Walken’

Powder River’s Appalachian Trail Journey from Georgia to Maine 2008

Archive for July, 2008

God Gave You Half A Brain

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Day 121

Location: Shenandoah Tenting Area, NY

Miles hiked today: 17.5

Miles from Springer: 1,414.4

Miles to Katahdin: 761.8

Elevation: 900′

The biggest highlight of the day today was a very memorable side trip to a deli that was about a mile and a half off trail. My friend Y2K and I have become very focused upon hitting every deli and convenience store near the trail. It just so happens that there are quite a few of these in New York, so it is really tough work. The delis have been seriously cutting into our mileage, but of course, they are very much worth it.

The deli for today was 1.6 miles off the trail, which is about the limit for the distance we are willing to walk for a slurpie and sub sandwich. We failed to read the directions in the book on how to get there, which included some key turns on side streets and a small but relevant fact that the road climbs 400 feet. So that is how we found ourselves turning the wrong way after the road T’d out, when an SUV stopped in the middle of the road. The car behind it just barely swerved around it in time.  The driver rolled down the window and asked us what trail we were hiking on. He was a middle aged man with white hair, and spoke with a Tony Soprano type Italian accent. “Holy ____.” “Are you nuts?” were his responses when we explained that we were walking from Georgia to Maine. (Actually there was an expletive in each sentence above). He would repeat those two phrases many, many times during the ensuing conversation. We asked if he knew where this deli was, and he thought he did. After a few minutes he hesitantly asked if we wanted a ride there, and I could tell he was trying to size us up and figure out whether or not we were going to mug him or, as he said, were just “nuts.” (Again, add expletive). In the end, it seemed he was very amused by us, and continued talking about how we were nuts. My favorite was, “You’re nuts. (Add expletive) God gave you half a brain.” And “You guys are probably just fooling me. You’re probably packing AK-47’s in there and you’re going to rob me.” (Add 3 expletives).

It was a very New York ride. He said he lived in New York City, but had a weekend home out here. He seemed like a man with a lot of money, and as we sped along at 60 mph up a winding road with no shoulders, I couldn’t help but wonder if Tony Soprano himself wasn’t giving us a ride to the deli. Wouldn’t it be cool if we could say we hitched a ride from the mafia?

The deli was fantastic, and we wasted no time gorging ourselves on sesame chicken and fruit juice. The slushie machine was not ready yet, so I settled for a pint of Ben and Jerry’s.

All of that food can take its toll, so we just sat there watching people come in and out as we recovered. It was yet more New York-ness, as everyone we saw seemed to act, talk or drive in a very distinctive New York way. Three of the cars pulling out nearly had accidents, and there was even a guy who exactly quoted the Tony Soprano guy when he exclaimed, “Holy ____!” after he asked how far we were hiking. It seems that is a standard expression for just about everything here. A beer truck arrived, and two guys who looked exactly like Mario and Luigi hopped out. Mustaches, overalls — they had the whole thing down. We had truly seen it all now, so we headed back to the trail.

There was a really beautiful section of trail today through Fahnestock State Park, including about a mile of perfectly flat trail that had been built up with stone walls wherever the terrain dropped down, so that the trail stayed level. Our best guess was it was originally built for a mining cart track, or something light on tracks.

We stopped at the Shenandoah Tenting Area, and there were dozens of kids there from a summer camp. They were loud, but no match for how tired I was and I was soon asleep.

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Bear Mountain

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Day 120

Location: Graymoor Friary Ballfield, NY

Miles hiked today: 15.3

Miles from Springer: 1,396.9

Miles to Katahdin: 779.3

Elevation: 550′

Today is one of the days I think I will always remember vividly after my hike is over. There was a little bit of everything: great hiking, machine guns, a zoo, city folk, a revolutionary war fort, and a baseball game at a friary. All in a days’ work here on the A.T.

The epicenter of all this madness is Bear Mountain, which sits on the Hudson River overlooking West Point Military Academy. It is one of those “drive-up” mountains for the tourists, complete with an 80 foot stone tower you can climb at the top of the mountain, as well as some veding machines. This of course is all very welcome to us hikers, as the parking lot means the potential for trail magic, and of course vending machines are always welcome.

Long before we reached Bear Mountain, we started hearing machine guns and what sounded like grenades going off. West Point is just to the north, and although you cannot see it from West Mountain, they have a whole lot of the land in the area to do maneuvers on. There were helicopters flying around all over the place. I have to say, it was all really cool.

From the top of Bear Mountain, we descended into the twilight zone. Bear Mountain State Park is a popular spot for a lot of people from the city and the suburbs to come and visit. They don’t use the trails so much as they stick to the lake, concession stand and zoo area. I felt like I had arrived in Central Park. There were tons of people wearing flip flops and perfume, and hundreds of little kids in school groups, strollers, or just running around. We got all sorts of looks for smelling really bad and wearing backpacks, or just ignored completely. I got the impression that nobody here really knows anything about the Appalachian Trail, which is a rare thing on the trail.

After eating some overpriced concession food, we headed into the zoo, which is where things really got weird. The Bear Mountain Zoo is a small zoo with small cages for their animals, most of whom are curled up in a corner looking sad. It is also the only place on the entire A.T. where you are guaranteed to see black bears, who occupy a bigger cage than the other animals but look extremely bored. The white blazes go right through the zoo, and there is even a plaque explaining what the white blazes were for. Hikers are admitted free, and I got the distinct impression that we were part of the zoo exhibit! Several people stopped to talk to us, amazed at our trek. One couple paid more attention to us then they did the bears. I was half expecting to see a hiker in a cage, maybe paid in Snickers bars and pop tarts to stand in a cage looking sad for a certain number of hours a day!

The zoo is built on top of Fort Clinton, and across a little stream is Fort Montgomery, which is still standing. Together, these two forts defended the approach up the Hudson River during the Revolution, preventing British ships from moving up the Hudson at will. This did not last for long, as they were surrendered in 1777, but retaken in 1779, long after the British had given up plans to take the Hudson. I did not go across to Fort Montgomery, mostly because it was closing soon. This was too bad, as this was one of the neater historical sites the trail has passed so far.

We had intended to eat dinner at the Graymoor Spiritual Life Center, which is a monastery of the Franciscan Way. They used to put hikers up in fine style, each with his/her own room and an all you can eat dinner. However, too many hikers have broken rules there, and now they only let you stay in the dugout at the ball field, or you can tent on the field. We only found out that they have discontinued the dinners as well once we got there, but you can call a local pizza place and have food delivered. As a stay at a monastery, it was disappointing, because I never even saw the campus or met a friar. We could have been staying at a ballpark anywhere and it would have looked the same.

However, it was an unforgettable evening because Hornswaggle took his saw into the woods, cut down a tree, and made a baseball bat. There were some softballs laying around, and soon we had a hiker game of softball going, sandlot style. We eventually settled into a 4 against 4 contest, complete with bad pitching, hikers hobbling around the bases in crocs or flip flops, and plenty of errors. It was the section hikers versus the thru-hikers. I am sad to say that we (the thru-hikers) lost by one point, but only because of the five run limit imposed on each inning. The game was called bacause of darkness and the section hikers were victorious. It was a great time, and something I will never forget about the trail. It was like we were all little kids again, and despite the aches from the trail, it really felt good to run and hit and throw the ball. There was really something magical to the night!

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Harriman State Park

Day 119

Location: William Brien Memorial Shelter, NY

Miles hiked today: 17.8

Miles from Springer: 1,381.6

Miles to Katahdin: 794.6

Elevation: 1,070′

The terrain is actually getting very difficult now. It has been such easy sailing since the middle of Virginia, that I think everyone has gotten soft. There are so many short climbs and descents, that it becomes very tiresome. I am very impressed with New York though as it is very beautiful. It is really amazing how different each state really is, and just between NY and NJ there is a very definite difference in scenery and terrain.

Today we entered Harriman State Park, which is one of the more beautiful state parks the trail has gone through. One of the most remarkable things about it is its size and its close proximity to New York City. I do not know the acreage of it, but the trail takes 17 miles to get through it, and it is only about 35 miles north of NYC. Together with Bear Mountain State Park, it is a huge island of preserved land in a sea of suburban sprawl. The widow of the railroad magnate, Edward Harriman, Mary Averell Harriman made all of this possible in the early 1900’s with a land donation of 10,000 acres to block plans for the development of a prison.

This is also the location of the first completed section of the Appalachian Trail, which was done by 1924. The trail here is truly beautiful, and from the very border of the park the forest is much older, there are more grassy meadows and even a somewhat bald mountain. It is also home to a famous feature on the A.T. called the lemon squeezer. This is where the trail checks to see if you have lost enough weight to continue on. It is two walls of rock that start off far enough apart for you to fit comfortably, and then slowly draw closer as you go forward. I was glad to have lost my 30 pounds on the hike, as I just barely made it. Even my pack was scraping the walls on both sides. As you get towards the far end and the channel becomes too narrow for you to fit, you have to “escape” by lifting yourself out of the lemon squeezer. Right after that is the next challenge: a six foot rock wall that you must get over, which does not have good hand or foot holds. It took me about 3 tries to get up it.

A few more miles brought us to the exciting part of the day, which was Lake Tiorati. They have a beach and a swimming area, as well as vending machines and free showers. It was a nice stop, and capped a nice day of hiking. Papa Sarge, Sprite and Freckles caught up, as well as Thor, Hornswaggle and Y2K who were also there, and we ate dinner in the park before hiking out to the shelter.

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I Heart New York

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Day 118

Location: Fitzgerald Falls, NY

Miles hiked today: 13.8

Miles from Srpinger: 1,363.8

Miles to Katahdin: 812.4

Elevation: 800′

For once it rained all night long. It has been a rather dry summer, especially when you are relying on mountain springs for water which are now all dry. So the rain was really nice, and the trail really needed it.

I now sleep in my tent almost every night, and rarely sleep in the shelters. The drawback to this is that it is not very fun having a wet tent in the morning. It can be a real problem if you do not take the time to dry it out at some point in the day. So we took an early stop for breakfast at the state park headquarters, and spread all of our gear out to dry on the sidewalk and draped over a bike rack. It was kind of funny watching the reactions of people walking inside, who apparently were not used to seeing such a yard sale outside a public building.

A few miles outside the state park, we came to that ever-welcome sign, the state line. Goodbye Jerzy, hello New York! That’s 8 down, 6 to go. I have to say I will miss Jerzy; it was one of my favorite states surprisingly enough.

New York proved to be different from the start. We traversed this highlands terrain, which was a very rugged series of small hilltops, topped with huge granite rocks that were large, and smooth enough to make a good walking surface. It was tough hiking, however, and was the best workout I’ve had since central Virginia. I think we all got really spoiled by the flat ridge walks of PA. It was really beautiful though, beause with each short climb you are rewarded with a beautiful view.

In the book, it mentions that there is a place just .2 miles down Route 17A that serves ice cream. That is enough to make any hiker walk .2 miles. What it didn’t mention however, is that this place makes the best ice cream on the entire trail so far. It is called Bellvale Farms Creamery, and it has been a family business for 11 generations. We were there long enough to see an ice cream delivery truck arrive, but the guy delivered only cream, not ice cream. They make the ice cream inside.

Even better than that, when we got there, we met Thor’s mom and sister, who were there to meet Thor, a fellow hiker. Thor was behind us, so I unabashedly asked if we could bum a ride into town to the post office. She was gracious enough to give us a lift, and we soon discovered the Bellvale, NY post office is actually inside a pizza joint! But not just any pizza place. This was the best on the entire trail. I had a slice of reuben pizza that had corned beef, sauerkraut, and thousand island dressing.

So, a road crossing with the best ice cream and the best pizza on the entire trail is not bad for one day’s work. The only problem is that it killed the mileage we were planning, but that is perfectly OK!

We only made it a few more miles before setting up camp at Fitzgerald Falls. The place had more trash and broken bottles then I have seen anywhere else. I guess it was here to welcome us to New York.

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Wetlands

Day 117

Location: Wawayanda Shelter, NJ

Miles hiked today: 16.9

Miles from Springer: 1,350

Miles to Katahdin: 826.2

Elevation: 1,200′

The Mayor cooked breakfast for every hiker who stayed at his house last night, 22 in all. We filled his dining room table in shifts. What a great guy! I was going to ask him about his Rough Riders banner hanging in his office, but forgot all about it.

After taking in the service at the local Presbyterian Church and eating a huge deli sandwich, it was pretty late before I left town. Today proved to be the last day in New Jersey, if only I could make some decent mileage.

I passed a really cool wildlife preserve, which was a former sod farm and is now a huge wetlands preserve. The trail takes you all the way around it on three sides, and there are plenty of birds of all types to see. One of my favorite birds is a Blue Heron, which I saw a few of in the wetlands.

Just after the wetlands, I took my first fall since way back in Tennessee. My shoes got really torn up coming over all of the rocks of Pennsylvania, and the tread on them has worn completely smooth. I was hoping to get a new pair in Delaware Water Gap, but they did not carry the right brands and I was not willing to spend money on new shoes that may not work out. So, here I am almost through New Jersey and there has not been a town with an outfitter, and there probably won’t be until I reach Kent, CT.

There was a section of trail where you walk over planks of wood that are raised up off the ground, requiring you to balance on them. The wood was wet, and on one of them my foot slipped out from under me, sending me first forward to bang my knee on the plank, then backwards as I tried to sit on the plank, only to find there was no plank behind me. So I fell backwards onto my back. It was something that should have been on video tape.

Later in the day, there was a really impressive raised walkway that went for at least a mile through a swamp area, culminating in a suspension foot bridge. It was just a very unique and very neat section of the trail, as we have not been through wetlands areas at all yet, until today.

Still later in the day, we faced a huge delimma. Y2K, whom I’ve been hiking with for over a week now, got me hooked on slurpies from convenience stores. There was a store listed in the book as just .2 miles off trail, which promised to be a very fulfilling moment. However, they were closed when we got there, which meant no gatorade and no ice cream. Instead, a very tall mountain loomed ahead on the trail, which we would have to climb once back on the trail. It did not look like as much fun without ice cream, which prompted me to look in my book and find that there was a town 3 miles away with a hostel for hikers, fast food restaurants, and convenience stores with slurpies. Oh, how tempting it was! However, in the end, we somehow persevered and decided to hike up the mountain. It was a difficult thing, but in the end was for the best.

Since we were starting from the road at about 7 p.m., we were in for some night hiking. I was with Y2K and Gallons, both of whom take huge strides and can apparently see like bats. The weather was threatening, and we made it to the shelter with only 10 minutes to spare before the downpour started.

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The Mayor’s House

Day 116

Location: Unionville, NY

Miles hiked today: 20.1

Miles fro Springer: 1,333.1

Miles to Katahdin: 843.1

Elevation: 590′

Today was yet another really wonderful day on the A.T. It is really amazing to me how many of these a hiker gets!

I am still astounded by the beauty of this New Jersey section. It really is one of the best kept secrets on the trail, and it only gets better every day. There may not be any tall mountains, but the terrain is really beautiful, and there is often a view from the top of the climbs. For example, within two and a half miles of breaking camp, there was a mountain called Sunrise Mountain, which has a pavillion built on top of it, and a really great view in two directions.

By lunch time, we reached High Point State Park headquarters, and were looking forward to hitting the lake, which has a beach and concession stand. It may sound silly, but the highest point in New Jersey is a towering 1,803 feet above sea level. They have even built a parking lot, road, and a 200 foot oblelisk at the summit, and then built a state park around it. The name? Well, High Point. They sure don’t mess around naming some of these things!

As silly as all of that may sound, it was a really beautiful area, one of my favorites in this section. Even better than that, we got hooked up with some amazing trail magic.

We had reached the headquarters building and were about to walk up to the beach when a car pulled up next to us and the window rolled down. “You guys thru-hiking?” the man inside asks. “Yup.” “You like BBQ?” was his next question. I can’t remember if we responded so much as jumped in the air. This was going to be one of those trail magic moments that you only read about in the registers. We followed the car back to the headquarters building, where the guy brought out a cooler, portable grill and several grocery bags. His trail name was the Grey Ghost, and he had thru-hiked in 1993. He comes out here every year since then in the third week in July (because that’s when he came through High Point on his hike) to cook food for hikers. He does this because he had run across lots of trail magic himself on his hike. Today he had brought his daughter Liz along, and they proceded to throw us a full-on BBQ with burgers, dogs, potato salad, beans, and the whole works. What more can a hiker really ask for? Myself, Y2K, Geoff, 2-Mile and Weatherman were the only ones who showed up, and we ate like kings. Thank you Grey Ghost and Liz!

After a little siesta to recover, we hiked out to make for Unionville. The High Point monument was not actually on the A.T., but on a side trail that made you climb to the top of that massive mountain. Y2K and Geoff did not want to go up, so I went up by myself. I was rewarded with a really great view atop a beautiful mountain, with views of the Delaware River in one direction and mountains in all other directions. There was a nice breeze, and I have to say, it was well worth the climb. I can also add New Jersey’s highest point to the state summit list for this trip, which before the end will include Tennessee, Virginia, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire and possibly more.

Unionville, New York is an unbelievable place. While the trail itself is near the NJ-NY border in this section, the town of Unionville is just a half mile walk. We stayed at none other than the Mayor’s house. Yes, the actual Mayor of Unionville. I ate dinner at his table, used his shower and bathroom, and even checked my email on the Mayor’s laptop while other hikers watched UFC on the Mayor’s TV.

The mayor is an incredible guy. This is bar none the most impressive display of hospitality I have ever seen in my life! There are 22 hikers here toight, all of us dirty, smelly, and in need of food, shower, laundry, etc. The mayor takes care of all of us, opening his modest home to every hiker that comes through every day. There were about 10 people sleeping inside on the floor, and at least a dozen tents in the back yard. This is one of the largest waves to come through, but there have been even more at one time, and every night there is almost always at least a few people.

He does all of this in honor of his wife, who was wheelchair bound for 15 years and once had the idea of putting up hikers to meet their needs. Once she passed away, he decided to make it a reality. He has the help of Butch – one of his city employees, and Bill, a really wonderful elderly man whom the mayor has taken into his home.

This is the true spirit of the trail at its finest, and it is so great to be here to witness it. Thank you Mayor Ludwick and Grey Ghost for turning a beautiful day of hiking into one of the most exceptional and memorble days on the A.T. for me!

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Hiker Trash

Day 115

Location: Gren Anderson Shelter, NJ

Miles hiked today: 17.9

Miles from Springer: 1,313

Miles to Katahdin: 863.2

Elevation: 1,320′

I woke up in the early hours, and from my tent I could see across the valley to the horizon, where the sun was rising. What a great camp site! I was tired however, so I went back to sleep.

We packed up and hiked on, further amazed by the beauty of this state. There are already more views here than in the entire state of Pennsylvania. There are still a lot of rocks, but they are a kinder, gentler sort that are broken up with smooth sections and are not so persistent. After a few miles, we saw a bear. It was a young bear, but almost fully grown, just standing in the woods watching us. He did not seem frightened or alarmed to see us. He just stood there and posed for photographs, even after I dropped my poles in a clatter as I fumbled to get my camera. I got all the pictures I wanted, and then I looked away for just a second and he was gone before I looked back. A little while later in the morning we saw a second bear (which makes a total of 12 now), who did the same thing. New Jersey is supposed to have the highest concentration of black bears on the whole trail, and they are not as shy as even the bears in the Shenandoahs. Again, this was contrary to the concrete path I imagined would be in New Jersey.

In the afternoon, we came to the much anticipated Culver’s Gap, which had several places to eat. There was one in particular I was anxious to go to called Joe’s to Go, which is a sandwich shop, and supposedly discriminates against hikers. Apparently, they do not let hikers use the restroom there. I wanted to see for myself. Joe’s was closed which was kind of disappointing. (I heard later that some hikers had gone in there and one of them had used the restroom. The whole group of them got kicked out, and all of their orders were cancelled). Instead, we went to Gyp’s Taven and sat at the bar and started looking at the menu. The place was empty except two other customers sitting far away from us at the bar and one other hiker. The only employee I saw was the bartender, who served our drinks and was waiting on our orders. Suddenly we are approached by a man who tells us that we will have to sit outside or in the far corner of the back dining room. He said that we smell bad, and cannot sit at the bar because we will offend his customers.

I look around, still not seeing anybody sitting near us, and the time being around 3 in the afternoon, am wondering which customers he’s talking about. I know that he can’t actually smell us, as we just left town yesterday and I can’t even smell my friend Y2K who is sitting next to me. This guy came out from the back room, but he claims we walked past him on the way in the door. I calmly tell him that he won’t need to worry about it, because I would rather leave than sit in the back. He is suddenly incredulous that I would be offended, insisting that it is only reasonable, and in 30 years I am the first to be offended.

I know discrimination when I see it, and I’m positive that it’s no coincidence that this place is next door to Joe’s who won’t let hikers use their restroom. I tell him that if I were a blue collar worker, and came in after work smelling just like I do now, I would never be asked to sit outside. This touches a nerve, as he is suddenly angry and says, “Don’t you go there with me!” I get the impression that he thinks I am some privileged punk who does not belong in his blue collar bar anyhow. Before I leave, I point out that there is another hiker at the bar who he has not asked to sit elsewhere. We take our leave and walk down to Stewart’s Root Beer, which is right next to Dairy Queen, and eat so much food and ice cream that it’s 3 hours before we get back on the trail. This was much better anyhow, so the guy did us a favor. I am more amused than anything, but I think the guy needs a sign in his window that says “No hiker trash!”

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