Ignorance Is Bliss
‘Coffee! I am so excited for coffee!’, I thought as we crossed two lanes of highway to get to the Visitor’s Center in the median. The center was closed when we arrived the night before, so we stealth camped nearby in order to get our soda & coffee fix in the morning. Inside, after discovering they had no coffee (then rediscovering the cashier was keeping it behind the counter), I looked around the tourist trinket filled room until my eyes fell on a map. Upon further inspection it was an overview map of Bear Mountain, the area we would be hiking through that day.
I traced the AT on the map with my eyes, sipping my coffee, and soon discovered something. When the AT reached the base of Bear Mountain, it went all the way over the peak then back down, almost rejoining the exact spot where it had gone up the mountain. ‘So, basically the AT magicians who designed this trail just want us to climb this giant mountain for the view? This seems so silly and unnecessary. They’re supposed to be sending us to Maine – can’t they ever just do that somewhat efficiently?’ I said to Mio.
Finished with our caffeine, we headed out to tackle some mountains & cross Mile 1400 along the way. I hiked ahead to think quietly to myself & enjoy the morning views. The first climb was definitely up but nothing brutal. From the overlook, I could see the spot where we’d been camped far below. ‘Pretty neat,’ I thought as I walked on, ‘but now to hike towards this silly Bear Mountain. I could totally hike that 0.25 miles or whatever around it to where the trail connects.’ At the next overlook I could see Bear Mountain and all it’s large glory. I noticed a stone tower on the very top, and mentally told the mountain I’d be there soon.
I passed more than a few day hikers as I grew closer to the base of the mountain. The roots & rocks soon subsided to a paved trail. ‘This is nice’ I thought. I followed the path until the white blazes signaled a turn. On my left were what appeared to be endless stone stairs up the mountain. On my right the paved path continued to what I knew would be the continuation of the AT (only skipping 2ish miles). I stood, trekking poles in hand, considering my options. ‘Damn that cashier woman and her map. If I hadn’t seen it this morning, I would have just continued to blindly follow the white blazes.’ Standing there, I reflected and realized I had no intention of skipping sections of the trail, especially such a major mountain. I turned left.
As I climbed stairs on stairs on stairs, I thought about my fellow hikers who might have made a different choice. These hikers blue blaze, yellow blaze, aqua blaze, and even bike blaze sections of the trail. While AT purists would frown upon these actions, its never bothered me. I still consider these hikers to be thru-hikers, simply hiking their own hike in their own way for their own reasons. As someone once said of hikers who don’t white blaze the entire 2185 miles, ‘Just because your neighbor cheats on his wife, that doesn’t invalidate your marriage.’ These hikers who don’t hike every mile of the trail but submit for ‘2000 miler status’ at the end of the year in no way lessen my AT hike experience. Heck! They usually have some of the most interesting personalities so I’d say they enhance my hike.
While I’m no purist, I’ve also not intentionally skipped any of the trail. This Bear Mountain dilemma was the first time I had a real opportunity to bypass some of the AT. It was a test of my personal identity as a thru-hiker. I made the conscience choice to continue to hike every bit of it. As much as those stone stairs sucked, it felt good to finally know where I draw my line.
‘When I cease to desire to conquer huge mountains and see amazing views. When I start taking the easiest route and cutting corners, then I’m just walking.’ I reminded myself as I pushed myself up the hill. As it turned out, just past those stone steps was a beautifully manicured gravel path. And this well maintained trail continued (somewhat) leisurely up the entire mountain. Like, this path and the trees were ridiculously beautiful. I climbed and climbed, passing SO many day hikers, until I reached the top!
When I arrived, I was a tad sad to discover a parking lot that allowing drive up access. It felt so touristy – packed with fancy cars and loud motorcycles and bicyclists. The day hikers were everywhere. I followed the AT as it passed that tower I’d seem from so far away. I left my pack at the bottom and climbed the stairs to the top. The only other man in the observatory type room was gabbing loudly on his phone to a friend about a hibachi restaurant. Thankfully he soon climbed down and I had the tower to myself. I looked at the panorama view and the spot where I’d stood that morning across the mountains. ‘I did this. I climbed up here. I’ve walked all the way here from Georgia. This is beautiful.’
I spent the next while wandering through the nice cars and jean clad women. Children ran around and the beautiful weather seemed to make everyone happy. Heading over to the vending machines I found Buzz, Mio, Jungle Jim, and Mosey drinking Cokes. I bought one, considered my mixed feelings about how New York was spoiling us with constant soda, and sat down to enjoy the sweetness and caffeine. We sat on the top of Bear Mountain enjoying our earned sodas. Mile 1400 was just down the hill, and I was glad that when I crossed it, I would know I hiked every one of those miles.
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