New York: the State No One Ever Warns You About
We reached New York State today, and were greeted with the hospitality one would expect from a herd of angry coyotes. None. Whether due to the weather (hot and humid), the terrain (so straight up-and-down that the guidebook showed a flat line), not enough caloric intake (we were buying from gas stations) or a combination of the three. In any case, we were poop-a-dooped, and had been for two days. At two in the afternoon, after four and one-half hours of hiking, we had only progressed seven miles up the trail. It was devastating to our psyches.
To match the terrain and my gloomy mood, every water source we crossed was still brown. At one point the trail was blocked by a black-headed vulture, then we saw a raven bobbing along the edges of boulders (Nate declared his love of birds and the desire to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps and someday raise a pet crow). We tried to grab lunch at a wienie stand, advertised to be open during the height of the season, but apparently we were too early. There was a creamery down the road that we didn’t even try to go to. Instead, we sat on a big rock in the middle of a parking lot and ate old beef jerky, with a peanut butter and cheese wrap, next to molding orange rinds that a hiker before us had left behind. It started to rain.
My day brightened up in the afternoon, where I learned to appreciate the hand-over-hand climbing as a great retreat from the foot-piercing-rock-laden New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Nate was doing much better than me on this new terrain, but neither of us had any energy. Still, he had spent the entire day walking away from me, only to realize he had left me behind. He would wait for me to pass and fall in behind me, but would somehow always wind up in front of me again (sometimes we weren’t able to remember how!). When we had only hiked sixteen miles at the nine-hour mark and I saw a nice little campsite nestled along the side of the trail I asked Nate what he thought about stopping short of our day’s originally planned destination. We himmed and hawed but what we couldn’t get out of our heads is that we simply were not having fun. We stopped for the day at 6:30, a bit earlier than we had been finishing, but promising each other that we would start the next day bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.
Though we started early, the morning was again disappointing. In the first 2.5 hours of the day we had only moved 3.6 miles. It was unbelievable! We hadn’t even stopped to eat a snack, shoving trail mix into our mouths as we walked down the trail. Just before we reached the Lemon Squeezer we crossed paths with Sheeps Head, a self-proclaimed “hotel hiker,” who nearly every night met his car-laden wife, devoured a nice dinner and slept in a warm bed. We had first met him in Virginia, the day Nate grabbed ahold of a moving train. He told us how exhausted he was with the New York terrain. He had planned just five miles that day (and was nearly done)!
The Lemon Squeezer was a very narrow pathway between two gigantic boulders that some hikers may have to take their packs off to pass through. Just after it was a rock face that went straight up. There was a blue arrow indicating an “Easy Route” to take hikers around the 10-foot wall, but we don’t blue blaze. With his rock climbing background, Nate hopped right up the wall, keeping his pack on his back and his trekking poles in his hands. Knowing my climbing skills
and my level of exhaustion, Nate advised me to remove my pack and hand it up to him before he pulled me up the rock. I tried to contribute to the upward motion, but had no energy to give.
About midway through the day we stopped at a dilapidated shelter to eat a poor lunch of our last tortillas, peanut butter and raisins. We were shoving everything into our mouths that we could spare, knowing that our dwindling food sacs had to last us another twenty-four hours. When we heard another hiker approaching the shelter, we hoped they wouldn’t stay long, as we were just trying to relax. But our feelings changed when Yoyo rounded the corner! We hadn’t seen him since the day of the half-gallon challenge!
Being the kind soul that he is, Yoyo became our therapist. We complained about the terrain and our exhaustion. We had only done eight miles so far this day and Yoyo had already completed fourteen miles! He told us that he had spent the previous night with more of our friends: Stretch, Ironman, Mother Nature and Between, and of course his hiking partner, Tweet. We were about to be caught, which lifted our spirits. Yoyo’s energy was contagious. In a line of three, we left the shelter and completed about a mile together before Yoyo pulled ahead of us. We caught him at a water hole, then again at a shelter before he caught back up with us at the base of the day’s last climb. Our last rendezvous was right after we played a real-life round of Frogger. We crossed two four-lane roads, with an ‘island’ in the middle. I can only assume this traffic was to and from New York City, and I was not amused. Forcing us hikers to cross roads like this is likely inevitable, but it seemed very dangerous! Nate and I waited for a while before we deemed it safe enough to sprint across the road with little chance of being squished by a speeding car.
We finished the day with 17 miles under our belt, when we were ready to be done after eight!
Our one-hundredth day on the Appalachian Trail! It’s hard to imagine that it was only 100 days to this point and it was also hard to fathom that we had been hiking the AT for 100 days! We are honored to have had the opportunity.
Day 100 was a much happier day than the previous two, whether it be due to friendly faces, trail magic or 1.5 quarts of moose track ice cream.
After a meager breakfast we hit the trail, knowing that we would have the chance to eat breakfast at the Bear Mountain Inn and resupply our food in Fort Montgomery, NY, a not-so-short walk from Bear Mountain (nearly two miles one way!). It was gratifying to see the skyline of New York City from the tower atop Bear Mountain, knowing that we started our hike over 1400 miles ago in Georgia. The skyline was huge, considering what we saw was thirty miles away from us. I’ve never been to New York City, but I’ll take the tops of mountains over those looming skyscrapers any day.
As we climbed down Bear Mountain it was obvious that the area was manicured to please the tourists who undoubtedly flocked from New York City for some “mountain hiking.” Not only were there stairs cut into the mountainside, but the path was covered in gravel and the decline was gradual. Nate and I were practically skipping! We got to the Bear Mountain Inn and were told that their on-site restaurant had just finished serving breakfast. Always ready with a plan B, we figured we would walk across the bridge to Fort Montgomery and eat at a café there while resupplying at a gas station. We weighed the pros and cons of eating now or just waiting until we walked directly past a gas station later in the day. The only problem was that we had no snacks to sustain us until then. Lucky for us, Yoyo saved the day yet again. He and Tweet traipsed out of the hotel, their bellies full and their faces glowing. Even though the staff at the front desk told us we wouldn’t be able to have breakfast at the hotel, Yoyo and Tweet knew better. They tipped us off that the woman upstairs was more hiker-friendly and if we could just find our way to her, we could partake in the continental breakfast at not cost to us! Under the guise of using the restroom, Nate and I tiptoed up the hotel’s stairs, following the smell of coffee. It was a much-needed and much-appreciated dose of trail magic!
About an hour later we returned to the trail. After having eaten breakfast and shared our trail story with the upstairs crew, we were approached by a few hotel guests outside. Everyone was amazed and jealous of our journey, again helping us realize how grateful we were to be on this adventure. We walked through the Bear Mountain Zoo among elementary students, their parents and teachers. Our packs were conspicuous among the strollers and knapsacks, and several of the children gawked at us. Not as impressed with the zoo as I was, Nate wouldn’t allow me to stop and stare at the animals. He just wanted to keep moving for the day. He may have taken a bit more time if he knew that the two bears that we zoomed past were the only two that we would see along the entire Appalachian Trail!
Having had our fill of the hotel breakfast we were able to make it to the Appalachian Market, a gas station that the trail passed as we crossed another road. Once again we found Yoyo and Tweet. They were finishing up their “lunch” and had both just done a small resupply. I was not looking forward to buying food here, where the only price tag I could find marked a 16-ounce peanut butter at $5.49. Nate and I realized that we needed food, and we did not want to deprive ourselves. We accepted the fact that this would be an expensive resupply, but we still searched the store for the most caloric, most filling foods we could find. In the end, we spent sixty dollars on a three day resupply (making our food costs $10 per person per day–outrageous!), though that did include 1.5 quarts of moose tracks ice cream, which we ate inside the market in celebration of our 100th trail day!
Halfway through the day today we took a three-hour break at Clarence Fahnestock State Park, where thru-hikers can take showers and stay overnight at no cost! We opted not to spend the night, but we did charge our phones and eat a snack at a picnic table. We were just a few days early, we were told, as the beach-side concession stand and showers were scheduled to open the next day, the Friday of Memorial Day weekend. We didn’t miss the crowds.
The showers and break allowed us to regain some energy, but we quickly became tired again as we approached RPH Shelter. We peaked into the cement brick shelter only to see two young guys sitting at the picnic table in the back, splitting a large pizza (the shelter is one of the few that is close enough to civilization for food delivery). I had no idea who these boys were, but Nate recognized them from the hiker book at the ATC Headquarters in Harper’s Ferry. It was Elmer and Bridges, two guys who we had heard a lot about throughout our hike. They started a few weeks after us, but their pace was faster. We had been hiking around the pair for quite a while, and now we finally met them! They told us how everyone they had been hiking with (our friends Stretch, Ironman and Lucky) repeatedly reported that we were “cool.” The most exciting part of meeting them was their report that they had spent the previous night with Lucky, and expected him to be arriving at RPH Shelter that night! Nate and I hadn’t seen Lucky since Pennsylvania and we were glad that he was back in our midst, though we didn’t know when we passed him. As we pondered this, Lucky himself hobbled into the shelter and removed all question. Like Elmer and Bridges, he had just taken a short break from the trail. It seemed that everyone around us was taking a break, making our upcoming stay at Nate’s sister’s house that much more exciting.
Though we could have stayed and reminisced with Lucky for the rest of the night, Nate and I had miles to hike if we were going to make it to Tara’s house by the weekend. Elmer and Bridges had told us that Mother Nature and Between were planning to camp at a deli half a mile down the last road we crossed, but Nate and I had no need to go to the deli and we preferred the woods to a parking lot. We left the shelter, hiking four more miles until we crossed a creek and found ourselves a place to set up our tent. It had been a long day and both of us were ready for dinner and bed.
Another rough morning, again centered around food. We were dragging the first few miles, during which we shared a Snickers bar. When we arrived at a shelter for lunch we did not hold back. We each ate a salami and cheese sandwich and then we devoured an entire bag of pretzel-bites that we had planned to last us through the night and the next hiking day. Ooops. We were starving. After our feast the three miles to Native Landscapes & Garden Center (marked as a resupply point in our guidebook) flew by!
The garden center was certainly hiker-friendly, but it wasn’t quite a hiker’s dream. The owner allowed hikers to tent in a side yard and even provided an outdoor shower (and an indoor one for a cost), but the only food he had for sale was expensive Cliff bars and organic drinks in glass bottles. We spent over $10 for a snack and relaxed for a while before moving on. The option to head down the road to yet another gas station/deli was available, but knowing that we were getting off the trail the next day, we decided to continue north.
As we climbed the next mountain Nate and I played the backwards-word game, where we would say a word as if it was spelled backwards (for example, stoob meant boots) and the other person would have to guess the word. The highlight was when Nate spent a very long time stuck at “atermel on” when I tried to get him to say “watermelon.” We were still laughing about it when, out of nowhere, Elmer appeared behind us. He and Bridges had spent the night off trail with friends, and they were making up for a late start by pushing until past darkness to hike over 25 miles. They almost convinced Nate and me to forgo our scheduled stay at the Wiley Shelter and push four more miles to the next shelter, but we were ready to call it a night. Plus, with only 13 miles until our pick-up spot, we had to leave ourselves something to hike the next day.
We were happy that we stayed at Wiley Shelter that night. Nate and I were finishing dinner when we noticed a familiar tent on the next tent pad over. Could it be Stretch?! Nate called out and sure enough it was our old friend! Stretch gave both of us a big hug and hung out at our tent to exchange trail stories for a while. Our favorite was Stretch’s tale about his pet tick. A few days before he had found a tick crawling up his leg. Unsure what to do with it, but always hearing that it is beneficial to have a tick tested for Lyme disease, he squished it to it’s death then wrapped it in aluminum foil and stowed it in his wallet. After laughing for countless minutes, Nate and I assured him that he needn’t keep a tick that didn’t bite him. I think he kept it anyway, as a companion. It is difficult to be a solo thru-hiker, after all!
We were rewarded for staying at the shelter again in the morning when Ironman crawled out of his sleeping bag just in time to bid Stretch, Nate and me adieu. Known for his long days that turn into long nights, Ironman had had a grueling previous day, eating a nine o’clock dinner at the deli that Nate and I didn’t go to. He wanted to catch back up with us, not having hiked with Nate and me since the Shenandoahs. It was a pity that we planned to get off trail that day and spend at least one zero day at Nate’s sister’s house!
Before leaving the vicinity of a shelter a hanging grapevine caught Nate’s eye. Back in the south, Eddy informed us that she and her siblings would have a heyday swinging from these vines; we had to try it! Nate went first and, as usual, was successful. When I tried my weakling arms didn’t hold my body high enough and I sputtered across the ground while the vine swung from one side of the trail to the other. With Nate’s help I was able to grip higher up and enjoy a better swing, without my food-less pack to weigh me down.
Stretch hiked with us for our entire hiking day, thirteen miles to the road crossing where Tara would meet us at 1 pm. We assured him that she would give him a one-mile ride to the next town so that he could resupply. Stretch had recently been introduced to Mountain Dew, and he wanted to get as much as he could while off trail. We advised him to look for a restaurant with free refills. He could drink the sugary, green stuff until his teeth fell out!
About halfway through our day we came to a nice overlook at which we ate our lunch (Nate and I split a bag of trail mix—it was all we had left!). As we approached the popular lunch spot a vicious-looking, tiny dog blocked our path, snarling and barking. “Don’t worry. He won’t hurt you,” the day-hiker owner encouraged us. We waited until the owner got up to retrieve his dog before proceeding forward, muttering about the “Keep pets leashed,” signs we had seen at the trailhead.
Just before we reached the road we came across three school-aged girls who were stopped in the middle of the trail, paralyzed with fear. The one closest to us pointed down where there were three long, black snakes wriggling in the only spot of sun they could find. Not wanting to be within striking distance, I decided that I would skirt around the snakes, walking well to the side of the trail, but Stretch had his own ideas. He came to the rescue, jumping in front, yelling obscenities and clacking his trekking poles together. This certainly got all three snakes’ attention and the rest of us made it past the scuffle safely while the snakes focused on Stretch. I’m not sure how he got out of there alive—the last thing I saw was a snake slithering toward him!
At this point we could see the road, but standing between our day off and us was a couple and a young girl, out for a day hike. We stopped to chat, making sure to warn them about the snakes, and the woman was ultra-excited to have met thru-hikers. She insisted that we each take a granola bar that she had specifically packed for us, even when we told her that our chariot awaited just down the hill. Not able to say no, we each devoured a delicious bar before saying our goodbyes.
Tara was waiting for us at the road crossing and we could not have been more relieved. We had made it through New York, the trail state that I disliked the most (we crossed into Connecticut very early in our day). We were headed to a home where we would be well-fed and well-rested for however long we decided to stay. It was paradise.
Watch the video of our trek through New York here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6×04-pYitgA
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