Week 7 (May 13 to May 19) Trekking Through Dante’s Divine Comedy and Ending up in H***ish Campsite.

“What was this forest, salvage, rough and stern, which in the very thought renews the fear. So better is it, death is little more; but of the good to treat, which there I found, speak will I of other things I saw.” Dante Alighieri, Divine Comedy.

May 13th we started at the Secret Shelter 1346.8 and hiked to Presbyterian Church of Unionville’s SOLA Hostel (NY) and our last night of the week was spent at the Fingerboard Shelter (NY) 1392.1 Total miles = 39.2

Dessert Queen’s hiking earworm: Anna Kendrick singing “Get Back Up Again,” from Trolls the movie.
Mr. Rook’s hiking earworm: Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” and Social Distortion’s cover.


  • Fully experiencing Robert Plutchik’s eight primary emotions. The AT provides ample opportunities to experience a wide range of emotions. This week trekking on the AT’s “Dante’s Divine Comedy” Section we experienced: Sadness, Joy, Anger, Fear, Anticipation, Surprise, Trust, and Disgust. Being able to name the feelings and express them according to researchers, makes us better human beings.
    • A Joy that moved me to tears. 1) The Northern Green Frogs (?). We first heard them hiking on the swamp detour (Starting at the “No No No Don’t even think about it. The swamp is flooded” sign roadwalking to Unionville (NJ/NY)). They also were at Wallkill National Wildlife Preserve. Their singing sounds like a double bass plucked so strongly the string hits the instrument’s wood and vibrates. I’m reminded of composer and double bass performer Garth Stevenson’s haunting music “A love song.” 2) The Red-winged Blackbirds at Wallkill National Wildlife. These birds would fly in front of us and perch onto last year’s dried cattails. The cattail would bend slightly under their weight. Then they sang out ending with their distinct little trill.
    • Surprise that makes me sing woowee. 1) A little past Little Dam Lake (NY) you climb up a cliff with flat concrete stones and hiding in the shade under several trees are Pink Ladyslippers clusters. I startled hikers who were behind us. They wanted to make sure I was okay. I showed them my pictures. 2) My new favorite flower of the hike. Rock-Harlequin flowers. They grow on the cliffs with concrete slabbed stones. I love their pink and yellow bell-shaped flowers. They’re a tough little plant growing in poor soil conditions, but they cheerfully bend and spring back in the wind. 3) A rare occurrence, a Sandhill Crane nesting in Wallkill National Wildlife Preserve. We watched photographers with telephoto lens cameras sitting patiently for the right pose.
    • Patience with cows. After hiking through the Pochuck Boardwalk, you hike across a railroad crossing and into a cow pasture. There is a sign stating: “Do not approach the cows.” I was several yards behind Mr. Rook’s pasture crossing. When the cows decided they wanted to eat the grass next to the boardwalk. I waited, clicking my hiking sticks and telling them to moooove on. The cows ignored me. Ten minutes into my waiting for the cows to move, Mr. Rook calls. I told him to look at the cows. So we waited ten more minutes for the cows to move on. Lucky for me Ice Cream was waiting at Heaven Hill Farms.
    • Trust that Mr. Rook will always have my back. Several times this week when I was slipping off the rock face due to my worn shoe treads, Mr. Rook pushed me back into the rock wall or grabbed my hand to lift me up. Everyone needs a hiking partner like him.
    • Trust in myself. The Staircase to Heaven was a great climb with a beautiful view. I wish that more climbs were well marked. The blazes were marked on the boulders indicating “step here.”
  • Ohioans on the trail. This week we met alumni and fathers from Westerville, Ohio Boy Scout Troop. Plus, we hiked with Dayton’s Maybe.
  • SOLA Hostel. This was a nice hostel to stay at if you are traveling through Unionville, NY. Reverend Doug and Priscilla, both thru hikers, have created a welcoming space for the weary. Dreams for the future, they hope to add another building to accommodate more hikers.
  • Breezy Hotel Owner. I had a long conversation with the owner whose life was full of stress before his recent open-heart surgery. “Life is too short,” he said, before turning to what was heavy on his mind post-surgery, “We’ve lost our connections with others.” Specifically, he focused on how we all seem disconnected as Americans. It made him sad that he was part of this culture. “We used to watch the same TV shows and listen to the same radio shows in the AM, these became watercooler conversations. We need something like that to bring us back together.” He has taken up playing the piano again in hopes to bring people together at his hotel.
  • Trail Angels: 1) Sometimes you have the opportunity to be a trail angel. Little Bear walked by Mr. Rook and I as we were packing up at the Secret Shelter. The previous day she twisted her ankle. We could tell Little Bear was in pain looking at her face and at how she was using her hiking sticks as crutches. I told her maybe she should consider resting her ankle today. Little Bear informed us that she was trying to catch up with her tramily (Trail Family). I offered her my ankle compression sock. We wished her good luck. 2) Rev. Doug and Pirscilla (SOLA Hostel) helping an unhoused woman. In Unionville, we were passed by an unhoused woman on the trail. Her gear was eclectic: firefighter raincoat and a bed roll was strapped outside her pack. Talking to Just Abe by the General Store, he told me about trail angels Rev. Doug and his wife. They invited this woman to shower and do her laundry at SOLO. The woman told Just Abe, she couldn’t remember the last time she did these things. Rev. Doug saw how her socks were badly worn and thin with holes; Pirscilla gave her several of her own hiking socks. 3) Thank you, Just Abe, for the suntan lotion to hold me over.
  • Memorable food: 1) Pizza with the Unionville Presbyterian Church after spending the morning planting flowers. 2) Pasta dinner and salad shared with Kim and Rob at Annabel’s Unionville, NY. 3) Ice cream in the new Ice Cream Shop on Main Street in Unionville, NY 4) Deli sandwich for lunch from Holder’s General Store, Unionville, NY (Note:  You need to pay in cash and they have an ATM) 5) Ice Cream at Heaven Hill Farm, NJ. 6) Shrimp Pasta at Doc’s Pizza and Steak, Greenwood Lake, NY after getting new shoes. NOTE: We found a shuttle driver here to buy new shoes 7) Egg Sandwich at Greenwood Lake Roasters and Craft Coffee, Greenwood Lake.

malchus stafa, b. Unionville Presbyterian Church. Author’s personal collection. May 2023.

malchus stafa, b. Wallkill National Wildlife Preserve. Author’s personal collection, May 2023.

malchus stafa, b. Box turtle, Wallkill National Wildlife Preserve. Author’s personal collection, May 2023.

malchus stafa, b. Notice where the cows are and the sign. Author’s personal collection, May 2023.

malchus stafa, b. The great climb up Stairway to Heaven. Author’s personal collection, May 2023.

Thorns and tenderness

  • Mr. Murray isn’t well.  We learned from Rev. Doug at SOLA that Mr. Murray is not well. His sister/caretaker is considering selling the property to the ATC. Rev. Doug would like to save the Secret Shelter and have it moved to SOLA. Prayers go out to Mr. Murray.
  • Trekking to Dante’s HELLish Fingerboard Shelter on the surface appears to be an idyllic place to pitch your tent. It has bear hang cables, a shelter, and nice, flat grassy sites. What isn’t in the Thru Hiker’s Companion or identified in FarOut is: 1) this is a popular shelter for NYC weekenders, because it is one mile away from a parking lot and bus stop. When we arrived at the shelter, a person was squatting at the shelter and informed us that the shelter was reserved — first come first serve. They informed us that it didn’t matter that we were thru-hikers. (NOTE: People arrived at the shelter around dusk and the party lasted until beyond midnight); and 2) the human waste problem. Campers are pooping all over the place. Mr. Rook and I stepped in human waste several times heading to and from the bear hang. (NOTE: The next morning we went to the park ranger station and informed them of both problems. We also suggested that there be a sign posted on how to poop in the woods at the trailhead and in the shelter.)
  • Slipping off cliffs and falling. This week I fell three times all because of my shoe’s treads. One fall created a permanent greenish-brown stain from moss on the bottom of my Patagonia jacket. I was angry that the color went straight through the fabric. (Noted: Hey, I didn’t give up and I got back up again with bruises on my elbows and shins).
  • Dante’s Purgatory.  Agony Grind, Lemon Squeezer, and the climb up to several ledges after Fitzgerald Falls (NY). Both times I stopped, assessed how the HELL I was going to climb this obstacle, and apologized to Mr. Rook for getting us into this hot mess. The white blazes offered no directions on how to climb up or down. The blaze seems slapped onto a random rock or dead tree trunk. (You’re on your own baby.) Each time, I was fearful of the climbs with my heart sinking into my stomach. Fearful I’d fall and have some horrific injury and be life flighted to the nearest hospital.
  • Watching Maybe (fellow Ohio flip flopper) tumble down a cliff. I can’t get that vision out of my mind. Thank God, he didn’t hit his head or something worse. Two days later, Maybe left to go home promising to be back next year after having a knee replacement surgery.

malchus stafa, b. Lady Slipper cluster. Author’s personal collection, May 2023.

malchus stafa, b. Interesting objects in the woods. Author’s personal collection. May 2023.

malchus stafa, b. Greenwood Lake view. Author’s personal collection. May 2023.

malchus stafa, b. Princess Leia’s Tree. Author’s personal collection, May 2023.


malchus stafa, b. Mr. Rook coming back to help me at the Lemon Squeezer. Author’s personal collection. May 2023.

Opportunities and other thoughts

Mr. Rook and I have noticed there is a difference between trail towns with diners, ice cream shops, coffee shops or donut shops or a local tavern that hosts bands compared to trail towns without these establishments. Towns with these communal places seem friendlier. You walk in and someone greets you…and if you’re a local– most often the workers know you by your first name. These places are happening and seem to be the heart of the town.

There is something to be said about food and people. Drinking coffee or eating two eggs over easy at the counter gives people an excuse to talk to each other. They also help us feel connected with each other. Perhaps through these connections we would be happier.

Thinking out loud. Maybe all towns should have these kinds of places.

malchus stafa, b. And how do you navigate this? Author’s personal collection. May 2023.


Appalachian Trail Long Distance Hiker Association, Inc. Appalachian Trail Thru-Hiker’s Companion 2022. Edited by Robert Sylvester. Appalachian Trail Conservancy, 2021.

Cash, Johnny. “Ring of Fire,” Ring of Fire: The Best of Johnny Cash. Columbia Nashville, 1963. See Johnny Cash’s performance: https://youtu.be/1Osyw6Svv8U?si=E4woYhB1k2XWQMKj

Pasek & Paul, “Get Back Up Again,” Trolls (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack). Performed by Anna Kendrick. RCA, 2016. Listen to this song https://youtu.be/IFuFm0m2wj0?si=E1zlO7Im8CffiGOL

Plutchik, Robert. Emotion: A Psychoevolutionary Synthesis. Harper & Row, 1980. Summary can be found here: Plutchik’s Ten Postulates (changingminds.org)

Social Distortion. “Ring of Fire,” Social Distortion, written by Johnny Cash. Epic, 1990. Watch their performance https://youtu.be/XX7LxXEi5lA?si=QM8btH3Mbe2cgRi4

Stevenson, Garth. “A Love Song,” Flying. 2011.  His albums are available on Spotify and A-tunes.  You can listen to it on Garth Stevenson here.  

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Comments 2

  • thetentman : Dec 26th

    Love the post.


    • Beth Malchus Stafa : Dec 31st

      Dear thetentman.
      Thank you for your kind comment.


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