It’s my fifth year living in Vermont, also my third summer. I have a NENSA license, my USSA reads “Eastern” under region, I know the difference between A and B grade maple syrup and even own a few t-shirts from J Crew. I’ve traversed the Adirondacks, Whites and Green Mountains, and know the acronyms for the AT, AMC, and VBT. I know which “bury” produces which dairy product and have gained a healthy affinity to the smell of manure.
For all these reasons and more, the untrained eye may consider me an Easterner. But, as the true Easterner will assert, I’m nothing more than a chameleon in these parts. And it’s true, being raised between Utah, Colorado, Washington and Idaho, my heart belongs in the west. I prefer aspens over birch, lakes over ponds, and sand over roots. However, that doesn’t mean that I haven’t come to appreciate the latter for their own potential. This year, I have a handful of friends from the West who will embark on their first Eastern summer, which, if done right, can be an absolutely phenomenal experience (and if done wrong, is mostly really damp).
Thus I give you this chameleon’s best pieces of advice, (which may or may not have been learned the hard way) in no particular order:
1. Own a Rain Jacket. A Real Rain Jacket.
None of this “water resistant” crud. We’re talking Gore-Tex, full on, get-at-me-torrential-downpour rain jacket. Throw in an umbrella for fun, but know that there will be wind.
2. Prepare to Sweat. All the time.
It’s really not so bad, because everyone sweats when it’s 99% humidity. Pit stains don’t make you stand out like they do in the West, where few people do more than glisten. However, it also doesn’t stop. You know those chilly, high mountain desert nights at home? Top-of-the-covers, on-the-floor, why-is-there-no-air-conditioning nights await in the East. So, you know, hydrate!
3. Bugs, humidity, blah blah blah
I have to include these because they’re important for living out here, but I have nothing new to add to the conversation. Yes, it’s humid. Yes, there are a ton of creepy crawlies. However, it’s not as humid as the South, and the bugs ain’t even half Alaskan. It could be worse. Pack bug spray and focus on bigger things like…
4. Learning how to read a map
At home, getting from place to place usually means pointing your grill in one direction and driving straight for four to five hundred miles. Here, it means turning west to go east, south to get north with several detours, hard rights and u-turns in between. Through it all, your cell phone will lack reception, so depending on google maps working in cinch won’t pan out. Rather, stopping at a corner general store to buy a map will. So you best be able to read one.
5. Along those lines, be prepared to drive.
The East is more compact than the West, there are more people and more towns, which, counterintuitively, means more driving. You get groceries in one hamlet, your mechanic will be in another, while your bank will rest 20 miles and two mini meccas down the road. And, on these winding dirt roads, 40 miles does not mean 40 minutes, and 15 miles may take more than half an hour. Luckily, those same roads double as great road biking, in addition to real fun in a stick shift.
6. Bring more than 7 sports bras
Because they will not dry out before your next workout. Neither will your helmet. Or your towel.
7. Find the local watering holes.
Literal not figurative watering holes, because swimming holes are a staple of an eastern summer. At home, we’re all about big lakes with sweeping views, here, you can find dozens of pools along one mountainous riverbed. Turns out (likely thanks to those torrential rains mentioned earlier) the East has A LOT of water and neat big rocks to jump off of. It’s one of my favorite parts of living here. Take advantage.
8. Stop at general stores
Along with maps, every local store has its own signature set of products and services. Some specialize in BBQ, others donuts, another craft beer. They almost always use local ingredients and almost always make their own bread/pastries/happy carbs.
9. Eat a burrito before you leave
While there are two or three decent taco stands with fresh salsa, eastern Mexican food could use a little more spice. That being said, I’ve never had more fresh and interesting American fare. And, if you like lobster, there’s plenty.
10. Remember that everything is old, haunted and awesome
Your town may have been founded in 1936, but most of these hamlets were around before the Revolutionary War. I walked through a 225 year old tavern last night. Every drive or rollerski doubles as a historical tour of America, don’t be afraid to pull over and take a look.
11. Do your ankle exercises
Because trail running here involves a fantastic amount of root skipping, rock hopping and creek jumping…downhill. It took me five years, but I’m starting to have the kind of agility that lets me fly down hills without face planting and breaking the moneymaker on a rock. Once you get the hang of it, running these trails feels more like a fast paced obstacle course: high risk, high reward.
11.5 Know that ‘bagging peaks’ takes on a whole new meaning
Thanks to the low altitude and proximity of these mountaintops, a three hour run might have five different summits. You won’t always get above tree line, but you will be taking on a lot of steep up and down vertical. It’s like a rollercoaster, if your rollercoaster entails lean-tos, stream beds and more than one long-distance backpacker.
12. Embrace the different.
In my first years here, the cultural and geographical nuances combined to make me feel foreign. But instead of constantly comparing the parts of the East that I wish were more like the West, these summers have given me the chance to discover brilliant places, activities and people that you could only find this side of the Mississippi.
When I first came East, my then-coach was weary of my western ways. When I approached him about my own apprehensions of the alien landscape, he explained that the East has its own unshakable beauty, but one that’s different from the West. “The West will tear you open and make you love it,” he explained. “The Eastern beauty is more subtle than that.”
And I have grown to love it, that subtle beauty. These years have trained my eye to see it, to cherish it. Yes, I am totally drinking the kombucha, and could not be more excited for my next eastern summer.
Bring burritos when you come,