Author and thru-hiker Derick Lugo had started his Long Trail thru-hike last week at the Massachusetts border, with the plan to head northbound to Journey’s End over the coming month. Unfortunately, he and GMC staff have made the difficult decision to postpone the trip.
Derick was pumped to start his Long Trail thru-hike last Wednesday. In typical Fabulous fashion, he had a bit of a late start his first day.
Derick paused near Beaver Pond to refill water and address some light dehydration. Unfortunately, his water filter had different plans and Derick likely consumed contaminated water. He became ill (more details here, if you’re not too queasy). Luckily, superstar Bennington Section volunteers were not far, and Derick pulled through the worst of his sickness in the comfort of their home and with plumbing.
A precautionary round of strong antibiotics put Derick out of commission for seven days; the antibiotics left him lightheaded and short of breath — a sorry combination for hiking long distances with a heavy pack.
To hike or not to hike
We at GMC helped Derick plan his thru-hike, so we connected with him to talk through options for his hike after a nine-day delay.
A late September start translates to risky seasonal conditions: slippery fallen leaves, cold nights, and even frost or snow. While we all considered flipping his itinerary to a southbound hike, as many fall thru-hikers do to avoid heading into the coldest weather, we also recognized the heightened risk of entering such an environment for a month while still weak.
Additionally, as you know, Derick’s an extremely sociable guy. Being out on the trail in late October, after hiking season is officially over, wouldn’t give him (or his eager audience!) the satisfaction of connecting with Vermont’s thru-hiking community. GMC’s caretakers and trail crews are currently wrapping up their seasons, so Derick wouldn’t have the opportunity to connect with them and share the important work they do to care for the trail.
The decision to postpone
So, together we made the difficult decision to postpone Derick’s thru-hike until next year. It’s disappointing, as Derick trained and planned a lot for this adventure. But an important lesson arises: the trail isn’t going anywhere. It will be there for Derick and anyone else who wishes to hike it when the time is right. It’s important to first listen to your body as well as recognize a potentially dangerous situation.
Hiking sick, injured, or otherwise unprepared for the conditions not only puts the hiker at risk, it puts emergency resources at risk should the hiker require assistance. It can be tempting to push on when conditions or circumstances deteriorate, but often the smartest and bravest thing you can do is to call it. This is true on a thru-hike, when illness or a twisted ankle crop up, and on a day hike, when you’re not carrying enough water to summit and return safely. In fact, knowing when to turn around is a tenet of the HikeSafe hiker responsibility code.
A taste of the Long Trail
Luckily, Derick spent a few days in Vermont and got a taste of the epic hike to come. Together, we hiked the .5-mile Short Trail, an interpretive trail located at GMC’s headquarters. It showcases the iconic white blazes, an original four-sided Long Trail shelter, puncheon, apple trees, and glacial erratics.
Derick toured GMC’s Barn, a workshop for our trail crews and caretakers, and got an insider look at the work they do in the field. He even signed several copies of his book, The Unlikely Thru-Hiker, now available for sale at the Visitor Center. The VC is open Saturdays, Sundays, and Mondays 10 am-4 pm. Call 802-244-7037 if you’d like to purchase a copy and can’t make it in person.