Lewie does not take up his usual you-will-not-leave-without-me post at the front door this morning. Instead he watches me with steady eyes from the couch as I move about the house making preparations. Today we are running Catamount Trail Section 28, a 12.9 mile stretch from Craftsbury Outdoor Center to the town of Lowell. Lewie appears to be having doubts about joining me. Yesterday’s adventure — CT Section 27, which took us from Eden Mtn. Road to Craftsbury — was pretty taxing. Several impassable portions meant we had to constantly re-navigate on the fly and do some creative problem-solving in the punishing 89 degree humidity. A relatively easy 7 miler became a hot mess of something more like 12.
In the end, he can’t help himself, and Lewie leaps into the passenger’s seat as I load my stuff into the car. Dog is my co-pilot. Behind me, Mia has her own co-pilot: Meg’s striking stripe of white running from between her ears to the tip of her nose is visible in my rear view mirror as Mia and I drive tandem to the Northeast Kingdom. It promises to be another challenging day, but the world looks different with good company along.
The dirt road on the west side of Little Hosmer Pond takes us downhill and uphill and out to Rt. 14, which we cross into a field not currently occupied by the nearby horses, swishing their tails in the shade of a lean-to. An easy coast around the perimeter of the field and we duck into the woods. A few more up-downs and a cornfield later we find ourselves on the historic Bailey Hazen Road which passes through a sawmill and becomes a heavenly shaded path along a river.
Up and over a ridge and onto an old farm road, we surprise a quiet gardener, tending her foxglove and rock gardens on the farm she and her husband have run for more than 40 years. She tells us the story of how the house used to be over there and the barn was once full of dairy cows. She removes her gloves and occasionally wrings them in her hands and asks us what we’re doing out here. Not used to company, perhaps, yet she doesn’t seem to want us to go. She gives us a little smile and tells us we have quite a few miles to go yet.
Before a long hot stretch of dirt road at the foot of Lowell Mountain, we take a quick break in the shade while the dogs pant and we shove handfuls of nuts in our mouths and gulp water. The giant wind turbines along the ridge move lazily above us and to the west. Lowell Mtn. forces my run to a walk more than once and I resist the urge to scold myself. This is, after all, the second 90-degree day in a row. Give yourself a break, I remind myself silently. There are still hours to go.
At the bottom of Lowell Mountain, we rejoice in a well-deserved downhill cruise and meet a retired dairy farmer turned hemp farmer out for a walk. He says he’s surprised our dogs didn’t bark at that bear. What bear? we ask. The one that just crossed the road here and went up into the field next to you, he says. You didn’t see it? We didn’t see it, which I’m sure is exactly what the bear had in mind.
Jay Peak is a marked jag on the horizon and we aim more or less right for it, through the hemp rows and through a tree line and straight into a swath of wildflowers and strawberries which we pause to pick. From here it’s an easy trek for the last few miles through more fields and some pine needly woods paths and only a little bit of swamp out onto Clark Road and across Rt. 14 to the waiting car.
In a stroke of sheer brilliance Mia suggests we take off our mud sodden shoes and socks and walk barefoot for the last little bit across the roughly cut grass — a welcome tiny scouring pad massage for our achey hooves.
Mia climbs in her car, we wave goodbye, and she makes her way north to Canada. I turn south, toward home. Lewie is asleep on his feet, poised between the two front seats, his head dipping like a dashboard bobblehead. Hours later as I crest Middlebury Gap, a pomegranate-dipped giant peach of a sun on fire is disappearing behind the cool Green Mountains.