As we hike north, DeBrita, who sports a pistol, telescoping metal baton, and pepper spray, shows us tracking skills–like determining the age of a shoeprint, and whether a person was running or walking–that he honed “down South.” All agents start out along the Mexican border, and for 7 years DeBrita patrolled the El Paso Sector, which has miles of chain-link-fenced border and unmanned surveillance blimps. When he learns we grew up in El Paso, he looks shocked.
“It’s a different world down there,” the Vermont native says. “I’m sure there was a day I didn’t have at least one apprehension, but I can’t remember it.” Here on the trail? He waves dismissively. In a 12-month period ending in October 2004, agents arrested 2,701 illegal aliens and seized 5,661 pounds of pot–but that was along a 300-mile span of border between New York and the Maine-New Hampshire line, and almost entirely at road crossings. “You just can’t carry that much on this kind of hike,” DeBrita says.
By late afternoon, we poke out of the forest at the trail’s end. Compared to buttoned-up Texas, it’s pretty modest: Just a small metal obelisk and a swath cleared of brush mark the border–although there is reportedly some form of electronic detection in place. The wilds of Quebec loom invitingly in front of us.
DeBrita scans the emptiness, eventually fixing his gaze on what looks like an abandoned tractor-trailer abutting the border in the valley below. As he takes mental notes, we sit by the obelisk and conclude that the Long Trail experience hasn’t changed much, complex geopolitics notwithstanding. It’s still a hiker’s dream: a chance to pound your glutes into submission amid classic Green Mountain scenery and solitude. And it’s mostly protected by the same rugged terrain that makes it a great place to hike.
If you go, bring extra bratwurst. Not because your food could get confiscated, but because The Splinter might try for a repeat–and bring his friends.