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After four months on Appalachian Trail, flooding causes hikers to skip Vermont

 Five people with backpacks stand on a stairway inside a library.
Howard Weiss-Tisman
Vermont Public
A group of Appalachian Trail thru-hikers, with their backpacks, stand on a stairway inside the North Adams Public Library. From the bottom, Dave Tilden, Michelle Hansen, Graham Laseter, Jennifer Fear, Melissa Pearman,

The 2,190-mile Appalachian Trail runs between Springer Mountain, Georgia and Mount Katahdin in Maine.

And for a lot of people who take the five or six months to hike it, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

This is the time of year when people who started the trail down South reach Vermont, and some of the hikers who got here last week were forced to make some tough decisions due to the flooding that ravaged the state.

When Jennifer Fear started her Appalachian Trail journey about four months ago, she didn’t know a lot about Vermont, but says she was looking forward to taking in its mountains, ponds and rivers.

“Vermont is a highlight of the trail,” Fear said. “And this is the entryway to the Whites, basically, you know, just really some of the majesty that is the Appalachian Trail.”

It’s a grueling journey to walk through 14 states.

AT hikers cover 150 miles in Vermont, mostly along the Long Trail, before crossing into Hanover, New Hampshire, and then on to Maine.

Only about 25% of the hikers who start the trail complete the whole thing in one year.

“I don’t want to be a burden on anybody else, and should’t be. If I choose to put myself in danger, and need rescue, that’s taking away from somebody that didn’t have that option.”
Michelle Hansen, Appalachian Trail thru-hiker

But Fear says when she and her hiking partners were making their way through Massachusetts, and they saw the photos of the flooding and devastation in Vermont from the rain last week, it was clear that they’d have to change their plan.

“You get this far into your hike and you don’t want anything to knock you off the trail,” she said. “You know, bridges are washed out. Roads are washed out. You really have to start trying to balance what your own personal desire is, and what that ego wants you to do with what makes more sense for a safe thru-hike. And then also the community at large.”

Howard Weiss-Tisman
Vermont Public
Jennifer Fear, and her backpack, inside the North Adams Public Library.

Even though the trail runs through the woods, hikers get off to resupply; to buy food or take a day or two off to rest in towns like Manchester or Rutland.

But Michelle Hansen, who’s one of the four other people hiking with Fear, said the group didn’t think it was a good time to hitch a ride into a Vermont town that was just starting to rebuild.

“I don’t want to be a burden on anybody else, and shouldn't be,” Hansen said. “If I choose to put myself in danger, and need rescue, that’s taking away from somebody that didn’t have that option.”

Hansen is from Austin, Texas. The rest of the members of the group are from St. Louis, Missouri and Charlotte, North Carolina.

Hansen says when they got off the trail in North Adams, Massachusetts, near the Vermont border, they had no local contacts, a limited budget, and really no idea what to do.

“There was one day where we spent 15 hours just going back and forth on what our options were,” said Hansen. “Enter Vermont. Skip Vermont. Go north and come south from Katahdin. Take a week off, and we just… no option was, like, a bright, shining star of happiness. So it was very challenging to weigh all of those things.”

Thru-hikers generally don’t have a lot of money, or time, and so Melissa Pearman said it was getting discouraging, hanging around North Adams, burning money on hotels and food and trying to figure out how to get around Vermont.

“I saved every penny I had, every extra dollar, and saved it all up,” she said. “Quit my job. Sold my car. Got Lasik. I mean, I did everything, did everything to get on this trail. Kind of stopped my life. Everything else was on pause, and doing this, right now, and the challenge to see if we can overcome it. All of the obstacles and challenges will be amazing, if we can do it.”

“Mother Nature wins. You can’t fight it. You just have to put everything on pause and say, ‘Okay. When is the time.’”
Melissa Pearman, Appalachian Trail thru-hiker

After four days in North Adams, the hikers were able to find a few people to help out.

Someone who lives in Albany, New York, who took an online class with one of the hikers, and a brother of an uncle by marriage from Manchester, Vermont, both following their trip on Facebook, offered to drive the group to the New Hampshire state line.

From there the group will walk north, to Maine, then come back in September to walk the 150 miles of trail in Vermont.

It’s been raining pretty steady for almost a month on the trail, and Pearman says there have been steep mountains to climb, cold rivers to cross, and miles of dusty, rocky walking.

She says the power of nature has been a steady teacher throughout the trip.

And looking at those photos of Vermont, Pearman says, reminded her even more of the need to adapt to whatever comes your way.

“Mother Nature wins,” Pearman said. “You can’t fight it. You just have to put everything on pause and say, ‘Okay. When is the time?'"

The group isn’t sure how they’ll get from Maine back down to Vermont in late summer.

For now, they’ll keep heading north, one step at a time.


Howard Weiss-Tisman is Vermont Public’s southern Vermont reporter, but sometimes the story takes him to other parts of the state.
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