Down with the Sickness – An Update from the Finger Lakes Trail

So far our sojourn on the Finger Lakes Trail has been an interesting one – our ride to the eastern terminus fell through, leaving us scrambling to take a bus to another bus to a town I’ve never heard of, only to take a cab to a trailhead that it turns out wasn’t anywhere near where we needed to be… and then it rained.  And when I say it rained, I mean it didn’t stop raining.  For 13 days, it rained for 12 of them.  My feet have never been in worse shape.  My spirits have never been more dampened.  This trail was quickly becoming my trial.  Just when things started to look up I ended up sick with a respiratory virus.  Here is my update from the Finger Lakes Trail – the eastern third.

Getting to the trailhead had it’s own set of challenges, but we eventually made it there and got going.  The FLT on the eastern end is in the Catskill Mountains, which are rugged and beautiful in their own way – not as challenging as the Adirondacks, but tough enough to make you break a sweat.  The New York DEC maintains these trails, but maintains is a word I’d use loosely.  We got lost for the first time ever on a hike, going 2.5 miles in the wrong direction at the end of an already long day.  We got stung by nettles that were waist high.  We bushwhacked through raspberry briars.  When we reached our first town of Downsville, NY we decided to zero even though we had only been on trail for four days.

Walking into Downsville, NY.

Walking into Downsville, NY.

Our zero day even managed to turn sour.  I called the Finger Lakes Trail Conference for help – our next map showed no legal camping for 39 miles due to NYC owning all the land the trail used.  They don’t let you camp because the land is used for NYC public water supply and they don’t want their water contaminated.  When I called the FLTC, I was told I did a poor job planning my hike and they couldn’t help me.  They basically hung up on me and left me on my own.  (I was later called by the president of the FLTC with an apology because this is NOT how they handle things and was told this will never happen to another hiker again).  We ended up hiking on and met some nice locals who took us in and let us stay with them on this part of the trail so we wouldn’t be breaking any laws.  Things seemed to be turning around.

We finally got through the overgrown sections and got into lands where local hiking clubs maintained the trails.  There were lean-tos and camping on every map now. We walked through tiny towns and ate ice cream and met friendly people.  Even though the rain seemed to never stop, we were in brighter spirits.  We met blog followers and trail angels and experienced true hospitality and generosity.  We walked countless miles on roads that seemed to be in the middle of absolutely nowhere.  We saw an elk farm in the middle of NY state.  Each day, however, the trail seemed a little nastier.

This is actually the trail before we bushwhacked through - you can see how high the nettle is!

This is actually the trail before we bushwhacked through – you can see how high the nettle is!

When I say the rain didn’t stop, I seriously mean the rain never stopped.  We only had dry feet one day of 13.  The constantly wet feet along with the trail that seemed to be deeper and deeper underwater every day really started to get to us.  On day 13 I stepped in mud so deep that I sank up to my calves, the grass around me so high that NoKey actually lost sight of me.  At this point, we were at the end of the eastern portion of the trail and were able to come home, so we did.  We hitched into McGraw, NY and got a ride to our house an hour away for the weekend.  After resting up for a weekend, we got back on trail only for a day and a half, the rain starting again, and me coming down with some sort of respiratory virus.  We had to hitchhike home so I could rest up and we’ve been home for most of the week.  It’s been really hard for me to accept that I need to take this break.

SO.MUCH.MUD.

SO.MUCH.MUD.

So far I can say the FLT isn’t what I expected at all.  We’ve run into obstacles I’ve never experienced before – like a city 100 miles away owning all the land and it being illegal to camp.  There is a lot of road walking to tie the trail in to the private and state lands, which has been new for us.  I’ve never had foot problems during any of my hikes before and the wet and muddy conditions we have been facing have torn my feet apart.  We have hiked much of the central portion of this trail before and we were looking forward to starting it when I came down with this respiratory virus, but I guess it will just have to wait another week.  The good news is that the rain let up for a few days while we were home, so it will give the flood waters time to recede.  Much of the FLT was damaged by either high winds or flood waters these past few weeks, but we are seeing that the volunteer crews have been working really hard to clean it all up (thank you to the trail crews!).   I’m definitely ready to hit the trail again, but I need to rest up and let my body heal so I can give it 100% when I get back out there.

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