 feet in 3.8 miles. Let me tell you, this was no joke. I struggled up the trail (Michael never seems to struggle up the trail) over the course of the next 2.5 hours until we reached the top at 4:11 pm. And that was it. I just laid down on the ground and looked like I was dead.

Through hikers Thanks A Lot (who we met at Kid Gore the previous day) and One Percent were there to witness the devastation and had a good laugh with Mike. It was pretty funny. And I'll tell you, I enjoyed laying in that grass. After a few minutes of recovery I climbed the Stratton Mountain Fire Tower for an amazing view.

The final 3 miles of the day flew by in 1 hour and 20 minutes as we descended 1,460 feet to the Stratton Pond Shelter. After 15 unrelentless miles and 9 hours on the trail, we were ready to call it a day. We made camp at Stratton Pond Shelter (camping is no longer allowed at the previous location 0.4 miles from the shelter) and enjoyed a nice evening with Thanks A Lot, One Percent, Giggles, Sage and many other hikers.

 

Our third day on the trail began with a tell-tale sound: rain. A few drops at 6:05 am became steady rain by 6:15. Giggles, by some through hiker magic, broke down her camp site in under 10 minutes and went to the shelter where we found her an hour later. We were in no mood for cooking in the rain, so we had a lovely breakfast (written with much sarcasm) of tuna with mayo, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and almonds in a Gem wrap. Our plan for the day was to hike 10.7 miles to Vermont Routes 11/30 in Manchester.

Weather at Vermont Route 11/30 (Manchester)

Rain continued for the better part of 2 hours while we covered the 4.9 miles to the William B. Douglas Shelter (which we didn't actually go to since it is 0.5 off trail). We stopped for a snack before continuing on. We trekked on, with short stops along the way, past the Spruce Peak Shelter 3 miles further down the trail. The rain was mostly over and Mike filtered us water when the opportunity arose.

Day 3
Trip length: 11.7 miles
Start time: 7:55 am
End time: 2:04 pm

The 2.8 miles between the Spruce Peak Shelter and Manchester seemed like they should have been easier. We only had a total of 190 feet to ascend and 597 feet to descend. The rain and mid-day fatigue had worn me down and the last 1 hour and 36 minutes of the day were grueling. Up and down, crossing streams and hearing the road but not seeing it really grated on me.

I was at my breaking point when we reached Route 11/30 and I realized we had to cross 3 lanes of high speed traffic (60+ miles per hour) that were coming around bends from both directions. I thought "No way!!," as tears sprung to my eyes. I swallowed my fear and picked up my feet so that we could safely run across to the parking lot where our friend Bill was waiting for us.

We enjoyed a glorious afternoon and evening with Bill, Linda, Lily, Elliot and Jeremy as they provided us with a shower, bed and dinner. We decided to take a few days off the trail to heal a blister on my heal but we missed the trail right away.