Shooting Star to Jay Camp
Miles 6 to 13 (7)
I spend most of the morning fantasizing about a breeze that I can hear whirling around me in the trees. For hours, I enviously listen to leaves dancing in the wind. I want the breeze to find it’s way to me, to cool my sweaty face, to dry my soaking-wet shorts and shirt. Every inch of my skin and hair drip with perspiration and morning dew, collected from the greenery that I pass. I wonder how long I can wear these soggy clothes before I turn into a six-foot-tall raisin. If only the breeze would stop eluding me. Why breeze, why must you tease?
As the 3,858-foot summit of Jay comes into view, I hear a soft boom of thunder in the distance. Every few minutes, the sky behind me rumbles a little louder than the time before. The wind around me begins to blow frantically in no particular directions, and I watch as half a dozen clouds disperse in the sky above. The distant sounds of booming quicken to two-minute intervals; a storm is quickly approaching from the north. I put my head down, breath deep, and push myself harder and faster up the side of the mountain. The summit of Jay is bald, lightning is immanent, and the trekking poles in my hands remind me of lightning rods. I need to begin my descent down the south side of the mountain before the weather turns bad. Another boom rolls across the sky to the north, this time louder and longer. I quicken my pace again, and sweat drips from my brow so steadily that I can barely see. I want to stop and wipe my face, but I don’t have time. I glance at my wristwatch and realize that the sky is rumbling every thirty seconds.
If my hair weren’t drenched with sweat, it would be standing on end from the electricity in the air. Thunder is now clapping at five and ten second intervals. While scrambling over the summit, I’m surprised to see a young family of four posing and taking pictures of one another. What the hell are these people doing up here with their young children? Can’t they hear the sounds of Armageddon ascending upon us at this very moment? “Coming up the Long Trail?” asks the mother, enthusiastically. I nod my head in agreement and wave my trekking pole towards the approaching storm. “I’m hoping to get off of this thing before it gets here,” I exclaim. She stares at me blankly and tilts her head slightly to the right, like a puppy expecting a treat. I suddenly notice that everyone in the family is wearing a cotton t-shirt and flip-flops. These guys didn’t hike up here; they took a scenic ride up the mountain on the tram, a service that Jay Peak Ski Resort offers to tourists during the summer months. For the first time, it occurs to me that I’m not just a day or section hiker taking a summer stroll. I’m a distance-hiker, something strangely different; for the next 272 miles, I’ll be part of the Vermont scenery. I wipe my soggy brow and smile wryly. The Vermont scenery is about to get weird.
The sprinkling of raindrops becomes a steady rainfall, and then speeds up to a torrential downpour. This happens in a matter of seconds, as daylight fades to a shade of gray. I finish hustling across the summit, descend into the forest canopy, and cringe as thunder explodes so loudly that the sky must have split into two pieces. Buckets of water dump towards the earth, turning the trail into a stream of cold water that flows over the tops of my boots. I pull the hood of my rain parka over my head and see the ground below my feet turn to white. The flashes of lightning are blinding, and I don’t believe I’ve ever heard thunder roll for so long. I count five, ten, then fifteen seconds of uninterrupted thunder. I can’t see ten feet in front of me, because it’s raining so hard. The air is thick with energy, as if a hurricane is about to tear into the side of the mountain. Being yanked out of your comfort zone reminds us that we are alive.
Crawling into my sleeping bag is heaven. I turn off my headlamp and hear the scurry of mice beneath the wooden floorboards. I return my attention to the rhythm of rain pattering on the roof of Jay Camp. The clatter of feet returns, but it is above me now, accompanied by a metallic rattling sound. My food bag is under attack. Rodents are climbing down the rope that holds my food bag, trying to get around its single line of defense, an old tin can. Exhaustion trumps concern and I slide into unconsciousness.