AT Sobo part 13 – Moosilauke, a panic attack and on to Vermont’s Yellow Deli
We left Gorham in New Hampshire with laden packs and rested bodies to head to one of the last monstrous mountains we’d see for a while: Mount Moosilauke; ranked number 9 in the top 50 of New England’s finest peaks. It was a beauty, and a tricky one to get up. Once up however, it had a long and unusual flat top and then a descent which wasn’t vertical, but definitely a knee destroyer. Hundreds of rocks to step down that were all just a touch deeper than my short legs could do easily. Thank goodness for walking poles.
It was on this descent back towards the deep forest that I had my first ever panic attack. This was a hard day. Hambone had gone ahead long before and initially people I passed had said he was ‘just ahead’ as I climbed towards the peak, but when he wasn’t at the windy and wild summit I was taken aback. He always waited for me at significant spots. He’d looked at my ‘Guthook’ mapping app earlier in the day and noted a small stream about a mile into the descent, so I imagined he’d probably be there. On I went, but anxiety had begin to growl in my tummy. Where was he? I had never camped alone and was frightened at the prospect. I was scared because the woods can feel eerie as it gets dark, but also because I suffered a traumatic incident in my late teens which has always made me afraid of being alone in spooky places without an easy way to escape. I had sought therapy about this before I went, but always knew there might be a time when I was alone in the deep, dark trees and would have to face some significant fear. I just wasn’t ready for it to be this soon.
It was dark by the time I got to the bottom of the mountain and my panic was rising. Hambone was nowhere and had clearly chosen to finally accelerate and leave me behind but not tell me. I couldn’t believe it. So here I was, standing in an abandoned camp at twilight with no one around, and dusky shadows playing tricks on my mind. I started hyperventilating; the panic attack escalated to a point where I wasn’t really experiencing reality, but more like night terrors and hallucinations. Eventually I ran blindly, sobbing and shouting through the forest and even stumbling and falling into a river, until I got to a road and luckily met three Northbound hikers who took me under their wing; one was a paramedic and was able to talk me down to a calmer state. I was out of control and beyond hysterically terrified at basically nothing except my mind and my past trauma. They got me safely to a tiny hostel which was serendipitously close, and from there I reflected on what had happened; exhausted. I had never experienced anything like that panic and terror before, and although very scary, it taught me a lot. It made me face my fears and pushed me to a place of understanding that now helps me feel safer as I continue the trail; I was alone, I was scared, but nothing bad happened and I was ok.
The next day I found Hambone. He came up on me at his usual rocket pace and was delighted to see me. He had taken a wrong turn at the top of the mountain and continued on to a different stream he had found about a mile down. He then sat and waited for me – for three whole hours. He said he started getting worried about me and asked some day hikers, who told him he was on the wrong path. By the time he arrived to the camp that I had panicked in it was late and I was long gone. He met the north-bounders who told him I was fine and at the hostel, so he stayed where he was, thinking I was ok. So; just one little wrong turn from him ultimately led me to facing lifelong fears. I was very glad to see him, but also glad to now feel stronger alone out in the wild.
We arrived at the town of Hanover that evening and spent a few days with an old friend of his before we left to cross into Vermont (my second favourite state!) and into town called Rutland, where the famous Yellow Deli is based. The Deli is run by the controversial religious sect ‘The Twelve Tribes’. They make exceptionally delicious food in their business downstairs, but also run a full hostel above for hikers where the male and female dorms are strictly segregated (you’re not even allowed to set foot on the female stairs if you’re a man) and the ‘loaner’ clothing you’re given when you’re washing your own, cover visiting female hikers from neck to toe. They were warm, generous and friendly hosts, and besides having a member constantly stationed in the common spaces to listen and interject with teachings and gentle encouragement to become a part of the community, they didn’t try any hard conversion or shaming of hiker life. They actually couldn’t have been more welcoming, supportive of the hiker experience and generous.
It is a donation based place, so no set fee is asked for, and all the hikers pitch in with preparing food in the kitchens for communal breakfasts, helping with the hostel’s washing and drying, and the mending of clothes. Hambone saw the hiker he knew who had halted his Triple Crown attempt (three long trails!) so close to the end by staying at this Deli. HB said that his friend looked so at peace and happy that he didn’t even want to suggest he’d been brainwashed, so as far as I know he’s still there, happily tilling fields in the Deli’s organic fields. Staying there and being a part of that community for a short while was one of my favourite memories from trail, and they’ve recently opened a Deli in Devon! We did eventually drag ourselves away from the comforts of Rutland. A new group of hikers had formed there with us in the mix, and we were to become known as ‘The Vortex’. We were now seven rather than two, and a whole new raft of fun was about to unfold. For now though, we hiked off the comforts of three days of town life as we made our way towards Mount Killington, and more of beautiful Vermont.