MANCHESTER, Vt. -- After hiking over 200 miles on the country's oldest long-distance trail, Rob Mullen had just 3 miles to go in the rain to meet up with his wife and father for a break.
Mullen, a 64-year-old wildlife and wilderness artist, is hiking the 272-mile Long Trail that runs the length of Vermont and over its highest mountains from the Canadian border to the Massachusetts state line and painting sights along the way.
He was nearing the end of his monthlong journey and planned to finish as soon as Saturday afternoon with a half-dozen paintings and several thousand photos from which to paint. He's also coming away with a sense of hope about the country from the people he's met along the trail.
"I'll be painting from this trip for a long time," he said during his break off the trail in Manchester on Tuesday.
Mullen, who has done a number of wilderness canoe trips in Alaska and Canada, had planned to paddle in the Northwest territories of Canada this year with three others. But then the coronavirus pandemic hit.
He decided to do the entire Long Trail as a painting trip and to raise money with his art for the Vermont Wildlife Coalition, of which he is a board member, and the Green Mountain Club, which maintains the Long Trail.
Mullen managed to fulfill his plan to hike a certain distance and then paint a painting on the first day. He got to a shelter about 4 p.m., banged out a painting of an erratic boulder, cooked dinner and went to bed, he said.
But the northern part of the trail with the bigger mountains is tough and he admits he hadn't trained properly, which slowed his pace.
Unlike paddling, hiking provides a view he can see for miles, showing peaks poking through the clouds at higher elevations, his wife Bonnie Rowell said. She meets up with him about every five days to resupply him with food.
Along the way, Mullen has seen black bears and in a special sighting, a gray fox. And he's met many hikers who are either hiking the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine or, like himself, Vermont's Long Trail, sharing shelters with them for the night or meeting up on the trail.
"You get these ephemeral friendships," he said, of the bonds he made with strangers along the way.