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Manchester Center

  • Start: Stratton Pond Shelter
  • End: VFW Post 6471 in Manchester Center
  • Approx Miles: 10.5

I’m up and at ’em early today, and get hiking quickly. I see Bugbait and Qubit leaving ahead of me while I get my stuff together. I’m a bit nervous to go into town—it’s my first time, so I don’t really know how long getting a hitch in will take, or how long it will take me to do my errands. I’m also not sure if I’m going to stay the night in town or try to hitch back out to the trail in the afternoon. I’ve heard a rumor that the VFW there lets hikers camp in their backyard, but I don’t want to count on it. So much of thru-hiking is like this; you’re operating on information passed down the trail and from FarOut comments that’s anywhere from days to months out of date. Trail conditions, business hours, trail angels’ sentiments towards hikers—all can change quickly and you just have to do your best with the info you have an be willing to adapt. It’s a big adjustment for me as someone who likes to have a plan for every contingency.

I should also probably say something here about the overall organization of the trail. You can picture it sort of like a spine and ribs: the spine is the trail running north roughly along the ridge line of the Green Mountains; the ribs are the roads the cut east/west through the mountain passes (which are called “gaps”), perpendicular to the trail. When you reach a road, there are often trail towns to the east and west, and you have to choose which one to head into to resupply and potentially spend a night off-trail. For example, I’m about to descend to VT Route 11/30. Manchester Center is to the west, Peru to the east. Peru is a very small town so virtually everyone goes into Manchester Center, but later road crossings present more of a choice.

Anyway, the trail is flat and cruisy1 from here to VT-11. Much of it follows a disused forest road, and the enveloping fog gives everything a spooky vibe.

Photograph of a stream
Photograph of a rock
It's hard to tell in the photo, but this rock was very striking, it felt like a vampire's tomb or something.
Photograph of bogboards leading into foggy woods.
Photograph of a wooden footbridge over a stream with an orange 'bridge out' sign.
This bridge was damaged in the extreme floods that struck Vermont earlier in the summer.
Making a goofy face to try and convey how spooky the fog was; it doesn't come through in the photo!
The "view" from Prospect Rock, a popular local hiking destination.
Wildflowers growing along the trail.

Spruce Peak Shelter, where I stopped for lunch. With the wood stove! Sad I didn't get to stay here.

I arrive at the road in the early afternoon. The weather’s cleared up and the next step is hitching into town. There’s just one problem—I’ve never hitchhiked before! I read a lot before the trip about how easy it is to hitchhike in Vermont and how friendly everyone is, but it’s one thing to read about something and quite another to do it. Especially for someone like me who often has difficulty asking for help.

After sitting by the side of the road for a few minutes to rest and pluck up my courage, I eventually stick out my thumb. I’ve heard hitchhiking works better if you actually walk down the road in the direction you’re trying to go rather than just standing there, but VT-11 is a fast moving highway with no shoulder to speak of, so I resign myself to standing in place near the trailhead parking lot.

True to what I’d read, within about 5 mins a friendly fellow in a blue hatchback pulls over. He’s heading into the hardware store in Manchester Center from his home in Peru and happily drops me off in the center of town. I guess hitchhiking in Vermont really is as easy as they say!

It’s strange to be in town. Seeing “normal” people all clean and put together in their everyday clothes is kind of shocking at first. I’ve really started to be accustomed to the woods. I stop by the local outdoor outfitter, the Mountain Goat, to get a few things I need, then for a brownie and bubble tea at the cafe around the corner. It tastes amazing after five days of eating noodles and trail snacks!

The Mountain Goat

Manchester Center is a funny place. It’s a small town nestled in the mountains of Vermont, but it’s also a vacation destination, so there are designer outlet stores spread around, and everything is more expensive than you’d expect.

Heading down to the laundromat to wash my clothes, I encounter a whole gaggle of hikers, including Bugbait, Particle, her partner Mythman (who I haven’t seen since the first day; he’s joining her just for tonight), and a couple of guys I haven’t met yet, Zen and Didgeridoo. Mythman is just about to drive everyone back out to the trailhead, but the muffler falls off his car! Fortunately there’s a auto body place right down the street, so he goes to get it fixed while the rest of us hang out. I feel sort of out of place. Almost everyone else has quite a bit of past thru-hiking experience, but this is my first ever town stop, so I feel inexpert and somewhat nervous about fitting in.

I get my laundry going and my phone charging, then sit down to work on my boots. I’ve been noticing a crack developing along the sole, and I want to try to glue them back together. However, when I take them off…

Oh no.

One of the soles has just fallen off. “That’s a ‘mail those home and buy new shoes’ situation,” says Bugbait, ever the gear expert. Honestly, I’m pretty crestfallen. My contrarian streak had me looking forward to being the only curmudgeon on the trail wearing boots instead of trail runners, and I’m certainly not looking forward for shelling out $150 for new shoes. Oh well. At least this makes the decision of whether to stay in town tonight or try to get back to the trail easy. The Mountain Goat is about to close, so I’ll have to stay the night and get new shoes in the morning.

Everyone else takes off back to the trail in Mythman’s now-repaired car2, and I head to the VFW to inquire about camping there. The inside is dark and dingy and full of old vintage posters and memorabilia from parades, banquets, etc. The barkeep says it’s OK to camp and instructs me sign their guestbook and leave a small donation if I like. There are a few old-timers in there drinking the evening away. Fun to listen to them all cracking jokes and shooting the shit. There’s a real feeling of ease; I can tell they’re all regulars and have known each other for a long time.

I spend a relaxing evening getting a burger and doing my food resupply at the grocery store. Hefting my pack, I decide I’ve once again bought too much. So heavy! I resolve to go lighter next time. I set up my tent behind the VFW and settle in for the night; the rushing water of the Batten Kill lulling me to sleep.

Sunset over the mountains.

  1. “Cruisy” is a hiker-ism that just means easy trail that you can “cruise” along, covering miles quickly due to little elevation change, nicely groomed trail with few few obstacles, etc. ↩︎

  2. This is the last I would see of Particle. She got ahead of me after this and I never caught up. That’s one of the funny things about thru-hiking: when you part ways with someone, you never know if or when you’re going to see them again. It depends on so many factors—how fast everyone hikes, injuries, time off-trail, weather. ↩︎