Salisbury woman turns 50, challenges herself to hike the Long Trail

VERMONT — Salisbury’s Bamby Pierpont Bates turned 50 last June. A hair stylist, wife, mother of three, and fitness buff, the Baby Boomer wanted to celebrate the milestone by doing something physically challenging and memorable that she had never done before.
So in August she hiked the entire length of Vermont’s legendary Long Trail — 272 miles from the border between Pownal, Vt., and Williamstown, Mass., to the Canadian border at Jay, Vt. She averaged 13 miles a day with a fully loaded pack.
Although many Vermonters hike sections of the Long Trail every weekend, only 3,000 individuals have hiked the Long Trail “end to end” since the trail was completed in 1930.
Accompanied by her brother Jake Pierpont and sister-in-law Becky Pierpont, both nearly 20 years her junior, Pierpont Bates trekked up and down the spine of the Green Mountains, south to north, for three weeks without a day off.
The trail, situated entirely between Route 7 and Route 100, goes up and down every mountain in the middle of the state, including Stratton, Killington, Mansfield, Bolton, Camel’s Hump, and Jay Peak. In this part of Vermont it traverses Brandon Gap, Middlebury Gap and Mt. Abraham.
“One day we went from The Inn at Long Trail on Route 4 in Mendon to the top of Brandon Gap, 20 miles, in about nine hours. That was a long day,” said Pierpont Bates, who carried a pack that weighed 35 pounds — 30 percent of her body weight — the entire way.
“Why would you ever want to do that?” is the question she is asked most often.
At an age when the comforts of home and hearth await, and a myriad of creature comforts beckon, why make yourself physically uncomfortable 10 hours a day and sleep in a six-foot tent for three weeks when you don’t have to?
“Believe me, I’ve asked myself that,” said Pierpont Bates.
And she does have an answer — it was partly driven by something from inside herself, and partly grasping onto an opportunity that presented itself from outside.
“First of all, I’m addicted to working out,” Pierpont Bates said. “Second, I had the support and opportunity this summer. A lot of it is logistics.”
Jake and Becky traveled to Vermont from their home in the U.S. Virgin Islands for the adventure. Jake, 33, is an experienced hiker, having completed the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada in 2007. Jake’s wife, Becky, is a nurse and also a physical therapist. They were both game for the trek. Perfect.
“My big concern was being able to match their pace,” said Pierpont Bates. “They were ahead of me often, but not too far.”
Each night they had to make camp, eat, and get in the nine or 10 hours of sleep necessary to recover. Some “trail angels” helped — especially sons Spencer, 25, Tyler, 22, and Ashton, 16; and husband, Tony Bates.
“My husband, who is a marathon runner, but not a hiker, and my sons were invaluable in making this possible,” said Pierpont Bates. They were able to meet us at designated points to get us to a campground for an occasional shower.” Friends and family made themselves available to resupply the trio and offer moral support.
To train for the trip, Pierpont Bates did several daylong hikes, walked for hours on a treadmill set at an 11 percent grade, and mowed the lawn by hand … while carrying a 35-pound pack.
“I got some stares doing the lawn,” she said.
Pierpont Bates’ relative inexperience showed about five days into the hike, which coincided with some hot, humid weather.
“I wasn’t drinking enough,” she said. “And I learned the importance of electrolytes. When I finally discovered that my salt balance was off, I corrected it and things became easier.
“I never believed in Gatorade before. Now I’m a fan.”
She calculates that she ate about 2,500 calories a day, not much when you consider that hiking one mile with a pack burns well over 100 calories. After about two weeks, she had to discard some shorts that were falling off because they no longer fit.
“I only lost a couple of pounds,” she insisted. “But my weight was redistributed.”
Redistributed how?
“Favorably,” was all she would reveal.
Other enduring memories about the hike include inadvertently charging through nettles to get out of sight to go to the bathroom.
“The trail strips everything away to its bare essentials,” she said. “Modesty and vanity are the first to go.”
Olfactory hallucinations about food, using a needle to thread dental floss through a blister to keep it drained, and using duct tape on her feet are also images that will stay with her.
Pierpont Bates found the 21 days on the trail away from family, home and her business, “Bamby’s Ahead of Hair,” both confining and liberating.
“On one hand, I was free of my home and business and the chores they require,” she said. “But also, I was kept from showering when I wanted, what I could eat, and when I could put my feet up.
“I learned to be comfortable being uncomfortable,” she said. Having to sleep with her head pointing out of the shelter because of mice in the shelter is just one example.
When asked what she learned most about herself during the trek, Pierpont Bates responded, “I learned I’m stronger than I thought I was, it’s OK to go to bed dirty, and beer and red meat are good.
“The most important thing I learned was that if you attempt something that stretches you, something really big, people suddenly appear to help you accomplish it. It’s like some kind of magical universal law.”
For more information about becoming a Long Trail “End-To-Ender” go online to GreenMountainClub.org.
Editor’s note: This story was provided by Tony Bates, Bamby’s husband.

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