AT Day 70 – The Low Point

Seven Lakes Drive to Canopus Creek
Alaskan Chickpea Camp
to Scrabble Letter Camp
AT miles:
Total miles: 1432.6
Elevation change: 5633ft gain, 5440ft loss

The state of New York and I both let up on the gas a little bit today. The major rocky humps sunk back into the earth on the north side of the Hudson River, and I took a slow morning to recharge physically and mentally, caching in on what I had earned by pushing hard yesterday. The miles were not without their charm, however, and neither were they easy. The constant wiggles of the narrow and rocky track took all the concentration that my dehydrated brain could give, and the wooded valleys felt remote despite the scent of hamburgers on the wind. At the end of the day, I lay down a little further north and with a slightly more diverse view of the world. What more could I ask for?

The SpiceRack Scramble burrito.

Last night, I’d let the inconvenience of getting up to pee in a van veto my better judgement about how much water I should drink before bed. The result was a restless sleep and a morning daze. When I did finally get up to pee, I chugged a bunch of agua, hoping it wasn’t too late to avoid the worst of what dehydration can reap. And with no rush to get back on trail, I let the water do its thing while I snoozed and snuggled. When SpiceRack and I finally did throw off the covers, I was satisfied that recovery was well underway. She cooked up a storm while I resupplied from our drawer of trail food, and we sat with our plates of tofu scramble, looking at the sunny day outside through the sliding door. I hadn’t seen the sun yet in New York, and I felt my enthusiasm for the day grow, eventually eclipsing the temptation to stay with my butt planted on a cushion, basking in Spice’s hospitality and good cooking. I could bask in the sun now.

Spice braided my hair and I patched a couple holes in my gear. Then it was time to get moving, time to hike. I hefted my heavy pack, trying to convince myself that it wasn’t that bad. It really wasn’t, but I’d still gained almost ten pounds of food and water relative to yesterday’s gossamer load. In some ways it even felt satisfying, knowing that I had all that I needed to survive and thrive in the woods strapped to my back. Satisfying and heavy. I left the trailhead at 10:30am to go find all the surviving and thriving that New York had to offer.

Manhattan dead ahead.

The initial climb up Bear Mountain was tough but gentle, hard but smooth. The trail was well engineered, and I counted 439 steps from bottom to top that eased my passing up the titanic mass of bulging granite. It felt muscular, the mountain’s presence was strong. I was grateful for the fantastic trail that enabled me to witness this presence, and also for the fresh porta potty on top that enabled me to not defile it. From the summit, I gained my second view of the Manhattan skyline, fuller, clearer, closer than before, though just as disturbing. As I stood motionless on a sunny ledge, trying to understand how buildings could be so tall and skinny, my pinwheel hummed in the wind, the colors bluring to match my hazy brain.

Hessian Lake, where some stuff went down during the Revolutionary War.

If I thought the trail up the mountain was good, then the trail down the other side was a stunning achievement. About a thousand carefully placed stone steps ensured my safe descent down cliffs and around boulders to the park below. And after the ludicrous hiking of yesterday morning, I was in no mind to complain about stairs, no matter how many of them there were. At the bottom, I battled the wind around Hessian Lake, between empty picnic benches and trash barrels. The season was not quite ripe for the park-going residents of the state, but the grassy lawn was ready for them when that first warm weekend hit. I was glad that it wasn’t today, however, and enjoyed the peace of my solitude and the absence of lines for the water fountains. I gulped from each one, trying to kick out the dregs of my headache.

It doesn’t get any lower than this. Across the Hudson we go.

The section of trail that visits the adjacent zoo was closed for construction, so I took the detour next to the road instead. Then it was a half mile straight shot across the mighty and storied Hudson River on the Bear Mountain Bridge. It was both easy and unsatisfying to draw comparisons between this crossing and the one across the Columbia River on The Bridge Of The Gods on the PCT. Both were the low points of their respective trails, and both crossed famous rivers, but that’s where the similarities ended for me. I rummaged around, probing my subconscious for a subjective emotional connection, but came back empty handed. While there were similarities between the two, the differences were too important to overcome through willpower alone. The Bridge Of The Gods was a significant milestone, a transmuting walkway from Oregon to Washington that changed mere footsteps into an awakening of hope and refresh of the spirit. The Hudson River was big and awesome, but I felt little change in myself. On the other side, I was still in New York, still many states from the last, and still way to far from the end to even consider it. The major spiritual shift would come, I was sure, but it would not be found at the crossing of the Hudson.

Okay, okay, so maybe there were some short patches of flat.

The trail left the pavement for good on the north side, shooting skyward up a rocky and rooted clamber into the Hudson Highlands. The wind buzzed and pushed the puffy clouds north along with me and I was grateful for its chill and their shade. After the initial climb, the trail eased up a little bit while never showing a patch of flat. I pushed as hard as my hazy brain would allow through classic Appalachian hardwood forest. Dense tickets of mountain laurel provided hope that I hadn’t out-walked their range before the spring bloom.

I checked out the trailside Appalachian Market Deli for something yummy, but wasn’t feeling up to the task of being the polite, though troublesome vegan who asks for something not on the menu. I just washed my hands in the bathroom and looked longingly at the piles of bagels instead. Inspired and hungry, I stopped along the next quiet road on a wide patch of green lawn and cracked into my own food stores. It was no sandwich, but chips and trail mix will never get old.

I’m not calling it easy, but it is beautiful.

I was wind-chilled and stiff by the time I creaked to my feet to finish off the day. I pumped my arms and legs as fast as I could to warm up again, a frozen slowness gradually becoming my limber stride. And I needed all of my limberness to follow the tight twists and turns of the trail, the short and steep ascents and descents. Nothing came easy, and after a few hours, I found myself hungry and thirsty. Normally I eat a bar or sip some water when there is an easy stretch of trail. With those totally absent, I’d forgotten to throw fuel on my fire. I stopped, ate, and drank.

Blobs of sunset hanging in the sky.

The puffy clouds turned into glowing lanterns hanging in a dark sky as the last evening rays of sunshine lifted from the treetops. I wound through a final few patches of laurel and around a couple more of the ancient stone walls that divided the forest. I wondered what this land had looked like before the rocks were collected and laid. What ancient trees had grown? What wisdom had been cut, burned, and turned into furniture? I also wondered what these divided pastures looked like back in their heyday. I’m sure that it was a beautiful time as well.

Camp appeared just when I needed it to. The dark was coming on fast as I pitched my tent and filtered water. Without the sun or movement, I quickly grew chilled and dived under my quilt, just laying there, regrouping my warmth. My head haze was mostly lifted now, and I sat alert to the sounds of the forest between scoops of beans. Nothing but the rustles of things getting tossed in the wind. Nothing but another good day on the trail.

This post was originally published on my blog Check it out for trip reports from my other hikes including the CDT and Sierra High Route.

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Comments 3

  • Pcs : May 5th

    Nice legs

  • Richard : May 5th

    Hey Owen,
    Enjoying your blog, look forward to it daily. FYI, The Hudson R. runs N-S, so you’re either on the west or north side.

    • Richard : May 5th

      My comment should read..

      “west or east side”.


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