We succeeded in catching our 3:30 bus and arrived in Greenwood lake around 5pm. We popped into the library for about an hour before heading towards the Village Vista trail, the one mile uphill climb that would lead us back to the AT that neither of us felt like doing. As I've said before, any miles we hike that are not AT miles and not taking us to Maine piss us off. After we reached the top, DS hiked another mile before finding a small grassy clearing she was ready to call home. I was hoping to make it another 3 miles to the shelter, but instead only made it another mile before I ran into Pants and UT. We all decided to pull up short before the storm came in (seems there is always a storm coming in). Pants was borrowing an alleged two man tent from Daystar that he and his uncle could share - but they are both pretty tall dudes so it looked a bit cozy for them. The rain came in along with the thunder and lightening. Normally my tent is like a fallout shelter when it rains, impervious to the elements that be. But tonight seemed to be the exception. In our hustle we had set our tents up in a bowl, allowing the water to gather underneath them. On top of that, it seems repeated use (or maybe the storm was just too intense) was causing the seam seal to 'unseal' since drops of water were falling on my head. It wasn't long before I felt like I was sleeping in a bathtub with a leaky faucet.
Thank god the sun has a glorious habit of rising every morning, and I awoke to UT and Pants drying out all of their belongings on a line. Seemed they fared far worse than me. Luckily my thick neo-air keeps me somewhat elevated off the bottom of my tent so my sleeping bag wasn't too wet. Theirs were not so lucky. I left Pants and UT while they continued to dry out their gear and started my hike to Fingerboard Shelter - 14.3 miles away. We were planning on doing some light days to ease UT into the AT. Right after I passed a dried up brook (NY was just as bad as PA in terms of water, dry dry dry), I ran into Squatch, the filmmaker haunting the AT in search of footage, who was currently hiking south. He was catching me up on all the gossip on the hikers ahead of me (Atlas and Cheeks broke up and Atlas is off the trail oh my! and crap like that) when Babe walked up. Babe was actually a random AT hiker I met in a bar in NYC and Squatch made sure to document the surprise reunion on the trail.
Afterward Babe hiked on while I finished chatting with Squatch. We gave each other the low down on the water situation and went our separate ways. I hiked up Eastern Pinnacles and took a break on the rocks to dry out my tent and enjoy my coffee with a view. UT and Pants hiked past me, but I caught back up with them at Cat rocks and the three of us continued to Fitzgerald Falls, minus the falls as they too had dried up. Bummed, we continued our hike up the rocky ascent of Mombasha High Point. At this point in our day my heart really started to go out to UT. NY was proving to be very rocky and difficult. I think he was expecting a nice stroll through the woods and instead was given hand over head rock walls. I also realized how accustomed we are to being out of breath. We'll climb up mountains, be sweaty and out of breath, and climb right down without stopping. Maine's a long way away and it's not gonna get any closer if we take breaks after every climb. If you're not sweating you're not doing it right. Maine was definitely not getting any closer for UT and Pants as they sat down for another break so UT could catch his breath and I pushed on. This was the main reason I didn't seek out any friend to join me for part of the hike, I could see the stress it caused my friends when they had visitors join them for a weekend or so. You want to show your loved ones all the trail has to offer, while still making sure they are enjoying themselves.
I climbed down Mombasha, pausing to watch a Great Blue Heron gracefully glide over my head and land ever so elegantly on the pond to my left. Nature often has a way of stopping you in your tracks and captivating you to a point that you forget what you were doing. Hiking, right. I moved on to climb up and over Buchanan Mountain and just when I was wondering if I was ever going to find water that wasn't a stagnant beaver pond I was greeted with trail magic. Some lovely person, conscious of the drought, had left a bunch of gallons of water for the hikers to fill up from. In fact, for all of NY the only viable 'water sources' were from trial magic at road crossings (we try not to pull from ponds or any stagnant puddles when possible). Every stream was either dried up or just a trickle.
I continued up East Mombasha (I had to put my poles away for that one and use my hands), up and over Arden Mountain and was about to tackle Island Pond Mountain when I started to wonder if I was getting too far ahead of UT and Pants. I had just done a really rocky section that took me all afternoon, and I hadn't seen DS yet that day as well. The plan was to go to Fingerboard, but I don't think anyone was expecting the trail to be this rocky. It was around 6:30 as I pulled into a random flat spot and texted DS. Her, Pants and UT had just climbed East Mombasha and UT was pretty spent. They were going to cowboy camp on the rocks, about 6 miles back from where I was. I decided to set up shop and have an early night as well. They got about 8 miles that day, we were definitely going to have to adjust our mileage plans for this week.
The next morning I slept in to give them some time to catch up and started my short climb past the 'Lemon Squeezer' (it is how it sounds, picture Chris Farley singing "fat pack in a little crack") and up Island Pond Mt. I got maybe 100 yards before something caught the corner of my eye. The trail was curving around Island Pond before the climb, but down the hill to my right was a smooth rock, bathing in the sun right over the clear blue lake. I walked down there to check it out and immediately kicked myself for not walking a little further last night to camp here instead. The rock was the perfect height to jump in the lake, or you could take the gentle sandy slope to the right and ease yourself in the water. Someone had also at tied up a rope hammock between two of the rocks so it hung right over the water but was still accessible by land. It was perfect.
I decided I would set up shop here and wait for DS, Pants and UT. I spent the day laying in the sun, swimming and greeting other hikers as they passed by my temporary home. Around 2:30, as I was chatting up a SoBo named Dave, DS finally appeared and jumped right in. Pants and UT finally got there around 4:30 and called it a day. I had accidentally taken a zero in the woods, well a nero as I did walk like .4 up the tiny hill....The next morning Pants and UT were ready to go hiking just as I was waking up. UT had gotten his fill of the AT (and a lot of respect for his nephew for what he goes through everyday) and had made plans to get picked up at the road nine miles away and take the bus to visit Pant's cousin in CT for the remainder of the week. They were gonna join us on Sunday for a short day hike before he flew back to Chicago.
Meanwhile Daystar and I hiked a quick four miles to Lake Tioriti where there are showers, vending machines and a beach. The showers were too gross even for someone who hadn't showered in a few days, not to mention the chains you pull to turn on the water were broken so I couldn't even reach the lever. But the vending machine ice cream sandwich was pleasant enough, which I enjoyed while chatting with the Honeymoon Hikers and Spirit (this is Spirit's 5th attempt at a thru-hike, every time she starts over at Springer. This attempt is her last as we are not letting her quit). We finally pulled ourselves away from the beach as we still had some mountains to climb. We headed up and over Black Mt. which provided views back to NYC and then played leap frog over Palisades Parkway, a busy 4-lane divided highway that was not very pedestrian friendly. We passed Beechy Bottom Brook which, no surprise, wasn't flowing. Luckily we had gotten water from some trail magic at Seven Lakes Dr., because it didn't look like we would be getting water for another 15 miles. We climbed up and over West Mountain, and than began the fun part.
Gribley, who had already done this section to get ahead of us while he was in Ohio, left a mini scavenger hunt for us. The first night out of NYC we had all received a text, guiding us to a location on Bear Mountain. We were instructed to go halfway up Bear, find three trees growing closely together with two large boulders in front. Under one of the boulders would be further instructions. We started our climb up Bear and when the AT split left from Perkins Memorial Drive (an abandoned mountain road) we followed his directions to the random tree. Under the boulder were detailed instructions for a secret slackpack! Now where we stood on the mountain, the trail banked left up some stone stairs, presumably up and over Bear Mountain. The abandoned road we were on curved around the mountain. Gribley had discovered one could walk the short distance down the road and it would meet back up with the AT coming down the north side of the mountain. We could stash our packs in some bush and weightlessly glide up and over Bear. Genius:)
Daystar and I waited for Pants so we could share Gribley's surprise, and we collectively decided to wait until morning to go over Bear as it was already 6pm. We camped right on that abandoned road, and when morning hit, we hid our packs grabbing nothing but our water bottles and cameras, and started our easy climb over Bear (sidebar: there are about five different Bear Mountains on the AT. The top of this Bear was crowded as it is a very popular state park in NY, and it was a Saturday, and yes there is a road on the north side for the tourists). We climbed the Perkins Memorial Tower which had views of NYC and a collection of tiles dispersing various facts about the history of the park, enjoyed some Gatorade from the vending machine and started our gleeful descent back down to our packs.
Our plan was to make it a short day to the Graymoor, a monastery near the trail that lets hikers camp in their ball field, which apparently had a pavilion and outdoor shower. This way we could take our time through the rest of the park. We picked up our packs and continued our climb down Bear. We were vomited right out onto Bear Mt. Recreation Area near Hessian Lake. It was crowded and awful. People and children were oozing everywhere, families out grilling for the weekend and so forth. Pants and I went to get hot dogs which cost us our first born, decided not to sell our souls for the insanely over priced Bud Light and sat back down to try and enjoy the lake. We quickly realized we were way too overwhelmed and decided to move on. We migrated to the concession/bathroom area (which the trail actually goes through) to fill up our water in the restroom sink. The water was a disgusting murky brown, due to the pipes, but I was assured safe to drink. But after drinking clear spring water for months I couldn't bring myself to do it.
We dumped the brown goo and continued down the trail which weaved through the park. I paused to yell at a boy who was throwing rocks at ducks, at which point DS and Pants thought it was best to quickly remove me from an area so infested with children. We quickly started walking to the Trailside Museum and Zoo. Oddly the AT runs straight through a zoo. A tiny, depressing zoo. DS and I are not the biggest fans of zoos, and this one was a showcase of all the types of plants and wildlife one would find in the Appalachian Mountains. So basically what we see everyday, except in cages. After the seeing the wolf pacing in his 10ft cell we couldn't take anymore and decided to get the hell out of the park. We flew past the bear cage (which is the lowest point on the AT), ignored most of the other cages and finally emerged on the bridge, after which the trail led us back into the woods (if you are wondering how we know where the trail is when it goes through towns/parks etc., they painted blazes on random things like signs and telephone poles and sometimes even the sidewalk. Sometimes it takes a minute, but when the trail forces us into civilization, we just have to locate a blaze and play connect the dots).
We were in the woods for about five miles before the trail crossed US9. At this point in my day I was really missing the backcountry of the south, when we never crossed busy highways. But I was also missing hot sandwiches, and this road crossing had a deli on it so we made our way over. Soon the picnic tables out front were full of packs and people. Eventually most of us made our way over to Graymoor, another two miles down the AT and .4 off the trail. We were expecting a quiet night in the back of a monastery with plenty of time to read and journal. We arrived at the yard and immediately noticed the large gathering of Ecuadorians. At first I thought there was a birthday party going on, they had pulled all the picnic tables together, decorated the pavilion and had loud Latin dance music blaring on a PA system of some sort. I walked over to the Honeymooners, who were standing by the "shower," and they filled me in. Apparently they had all come down from NYC to spend the weekend worshipping. Fair enough. It looked like we hit the tail end of the festivities and that people were packing up. DS, Pants and I went to set up our tents on the opposite side of the field where all the other hikers seemed to be making their homes, and went to get in line for the solar shower (any time you read solar shower anywhere, translate 'hose nailed to a wall.' It will be cold). But these days it was so hot out a cold shower was welcome.
It was a pretty relaxing night chatting with other hikers and the folks staying out here to worship. Around 9pm as most of the hikers were making their way to their tents, I was sitting chatting with DS at her tent, when we heard a bunch of chanting. We turned our heads, and only lord knows where they came from but about 50 Ecuadorians dressed in all white carrying candles began a slow procession up the road. Every hiker stopped what they were doing, rapt in a confused awe and slightly nervous about what we were about to be a part of. After the procession the real party began. Now most of the hikers thought surely this can't go on past midnight, but I have partied with an Ecuadorian or two in my days and I knew right then I would not be getting any sleep that night. The singing the praying the worshipping the singing the praying the singing all began in a nonstop cycle. All of course blared over the loudspeaker. Not until 5:30am did the all night Ecuadorian Catholic Festival wrap up. Not a single hiker got a wink of sleep that night, I assume neither did any of the Catholics, but as they drove away to their beds in their Shakira blaring SUV's, we packed up our tents to hike 20 miles. There was no one to be upset with. The monastery opened this space to everyone. We only wished the monks might have put up a sign, something along the likes of "Welcome hikers, you will be joined tonight by the entire Ecuadorian population of NYC." I might have camped elsewhere is all I'm saying.
DS and I took off by 7am, ready to just get this day going. I had intentions of getting a few miles and napping somewhere in the woods. We had plans to meet UT and Pant's cousin, Hank, at Dennytown Rd. at 2pm, only eight miles away, plenty of time. But once I got some Beyonce grooving in my earbuds I just decided to push to the road (dance music is great to hike to, just don't try to dance while hiking, take it from me, it's treacherous). Pants and I got there early, but luckily so did UT and Hank. We sat in the grass with the Honeymooners and Spirit and waited for DS to arrive. She got their shortly after we did, we all ate lunch and then threw our packs in UT's car, invited the Honeymooners and Spirit to do the same, and we all set off pack-free for the RPH shelter, some ten miles away. The shelter was near a road so UT was going to meet us there and drop off our packs. We cruised past Sunken Mine Rd, past Canopus Lake and up some random hill whose name escapes me. We sat down to have a snack with a new hiker friend, Falls, when we started to feel a storm approaching. We thought it unwise to be sitting on a rocky exposed outcropping and started hiking. The second I stood up it started pouring. I mean POURING. God must have been really sad that day cuz that was the worst rain we had ever hiked in. The trail became a river as I trudged though shin deep, pine needle infested water. Hank picked an unfortunate ten miles to join his cousin for a hike.
We still had five miles to hike to get to the shelter where all our belongings sat (nice and dry thankfully, couldn't say the same for us). We were moving pretty fast when all the sudden Pants and I came upon DS and Hank standing under a tree. They pointed out the exposed ridgeline ahead and voiced their very valid apprehension at crossing it, considering the lightning was right above us. Not a good time to be the tallest thing on a mountain. We stood there hoping the lightening would pass quickly. After about five minutes we all started to get a bit cold. Well, if the options are freeze to death or get struck by lightning, I'm gonna go with the lightning, at least that might result in a cool scar. We made the decision and in a single file line, sprinted across the wet rocks while trying to duck, because that will deter the lightning of course (insert sarcastic font here).
The four of us eventually made our way to RPH around 4:45. RPH is an enclosed shelter so we were excited to get to it and out of the storm. There were also some trail maintainers there who were cooking burgers for the hikers. UT arrived a bit after us with our dry packs and we quickly changed and sat to enjoy a burger and some beers (courtesy of UT). We bid farewell to UT and Hank as they drove off and we settled in for the night, attempting to ignore the extremely crabby shelter caretaker. He had his tools and stuff everywhere since this shelter was also hosting the maintainers over the weekend as they worked on a section of the trail. He got mad at us for being in the way, obviously forgetting that the point of the shelters was for hikers. Even when I do stay at shelters I still usually tent as I have a hard time sleeping in them, and this night was no exception. Everytime someone moves you hear crinkling and swishing since all of our hiking gear is made of lightweight noisy fabric. So for the 2nd night in a row I 'awoke' after getting no sleep.
The bright side was that the night before, one of the trail maintainers wives, Amy, told all the hikers we were welcome to come to her house to shower and do laundry if we wish. She lived two miles up the trail on the Hosner Mt. Rd crossing. So early the next morning, DS, Pants, the Honeymooners, Spirit and I all climbed up and over Hosner Mt. pumped for the free shower that lay on the other side. Pants and I arrived at Amy's last, a bit unsure we were at the correct house, until we saw DS's trekking poles in the yard. We knocked on the door and were let in by Tumbler (of the Honeymooners) who seemed to have made herself at home. Amy was upstairs brewing coffee and cooking up waffles for everyone. Pants and I started our laundry and I hopped in the shower. We spent the morning enjoying delicious waffles, talking to Amy about the trail (her husband is a former thru-hiker) and comparing favorite animals with her two kids. It is people like her who restore my faith in humanity. Very few people are simply willing to take in complete strangers and give them something as simple as a shower and a waffle. And this is what I love about the trail culture, we aren't strangers, we are hikers. And though there is a difference (although slight) between a long distance backpacker and a homeless person, our ability to continue with our journey is very much dependent on the kindness of others. People need to help people more. It is that simple. I will never again drive by a hitchhiker in need of a ride for I have been that hitchhiker, or walk by a lost traveler in need of directions for I have been that lost traveler, and anytime I can sprinkle random acts of kindness on someone just needing a little help I will. It's amazing how something as simple as a shower and waffle can make someone's day.
After we left Amy's, DS, Pants and I continued up the trail. We stopped into a small market a bit off the trail to get enough food to get us to Kent, CT. We only had about ten miles on the day when we decided to call it quits at Morgan Stewart Shelter. The next morning DS was up and at it by 7am, just when Pants and I were waking up. She was determined to do a 20, while Pants and I had no such aspirations. The two of us took our time over to Nuclear Lake, where we took a long break and made a hot lunch. It was a quiet, breezy day and we didn't notice anyone pass us during our two hour lunch. The trail curved around Nuclear Lake and up and over West Mountain. We skipped Telephone Pioneers Shelter and continued on to County Rd 20, where we were told we could get water from the spigot at the purple house on the right....random... but we'll take it. Afterwards we began a grueling field walk. It was now the heat of the day, and for two and a half miles we were completely exposed to the sun in a stupid cow field. I would like to formally inform the ATC that I am not trying to walk through any more cow fields. We have had a lot of challenges in terms of the weather out here, and everyone has their own personal enemy. Daystar fears the cold like a vampire fears the sun. I've seen her walking around in a down jacket when I've got shorts and a tank on. For me though, it's the heat. It sucks my soul dry. I grew up in North Dakota and live in Minnesota. I'm not suppose to be walking around in this shit. I 'll never survive global warming.
The second we got to shade I laid down on the ground ready to die and fertilize the earth. I didn't die though, eventually cooled down, got my act together and made my way to the Appalachian Trail Railroad station. If we hadn't wanted to be in NYC on Gribley's bday, we would have simply hiked here, there is a train that stops literally on the AT and takes you into NYC. Across from the station (which was simply a platform) was a landscaping and gardening center. This wonderful little business lets hikers use their shower and also lets them tent on the property. We had plans to go another six miles to Wiley Shelter so we passed on the tenting but I gratefully hopped in the shower. A cold shower cooled my body temp. down, but it sucked that I had to put my smelly clothes right back on. We made dinner on their porch with Rebound, who was planning on staying. We heard later from him, and a few others who decided to tent, that the spots were right near a busy road that kept them up all night, so I'm glad we decided to move on. We waited out most of the heat and then started our six mile field walk to Wiley.