Monday, July 16, 2012

Connecticut, A.T. Thruhike 2012

     I awoke in the morning at Ten Mile River Shelter, excited at the fact that I had arrived in New England. The forests here are already changing, as more pine and moss overtake the vines of the southern Appalachians.
     I would learn later that a man was found dead near this shelter the night after I stayed. He was discovered in his tent by a hiker. I don't recall a tent there the night I was at the shelter, so I assume he arrived after I had left... Either way, a tragedy and an unfortunate moment for the hiker who found him.
     The trail followed along a river for some time, proving to be about as easy as the A.T. ever gets. After crossing a road, I took back to climbing hills, and at one lookout, I stood on Native American reservation land, the only time the trail crosses such.
     I was excited to learn that some friends would be coming to visit me in Kent. They weren't going to arrive until late in the day, so I talked to another hiker, Whitewater, and we agreed to split a room at The Fife 'n Drum Inn.
     Showered, I went to the laundromat to throw my laundry in with some other hikers. While there, I ran into Dundee, and hung out with him for a while. I told him he was welcome to spend the night in our room, and he took us up on the offer.
     Once my friends arrived, we all hung out in the Inn for a while, sharing stories and laughs, and then we walked to the restaurant for dinner. It was a great time, I enjoyed delicious food and great company.
     The old man whom owned both the inn and restaurant arrived that eve, and played some beautiful piano music. He used to play professionally, and even played with Frank Sinatra. He had dreamed of owning a fine restaurant in which he could come and play his piano, and it was nice to see he had lived out his dream. I shook his hand and thanked the old man before leaving.
     It was late, so I said goodbye to my friends and retired myself. It is always sad to say goodbye to a familiar face, since I typically walk alone, and camp with strangers. But I hope to see them again someday, as with my other friends; I have been thinking a lot of how I would like to spend more time with people, and do better at keeping in contact... I am lucky to have met so many wonderful people throughout life.
     The following morning, Whitewater informed us he would be taking a few days off, so Dundee and I ate some breakfast and walked back to the trail.
     We walked together for the day, and I enjoyed the company. Dundee is a pretty cool guy, with a good sense of humor. We camped at Pine Swamp Brook, and walked together the following day. We did some good miles, which was pretty impressive considering a very extended break we took midday.
     We had arrived, in mid afternoon heat, to "Great Falls". It was a beautiful waterfall. What started as an exploration, with us climbing the falls and checking out the scenery, quickly turned to swimming and fun. We stood beneath the falls, climbed and jumped in the water, and then sat and enjoyed the warm sun.
     We swung into Salisbury to resupply, and I needed fuel. I have to say, I felt a little out of place in these Connecticut towns, walking in, sweaty and dirty, when everyone around were clearly wealthy and well off.
     I walked into the grocery store, to find Dundee holding a huge chocolate cake, and wearing a large smile. Needless to say, we demolished that cake for lunch.
     That night, we slept in Riga Shelter, opting not to tent because the eastern view from the shelter was nice, and I looked forward to the sunrise.
     The morning ended up being cloudy, and I missed my desired sunrise view unfortunately. It was a nice morning nonetheless.
     I climbed Bear Mountain, the highest peak in the state, and a mile later on the descent, I crossed into Massachusetts. I was excited, as I always am at a milestone! Another state completed!
     Being a former resident, I looked forward to hiking some familiar ground. I was anticipating some of the interesting places to stay in the coming days. This trail has been so exciting, and I was eager to see what I would find around the next bend.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

New York- The Open Road, A.T. Thruhike 2012

     Waking up in my lone campsite, I rose, packed and ate my breakfast quickly. I was excited and anticipating the interesting trail ahead.
     After passing over Black Mountain, I crossed over a four lane highway, and then climbed Bear Mountain.
     Bear Mountain was fairly tall with many steps. In fact, they are working on creating more steps on the northern slope, due to the heavy traffic this area gets. It still amazes me how much volunteer work goes into this trail.
     The mountaintop opened up to expansive views, and I could even make out NYC in the hazy blue skyline. There was a stone monumental tower, which I walked to the top of. Many people were here, and one can even drive to the top.
     The descent was long, and I came out near a lake, by a park. It was strange being around so many people, after being in the woods so much. I felt a little out of place. I even caught a few people snapping my picture, probably amused at the novelty of a thruhiker in their presence. I don't blame anyone; I was always fascinated by the concept prior to this trip.
     The trail at this point actually passes through a small zoo. Thruhikers are allowed free admission as they are walking the trail. The zoo was interesting, and its focus is on plants and animals that are native to the area. When I entered, workers were introducing an orphaned coyote cub to the current adult coyote residents. It was an interesting sight.
     There is a Walt Whitman statue in the center of the zoo. It was very inspiring, and felt very relevant to my journey! There was a passage carved in stone:
"The Song of the Open RoadAfoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.
Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune,
Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,
Done with indoor complaints, libraries, querulous criticisms,
Strong and content I travel the open road.
Camerado, I give you my hand!
I give you my love more precious than money,
I give you myself before preaching or law;
Will you give me yourself? Will you come travel with me?
Shall we stick by each other as long as we live?"

     I passed the lowest point in the trail elevation-wise, which happened to be just in front of the bear den area. It gave me a strange feeling, Seeing these bears in captivity. To me, the bears I have been so lucky to witness along the trail have signified just how wild and free it was in this wilderness. To see them in captivity now before me disposed the significance I had felt.
     After the zoo, I went into the town of Fort Montgomery to retrieve a package at the post office, containing food my brother graciously mailed me to aid in my journey. I then crossed the Hudson River via Bear Mountain Bridge. When Earl Schaffer, the first thruhiker, crossed this bridge he was required to pay a nickel. It is now free to cross for those on foot.
Hudson River
     The trail reentered the forest, and I then took a side trail to Anthony's Nose. The trail once passed over this feature, but they closed the area during the second World War due to its proximity to the city, and a military base. It normally offers views of the city in the skyline, but had become to hazy by the late afternoon to offer much views.
     I arrived at Peekskill, NY and stopped in at a small convenience store for a snack. I met a hiking couple here, known as the Lion Killers. we sat down to eat, when a former thruhiker pulled up beside us, introducing himself as Bud Heavy.
     Bud Heavy had hiked last year, and told us of how the experience was life changing. He insisted he needed to offer us some form of support, but we didn't need a ride anywhere, and didn't need anything from the store, so he gave us a little money. He insisted, because he had received so much love from people on the trail, and was compelled to "give back". He was a very cool and generous person. He plans on attempting the Pacific Crest Trail next year, and I am sure he will succeed.
     I camped that night in a field provided by a monastery. It was a large gathering of thruhikers, and I was happy to see some of the friends I have made, but haven't seen in a while. The camaraderie on the trail amongst hikers is amazing.
     The next day I hiked over some small mountains. It began to rain by the afternoon, and I equipped some rain gear and continued along. I camped that night at the Morgan Stewart Shelter with a few other hikers, Q...Man, Jackrabbit and WhiteWater.
     The next day, I hiked past Nuclear Lake, called so because it was the site of a nuclear fuels processing facility. they say it is safe now... i still chose to pass through with a quick pace.
     I crossed train tracks, arriving at the official "Appalachian Trail Train Stop". A hiker could theoretically take the train into the city from here on weekends! It was a nice spot for a quick break.
A.T. Train Stop

     The road just passed the tracks had a little pizza stand, where i enjoyed a slice (or 3) of NY pizza, my last chance to do so. It was an early celebration, because I was just a few miles from the state border.
     I also hit up the garden center there. The owners are very hiker friendly, and they provided me with a free shower. I don't pass up free showers often, because they are easily one of the most pleasant experiences along the trail. They also gave me some good, clean water before I pressed on.

Garden Center

     I crossed Hoyt Road, and officially entered Connecticut. I walked just a few more miles, and stopped at Ten Mile River Shelter. I was accompanied by White Water.

     I sat at the shelter, and ate a special dinner given to me by my brother, for crossing the border. I then relaxed in my sleeping bag, and looked out into the field before me; I was blown away by an unbelievable display. Before me was the most dazzling firefly display I have ever witnessed before in my life. I cannot express to you how I feel in these moments. I can only try to describe it: It feels, at times, like I am truly alive for the first time.
     So, I had hiked since Georgia, and now stood in New England. I am doing this.... living this, and I appreciate every minute more than any words can express. I am Walking Home.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

New York- Ice Cream to Bears, A.T. Thruhike 2012

     After crossing the state line into New York, I soon walked along the highest point I will within the state. The trail in this area proved tough, with some solid climbs and lots of rocks.
     I crossed a road soon after crossing the border, and walked up the road to a creamery. I rewarded my completion of another state with a delicious ice cream sundae.
     My first night in NY was spent near Wildcat Shelter, where I pitched my tent. It was crowded, very crowded... But not a thruhiker in sight. Everyone here were just out for a night or a couple of nights.
     I sat by the fire, and talked. The folks camped here were intrigued by my journey, and their questions led to my stories of my trip so far. They were all wonderfully friendly, and we joked and laughed throughout the eve.
     The next day, I walked up a staircase next to a waterfall, as voluntary workers were continuing to build them. I talked with them for a bit, and thanked them for the amazing work they are doing.
     I climbed several small mountains, and then crossed a Turnpike, and entered Harriman State Park, home of some of the oldest original Appalachian Trail.
     The trail started as a roadwalk, and as I passed a parking lot, I was called over by a man standing by his truck.
     It turned out to be Padio, with his Paddywagon, who has been giving out trail magic for over a decade. He cooked me a lunch consisting of brats wrapped in bacon and soda! I ate several, and he also gave me some snacks to go. I was extremely grateful for this pleasant surprise!
     I was thankful that I had these extra calories, as the trail climbed steeply. I came to a spot called the Lemon Squeezer, which was a very tight path through split rock. Then, there was a difficult section, where I had to toss my bag overhead and climb up and over a steep cliff.
     The trail here passed through stunning forest, and I saw more deer than I can count. It sure was something. I imagined how it was in the days that Earl Schaffer, the first thruhiker, passed through here on his walk to Maine.
     Once I made it to where the trail crossed the paved road in the park, I took a side trip down the road to a lakeside beach.
     I spent a good amount of time here. I sat and stuck my bare feet in the sand, enjoying how good it felt on my sore feet. I swam in the warm lake. I also sat at a picnic table and cooked my dinner, with the benefit of pumped water nearby. I then walked the couple miles towards the next shelter.
     Before I could make the shelter, as I was distracted in watching deer along the trail, I rounded a corner and saw black fur before me.
     I hadn't comprehended the situation yet, when I saw two bear cubs suddenly shoot very quickly up trees. As the severity of the situation sunk in, the mother black bear rose to her hind legs, hovering tall over the brush. She did not appear happy.
     I was scared. I knew this was a bad scenario, made much worse by just how close I was. I frantically tried to remember what I should do in this situation. I knew it so well, always reciting the steps to people in other moments. But in this moment, it was hard to recall anything, as I literally shook from fear.
     I took a few steps back, trying to do so slowly and calmly. The large, fearsome bear didn't like my choice of actions apparently, as she bolted in my direction. I thought for a moment I was about to experience great pain. I assume that it wouldn't take much difficulty for her to do serious damage with her large paws.
     To my good fortune, she stopped short of me, and instead circled the tree one of her cubs had taken cover in. So I proceeded to back into the corner of the trail.
     I was as far back as I could go from the bears. The cubs chose to seek refuge in trees that my trail skirted in both directions. So I stayed in the corner. It was an awkward moment, where I couldn't move because of mama bear, mama bear wasn't leaving her cubs, and the cubs wouldn't come down because I was there. The mother bear was making loud noises, making her irritation obvious.
     Finally, I stepped back off the trail, and into the thick brush. It was painful, but it gave the cubs just enough room to lower themselves down the trees, and all three bears scurried away.
     With my heart still pounding hard, I continued to walk, this time talking and making noise. It would be dark soon, so I rushed to William Brien Shelter, and set up my tent by headlamp. I was camping alone once again.
     I made sure to hang my bear bag very carefully and very secure that night. I was shook, admittedly. I was lucky to walk away from such a close encounter with a protective mother. As I laid out to sleep, my fears slipped away, and I thought to myself how amazing it was to witness a family of bears. This brings my total bear sightings on this trip alone to ten, if you include the cubs.
     I desired a fellowship with the wilderness, and I was finding just that.

New Jersey, A.T. Thruhike 2012

     New Jersey began with a walk through Delaware Water Gap National Park. It then took me on a climb up on a ridge line, past a perfect backpacker campsite area. It was a nice place, complete with views, and had a privy. It was much to early in the day though, so I continued on.
     The trail looped around Sunfish Pond, a beautiful glacial pond. I stopped and took in the sights here, enjoyed the wildlife, and snapped a few frame-worthy pictures.


Sunfish Pond

Sunfish Pond

      Nake caught up to me, and we walked and talked together for a while. We stopped at the AMC-run Mohican Center for a sandwich for lunch, and I pressed on alone.

     There was a fire tower along the trail. Climbing high above the trees, I could see it was raining both to the north and south, but it was sunny sky above me. Once again, I find myself lucky along the trail.

     After passing a few remote lakes, I climbed Rattlesnake Mountain, which required some actual climbing. Walking along the ridge, I heard thunder as clouds drew near, and I decided to set up camp. It turned out to be a very nice campsite, and I found serenity as I sat and enjoyed my dinner by my tent. A few rain showers occurred that night, and I fell asleep to the sounds around my tent.

     The following day, I enjoyed yet another fire tower more exquisite views on my lone walk. I climbed Sunrise Mountain, and took a short break on the benches at top. I took time to reflect on my life, and realized my outlook on things has changed. Having time to think on the trail has given me a chance to find out much about myself; who I am, and my desires. I've realized, for example, how a simple existence can make me much happier than any amount of possessions. I understand now the preciousness of life, and just how short it is. I want to see and spend much more time with friends and family... how fortunate I am to have so many wonderful people in my life! I also have decided that I would like to direct my career focus towards something more; to challenge myself, and to maybe make a positive impact.
     That night I spent the night in a shelter alone. It was a half-mile off the trail. It was a peaceful evening, watching fireflies and listening to crickets.

     The shelter itself was simple, constructed of old wooden logs. Someone with a sense of humor had climbed up and attached a satellite dish to the roof! It made me smile.
     That night, I awoke to sounds coming from outside. I turned on my headlamp, and found that there was a bear walking in the fields just outside the shelter. I watched him for a moment, then laid my head back down and fell asleep once again. Funny how I have become so accustomed to bears!
     Morning came, and I climbed back to the Appalachian Trail after breakfast, and continued on. I arrived at High Point State Park, and I spent a little time at the visitor center. I sent out a few post cards that the rangers were kind enough to see to it they would get sent.
     The trail came to a wooden platform, which gave views of the monument located on the highest point in New Jersey. The A.T. does not go to this point, however. I chose to take a side blue-blazed trail to the top, a short but steep climb.

     I was glad I did. The views from the top were breathtaking. I have to say, coming into New Jersey I didn't know what to expect. I am pleasantly surprised... this section of trail has been very nice. It isn't too difficult, at least in comparison to the rest of the trail, but it is very rewarding.

     I stopped in to the Jim Murray Property, home of the Secret Shelter, for a break. This man has built a heated cabin for hikers to use, complete with a water pump and a shower. It was a little slice of hiker paradise, and it was unfortunate I was only stopping in for a break.
     I pushed on, and ended up walking along a long boardwalk through bogs. It was an easy, quick couple of miles through bog, a very unique environment. I love the variety along this trail! It ended with a wooden footbridge over a creek.


View of the bog boardwalk
     After passing through some farmland, the trail dumped me onto route 94. There was a farm stand, and I gorged on fresh fruit! I had been craving nectarines, and was pleased at the delicious juiciness. One learns to appreciate the littlest things when one is backpacking this long!
     Back at the road, a kind person stopped to give me a lift to the church hostel up the road in Vernon, where I could shower and rest for the night. There was two other hikers there, Trotter and a southbounder.

St. Thomas Church
     The next morning, I climbed Wawayanda Mountain, and enjoyed some of my final views in Jersey. A few miles later, I was posing for a picture at the NY/NJ state line, with a huge smile on my face. I feel good... real good. And not just physically; I am truly happy. Life is just amazing.

Made it to NY!


Friday, June 15, 2012

Pennsylvania: The End, A.T. Thruhike 2012

     A good nights rest and a good breakfast in Port Clinton, and I was back on the trail.
     The trail became exceptionally rocky as it climbed back up to the ridges. I was now certainly experiencing the "Pennsylvania rocks" that people talk about so much on the trail. The trail is typically rocky, but in this state, you literally are walking along boulder fields and mass piles of rocks. Your feet take a pretty good beating.
     Climbing up towards the viewpoint called "Windsor Furnace", I passed many day hikers. Some stopped me to ask about my hike. It seems I tend to see very few people, if any, on most days. But near popular day hikes, especially around weekends, I may see many people.
     Pulpit Rock offered some spectacular views, complimented by soaring raptors. I passed the last of the dayhikers here.
     A few more rocky miles, and I come to an area of cliffs known as "The Pinnacle". I was taken away by the unbelievable views! A vast, sweeping landscape of forest and farmland... I decided to spend some time here.
     The area had some interesting caves I began to explore, but when it became a bit challenging, I decided not to enter further. I was alone, and should I get stuck I could be there for a long time. It was fun and interesting, nonetheless.
     After sitting for a long time in a meditative stance , absorbing the fresh air and beauty at the Pinnacle, dark clouds began to gather. I decided to get back on the trail.
     Not more than a few miles down the trail, it began to really pour. I equipped my rain gear, and made it to the next shelter, Eckville Shelter.
     This was a particularly nice shelter, one with a caretaker living nearby. It had wooden bunks and tables, and a nice potable water source. It was a little early in the day to stop, but with the pouring rain and dangerous terrain ahead, I decided to stay.
     I had the company of two Amish brothers, which was great. I had never met an Amish person before, and they were very friendly and eager to answer my questions. It was a great perspective, too... You can really get to know someone when you are camped out in the woods, people become genuine and authentic.
     A few more thruhikers joined the shelter, including Steve-O, Blue (whom later I learned contracted Lyme Disease while on the trail), and Nake. It made for good company on this rainy eve. When we learned it was one of the Amish brothers' birthday, we all sang for him. It was fun.
     The next day I hit the trail early, and made it to the Blue Mt Summit road crossing for lunch at a little restaurant there. I was joined by Steve-O and Blue. Back on the trail, Blue walked with me for a few miles, and we talked about our lives back home. He is an interesting person, who likes to fly planes and looks forward to RVing with his grandchildren.
     The trail took me over an area of very steep rock called Knife Edge. It was very challenging, but I took much enjoyment from it; the rock scrambling, the rush from the steepness, and the nice views all made for an exhilarating experience.
     After about 25 miles that day, I arrived at Outerbridge Shelter. There were no good tentsites, and the shelter itself was less than impressive. It was leaking and flooded.
     I decided instead to push just a bit further to a road, and hitched the couple miles into Palmerton.
     There is a free hostel to stay in there, nicknamed "jail" because it is run by the police and is situated in the old, former station.
     It was a nice place. There was lots of reading material, a nice shower.... It seemed luxurious for a free stay.
     a hiker named Stinger and I had the place to ourselves. Another hiker, Motown, was also staying in town with her folks, and they dropped by to drop off some snacks and sodas. They also gave us a lift back to the trail the next morning.
     The trail coming out of this gap was some of the toughest yet. It was steep, loose rock, and required a lot of climbing.
     The area is known as the Superfund Site. The vegetation here was almost completely wiped out years ago from the mining and smelting that had gone on in the area, and the earth eroded down to the bare rocks as a result.
     I was walking along with Stinger and Motown, when out of the woods a baby deer came running.
     The fawn was beyond adorable! It showed no fear, making little calls as it came right up to us and began licking our legs. This was such an incredible moment, one I will never forget!
     Eventually, after spending much time in awe of this fearless fawn, we continued north. We came to a person with a foot in a cast, sitting by his tent in front of the trail.
     His name was Firehands, and he had attempted a thruhike this year, but ended early because of a broken foot after slipping and falling near a waterfall. He is now parked at this spot, handing out some trail magic. We talked for a bit, and he gave us soda and snacks.
     As we walked, it began to rain. I had to stop and put away some gear, and thus was once again walking alone, as one with the woods.
     Pennsylvania is a truly fascinating state. It's unique geology, from its massive rock piles caused by the melting and refreezing of glaciers, its strange rocks formed in the middle of glaciers that emerge similar in appearance to cement, and its various materials that were desired and resulted in all the mining along these ridges.
     The wildlife is amazing; I observed countless deer, colorful birds, and even spotted a rattlesnake in the trail.
     I spent that night camped on the property of a restaurant in Wind Gap. The people who own the place were very friendly, and fed me a very big breakfast in the morning. I enjoyed listening to the ins and outs of running a restaurant over coffee, and learned a bit of history of the area.
     A few tough climbs later that day, and I made it to the town of Delaware Water Gap. This is my last stop in Pennsylvania, and once I cross the bridge out of town, I will have entered New Jersey.
     I went to the Church Of The Mountain Hostel, the oldest A.T. hostel on the trail. I was greeted by a crowd of thruhikers, the largest group I've seen in a long time. Dundee, Stinger, Motown, Redman, Steve-O, Pretzel, Trotter, and several more were all gathered at this one place, resting sore feet after the punishing PA rocks.
     I had several packages in town, including my new shoes. I couldn't wait to get them, as my current pair was almost completely destroyed. I did recycle the old pair by constructing a pair of ultralight camp sandals using the insoles, shoelaces, and a little ducktape.
     I enjoyed hanging out with thruhikers, trading stories and laughing at jokes. We grabbed pizza and drinks at the local shop. A man I met way back in Virginia, who goes by the nickname "Guitarman", swung by, insisting on doing some "trail magic", providing some food and entertaining us with songs on his guitar.
     It was good times to say the least, and a pleasant way to end my walk in Pennsylvania. It was an amazing section of the trail, and I will remember it fondly always. While it was punishing on my feet, it was also intriguing, uniquely challenging, and offered good times and great rewards.
     It was sad to leave, as the bridge took me over the river. I looked back toward Pennsylvania, and thought of it and all the states south of it; how I had dreamed for so long of walking them in the trail's entirety; and now they were done. I am more than halfway. How quickly my dream journey is passing!
     I looked north, and thought of the Whites, the remoteness of Maine, the Long Trail, Hudson Valley, the Garden State.... I have so much to look forward to. And so I walked across that bridge, and entered New Jersey, continuing northward.

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