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May 2005

Homeland Insecurity: Vermont’s Long Trail

The Long Trail offers steep climbs and solitude-and a whiff of border intrigue.

He hasn’t seen any obvious terror candidates, the Splinter reports as we chug down Jay Peak’s grassy slopes and back under the canopy. If he does further on, we’ll never know. After a chilly late-summer night at the shelter–where the kid inhales one of our cold bratwursts in three bites–he slathers his last ration of peanut butter on a Clif bar, and clicks off down the trail.

Maybe we should’ve warned him to be ready for anything: It’s common knowledge that the path has long had its share of nonrecreational users. During the War of 1812, profiteers used an early, primitive version of the trail to smuggle in embargoed British goods. In the 1920s and early ’30s, bootleggers purportedly used it to keep the States wet through Prohibition. Today, border agents will tell you that a few area families are still smuggling after 80 years, though now the contraband is more likely to be $3,000-a-pound hydroponic marijuana called Quebec Gold, or illegal aliens-usually from Asia, Africa, and Eastern Europe–searching for opportunity. Last year, a University of Vermont student was busted selling Canadian “hydro” out of his dorm–and later confessed to carrying it in on the Long Trail, inspiring some to rename the path “The Bong Trail.”

The border here has always had a sort of quirky charm. In several places, a road starts in the U.S., pokes into Canada, and ducks back into the States. The border runs right through the town of Derby Line, cutting the 400-seat opera house in half.

From the shelter, the path again pushes straight uphill, covering a fast 600 vertical feet up 3,409-foot Doll Peak. We break through the thick woods near the summit, and from a west-facing outcrop a half-mile farther on, we again drop the packs in front of the empty expanse.

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