600 Miles: Short States. Zeroes. Wildlife.

2016 Flip Flop: SNP to ME/SNP to GA

One of the best things about the last hundred miles is the number of states checked off. There is a sense of accomplishment to realize you’ve literally walked across a bunch of them. Okay, they are baby steps in proportion to the scale of the entire AT, but still. New York, New Jersey and Connecticut—check, check and check. There were still sections of rock gardens, and in some cases descents amounting to double black diamonds, with names like Agony Grind and the Lemon Squeezer, but oh the views. And the piney woods. And the exploding blooms of pink and white mountain laurel. The slabs of smooth granite and open summit vistas along the New Jersey and New York border and the emerald grasslands of Harriman State Park. Summer is here and the living is easy. Sort of.

A Weekend of Zeroes in Saranac Lake, New York

As I got closer to New Jersey, it appeared possible that I’d be able to take a few zeroes and attend the second annual Northern Forest Canoe Trail (NFCT) weekend Freshet Fest. The NFCT is a 740-mile long water trail that I thru-paddled in 2011. The trail begins in the Adirondacks in Old Forge, New York and ends at the U.S./Canadian border in Fort Kent, Maine. Over the years, I’ve kept in touch with a number of NFCT paddlers, including a few who have also thru-hiked the AT, one of whom lives in New Jersey and was planning to attend this year’s event.

Friday morning, my paddling/hiking/shuttler, his wife and another paddling friend met me at the motel where I had been able clean up, in Greenwood, NY. My zero weekend included a lunch stop at Lake George with 50,000 – 100,000 of our closest biker-rally friends, an entertaining 2015 thru-paddling trip presentation, food, reuniting and meeting up with other thru-paddlers, paddling and more food. I also got my hair cut. In short, I had a blast and am getting used to very short hair. My foot had a chance to rest and has since felt a whole lot better.

Bear, Millipedes, Copperheads. Oh My!

Up until now, I’d only seen two bears, both in Shenandoah National Park. My first night back on the trail, a small yearling nosed around a fire pit just beyond the tenting area where four of us were camping and finishing dinner. It looked at us taking pictures and videos, then headed toward the shelter which was populated with more hikers. I received quite a bit of pre-trip advice regarding what to do when you see a bear from well-meaning relatives, friends and FaceBook posts, but that night no one reached for pepper spray or guns (if anyone was even carrying), during this entire encounter. The bear was curious, but not a threat. It was a privilege to observe it as close as we did. However we were much more vigilant about hanging our food, toothpaste and anything that remotely smelled delicious, even if it was packaged in plastic. That meant my peppermint Aveda Foot Relief lotion was hanging from a tree. I didn’t want to lose yet another food resupply to a bear.

However, I did have an unfortunate encounter with a giant millipede. They are roughly the same size and color as a night crawler, but have a million legs. Well, maybe only a hundred. They’ve been present on the trail since Pennsylvania and usually can be found on the forest floor. However, the one I discovered was on the picnic table bench. I only realized I had caused its early demise when I started feeling a stinging sensation on my bottom. Turns out that the giant millipede releases toxins as a defense mechanism, like when it gets sat upon. The harmful toxins include chemicals like hydrochloric acid, hydrogen cyanid and organic acids among other things and the toxin can cause intense burning or itching, blisters and make your skin turn brown. Too bad nobody’s gonna see that new tattoo.

And here’s an interesting little fact. Or wilderness myth. I was hiking with two other women and we were talking away when suddenly, out of nowhere, I smelled cucumbers. I assumed some new plant was in bloom and none of us broke our stride. Later that same day, another hiker mentioned that Copperhead snakes emit a musk odor that smells like cucumber to some noses. I googled “cucumber smelling snake” and sure enough “Copperhead” was the search result. And you know, if it’s on the Internet, it must be true.

Regardless of the size of states, the number of zeroes or who gets to see my new hydrochloric acid tattoo, what it is true is that I’ve now walked 600 miles.

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