Carson Peck spent six summers as a camper at Pine Island. In the summer of 2016 he took part in our Expedition Camp program, a leadership training program that teaches boys how to plan for (and successfully complete) extended hiking and canoe trips. The following summer, Carson embarked on his own adventure on Vermont’s Long Trail. He shared his story with us in the latest edition of The Pine Needle:
I was lying awake on the cold wooden floor of the cabin when I heard my watch alarm go off. It was 3:00 in the morning, and I was camping at the base of Jay Peak, Vermont, only 12 miles south of the Canadian border. I sat up in my sleeping bag and the piercing cold of the night air immediately struck my body. Groggily, I began to search my surroundings for the gear I had left out the night before. This process was a familiar one; at that point in my trip, I was comfortable repacking my hiking pack in the pitch dark. As I laced my boots and stepped out into the vacant night, a soft “good luck” from my shelter-mate inside the cabin brought a grin to my face. I set off with my headlamp at 3:14 am to conquer the final 3,858 vertical feet of my trip, 1.2 miles up the trail.
That wakeup happened on the last day of my 19-day solo hiking trip this past summer. To me, the Vermont Long Trail is a monster; stretching 276 miles from Williamstown, Massachusetts to the U.S.-Canada Border traversing all of the tallest peaks in the state of Vermont. I was a “thru-hiker”: someone who completes an entire trail in a single stretch or season. Never before had I planned such a long or challenging trip, let alone attempt one. Organizing and executing my own solo adventure was thrilling to me, and as I walked up the steep, rocky southern slope of Jay Peak in the dark, I thought about when I had done this same sunrise hike with the Expedition Camp almost exactly a year ago.
Taking on the steep incline at 3:00 in the morning, I realized how much I truly owed to six years at Pine Island. Had I not conquered Mt. Bigelow as an 11-year-old, summited Mount Washington for the first time, or taken on the White Mountains of New Hampshire with some of my closest friends on a number of different PIC trips, I would not have found the strength or the confidence to haul my pack up the rocks that morning. I had learned to appreciate watery oatmeal, cold mornings, and wet feet, and I embraced the refreshing solitude that Vermont offered.
Above all, this past summer it was passion that drove me to walk for longer than I ever had before – a fierce passion combined with a love for the outdoors. All of this I attribute to Pine Island: six weeks for six summers on that island gave me the profound zeal I maintain for hiking. And as I stared into the soft golden horizon beyond Jay Peak that morning, shivering in my wool socks, I caught myself remembering about heading back to Great Pond, napping deeply in the back of a rented van packed with slumbering Pine Islanders.