New York is (on) Fire: SOBO Days 66 – 74

I spent one autumn living in Halifax, Nova Scotia during university. On the drive home from my internship every day, I would pass underneath a large tree with bushy foliage hanging over the road. As the seasons turned from summer to autumn, I remember noticing each day as more and more leaves turned darker, turned orange, began to fall onto the road. Because I was monitoring the changing seasons by one tree, I remember noticing how remarkably different the tree looked each day, despite the relatively small passage of time.

This experience of watching nature change is heightened when you live, breathe, eat, and make a shelter in the forest every day while thru-hiking.

A Drought On Trail

Someone told me that the AT Class of 2022 is called the Sunshine Year because of the many sunny days this summer.

That sounds positive, but I have to say, the sunshine was also worrisome.

Back in Vermont, the NOBO’s breezing past us warned of 20-mile water carries in Pennsylvania. They talked of drought and mind boggling heat. Having spent the recent weeks in the mountains of New Hampshire and Vermont, the SOBO’s weren’t experiencing the same extreme heat and drought. I wondered if it was exaggerated or fear mongering. But I also worried about the upcoming lack of water.

Almost as soon as we entered Massachusetts, the evidence for a drought became undeniable.

Crunchy, dry ground.

Sweltering hot days.

No rain in the forecast.

As we moved through Massachusetts and then into Connecticut and New York, it only became worse.

In New York, I was astounded at the dead brown leaves in the trees and on the ground. It looked like late fall, except the temperatures were still in the nineties.

Water Angels

The dryness around me was alarming. Thankfully, throughout Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New York, and beyond, water angels are keeping hikers hydrated. We were lucky to find gallons and gallons of water at many road crossings throughout these states.

It was tricky, because, I didn’t want to rely on these sources. They weren’t always there or sometimes there was none left. But, often, there were no other options. And when they were available, I was always grateful to the often nameless trail angels.

On the GPS app FarOut, comments on almost every stream sadly announced how dry the source had become. Luckily, deli blazing in New York also meant spigots on the side of local businesses that allowed for some water refills.

All in all, it certainly was possible to remain hydrated, but with extra effort and planning, unlike the experience in the early summer in the Northern states.

Reroute for Fire

With dryness comes fire. The fires along the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) are a frequent conversation among AT thru-hikers. We surmise how devastating it must be to be within a week of the Northern terminus, only to find out the area is on fire. It’s almost unimaginable on the AT, otherwise known as the “green tunnel”.

Or, so we thought.

On the first rainy day in weeks, two of my trail buddies and I meandered through Bear Mountain State Park. We came upon a reroute through a section where a fire had destroyed a portion of trail. With the rain, we proceeded through the damage, observing the charred trees and brush around us. It was surreal.

Hailing from the East Coast of Canada, I’ve never seen a forest fire. This small fire in the state park was the first I’d observed up close. And although small, I found it shocking that our earth has become so hot and dry that flames could easily engulf such an area.

Fahnestock State Park

Later, the AT took me through Fahnestock State Park. On another hot, sunny day, the promise of a beach (even a lake beach) was tempting and I jumped in to cool off.

Later, while enjoying an ice cream in the shade, I chatted with park staff about the drought around me. I couldn’t see the ground anymore on trail because it was so covered in dead leaves. It didn’t feel right for summer.

They mentioned that it was one of the worst droughts they’d seen in the area, with everything drying up and dying. I believe it.

On the News

Thru-hikers can easily hide from world news. With a scarce Internet connection, it’s simple to avoid tuning in, not checking media or watching the television.

However, I went through a phase in New York where I chose to tune in. I downloaded some news podcasts. And I was both surprised and not to learn that the rest of the world was having an equally challenging summer. Reports of the worst drought in hundreds of years in Europe, floods in Pakistan, dry rivers and power outages in China… It goes on and on.

The podcasts confirmed that the strange conditions I encountered in the woods are abnormal. And the podcasts confirmed that climate change is affecting everyone, in every corner of the earth, in an incredibly tangible and real way, simultaneously.


No Happy Ending

Someone on trail recently said to me, “And to think this is probably the coolest summer for the rest of our lives”. It’s striking that these extreme weather conditions will only become more extreme, as they have been in the last several decades.

As a twenty-something, it is terrifying and upsetting to literally watch the world burn.

I wish I had one bit of advice for a conclusion. A piece of wisdom or a single tangible action to help mitigate these conditions. But, it’s not that simple, so I will leave you a meager suggestion.

Educate yourself and others on the climate crisis. Learn the ways in which individuals, organizations, corporations, and governments can help reduce the impact. And then act. It’s critical.

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Comments 1

  • thetentman : Sep 24th

    Thx for the post. I live in NJ and am quite familiar with the AT in the Metro area. We have droughts every 10 years or so, Is it Climate Change now? Who knows? As they say ‘Sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar.’ Oh, and it gets hot here in the summer. Just saying. Good luck with your hike.


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