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Canada Border

  • Start: Jay Peak
  • End: Canada Border
  • Approx Miles: 9.7

I wake this morning to a jaw-droppingly spectacular sunrise, made bittersweet by the fact that today is my last day on trail. The Canada border is less then ten miles away, separated from here only by a few viewless summits. The sights have been seen, the hike’s been hiked. Time to close it out.

But first, a bit of time to enjoy the final view, and boy is it a good one.

It’s fun to be alone in a space that’s so clearly intended for business and usually bustling with people. The gondola doesn’t run until later in the morning, so the only person I might encounter is a really enterprising day hiker. But there’s no one.

I pack up and start descending the via the ski trails. I take one more video before the trail veers back into the woods.

Descending quickly, I soon reach Laura Woodward Shelter, but press on quickly over Doll Peak.

Around 11 I get to Shooting Star Shelter, where I stop for lunch. My guess is it’s named after the huge rocks sitting in a clearing nearby. In a flight of fancy, you might imagine that they were shooting stars that fell to Earth. In actuality I bet they were deposited by retreating glaciers. It feels a bit more romantic than most of the other shelter names. Appropriate for the end of the journey.

Shooting Star Shelter
The proverbial shooting star

I cross VT-105 at North Jay Pass.

Soon I reach Carleton Mountain, the last peak—it’s literally all downhill from here. I’ve got a bit of time, so I figure I’ll try to collect a few thoughts before the end.

Thought #1: I love hiking alone. I expected I might feel lonely on this trip and crave company. Instead I found a nice balance, and if anything had a slight craving for more solitude. There’s something about the way time just seems to flow differently when you’re hiking on your own vs. with company, even if everyone’s silent. When you’re alone, you can truly just let your mind wander, and discard the slight anxiety of social decorum that, at least for me, is always present with other people. Solo hiking is really one of the singular gifts of a trip like this.

Thought #2: This hike has been, I won’t say easy, but certainly not as challenging as I was worried it might be. Granted, a lot of that was good luck with the weather1, but it also made me feel like I can really claim to be a hiker, and that bigger things (like a triple crown trail) might be possible for me.

Thought #3: Speaking of claiming to be a hiker, that’s one thing this trip surely gave me: an identity. It feels good, and safe. Like if everything else in life goes wrong, I have this world of the trail and identity of a thru-hiker to fall back on. There’s also a positive way to look at this, as more things to experience and look forward to. “Goals” maybe even. I have not resolved any big life dilemmas out here, but I do feel more at peace with my life and my choices. Chaotic as it may be, it’s a lot less hectic than some people’s I’ve met out here. The trail provides for us all.

I also feel more at peace with my decision to leave RC. I will never really be able to be sure that I made the “right” choice, if such a thing can even be said to exist, but I do feel as though something in my soul was calling me away. I just feel more attuned to people, nature, touch, texture, etc. than efficiency, productivity, abstraction, symbolism. I think if you can listen to such upwellings from within yourself, you should, even if it’s not very practical.

When I was a kid I went to Boy Scout camp in the summer at a place called Camp Manatoc. It had a motto in the form of a little poem written on the gate, so you saw it as you departed. It went:

These things you cannot spurn
For these things your heart shall yearn
For these things your soul shall burn
And in the end, friend, you will learn:
that to these things you must return.

This trip has felt like a return, in so many ways, even while being something entirely new. To an old hobby, values, identity.

I re-read Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea novels on this trip, and I’ve been thinking a lot about a recurring theme of hers: “true voyage is return”2. In A Wizard of Earthsea, Ged goes on this huge epic journey to defeat his great foe, and in the end he finds himself face to face with—himself. And three books later at the end of the series he finds himself a goatherd on Gont again, like he was as a child. There’s something in all that. Anyway, I’ll stop there for now. Onward, to the end of my journey.

The hike from Carleton mountain is an easy stroll through sunny woods. I can’t get over just how red and yellow everything is, it feels totally suffused with color, almost like it’s in the air somehow.

I decide to stop looking at FarOut, so I never know close I am to the border. This produces a sort of nervous anticipation. Every time I crest a hill or see a gap through the trees I think “Is that it?”

And eventually, it is. I see the big wooden sign: “Long Trail—Northern Terminus”

I’ve been expecting the iconic border marker, so it’s something of a surprise. Step forward over a rock and:

I touch the marker and then just sit there for a long while in the sun, looking out at the clear cut swath that marks the border. Feeling oddly enough, empty—much like I did sitting in the bus terminal waiting to start the trip. It almost feels like its just too much to try and reflect on everything and come to some kind of emotional conclusion.

I take the obligatory celebration photos with the marker, but they don’t come out well because of the harsh midday light.

Then I turn off the LT and head towards Journey’s End Camp, where I’ll stay the night. Feels sad and wistful to be following the blue blazes, knowing that there are no more white ones. The camp itself is a nice, four-sided building. Covered in graffiti that’s somewhat more reflective than average shelter scribbles.

Journey's End Camp
The 3-D Transcendental Hiking Wheel
Hayduke Lives!
NOBO? SOBO? No Probo.
All you've got to do is walk and breathe

“All you’ve got to do is walk and breathe” really sticks with me3. Thanks Noot, whoever you are.

A few people pass by and I chat with them. Older fellow picking up his nephew who’s finishing today. Like me he’s done some wilderness canoe trips so we talk about that. A women finishes up a bit later and her partner comes to pick her up. She gives me with a celebratory Long Trail Ale. It’s nice to just be chilling here with nowhere to go, watching the world go by.

Eventually it gets dark, and I go to bed, sleeping fitfully. Somehow after all this time, I’m still worried about bears (lol).

  1. I feel like I don’t even deserve to be counted as an end-to-ender compared to the people who did the trail in June and July, when it literally rained every single day for weeks. ↩︎

  2. I think this quote is from The Dispossessed ↩︎

  3. I’ve used this quote to explain the simple joy of hiking to people ever since. ↩︎