Day 104: Type II Fun
A Dickens of a Day
It was the best of times (double zero). It was the worst of times (getting back on trail).
I now understand the zero-day vortex that sucks thru hikers into taking extended town stays. We could have happily stayed a week in that air-conditioned motel room. When my alarm rang this morning, I could hear rain pounding on the windows. Ugh. I’m gonna be wet, then I’m gonna be hot, and then I’ll be wet again from sweat.
Not that I’d been sleeping when the alarm went off. Something we ate at Outback had us tossing and turning all night. When I did fall asleep, I had nightmares. Twice I woke up trying to scream. Once I was pounding the bed with my fists and trying to yell. I don’t even remember the dreams. Poor Northstar.
I probably should have just called the front desk and made it a triple zero. But zeros don’t get us to Maine, so off we went, back to the trail to tackle Bear Mountain and cross the Hudson. I only planned to hike 15.4 miles, having dialed back my daily mileage after hitting the wall last week. I should be done by noon, right?
For the first time during my AT thru hike, I didn’t feel like hiking. I mean, I love hiking the AT, but I just couldn’t dig up any enthusiasm about another day of humidity, mosquitos, gnats, heat, rocks, and pointless climbs. I hadn’t even started, and I felt spent. I needed sleep. I needed motivation.
Discipline is doing what you know you need to do even when you don’t feel like it. It’s squats at the gym. It’s wind sprints. It’s buckling down and studying a week before the exam. It’s putting your feet on the trail when you’d rather be in bed. Fine. I’ll do it, but I won’t be happy about it.
I sucked it up and drove back out to the trail. And prayed for relief.
Am I a Purist After All?
Northstar dropped me off at the Lone Mountain traffic circle. From there, I could walk down a closed road to the 1779 trail that would take me back to the AT. Or I could take the paved road over to the Palisades Parkway Overpass and save a half mile of walking with the mosquitos in the woods.
Not today. I walked back to where I’d left off two days ago and climbed back to the AT like a good little purist. I’m glad I did. A few hundred yards along I saw Bells walking towards me, slackpacking again and heading south. Her parents have been visiting and spoiling her, so she was all smiles and enthusiasm. We stopped and talked trail stuff for a few minutes before moving. I needed that. A friendly face.
Now I need to work on my attitude.
Good ‘Ol New York AT
The New York AT was still serving up the same old humidity, gnats, and heat it had before my zero days. And it kept sending the trail straight up the hills and cliffs. But today I noticed that hikers have started ignoring the white blazes that lead up rock faces and have worn their own easier paths around the steepest sections. There’s a limit to people’s blind obedience.
I blame the thru hikers. They’ve had enough climbing. The little rock scrambles might be fun on a four-mile day hike, but after 50 miles of trail over multiple days in New York, the rock face climbs become an annoyance, especially on 60-year-old knees that need to last at least another 800 miles. I took a few of the bypasses. I’m not that much of a purist.
I stepped out of the woods to cross a road and saw a huge rattlesnake stretched on the pavement. My heart skipped a beat and I jumped back before I noticed the tread mark on its head and that someone had cut off the rattles. Squished by a car. But I was still on high alert for the next hour, checking myself every time I saw a brown root on the trail.
Am I a Scofflaw?
Yes. Obviously. But enough of one to disobey a trail closure sign? Again, not much suspense on that question either. I’ve been trespassing professionally for 40 years and have developed all sorts of morally questionable rationalizations to justify going where I want or need to go.
Still, when I encountered the trail closure sign at the beginning of the Bear Mountain Loop, I had to stop and weigh my options. On the one hand, I really wanted to climb Bear Mountain, see the views and the tower, and possibly see the New York City skyline. Plus, I’d read online that Rangers were letting thru hikers stay on the AT despite the closure signs. And it wasn’t raining anymore, so hiking conditions were good.
On the other hand, a Ranger could give me a ticket (or worse), or there could be real danger along the flood-damaged trail. And the signs were quite clear. The trail was closed. Plus, the “mandatory” re-route was shorter and easier, and I was already hot and tired. I could use the break.
But…even though two signs said “closed,” another said to use “extreme caution.” Why would they tell me to use caution if I couldn’t go that way? Clearly, that meant I could stay on the trail if I used “extreme” caution. I felt I was up to the task of extreme caution.
I stayed on the trail and hiked the mountain. The views were well worth the climb and the risk of a ticket. Especially a ticket that I didn’t get.
Rocky Lives in PA
The trail was fine. Some of the paved roads the trail crossed looked like they’d taken a hit during the floods, but most of the trail was actually in better condition than it had been in the rest of the state. I only saw one 200-foot-long section where floods had partially buried the constructed stairs and trail with rocks. I guess in the Nanny state of New York, when the trail gets some rocks on it, they close an entire state park for weeks. In Pennsylvania, they’d call a trail buried by rock a job well done.
Seriously, the flood damaged trails in Bear Mountain State Park were still better than most of Pennsylvania’s rocky sections. I saw nothing that would concern a thru hiker with 1,400 miles under their belt.
Crossing the Hudson
I’d climbed back down Bear Mountain by 11:00 and worked my way through the park to the Hudson River bridge, the lowest point on the entire AT. I guess it’s all uphill from here. The bridge walk offered excellent views, but the breeze was the best part.
Thank you, God, for a bit of moving air. It had gotten so humid, I felt like I could barely get the air into my lungs. And I was so wet with sweat, it might as well have been raining.
Once I’d crossed the Hudson, I only had five miles to the Graymoor Monastery where we planned to camp. But the stifling heat on steep climb up from the river wiped me out. I sat down for a lunch break, got swarmed by mosquitos, and finally pulled out my head net. I folded my arms, put my head on them, and fell asleep sitting up. On a rock.
I woke up when a noisy group of day hikers passed by a few minutes later. I got up, packed up my lunch and finished the climb one step at a time.
As I slogged up the rest of the climb, dripping sweat and brushing away hoards of mosquitos, I found myself wondering why on earth I was putting myself through all this. Great question.
Why? Because hiking the AT is a life goal. I like to hike. I like to hike long distance trails. I love the woods. I crave physical exercise. I love epic journeys. And because I hate quitting.
I also know that epic journeys have defining moments. Marathons have “the wall” at mile 22. River trips have days of ripping upriver winds. Anything outdoors has punishing weather. In football, it’s Lambeau Field in January.
It’s what we call Type II fun. Type I fun is running the rapid on a bright sunny day. Type II fun is running the rapid in a headwind so stiff it stops your boat or in such freezing cold that icicles form on your canoe’s thwarts. Type II fun is not fun at the moment. It’s fun in retrospect. If you survive.
Today was Type II AT fun. I just need to survive it.
It also helps to have goals to mark my progress, so I reviewed my short- and long-term goals as I plodded along. Today, my goal was just to finish, eat, and sleep. Tomorrow, our friend Kerry is visiting. I can make it until tomorrow. The day after that is the last day of July. I can make it through the month.
After that, I want to finish New York State. And Connecticut. And Massachusetts. And celebrate four months on the trail on August 9th. Beyond that, I want to walk into New Hampshire. And still be hiking when my son’s family visits in early September. I know what’s beyond New Hampshire but that’s about as far out as I can possibly see right now.
With my perspective and goals sorted, I turned toward the positive. Hiking in this heat sucks, but it could be worse. I get to walk every day. I’m healthy enough to hike 1,400 miles. I’m not writing reports and attending meetings all day long. I get to see my granddaughter on FaceTime most days. I’ve seen bears. We laughed with the Asmas when they visited. Survivor’s crew was a joy. I love watching Gus chase his lacrosse ball. I love reading encouraging comments on the blog. I like writing the blog. Jesus loves me. Life is good.
And Northstar is there waiting for me at the end of every hike. She does so much to make this hike happen, from resupply to parking to camping. She’s a joy. I have so much to be thankful for.
Well, That Feels Better
I walked out of the woods in better spirits than I’d walked in, though I was still sapped from the heat and humidity. As if to reward me, I arrived at the Appalachian Market, a convenience store right off the trail. I downed some cold drinks and a banana. Now my electrolytes were as in tune as my spirit, and I headed off for the last mile.
St. Francis, all dressed in white marble robes, smiled and waved at me as I turned into the Graymoor Monastery and found Northstar. We found a parking spot on the ballfield across from the thru hiker tents and called it a day.
I made it through dinner, but conked out before 8:00.
But I made it. Goal accomplished.
- Start: Unmarked Trail/US 6 (Mile 1401.3)
- End: Graymoor Spiritual Retreat Center (Mile 1416.9)
- Weather: Hot, humid. Early morning and late afternoon rain.
- Earworm: Chattanooga Choo-Choo. Why?
- Meditation: Lk 6:45a
- Plant of the Day: Asiatic Dayflower
- Best Thing: Bear Mountain Bridge
- Worst Thing (besides the humidity): Mosquitos
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