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Jessie Raymond: How to hike 5.2 miles in her shoes

Not a lot of people know this, but I’m kind of an outdoors expert. I’ve learned a lot over the years, primarily through watching reality TV shows and reading about Lewis and Clark. Also, I have gone outside quite a bit, though mostly just to get the mail.
In the past year or two, I’ve also started hiking on the Trail Around Middlebury. By “hiking,” I mean “strolling in the woods”; most of the trails on the TAM are quite gentle. Last weekend, however, a friend and I and our teenage daughters took a real hike, from the top of Lincoln Gap to the summit of Mount Abraham on the Long Trail.
The 5.2-mile round-trip trek is appropriately designated as “challenging”: There is a 1,600-foot elevation gain, the equivalent of 200 flights of stairs. And there’s no escalator.
Additionally, I think there must have been an uptick in gravity over the last few years; I went up Mount Abe 10 years ago and I don’t remember it being so hard.
In any case, the trail is significantly more intense than the TAM. For comparison, the elevation gain on my typical TAM route is 110 feet, or around 14 flights of stairs. Hell, that’s about how many actual flights I get in every morning from repeatedly running upstairs to my bedroom and forgetting what I went up there for.
If you plan to hike Mount Abe, be prepared. First, get yourself some actual hiking shoes, or any type of heavy-duty sneakers that come in woodsy colors like “cedar” or “lichen.”
Next, pack some gorp. “Gorp” is hiker-speak for trail mix. It usually contains thing like peanuts, dried fruit and chocolate chips, but you can use whatever you find in the pantry, such as handfuls of rock-hard jelly beans from last Easter or the nearly empty bag of flaked coconut left over from when you made a German chocolate cake for your Y2K party.
That may sound gross, but if you’ve just walked 2.6 miles up the side of a mountain on a hot day, your gorp could contain six-month-old Froot Loops and you’d think it was the best stuff you ever ate.
Water is critical; pack as much as you can handle without your knees buckling. Insect repellent, however, is optional. I like to take my chances and go without, as I find trying to outrun the mosquitoes helps me set a faster pace.
You’ll need a map — not for finding the trail per se, but for driving to the Lincoln Gap trailhead while the bridge in town is closed. Also, a cell phone is essential; the round-trip hike lasts four hours, and you might miss something if you go offline that long.
The Mount Abe hike can be divided into three basic parts:
First is the lung-sucking, ever-steepening upward climb that feels like it may never end. Sometimes, as you stop to catch your breath, the lengthy ascent will be interrupted by families whose pre-teen children skip on past you like mountain goats, clambering up the rocks and laughing gaily, unaware that the trail is “challenging.”
Second is the summit. You made it. Now you can rest and take in breathtaking 360-degree views of New Hampshire and Vermont from above the tree line while gorging gorp by the fistful. You may have spent the past two hours cursing yourself for waking up that morning saying, “Let’s go for a hike today!” but now you know it was the right thing to do. That may just be the endorphins talking, but you should listen.
And last comes the descent, where you lower yourself down the mountain on wobbly legs and smile benevolently at the panting, disheveled hikers you encounter on their way up. (Thank heavens you never got that winded.) You feel a sense of accomplishment, which grows as you reach the trailhead and rejoice that your knees survived the two-plus miles downhill.
The Mount Abe hike is simultaneously exhilarating and exhausting, and I highly recommend it.
But if that’s too much, then hit the TAM. If you aren’t up for the TAM, walk out to the mailbox.If nothing else, sit on your couch wearing lichen-colored hiking shoes, watching reality TV shows and eating gorp.
Not a lot of people know this, but many of us outdoor experts got our start that way.

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