Walken’

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

Archive for New York

Nuclear Lake

Day 122

Location: Wiley Shelter, NY

Miles hiked today: 26.6

Miles from Springer: 1,441

Miles to Katahdin: 735.2

Elevation: 740′

Today was a very long, crazy day. we are trying to make it to Kent, CT before 12:30 tomorrow when the post office closes, because both Y2K and I have packages to pick up. That is about 40 miles away from where we started this morning, so we did most of that today and need to get up early to do the rest tomorrow. It is going to be very close.

We stopped at the last deli in New York this morning. Very soon there will not be a deli to stop at every day, and we will have to carry more food.

We made pretty good time through the day, and planned to stop at Nuclear Lake for a siesta. Nuclear Lake is the site of an old nuclear research facility, which was removed in 1972. Supposedly, experts have tested the area extensively for radiation and have deemed it safe. That sounded good enough for me, so I decided to go for a swim. It really is a beautiful place, and the best swimming hole on the trail so far. There is a beautiful lawn on one end, with a big rock you can jump off of and into the water. I suppose I’ll find out later when I start glowing in the dark whether the experts were right or not.

Pushing on, we stopped at the Dover Oak for dinner. The Dover Oak is the largest oak tree on the trail, something like 18 feet around. We were eating and relaxing when a guy parked his car nearby and started talking to us. His name is Sasquatch, and he’s a trail maintainer and a really cool guy. It was about to get dark and we still had many miles to go, and he had good news that the terrain was actually favorable ahead. Just before he left, he asked us our names, and I told him Powder River.

“You’re a long ways from the Powder River,” he said. “I know, I’m from Wyoming.” At this he brightened. “What part?” “Sheridan,” I said. Still another eyebrow went up. “What part?” He asked again. “Rice Avenue,” I said. “I used to live up on Highland.” he said.

At this, we commenced naming names of people the other might know, and there were actually several people we both knew. What a small world this trail is! Only on the A.T. can you sit down to dinner under a giant oak tree and meet people from your home town.

It was already getting dark when we set off through the fields and woods. Before long, we came to the Appalachian Trail train platform, which is the only train stop anywhere on the A.T., and it will take you right in to New York City. The train only stops there once a week at 4 p.m. however, so it is not so much useful as it is just kinda neat. It almost feels like a secret train platform in the woods, and the tain that would stop there wouldn’t be Amtrak at all, but perhaps the Hogwart Express. As we stood there, a train came. I was writing a note for the bulletin board at the time, which has a glass door to prevent all the notes from flying away. The train of course did not stop, but honked at us as it flew by at 50 or more mph. The gale the train created was unbelievable, and it was all I could do to reach over to close the glass door to the bulletin board. I was too late, as in the wake of the train was an even stronger wind, which ripped several bits of paper off the bulletin board and scattered them into the woods. I looked over to see that Y2K was wearing one of these sheets of paper, which had plastered itself over his face.

We still had a long ways to go. We went through fields by moonlight, and woods by headlamp. However, my headlamp failed so I was left using a tiny keychain light for the remainder of the hike. We got to the shelter at about 11:30, and I was asleep by midnight. We still needed to wake up at dawn in the morning if we hoped to make the post office.

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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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