Week 8 (May 20 to May 26) Rain, Sickness and Young People: a return to Paradise
“Three things remain with us from paradise: stars, flowers and .” Dante Alighieri, Divine Comedy.
May 20th we started at the “Hellish” Fingerboard Shelter (NY) and hiked to West Mountain Shelter (1402.2) and our last night of the week was spent at Morgan Stewart Memorial Shelter (1444.7). Total miles: 52.6.
Dessert Queen hiking earworm: Cyndi Lauper’s Girls Just Want to Have Fun and Angelique Kidjo singing Toto Matari.
Mr. Rook hiking earworm: Herbie Hancock’s album Head Hunters with a favorite track Watermelon Man.
- Cold rain. If there could be any joy in an all day, cold rain, hike away from Fingerboard Shelter, it made the smell of human feces found on our shoes and crocs disappear.
- Boy Scout Troop New Jersey 5. This troop is from Ridgewood, NJ. We arrived at West Mountain Shelter drenched after an 8 hour day of hiking in the cold rain. The boys had made camp in the shelter versus their tents. When their leader saw us, he told them two needed to leave for tents. We said, if they could make space for two more they didn’t need to pitch their tent. Hammocks were hung and space was made for Mr. Rook and I. We were very impressed by these boys. They shared kindness with us and their troop members; and they were respectful to us and asked questions about our thru hike. Finally, we were also amazed by their outdoor cooking skills: Egg Fried Rice with eggs and fresh veggies and Mac and Cheese with broccoli. It put my ramen with added freeze dried shrimp, soy, sesame oil and dehydrated veggies to shame. (I really believe these young men would give Chef Corso from Outdoor Eats a run for his money if there was a cook-off.)
- Mary Williamson Harriman. Thank you Mary Williamson Harriman (1851-1932) for your generous money and land donation that created Harriman State Park and the Palisades Interstate Park. What a beautiful legacy you left for hikers and families.
- Bear Mountain. After an all day of cold rain, we land in paradise. Walking the Bear Mountain trails included: 1) the stunning views of the Hudson Valley; 2) carved in stair steps; 3) crushed gravel paths; 3) logged benches to rest.
- Chanting in the Chapel. I spent the day Mr. Rook was ill wandering the Graymoor Spiritual Life Center. It happened to pass one of the chapels when a soloist began singing Gregorian Chants. His baritone voice echoed and created chills in me. It was a privilege to have my own private concert.
- Interesting animals 1) Pileated Woodpecker. They were easy to spot with their red cap and black body. They were near Bear Mountain Inn and high up in a tree tapping steadily. 2) Unnamed bird that sings a 5 note scale. I want to sing along with them. Do Re Mi Fa Sol. Where is Julia Andrews when you need her to launch into a tune for the trail? 3) Turkey Vultures around Hessian Lake. They wait patiently, perched in the trees for the picnickers to leave. As soon as the weekend crowd cleared out to head home to New York City, they swooped in and devoured the leftovers. 4) Watching the birds drinking from the spring at Graymoor Spiritual Life Center. It made me think of St. Francis, the patron saint to the birds, animals and the environment. I think we need more St. Fancises around or maybe more of us to step into his shoes to protect this beautiful earth. 5) Red Efts count for this week = 3. Total for the hike = 14.
- Bears. In some of the New York shelters there is a “red logbook” for bear sightings, the past several days we read that bears had awakened from their winter nap and were out roaming. At the William Brien Memorial Shelter, two bears had shown up the prior evening trying to get the hanging food bags. Our bear sighting occurred near the trailhead just north of Interstate 84, NY. A pond appeared over the rise and I commented to Mr. Rook how lovely it was in the middle of the woods. I began to pull out my camera. In my brain, I also registered that “there’s a bear in the lovely pond taking a bath”. Mr. Rook said it out loud: “There’s a bear in the pond.” He began to pull out his camera to take a picture of the bear. He continued to walk forward while I began walking backwards. Neither of us got a picture of the bear or the lovely pond with the bear in it or the empty lovely pond. The bear took off into the woods, we’d interrupted their relaxing soak.
- YouTube heroes seen on the trail: 1) Jeff and Maila. We began watching Jeff and Maila when we met them at Graymoor Spiritual Life Center and two more times up the trail. 2) Taylor the Nahamsha Hiker. We saw her at Danny’s Pizzeria. This was a big thrill for me. Taylor had helped me cope at home through the pandemic with her hiking vlog.
- Personal Zoo Tour Guide. We hiked into the Trailside Museum and Zoo and a woman began to walk with us. She asked about our hike and offered to show us through the zoo. We learned that her parents met at the zoo and she has come to the zoo almost weekly since she was in a stroller. Our personal tour guide gave a historical perspective of how she has seen the zoo change. Thank you tour guide.
- Trail Angels. 1) A stash of Almond Joy Bars from one of the Moms from Ridgewood, NJ Boy Scout Troop 5 at West Mountain Shelter (NY). 2) Two bags of cheddar Gold Fishes from Dezja at the Perkins Memorial Tower (NY). Dezja came up to us because of our age. This was the first time she had met a woman hiking the Appalachian Trail in her sixties. She said, “Being over sixty limited her view of what type of hiking is possible.” Seeing me, encouraged her to maybe try a backpacking adventure. I told her to check out TheTrek.co because there are women blogging who are older than me. 3) Trail maintenance crew weed whacking from RPH shelter to NY 52. 4) Thank you Section Hikers’ shuttle driver who gave us apples, oranges, and carrots (Interstate 84, NY). 5) Thank you to the water caches due to the well closures, especially at Interstate 84, NY.
- Memorable Food. 1) Watermelon chunks and Cappuccino at the Hiker’s Cafe and Stand 10. 2) My 60th Birthday Supper at 1915. Roasted beets, roasted organic half chicken, roasted rainbow carrots and lemon raspberry tart. (We happened to be dining with West Point Alumni who looked to be in their mid-sixties. The best entertainment came when an alumnus made a “Top Gun” grand entrance. He was wearing mirrored aviator glasses and his West Point, gray cadet jacket. We noticed women attending this event not attached to a partner; we wondered if any could be the first women to attend West Point.) 3) Classic Italian Rainbow CakeBites and Veggie Quesadilla (too big for Mr. Rook and I to consume in one sitting) from the Appalachian Market Deli, (US 9, NY). 4) Gelato at Danny’s Pizzeria, (NY 52).
We confessed to the ATC, the National and State Park Service and the NY and NJ Hiking Club at Anthony’s Nose. “Forgive us. No, we didn’t take the ‘scenic’ byway. We crossed the Palisades Interstate Parkway following several other NOBOs and SOBOs after an all day hike in the cold rain.” (NOTE: We confessed to a committee meeting at the base of Anthony’s Nose to finalize trail improvement: the carved in rock staircase. This improvement is to make the Appalachian Trail more accessible for all people, especially families. We surmise that this improvement is on hold due to trail damage on and around Bear Mountain due to the excessive rains and flooding this summer).
Thorns and Tenderness
- Unable to multitask. Once again I’m reminded why I am not a vlogger. FL Mermaid, RNC (Best Friend) called on my birthday. I continued hiking while simultaneously talking with her. My concentration drifted away from the trail conditions to focus on her humor. This is when I tripped on a root, my phone flew hitting a rock (thankfully not broken), and I landed on my bum. (Note to self: if someone calls, stop hiking.)
- Don’t hand wash hiking socks when it’s cold outside. We tried to wash our wet, muddy socks in the sink at Bear Mountain Inn (NY). The socks needed a dryer, because they didn’t completely dry out. Soon they developed a funky mildew, old tennis shoes smell when I opened my backpack at lunch. I immediately quarantined them in a ziplock bag because they were smelling up the inside of our backpacks.
- Mr. Rook’s sickness. Mr. Rook was sick on my birthday. Thankfully we were staying at the Graymoor Spiritual Life Center. The facilities have a porta potty and filtered water. During Mr. Rook’s sickness I re-washed the socks and line dried them in the sun. Thank you Graymoor Spiritual Life Center.
- Labyrinth. The labyrinth was missing at the Graymoor Spiritual Life Center or at least from where it was said to be on the map. I found this sad. For those not familiar with the labyrinth movement. It is an ancient practice that promotes walking as a form of prayer, meditation, and mindfulness. Unlike the Appalachian Trail, the path has one way in and one way out.
- Telephone in the woods. There is a telephone in the Clarence Fahnestock State Park. It is a phone to support hikers with grief and loss. The message board invites you to make a call to a departed family member or practice a call to a close person you had a falling out with. We called Walter to say “Hey: we still love you; we still forgive you for any wrongs you did; and we hope you forgive us for any wrongs we may have done to you. RIP.”
- SOLA Homeless Woman. We learned this past week that the SOLA homeless woman became badly injured on her hike NOBO. Hikers at a campsite called the paramedics to assist her. We send out thoughts for her recovery. Thank you paramedics and fellow hikers for making sure she left with all her hiking equipment.
- Homeless Man. We sat down to eat a giant quesadilla purchased when a thin gentleman sat down next to us. He was asking for money. It was clear from his odor he didn’t smell like a hiker; he smelled of stale beer and cheap booze. We listened to his story of divorce, being disbarred as an attorney, and losing all his possessions except for a tent and what he had in his backpack. His story wasn’t unique and played into a morality tale as to what can happen when you marry alcohol. The man didn’t give any backstory on how he began his relationship with alcohol, but presently he clearly is stuck. The only thing we could do was to share some kindness and some of our giant quesadilla. As we walked towards the Graymoor Spiritual Life Center we passed his green tent.
- Final hello and Goodbye to Kim and Rob. They were headed back home due to an emergency. We hope to see them in the future on the trail. Their picnic table conversations and humor will be missed.
Opportunities and and other thoughts
This week was the first time Mr. Rook and I have encountered large thru hiking tramilies (i.e., trail families: a thru hiking group that is made up of individuals who find each other on the trail.) Our definition of large is over five individuals. Yes, we have encountered large groups of hikers that include: the Freshman Class from St. Benedict Prep (NJ), Westerville, Ohio Boy Scout Alumni and their fathers, and this week’s meeting with Boy Scout New Jersey Troop 5. But, crossing paths with these two tramilies was different and off-putting (NOTE: We are speaking of these two tramilies).
Mr. Rook and I have been reflecting on our hike and several themes keep appearing. One centers on kindness, dignity and respect. The young people from St. Benedict Prep and Troop 5 were the youngest hikers we came across; and as observers they demonstrated these values. We watched how they expressed kindness, dignity and respect towards their peers, mentors/scout leaders, and to hikers on the trail, such as Mr. Rook and myself. Practicing these types of behaviors say a lot about who you are as a person. You are a type of person who… to quote one of my favorite authors, Maya Angelou, “eople will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Maybe our expectations are too high: thinking that we would have similar hiking goals, and that there would be a universal camaraderie on the trail from this common goal. This shared goal creates the space to want the best for fellow hikers. However, we didn’t feel this way from the tramilies we encountered this week. Their actions made us feel like outsiders who were tolerated and ignored (Yes, we know that we encountered them only at camp). In trying to hold a picnic table conversation, it was how they looked at us and in their body language of turning away – in a middle school way. There comes a point, you just go back to your tent, because being with them makes you feel excluded.
One of the gems on the trails has been meeting people and the camaraderie. It is a behavior we wish could happen off the trail. The reality is there are shards of “hell” in paradise where kindness, respect and dignity aren’t valued and promotes a culture of fear of others. Mr. Rook and I know one of the challenges of this trail is like the salmon going upstream. We are looking for hope in unexpected places (i.e., Freshman Class of St. Benedict Prep and Boy Scout New Jersey Troop 5) and cultivating random acts of kindness.
(NOTE: The caretaker at RPH shelter was very upset about these two groups. The two tramilies merged together (~16+ people). We arrived the next night after they left and he was happy to see there were only seven of us. However, the caretaker laid down the rules including a curfew for loudness and keeping the place tidy.)
Jeff and Maila. “Appalachian Thru Hike Adventure.” Jeff and Maila – YouTube @Jeffandmaila.
Kidjo, Angelique. “Toto Matari,” Celia. Verve, 2019. Click here to hear Angelique sing this: https://youtu.be/iIq_b8NTzYg?si=6eptkmMsqPnqtzDt
Hancock, Herbie. “Watermelon Man,” Head Hunters. Columbia, 1973. Click here to hear this tune https://youtu.be/ppJQKfqhFfE?si=7bYq6DEvd2opJIQX
Lauper, Cyndi. “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” She’s So Unusual. Record Plant, 1983. https://youtu.be/PIb6AZdTr-A?si=QZZJEuGi5unvYZuk
Taylor the Nahamsha Hiker. @TaylortheNahamshahiker. https://www.youtube.com/c/TaylortheNahamshaHiker
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