An Appalachian Trail Series – New York
Interesting Fact: The first section of the Appalachian Trail was completed in 1923 and was constructed in the Bear Mountain-Harriman State Park segment. Also found in this section? The lowest elevation point of the A.T. is located at the Trailside Museum and Zoo at Bear Mountain ringing in at a whopping 124 feet above sea level.
When you cross into the ninth state on your Appalachian Trail journey, you don’t just smile, say “wahoo”, and move along. You sit and savor the moment. With Friends. Celebrating.
When things get monotonous, you celebrate.
That was our key to keeping the excitement alive. As enjoyable as hiking can be, doing anything repeatedly for 4-5 months can make even grandma yawn to an episode of Green Acres (which just plain doesn’t happen).
Another method to keep your excitement alive? Re-creating action-filled ridgeline scenes from “The Last of the Mohicans”. Some of the Southbounder’s we had been meeting along the way were telling us that the moment you enter NY you would feel like you are in a scene straight out of the movie. They were right. We even hummed the theme song while hiking, pretended our trekking poles were the rifles, and dodged each other bullets.
There goes the monotony.
The first bit of civilization for thru-hikers is found in the pleasant village of Greenwood Lake. Although the A.T. technically skirts around the town, one just has to hop on the blue-blazed Village Vista Trail, scramble down the steep trail from the top of the ridgeline to walk directly into the center of town. You’ll find yourself at some baseball fields at the end of the VVT but there are many more services in town beyond men wearing tight pants chasing a ball and each other (which is perfectly acceptable if that is the only sight you are seeking in town).
We went to the Greenwood Lake Public Library to do a blog post, resupplied, and ate some of the best pizza we have ever tasted. If there is one thing to know about us, it is that we do not make grand statements about pizza lightly (even if our taste buds were easy to please during this time). Planet Pizza was incredible. The slices were the size of your head, fresh ingredients were used, and short-tempered Italians were bickering as slices were made. All the makings of delicious pizza were in order.
Back on trail, we were reminded that lack of elevation change does not always mean easy hiking. The trail had a lot of rock scrambles and, when there was significant elevation change, it was a steep up or steep down. Even when you have walked nearly 1400 miles, the trail has a way of kicking your ass at the most unexpected times. Never underestimate its power… or some fear-inducing phrase like that to make it seem to you like we weren’t pussies.
The combination of the time of year and the lay of the land made some sections in this area extremely dry. Trail angels were kind enough to leave bottles of water at road crossings knowing that many water sources were dried up. One such couple left business cards with the water stating if you need a shower, laundry, soft bed, and a big meal, to give them a call. Being that we were in constant need of all of those since taking our first steps in Georgia, we decided to give them a jingle. Not too long later, we were picked up and brought to their home about 20 minutes away. Their house was GIGANTIC and absolutely stunning. The woman was a veterinarian but we never caught what the husband did for a living. Their only rule was that we needed to leave our gear in the garage (since thru-hiker backpacks smell horrid) and we needed to shower first before doing anything. We were VERY happy to oblige.
At first we weren’t quite sure what to think of them. They were not the warmest of people and seemed a bit burdened by our stay. I later attributed it to the possibility of nervousness (in both parties) which is perfectly understandable. After all, you never know who you are accepting into your home. Their actions spoke louder than anything, however. They bought us dinner, allowed us to do our laundry, watched t.v. with us, cooked breakfast and gave us a tour of their chicken coop and grounds while warming up to us along the way. All free of charge, all out of the goodness of their hearts. “Trail angel” doesn’t even touch the level of their generosity. It’s this kindness, this opening of one’s hearth and home, that leaves such vivid memories for years to come. New Yorkers may be perceived as blunt and brash but their hearts are remarkably first-rate.
Back on the trail, we struggled with motivation and a roller-coaster of terrain. Bear Mountain was in this following section and had some of the newest, well-kept trail we’d experienced yet.
Due to its proximity to NYC (less than 50 miles away), Bear Mountain is a very popular destination providing enjoyment for people of all sorts. At the base of the mountain was a lodge built in 1915. There was a huge car show going on in the adjacent field so we snooped around for awhile before heading on toward Fort Montgomery.
As we were sitting on the park bench debating whether to head into town to resupply (being that it was starting to get dark and it was 1.5 miles off trail), a man walked up and asked if we needed a ride. Kevin was sweet and mentioned he always tries to pick up hikers since he lives right off of the trail and sees them frequently. Simple as that. It is a bit tricky to find a ride in NY as hitchhiking is illegal so his offer was welcomed. He ended up driving us one town past Fort Montgomery as the resupply was better and cheaper. He even went to so far as to take us to McDonalds before driving us back to the trail. Again, how incredible are the people of New York?!
It was dark when we got back so we ended up night-hiking over the Bear Mountain Bridge. We caught glimpses of it earlier in the day so we had a good idea of the beauty that surrounded us while walking over the Hudson River.
We woke up the following morning to gunshots. Startled, we shot right up prepared for our imminent doom. It wasn’t long before we remembered that we were just across the river from West Point. The rest of what ensued was also quite memorable. Here is a journal snapshot from that day:
08.09.2012 – Day 147 (Rob)
We woke up to the sound of gunshots from nearby West Point. Quite the startling way to wake up. Not too long after starting the day, we stopped at a market right on the trail and got some sandwiches as snacks. The gas stations are nice around here as they all seem to have a fantastic deli inside. We’ve really enjoyed that luxury.
Later in the day, we stopped for water at a spigot off of the road and chatted with another trail friend. Mid-conversation, we all watched as a huge, menacing storm rolled in quickly. We were in middle of an open field so we packed up and ran off down the trail toward some cover. We contemplated whether to set up the tent to stay dry, since it became apparent that we were about to get soaked, but decided against it since the location was bad and we were really close to the road. As we started to climb up a ridge, the storm turned into an all out lightning extravaganza and sounded like it was crashing mere feet away from us.
We decided not to push on as we didn’t want to get on top of the ridge during the lightning battle. Before the rain came, and because we were going to ride it out, we covered our packs, boots and half the clothes we were wearing under our ponchos and put our trekking poles on top to hold everything in place (and to not hold metal rods while lightning struck all around). It really sucks to hike in wet boots so that was the real motivating behind all of this.
Right as we thought it might pass without raining, it turned worse. Way worse. There were strong winds, heavy rain, and lightning all around us. We were just taking it all with no protection and minimal clothing (aka our underwear). We ended up holding each other to keep warm while the storm passed (which lasted what felt like an hour). It was quite a sight to see. Fortunately nobody walked up in middle of this. They certainly would have had a good laugh at us as I’m sure we looked quite ridiculous. After it was all over, we just put all of our stuff back on and continued hiking like nothing happened.
We made it to Clarence Fahnestock State Park right before dark. They allow hikers one free night camping so we definitely were going to set-up here. The problem was that we could not find the campground. After much wandering around in the dark, we ended up staying in an old pavilion with another hiker couple from the UP of Michigan who also couldn’t find the campground. Perhaps that is why they allowed free camping… because there actually isn’t any! Because we have a tarptent (which is NOT freestanding), we had to tie off the tent to picnic table to make it stand. Oh well, it should suffice especially after a long day like this.
Candice bought an avocado yesterday to add to our wraps for dinner. She cut it open tonight and forgot to check if it was ripe enough yet. It wasn’t.
We were devastated.
The nice thing about staying in a state park is the access to amenities not found in the backcountry (i.e. bathrooms and hand dryers). We spent a good portion of the following morning blow-drying our wet clothes from the downpour the day before. We were lucky no one walked into the women’s bathroom during that time as they would have had quite the eyeful as the men’s dryer was out-of-order. I promise we are not practicing exhibitionists.
While waiting out the next wave of rain at the beach concessions building, we were blissfully chugging copious amounts of coffee when something else gave us an eyeful:
That, ladies and gentlemen, is a tick – a thirsty, blood-lusting, Rob-loving whore tick. At the risk of sounding like an overprotective, potty-mouthed mother, if you have any hike planned through tick prevalent areas:
Just do it. It takes all of 5 minutes to do, even less if you have a partner. Believe me, they will probably enjoy scanning over your entire body anyways. To demonstrate the areas of highest reported Lyme Disease transmission, here is a good, albeit, slightly outdated map from the CDC:
We finally got a break in rain the following day and spent a portion on top of a ridgeline soaking up some sun and drying our clothes (again, NOT exhibitionists). We witnessed our first big wave of Southbounders during this time. If it seemed like a huge group to us, imagine how monstrous the NoBo packed must have appeared to people down South. That is the appeal to doing a Southbound hike; less crowds and more solitude. If we were to do another A.T. thru-hike, that is the route I would propose going.
For those wanting to enjoy some time in the Big Apple, the MTA makes it quite easy for you as there is a train stop right on trail:
The train only runs on Saturday, Sunday, and holidays and gets you to NYC in less than two hours. To learn more about the schedule, ticket prices and station information, check out the MTA website here.
Our last night in the great state of New York was a sleepless one. After watching a group of locals walk up to the shelter we were tenting next to with a couple 30 packs of beer, we chatted with them for a bit before retreating to the tent to look for our earplugs. Unfortunately, they were nowhere in sight so we instead learned all the gossip of who was sleeping with who and how Scott is a “total douche”. Pawling, NY – we have the dirt on you!
Up Next: Connecticut Sophistication