“…being an end to ender is like being a member of an elite club – fewer than 100 people are on the list – which makes it very special and we’re very proud of all our end to ender friends!”
Gretchen Cherington and her Husband Michael completed the Catamount Trial in 2013 and, like many of our end-to-enders, have become an integral part of the Catamount Trail community well beyond the skiing. Along with being volunteers for events like “Race to the Top of Vermont,” the two have hosted Annual Fund letter-singing potlucks, provided valuable professional guidance to the CTA, and according to CTA Executive Director Amy Kelsey, the two have been wonderful “sharers of the trail”. I asked Gretchen to share some of her story of completing the trail, and what it has meant to her.
What is your Skiing Background, and when did you decide to complete the CT?
I grew up in Hanover, NH, where I was part of the incredible Ford Sayer Ski Program from the age of 5, so I learned the basics. Then while living in Lausanne, Switzerland, I made Silver Level for alpine skiing which allowed me to ski down mountains in the Alps at night with a lit torch! Pretty cool for a 16 year old. My interest in cross-country skiing didn’t emerge until I moved back to NH in my early 20s in the “back to the land” era. We had little money but lots of land and access to woods trails so that’s how I got started. I have been cross-country skiing for 45 years.
My husband Michael O’Leary and I were skiing the Craftsbury Marathon and ran into Rick and Jody Biddle who told us about the opportunity to ski the length of Vermont over an entire month. We couldn’t quite bring ourselves to do that, but we were intrigued. We were nearing sixty years of age, interested in being outdoors while increasing our fitness, and we decided to give it a try! We completed the CT over four years. We did most of it on CTA tours and we did a lot of it with a small group of avid skiers who were also completing the CT. Not only did we significantly improve our skiing but we also made life-long friends. The Catamount Trail has been an integral part of our winters, now, for seven years.
What is your favorite section of the CT?
Section 19 is one of my favorites because of that long tough climb. I remember the first time I did it I really didn’t think that I could make it. Others were huffing up the hill and I was falling behind when suddenly I realized, just gear down, like on my bike, and don’t worry about keeping up. Find my own pace and rhythm, and sure enough, I was no longer panting and I made it right up the hill. That was also the steep incline where I learned that if you bend your knees a little and push with your glutes, you’ll do better. That was a new learning. What’s been great about the Catamount end to end experience is becoming so much technically better at skiing in general. I had the basics – snow plow, herringbone, etc – but learning to corner turns, moving around obstacles, pacing oneself, these were all lessons learned on the Catamount and have been inspirations for life as well.
Was there a particularly difficult moment you had on the trail?
I well remember several sections skiing in the rain between rocks – in fact I especially remember one where, finally, after about 3 hours of it, I said to Bill Herrington, our leader, “why don’t we take off our skis?” The other difficult section for me was our final one – Bolton to Trapps – we’d had a fantastic ski over Bolton and down to Nebraska Road. Then to slog up that long half section to Trapps was challenging. At least until Pete Lane suggested we lead the group in at the end and we were once again euphoric with friends and beautiful scenery and the completion of our goal!
You mentioned the trail being an integral part of you winters now. Can you tell us how?
Debbie Page was the first new Vermonter to befriend us on the trail, but since then our family of friends has grown to many. When you’re out on a trail for 7-8 hours, day after day, with car travel in between, sleeping in the same places, eating together, sharing tips for blisters and frozen fingers, you form very strong bonds. You have to rely on each other and trust each other. Some have given up the trail because it’s too “social” but the group experience has been a high point of the experience for us. The community rallied for me after I broke my shoulder in a mountain biking accident last July and we’ve hiked together in the summers and traveled together through New England, Quebec, Montana, Yellowstone, etc. It’s a wonderful group of active outdoor people who take it seriously while having fun.
Mostly everyone enjoys being outdoors enjoying the landscapes of Vermont, getting good exercise, and communing as friends. I would not have had as much fun if Michael and I hadn’t done it together and it helps us get through the winter. We’re always involved in our community but now that includes not only the CTA but our local trail systems. Some of our friends are surprised when we say: “we can’t wait for winter!”
Thank you to Gretchen for sharing her stories from the CT, and giving us all a bit more motivation to get out there on the trail.