Soul Blazing Near The Big Apple

20/20 coming in. Passed over the New Jersey / New York border yesterday and am currently experiencing the deli blaze in its fullest. 



For anyone who’s been keeping up, my hike has been solo since I left Hot Springs. I’ve passed by folks but not been with any other hikers doing similar mileage. That’s changed. I’ve caught up with two hikers that have been right ahead of me and we’ve formed somewhat of a cohesive unit, ending up at the same shelters, hiking together for some of the day, just being pals. It’s been interesting, switching from such a ‘lone-wolf’ style of hiking to now having friends to hang out with. 

The Hotdog Parable

Since around the PA border, food carries have been light, but up here near New York they’re non-existent. Every day you come across one or two restaurants. Pizza parlors, delis, barbeque pits, the works. You can fill up on great food there and keep hiking without carrying much (if any) food. On the AT we call it deli blazing. 

It’s funny how starkly different this is from the rest of the trail before. Like night and day. A month ago I was eating ramen and tuna every night and protein bars and pop tarts every day, now I’m having authentic New York pizza and sandwiches and salads every day. It’s awesome! The deli blaze also makes you appreciate just how much of an impact eating real food has on you when you’re hiking. It’s like activating the nitrous.

There was one hotdog stand I saw mid day, and went up to grab a bite. The guy running the stand was chatting with some hikers and came into the stand when he saw me coming up. “what you gonna get” he asked, I scanned the menu and said “I’ll get a road dog”, and fingered through my wallet, pulling out my debit card. He saw that and said “you got cash?” I said yeah, then looked in and saw I only had three dollars cash. The dog was $5. Disappointed, I told him. He looked at me, then said “I’ll give you a dog” in response. I told him it was fine and he didn’t have to, then as he was making the hotdog, he put the stuff down, looked me in the eyes, and very seriously gave me some wisdom. He said “look son, there’s two kinds of people in this world: generous givers, and gracious receivers. Be a gracious receiver” he kept on making the hotdog and I had nothing to say in response. This guy running a hotdog stand just ripped me out of my normal state of mind and gave me a serious, and damn near spiritual thing to meditate on. After a moment I snapped out of it and immediately became a gracious receiver. 

Whisked Away By the Jews

Disclaimer: with the current political climate what it is, I know people have strong opinions right now. This story is in NO WAY POLITICAL. It’s just about some great folks. 

Yesterday, I had planned to hike 27 miles to town, then eat there and go to a shelter about 2 more miles up. I get to town, ask some locals about good restaurants, and head to one. As I’m walking to the restaurant I start getting asked by the folks in town “where you coming from?” “How far you go today?” and the like. It was like Waynesboro PA, the locals just loved hikers. So I get to the restaurant, eat my dinner, charge my phone, pack some leftovers in a box and head out to grab some snacks from the convenience store. 

I resupply there, and while I’m packing it all up outside, a lady walks by with her daughter and asks me where I’m from, if I’m hiking the whole thing, and she was just very nice. Another awesome local wishing me luck on my hike. I get to the road and head back to the trailhead, and as I’m walking, I hear a car pull next to me and I look over. As the window rolls down I see it’s the nice lady again. “Are you that boy from Georgia?” She says in that awesome New York accent. “Yes ma’am” I respond. “You need a ride back to the trail?” I immediately perked up and took her up on it. As I was opening the passenger door to get in I asked if she wanted me to put my pack in the trunk. At this point there were some cars stopped behind her, inching closer. She said “no just put it in your lap, come on in, this is New York” she said, smiling, “People are going to start getting angry if we sit here longer”.

So I got in and we started riding. She introduced herself and her daughter, and we’ll call her miss J for anonymities sake. Pretty quick after I got in she said she and her daughter were heading to the temple, and asked if I wanted to come. They were having a potluck dinner and everyone was invited. I thought about it for about one second, then said “yeah… I think I will come”. Before this I was starting to get into that rushing state of mind. It was 6-something o’clock and I wanted to get to camp before sundown, but this lady was so kind I felt like it’d be a great idea to go to this place. I didn’t even know what kind of temple she meant. It could’ve been a masonic temple for all I knew, but I was all in. As we were riding we chatted some about the trail, the town, things like that. When we started talking about where we were going, she told me it was a synagogue and that they welcomed hikers there. One line that just made me smile was when we were pulling into the parking lot and she said “you’re gonna see how we Jews do it” with a smile. 

The Fellowship of The Potluck

I did not know what to expect once we pulled in, but I was excited. Miss J led the way and opened the door to the synagogue. I could hear all the people inside saying hello as she walked in, and then she said “and I brought a new friend, he’s a hiker” and I walked around the corner and into a kitchen full of old ladies all starting at me. They looked surprised for a moment, then heartily welcomed me and got back to getting the potluck ready. Miss J then brought me aside and asked if I wanted to learn about the temple and the Jewish ways, and of course I did! She looked to her daughter and asked “can you teach mister Jonah about everything?” and we walked through, the little girl telling us about the kippahs, the name of the area where the rabbi stands, the significance of the menorah, it was really cool. Miss J would add in things here and there that her daughter missed or didn’t know yet. To say that it was fascinating learning the symbology and stories behind all of it is an understatement. Just the culture of New York was unique enough to blow me away, but now I was being welcomed in and taught the ways of another religion? It felt like I was a traveler in another country. 

After getting my tour, we all stood and said a prayer and drank a small cup of wine (or in my case, grape juice) and broke bread together. I made some new friends at the table, ones that were familiar with the Georgia coast, the area I lived in before hiking. It has blown my mind how many people I’ve run into that have been there, but anyway… After dinner miss J wanted to know if I needed a ride back to trail, but that there was a service after dinner too. the sun nearly set at this point. I thought for a second, something was telling me to stay, but it was going to be such a late night if I did. Listening to my heart and embracing the spontaneity of the whole evening, I decided to stay. The new friends I made at the table told me they’d give me a ride back too. I said my goodbyes to miss J and her daughter and sat down for the service. It was very, very cool. I’d never heard Hebrew before, and almost the whole service was in it. If I knew Hebrew I would have sung along with everyone but I just had to stand there! 

The service concluded and the ladies gave me a ride back to trail. They were just as kind and interested in me as miss J, and it was tough to say goodbye. It would have been nice to get to know everyone better. 

I hiked to the shelter in the dark, it was now 9:00pm, hearing the bugs scurry through the leaves away from me as the light from my headlamp hit them. When I finally got to the shelter, I saw headlamps on, and as I approached, someone hollered “hey how you doing” and I responded with the typical “good man” and before I could get anything else out I heard someone from in the shelter exclaim “20/20??!, is that you!?” It was one of the buddies I’d been hiking with. We all planned to get to that shelter that night. I excitedly told him “I was whisked away by the Jews!” And told everyone at the shelter my story. They loved it.

Truly At Ease

As I set my tent up and got situated for the night, I couldn’t help but have this overwhelming feeling that I was truly a thru hiker. It just felt that way. The day was so spontaneous, it was a great adventure, I saw new perspectives in life, made new friends, had very deep and personal conversation with other hikers, saw New York city for the first time, and just went with the flow and experienced life. It was a day so full of life that no amount of writing could do it justice. But I felt like a thru hiker. 


20/20 out.




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Comments 1

  • Jacob Ehrenpreis : May 4th

    You’re lucky they didn’t invite you to a Passover seder !

    An orthodox Jew who follows the trek


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