By 9:30 in the morning, I had made it to the summit of Stratton Mountain. At 3,936 feet, Stratton was the tallest peak I'd climbed in nearly two months, since Three Ridges in central Virgina. Not that I could remember such minutia in the moment. If I felt or thought anything at the time, it was gratitude for having come so far so quickly, with most of the day still ahead of me.
I had big plans, after all. Plans that involved somehow getting into Manchester Center, buying copious amounts of lemonade and chocolate milk, eating a lavish dinner at the Manchester Pizza House—once acclaimed by Skiing magazine as the "best pizza in town," which really isn't saying much considering their glaring lack of competition—heading over to the Green Mountain House Hiker Hostel, showering, and then maybe checking my e-mail, just to make sure that my loved ones were still alive and that civilization hadn't collapsed in my absence. And then dropping dead from exhaustion.
I reached the road at around three in the afternoon. Since coming down off of Stratton Mountain, I hadn't really found any part of the day particularly challenging. Unfortunately, that was before I tried to hitchhike into town.
After unintentionally terrifying some young women in a Subaru—who may or may not have sprayed me with Lysol or bear repellent and then called the cops—I decided it might be prudent to walk up the road a bit. I caught a ride soon enough. With someone who was on their way back from visiting a fellow thru-hiker in Maine, no less. It's always people connected to the trail.
Arriving at the hostel after dinner, I found myself in the seemingly unenviable position of having to share the barn with Popeye. Which is normally where people with dogs would have slept, but there was no more room in the main house. No matter, we still had bunks and Popeye wasn't a prolific snorer. We actually might've had a better deal than everybody else.
After a short amount of relatively painless deliberation the next morning, I decided to zero there for the day. I'd heard such good things about the Green Mountain House, and I wanted to take advantage of its vast movie collection and rumored supply of free Ben & Jerry's. I would not be disappointed.
I went into town that morning to resupply, and ran into Fredo and Saint at the Easter Mountain Sports outfitter. Neither of them had intended to stay at the Green Mountain House until I mentioned how awesome it was. Unfortunately, Saint was waiting for a ride to take him off trail for a couple weeks, to go to a wedding back home. So he, at least, would not be coming. Fredo, on the other hand, actually seemed enthusiastic about joining me there, but was then was sorely disappointed to find out there wasn't any room. I lobbied the owner on Fredo's behalf, arguing that he could easily sleep on a couch or tent on the lawn, but there was nothing for it. The proprietor was understandably leery about making an exception, and might have even mumbled something about "neighbors," "fire codes," and "illegal." Whatever. Disappointed, we soon parted ways. I would never see Saint again. It was the last hurrah of the Nature Train. Except not really.
Of course, I would be remiss in my narration if I failed to mention the melange of characters also staying at the House that evening. Pixie was there, a welcome surprise. I never thought I'd see her again, and actually wouldn't after the following day. Oh well. Veggie was there. I didn't recognize her at first, although I should have given the contentious nature of our first encounter in Pennsylvania. Then there was Buckeye, whom I found delightfully profane and generally agreeable, although he looked disarmingly like an Amish farmer someone had mistakenly attacked with a can of red spray paint. Or like a prominent Hamas leader, at least according to Twizzler, an Israeli section hiker who was also staying at the hostel. Last but not least, there was Sativa James, an inveterate womanizer who was shamelessly pretending to be a thru-hiker and always seemed to be either drunk or stoned. All together, a great group from whose company I would never escape.
No matter how hard I tried.
God, I couldn't wait to get out of there.