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I’ve been wanting to get on this section of The Long Trail for a few years now. This weekend would probably be the last opportunity before the ice sets in heavy. I laced up and enjoyed having the silent trailhead on Lincoln Gap Road to myself for moment.

As my body and breath got into a rhythm of climbing a couple thousand feet over the first two miles, my mind began to appreciate the perfect conditions that the day brought to this Green Mountain ridge line: the soft wind coming from the south, the rare temperature inversion, and the perfect amount of snow to cushion any slight faults my feet might make due to my lack of trail running this season.

I climbed past a group of two dozen younger school kids bundled up with guides on both ends; they saw me running and immediately parted to the sides of trail, started cheering and stretching out their small mittened hands for high fives. None of them will probably ever know how cool they made me feel.

I didn’t know it at the time but those would be the last people I’d see for the remainder of the run. I’ve never had 3 hours on the trail to myself before. 

I passed ski lifts on three different mountain peaks that weren’t yet turning for the season. A non-turning ski lift is surprisingly creepy, even in the middle of the day. I tiptoed along more ridgelines and was lucky enough that the clouds weren’t low enough to block any of the open panoramic views at the lookouts.

For a couple miles, deer tracks were the only imperfections in the shallow layer of snow beneath me. Or, I suppose, imperfect is the wrong word. Seeing the animal’s lonely tracks—set and preserved so clearly in the snow—was actually quite… perfect.

Knowing only one other creature had been where I was at the very moment triggered something in me, and my thoughts dissolved into the deer tracks.  

My shoes transformed into hooves as did my hands, and I seemed to be running on all fours. My new soft brown hide made it’s way through the pine trees and wintry leafless branches. My bigger hind legs made it much easier for me hop fallen trees and make quicker sharper turns on the trail’s tight switchbacks.

All of a sudden, I lost control of my thoughts. They were still my own, but quicker and fleeting. I felt intensely present and alert, my doe eyes processing the landscape faster than my legs could carry me. I forgot where I was going and why but I just ran. Alone. On the mountain. Every now and again I stopped and perk my ears up to assess my surroundings, then continued on my way.

Once the top of the food chain, I now felt like prey. And yet, I had never felt so free or alive. No longer did I have to answer to the world. No credit cards, no politics, no agenda, or weekly plan. No longer did I have to answer to emails or worry about my diet. And as far as I could tell, the Green Mountain National Forest didn’t charge rent.

As I ran in my new deer body, the mountain seemed to offer itself to me for a dance, and I took its lead. I never landed, flat-footed and clunky. Instead, the trail reached up to cradle each hoof gently down to the earth. I knew where to go instinctually, and since my center of gravity was now much better supported, I moved there faster and more nimbly. The world, the earth, and the trail carried my spirit away.

Billy Hafferty

Billy Hafferty is probably still hanging out of the passenger side of his best friend's ride trying to holler at you.

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