Day 107: Goodbye New York
Another goal accomplished: I made it through July. I survived the heat, humidity, rocks, and bugs. Next up: Get out of New York and into New England.
Home For the Night
We boondocked at the NY55 AT parking area, a small dirt lot that had all the amenities we’ve come to expect: all-night road noise, large mud puddles for Gus to wade through, and poison ivy around the perimeter. Ahhh, home.
The parking lot connected to the AT via a short blue-blaze. As I hiked out a 300-foot connector trail at sunrise, skipping the 500 feet of the AT I’d missed when I’d come down the highway to the parking area yesterday afternoon, I thought back to the consternation I’d had about such short blue blazes three months ago. How silly. AT culture can be weirdly conformist and Pharisaical about the trail.
First up for today: Nuclear Lake. In the 1950’s, according to the internet, the Rockefellers financed a nuclear research facility on the south side of this remote mountain lake. An explosion in the 1970’s, and probably more than a little carelessness with waste disposal for several decades, severely contamination the lake with radioactive material. After the research facilities were demolished, the ATC decided it would make a great location for the trail. To be safe, they don’t allow camping near the lake.
I didn’t bring a Geiger Counter or do anything more than a quick Google search, so I can’t verify whether any of the story is true. From my perspective, Nuclear Lake was lovely – ringed by trees, low morning mists blowing swiftly over still waters, beaver swimming to and from their lodge, and sunrise reflecting off the lake. I saw a dozen campsites and fire rings from people who’ve ignored the no camping rule, but no “Don’t Touch the Water” signs. Perhaps its name is warning enough.
As I hiked the perimeter of Nuclear Lake, Northstar texted me a photo of two older hikers looking up at her through the van window. Her text read, “Giving these guys a ride. If you don’t hear from me later, it was them.” Funny girl.
Spoiler alert: They didn’t.
Apparently, they woke her up before 8:00 a.m. banging on the van window, asking for a ride. Still groggy, she asked, “Where do you want to go?” They replied, “Anywhere. Out of here. We’re done.”
A little less groggily, she told them she’d need to see identification and that she’d be texting their pictures to her daughter who works in law enforcement. On the ride into Pauling, they told her they’d just quit the AT. The heat, humidity, bugs, the long green tunnel, the terrain, their age, and their knees were too much. They weren’t having fun.
I can sympathize with them, but I’m not there yet. Especially not today, as the air was dry (ish), the sky was blue, and best of all, the projected high was only 72 F. Perfect hiking weather. And I had a lovely radioactive lake to visit.
The problem with yelling at someone on the trail is that you’re likely to see them again. If not that day, then the next or the day after. In fact, you have a fair chance of seeing them every day for weeks.
I hiked past a couple of tents and recognized the guy who’d yelled at me yesterday for accidentally scaring him. Yes, accidentally. I had made what I thought was an appropriate level of warning sounds. He recognized me too, so I waved, and then coughed a few times and made sure to click every possible rock with my trekking poles as I walked past. I think he chuckled as he waved back.
At the next climb I chatted with a section hiker who told me that he’d also hiked past the Bear Mountain closures, but that he’d been given permission by the ranger on duty at the detour. I’m glad I listened to my gut and didn’t needlessly skip that section.
An hour later, I hiked past the Dover Oak, a seven-foot diameter oak that sits right by the trail at a road crossing. AT lore used to call it the biggest oak on the AT, but now I notice that it’s described as “one of the largest.” I can sympathize with that too. I hate it when facts get in the way of good story.
Then came another long boardwalk, built in the same style as New Jersey’s Appalachian Trail Boardwalk. This one crossed a thick, reedy marsh which ends at the famous AT railroad stop. AT hikers can (or used to be able to?) catch a commuter train directly into New York City.
A Trip to the Big Apple?
Frankly, I can’t imagine a harsher transition from the trail than downtown Manhattan. I think my head would explode. My mom grew up across the river in New Jersey, my grandfather worked in the City, both my parents went to Columbia (in the 40’s before it was a big deal), and I had high school friends who lived there. As a kid, I loved visiting New York.
But after living in Arizona for two decades, we decided to take the family there on a trip back east. We went to all the places I used to love. I absolutely hated it. I couldn’t see the sky, it was noisy, dirty, and expensive, and too many people crowded the sidewalks. Living in the West had changed me. I had such a sense of relief when we crawled through a traffic jam across the George Washington Bridge and headed north on the Palisades Parkway through the woods. Never again. Certainly not on this trip.
Back on the Trail
Feeling no lure toward Gotham, I hurriedly crossed the railroad tracks, climbed over a rickety wooden stile and began a long, soothing meadow walk. Acres of chicory, wild carrot, purple clover, and other wildflowers surrounded the trail as it meandered across the fields past a cool wooden water tower, old barns, and farmhouses before returning to the shady woods. I walked under a cloudless blue sky and reveled in the cool breeze.
Another Accidental Blue Blaze (on the real AT)
I crossed a quiet road and saw signs about a bridge out ahead and that I should follow the trail re-route along the road. What I didn’t get was that the signs meant I should start following the road right then. Instead, I saw a white blaze along a trail that led into the woods. So, I went into the woods. Right towards the dangerous bridge failure.
I walked happily along, enjoying the soft lighting, shade, and trees until I came to a stream crossing. The remains of a wooden footbridge lay plastered to the far bank. A thin rope replaced what had been the bridge. A young man camped on our side of the stream, who was drying out his clothes over a smoky fire, looked over and smiled at me and asked if I planned to slackline across.
Cautiously, I walked up to the streambank by the rushing, half-foot deep water and stepped across. I almost had to jump, as the torrent was nearly a full stride wide.
Yup. Another overblown trail warning. During the flood that took out the bridge, I’m sure the re-route was needed, but no longer. I’d saved a mile of walking pavement and dodging cars through my mistake and had been rewarded with a nice walk in the woods that took me right to the Connecticut border.
Thanks For the Memories, New York
New York had saved its best for last. What a privilege to walk today’s section of trail. No PUD’s (PUD: pointless ups and downs), almost no rocks, no cliff face scrambles, plenty of water (albeit radioactive), lakes, meadows, views, and clean air. The trail was well-blazed for a change, was well built, and made sense. Several times, I stopped to just breathe and enjoy the loneliness, quiet, and lighting of the woods. The last two day’s weather didn’t hurt either.
I needed a day like today. I could almost forgive New York for torturing me over the last week.
That said, I’m stoked to be leaving New York behind and entering New England. A few times this morning I caught views of what looked like the beginnings of the real mountains to the north. I’m excited to get there.
New England welcomed me with a steep climb and descent over Ten-Mile Hill, yet another AT viewless summit. I put it down to training for the climbs to come. After that came a nice walk along the Tenmile and Housatonic Rivers. I love river walks, listening to the stream’s soft music, watching light play on the water, and waiting for wildlife to appear.
To PUD or Not to PUD
After a mile of walking the Housatonic River trail, the AT decided that we needed to head back into the woods for another pointless climb up a nameless, viewless, mosquito-infested hill that would miss the historic wooden Bulls Bridge. Or… I could blue blaze along the river, see the bridge, and avoid the PUD. Think, think, think.
Northstar texted me asking the height of the van, including the roof-mounted AC and antenna. She’d wisely stopped at the “10 ft 8 in” sign by the Bull Bridge. I should know things like that, having looked it up once myself. But I didn’t recall at that moment, and it gave me yet another reason to blue blaze along the river. I walked over to meet her and eyeballed it as she carefully drove through.
For the first time in weeks my pants weren’t slimy with sweat all day. I’d knocked out 19 miles before 2:00 p.m. and had barely worked up a sweat. What a day! I had fun hiking again.
We found a nice boondocking spot along Schaghticoke Road and started to set up for the night, but the lure of something cold and bubbly in Kent was too strong. As was the buzz of the river-dwelling mosquito swarms. We’d be back later after recharging our batteries in Kent’s bug-free sunshine.
- Start: NY 55 (Mile 1,448.1)
- End: Schaghticoke Rd (1,467.0)
- Weather: Cool, sunny, puffy clouds. Humid but cooler.
- Earworm: Here I Go Again (on my own, going down the only road I’ve ever known) – Whitesnake
- Meditation: Lk. 9:25
- Plant of the Day: Purple Loosestrife
- Best Thing: Housatonic River
- Worst Thing (besides the humidity): Mosquitos
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