The State Nobody Warns You About
You’ve climbed out of Palmerton, and that high gets you through the next few miles. New Jersey and New York are so close! You dreamily drool over thoughts of pizza, ice cream, and amazing deli sandwiches. Your inner child comes alive at the thought of spending the evening with your fellow hiker trash at the Drive In. Getting that photo in Times Square of you and your pack distracts you as you make your way towards Delaware Water Gap. The idea of the next two states has become a Candyland board game of adventure in your head.
But that’s just in your head. In reality, the Appalachian Trail through New York is more akin to Dungeons & Dragons than Candyland.
Even New Jersey is manageable. Yes, we all know the rocks don’t stop at the border. Somehow, New Jersey starts to evolve from PA and soothes us with some rapid fire sights and rewards. Pretty lakes, pastoral boardwalks, Sunrise Mountain, High Point State Park. Once we cross that border into New York, however, fun times are over.
I have heard more than one thru hiker over the years comment about the toughness of New York and how it took them by surprise. Why is that? After going through the section twice now, and still loving it, I have some thoughts.
We are distracted by food.
Really, I think this is a big one. Hiker hunger is in full effect and New York is a mecca unlike anything we’ve seen since the Shenandoah waysides. I know I was not the only hiker out there planning mileage based on when the Bellvale Creamery was open.
I didn’t care if it took me an extra day to get through the state, I was going to take my time enjoying freshly prepared food mere steps from the trail.
Pennsylvania was easy.
Ok, hear me out. The elevation profile in PA is relatively simple. Climb down into a town, climb back out, and then long stretches of relatively flat ridgeline or farmland. Even I was able to build mileage and put on a little (relative) speed over those 271 miles. Yes, you’re still on your feet, and you’re still doing work for the majority of the day, but I think Pennsylvania uses a different set of muscles than New Jersey and New York, most of the time. So when you start going up and down more frequently, you’re waking up muscle groups that have coasted for a bit.
Let’s talk rocks.
If the Mid-Atlantic states could talk about their rocks, in my head it would go something like this:
Maryland: ‘Please allow me to present you with an occasional amuse bouche of rocks, to prepare your palate for what’s to come.
Pennsylvania: ‘Hey there! Welcome to the Rocksylvania Shoe Shredder!’
New Jersey: ‘You like rocks? Shall we get vertical?
New York: ‘So uh, we heard you wanted rocks. Or was that rock climbing? Either way, here’s some of both.’
Sure, by the time you make it all the way up to New York, you are a connoisseur of rocks. The rocks now turn into some pretty steep scrambles, seemingly out of nowhere. So while it would be lovely to just breeze through and hop from deli to deli, there are now new challenges to tackle.
Timing is crucial.
My first time hiking New York was during a very wet early May. The hardest thing about the trail was the terrain. This year I tackled it in a very hot and dry late June. Water sources were dry or trickling, even at shelters. I found myself frequently camping off trail, just to be near reliable water sources or spigots. You always hear ‘no pain, no rain, no Maine’, but I really think more needs to be discussed when there is, in fact, no rain.
So at the end of the day, yes, New York is tough. It is full of hard work and big rewards for 90 miles. Isn’t that what the trail is all about though? Jump on in, don’t be scared, and enjoy that slice of pizza at the end of the day. It will be worth it, I promise.
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