Most days when I set out on an adventure I end up in Narnia, somewhere hidden and unexpected, somewhere full of whimsy and joy. I was expecting nothing short of this on Friday when I found myself once again crawling out of my own skin to get out. It’d been a week of bad insomnia and health issues so I didn’t get out until way later than I should have but I still had great hopes when I set off. I was going to go to Vermont, for what reason I wasn’t sure, and coming home from Vermont I was going to stop at a fabric store or two so I could purchase some cloth with which to start designing my own clothes. Little was I to know that day’s adventure would be more of a misadventure.
Somehow I came across Gifford Woods State Park as a destination. Another blogger had been around Kent Pond and took some lovely snaps when there was still snow on the ground. I figured this was a good starting place so ignoring the faintest pain behind my eye, a sure sign of a migraine to come, I hopped in the car, programmed the GPS, and set out on the two hour drive.
The leaves are just starting to turn color up here and I wanted to basically go on a foliage tour. We call this activity leaf peeping and people come from all over to drive aggravatingly slow and… peep. To be honest I’d never bothered. As much as I love fall and all it’s beauty I have always lived here and fully admit I’m absolutely jaded on the subject. That is until I found myself with a camera and almost two hundred Instagram followers. Now I didn’t feel silly indulging.
As usual the drive was gorgeous. I ended up winding down all sorts of country roads, through the mountains which where all starting to become flush with red, orange, and yellow. It made my heart beat just a little faster. I passed many places I wanted to check out but I knew I had to get to the trails soon because it gets dark in the woods several hours before it gets dark everywhere else and I was already trying to beat the clock.
I started entering the Killington area to find this was a community that seemed to be based on skiing. The mountains were striped with deforestation, the result of creating many ski paths down them, and the little businesses all seemed swanky and cute. I even passed a place called Cyco Bikes. Vermont has always been super fond of punderful business names.
I found my destination in one shot. That never happens. I drove in, parked at the information center, and then immediately became confused. There didn’t seem to be any trails or ponds here. Though there was a bulletin board it said something about $4 for adults and then went on to say something about camping and day passes and God knows what else. Huh? I walked up to the information center.
“Can I help you?”
“Suuuuure… Do I have to pay to hike on the trails around here?”
I think the answer was no but I was soon inundated with about eighty different things at once. This super friendly woman handed me not one but two maps and proceeded to point out about fifty different trails and why each was great as well as directions to them because none of the ones she was pointing out attached to the parking lot (I think that was the one trail she didn’t mention!) Some had old hardwood trees which I am sure are nice but if I remember right most of the trees that turn color are soft wood. Some had waterfalls. Some were a three hour hike and attached to other trails, some were fifteen minutes. Eventually she got to the pond. I asked politely about that one. Again she gave me two different answers. I could go out of the parking lot, take a left, and take it from there for a two to three hour trail or I could go some other farther away destination down several roads and have a fifteen minute hike and some waterfalls. I did the first as her second set of directions completely baffled me.
Sure enough just up the road there was a parking lot that had a big trail sign pointing at it. I drove in and was immediately greeted with a gorgeous lake sitting coyly underneath the mountains and cuddled up with clouds. Beautiful. Two women were on a bench just staring at it and enjoying the moment. There was a trail head bulletin here but I wasn’t seeing any trails… and the bulletin had no maps or mentions of trails. Errr…
I found a spot near where I parked the car that looked like it could be a trail, be it a horribly overgrown one. So I entered and found myself about five inches deep in mud. Whatever this was had all sorts of shoe prints going in two directions at a tiny fork. I went towards the lake and slogged through the muck about twenty feet before the foot prints dried up and I was hit with even deeper mud and a wall of forest. I tried the other side and came across the same issue. I left. Maybe it was on the other side of this little beach? There did seem to be some sort of path through the reeds behind the bulletin board… I was able to walk maybe thirty feet on that “path” where I could see a beaver lodge but unless I wanted to swim the rest of the way around the lake there was no way around that. Clearly based on the footprints I wasn’t the only one having this problem.
Annoyed I left. I figured I could find a trail, any trail, and find something good on it, so back to the car I went. The problem is I am still driving the borrowed Prius and this was not the area to be driving a Prius. It was a fifty mile an hour road where all the locals were going seventy and they were pissed if you wanted to stop at one of these trail heads or slow down in any way. I didn’t even have a chance because upon leaving the parking lot I was greeted with a steep hill and the Prius refused to pick up speed. I got to fourty, maybe forty five, and a pick up behind me was up my tail pipe from out of nowhere. He was driving so fast and aggressively I thought I’d be nice, pull over, and let him pass. That didn’t make him happy either as he blared his horn as he whooshed by. I don’t know what he expected me to do… I can only press the gas pedal so far. If the car refuses to go the car refuses to go and we are on a fucking mountain after all. This happened a couple times until I finally found another trailhead, the Sherbourne Trail. This time there was a huge sign aside the road and a very obvious parking lot. Granted I could not find this particular path on the map.
I got out. There were numerous people, all accompanied by mountain bikes. One look at the path and I knew that’s what it was for, not for hikers, even though it wasn’t marked as such with any signage. Fuck it. It was a little over a mile long, claiming to be a “mountain pass.” I thought why not, mountain passes have summits, and that would be perfect for some foliage photos. Up I went zigzagging and stepping aside whenever I heard a bike coming up behind me. The cyclists were all super sweet and some were even laughing, all of them thanked me for stepping aside.
There wasn’t much to see here… a number of mossy rocks but not much else. A few times I came across a smell that was wonderful and sweet and brought me right back to my childhood but I couldn’t tell you what it was. Since the trail zigzagged and branched a few times I was trying to keep focused on the orange trail markers…. but I think whoever was putting them up was colorblind because they’d inadvertently turn pink from time to time for no reason. Usually when this happens it means two trails are converging. I saw no evidence of this.
I reached the top in no time at all and was annoyed because there was no summit. I had merely found myself near the top of the mountain but not quite, just behind a bunch of houses. Ugh. I tried to find my way back down… that’s where things got hairy. I figured, rather naively, that this was a loop path. I continued following the orange markers but the sounds of the highway below were getting more muffled as I went. I got the distinct feeling I was going the wrong way. I decided to back track. Things got hairier. I found myself going past things I knew I already passed. This trail was looping alright. I saw no divergences so I had no idea how this was happening. I went back up towards the top thinking I could find my way from there. It was starting to get dark now and all the other cyclists and people were gone. Fuck. This park attached to three or four other parks. In the past I have found this to mean it’s easy to wander onto a path that connects all of them together. The woman at the information center said one of the paths around the pond connected to the Appalachian Trail. I knew I sure as hell didn’t want to end up there… that thing is literally hundreds of miles long.
I ended up where there was some sort of construction. Two twenty something year old men were putting down a bridge. I hadn’t passed that before… did I? How the hell did I get here? And more importantly did I have the courage to fess up and admit I was lost? Not at first. I passed them, knowing immediately that was the wrong decision when my poor little converses sank in the mud. I hadn’t passed mud…. this was the wrong way… but I still had my pride. I walked a little ways but this time the sound of cars was so distant I could barely hear them at all. My back up plan was to find a road and hitchhike back to the car if, God forbid, I ended up truly and utterly lost. I headed back, sheepishly, and asked where the fuck I was. I had a nice little chat with these two very friendly guys, and one of them said, “Go out to the intersection and take a left. Keep taking lefts. You’ll end up back at the parking lot.” Thank God I knew which trail head I had come or they wouldn’t have known where to send me either. They sheepishly admitted this trail was brand new and as of yet poorly marked. I didn’t even see the intersection coming up… but I saw it going back and kept going, and going, and going, until as promised, about a mile and a half away, sat the Prius, also looking sheepish, it somehow found itself cuddled up to another Prius (with a bike rack??) and a horse trailer. The horse trailer made me laugh. Clearly someone else didn’t know this was a bike path so I’m not that numb after all.
By now I was overheated, dehydrated, exhausted, and my migraine was starting to kick in full force. That’s never a good thing when you’ve got nausea and have to navigate down curving mountain roads and psychotic 180 degree loop-de-loop styled New England exits. By now it was five in the evening. I’d been on that trail for more than two hours. There’d be no extra foliage shots on the way home for me and I wouldn’t be stopping at any fabric stores either with my head pounding like this. About fifty minutes from home I started getting super sick and started to look for places to pull off the road and take a nap but by then all the picnic areas and rest stops seemed to have disappeared. As I entered Keene, thirty five minutes from home, I debated stopping in the city somewhere but by then it was only thirty five minutes. I could handle it, couldn’t I? Driving by was a decision I soon regretted as I stared at the clock every five minutes, watching it tick down, desperately wanting to be home. By the time I pulled in the driveway it took all my strength not to open the car door and just barf all over the ground. I was crazy dizzy as I tottled back to the house and collapsed immediately into bed. Better luck next time? I sure hope so!