Hurricane Irene hit the trail while I was hiking the Green Mountains in Vermont. I had split a room at the Inn at Long Trail with some friends to get out of the storm. The next day I hiked out. I remember feeling really proud those first few days. I was proud that I was a backpacker, and I was able to keep moving in even the worst conditions. Other guests at the hotel were stranded because the roads all around were flooded. On the night before the storm the inn had lost power too. I had existed for so long without cars, roads or electricity, so the next day felt like any other day on the trail. Hiking out after the hurricane was a really empowering thing for me. I felt totally self-sufficient and free. The weather had never been better and I had the trail almost entirely to myself. For a couple of days I hiked through rivers and mud and saw only one other set of footprints in the ground.
I slowly began running into other Southbound hikers that had ignored the warnings about going into the woods. We formed a little crew and called ourselves ‘The Pirate Blazers’. In the days of pouring rain following the storm it was really nice to have a group to hike with. We all watched out for each other on tricky river crossings and were able to keep each other’s spirits up despite the wet boots, clothes and packs. We were hiking on, no matter what the weather.
It wasn’t until we hit Bennington that the reality of the storm actually hit me. The road into Bennington was closed because the bridge had gotten washed out. As we walked down the road into town we saw flooded houses and ruined mattresses sitting out on the curb. The townspeople had made a wooden ATV bridge so they could get across the river. We hiked across that, then got a hitch the rest of the way into town. After seeing all the destruction the storm had caused, I was expecting to see a lot of unhappy people in town. What I saw instead were bake sales to raise money for the flood victims, kids doing volunteer clean-up work, and a lot of smiles. The people had really come together. Everyone was making the best of the hardship and feeling grateful for what they still had. I was so inspired by everyone I met. One guy who gave us a hitch in Williamstown, MA told us that his whole town was flooded and his home had been underwater. Despite all that, he was still smiling and still willing to pick up a bunch of hitchhikers. Amazing.
What I witnessed in the trail towns after Irene humbled me. I thought I knew all about staying positive in the face of adversity, but now I know that there is always more to learn. I wish the best for the people whose homes were ruined by the storm and I hope everything gets rebuilt as quickly as possible. Most of all I hope that everyone continues to find things to smile about.