It is difficult for me to explain in words what the trip meant for me. All I can say is that it was an amazing experience. I didn't finish exactly what I had originally planned, but I am satisfied with what I have gained from the trip—the lessons I learned and the people I met. This trip is finished, but for me it's just the beginning. I know I will return to the trail, wherever it may lead.
I'm very grateful to the late Martin Dale and his family, who endowed a grant that supported my summer, as well as all the trail maintainers (some of whom I was lucky enough to cross paths with during my hike!) who have devoted countless hours to the trails.
During my trip, I wrote daily journal entries and took many photos, all of which remains on this site in (roughly) chronological order. I hope you enjoy them.
Thanks for following my trip!
I'm writing this on a PocketMail device, which I'll use to write all my blog entries from the trail. It sends and receives emails by sending modem signals through a phone handset. I think it's pretty cool...you just hold the back of it up to a phone handset, call a toll-freee number, and within a minute it sends your emails. In today's world of Blackberrys and iphones it's somewhat outdated, and my roommates made fun of me for getting it, but it doesn't need to be charged (two AA batteries can last for a month), which is really convenient for me. Setting it up was a fun experience, because they don't make them anymore, so I had to buy one on ebay and then call their customer service (a one-man show in Australia).
I will write journal entries every day, and email them to get posted automatically on the blog when I reach phones, which should be about twice a week. Sorry if there are typos; there's no spellcheck and my fingers aren't used to the mini keyboard.
After spending last summer working long days in an overly air conditioned office, I decided that I wanted to do something different this summer. Last fall, I decided that I would hike the Long Path, spending some time to reflect and "get back to the basics." I was honored to win a Dale Award to allow me to fulfill my personal dream of hiking the Long Path as well as Vincent Schaefer's 75-year-old dream of hiking from New York City to Whiteface Mountain (see the right column for more on the history of the Long Path).
I leave in one week. I'm finally home from school, making final preparations for my trip and making sure I have all the gear and stuff that I'll need.
Today I began my journey.
For the most part I'll be heading north, but the Long Path actually starts six miles south of my house. So my plan for today was to walk six miles south to the trailhead in Fort Lee, then hike north on the Long Path for six miles and sleep at my house tonight.
I left my house at 10:30 this morning and walked on roads for six miles to get to the trailhead in Fort Lee. I decided to carry my whole pack with me today, to get used to carrying it.
The trail starts in Fort Lee Historic Park, the site of a Revolutionary War fort used by George Washington (and later abandoned after the British crossed the Hudson into New Jersey). I got to the park around 12:30, walked around a bit and checked out the museum, then had lunch on a bench. There were some old cannons overlooking the Hudson River and New York City, and a few buildings meant to look like they were from the 18th century.
At 1:30, I asked someone to take my picture at the trailhead, and I began hiking the Long Path. There was no sign or anything to designate the trailhead, just an upwards triangle blaze (which designates the start of a trail). For the next four weeks I'll be following these aqua blazes.
I soon passed the George Washington Bridge and was walking in Palisades Interstate Park along the Palisades (400 foot cliffs towering above the Hudson River), paralleling the Palisades Parkway. The trail was technically in the woods, but at times I was just a few feet from the speeding cars on the parkway. I must have driven on that part of the parkway hundreds of times in the past 15 years, never knowing that the trail existed this close to it. I stopped now and then at some scenic overlooks that afforded excellent views of New York and the river.
I saw a few people doing trail maintenance, and a woman walking her dog, but nobody else was on the trail. At one point I the mosquitos came out in full force. I was thirsty and ready for a break, but as soon as I put my pack down the mosquitos attacked me, so I continued walking. I was relieved when there was an overlook (High Tom) just a few minutes later. It was out on the cliff, away from the marsh and mosquitos. I sat on the rocks for a while, watching the boats make their way down the river.
When I got back on the trail, I continued north on the Long Path to the entrance for Greenbrook Sanctuary, a private nature preserve that is fenced off. I left the Long Path, crossed Route 9W (to the east), and entered the Tenafly Nature Center's land. I followed the trails there half a mile back to my house, arriving home at 4:30.
Overall, I was pretty wiped out by the end of the day, and the mosquitos were really bad and frustrating for the last two hours. I'm a little sore, but I'm glad I brought my pack today so I'll get used to carrying the weight. I uploaded some photos from today, but it may be another week or two before I get more photos online (since I need computer access). Tomorrow, I leave home for good. Might be able to update the blog again tomorrow night or Friday, since I won't be too far from civilization (and pay phones).
End: near Mt. Nebo
What a day! It's 9:00, I'm in my tent (camped illegally), and I'm exhausted. I didn't leave home until 11:00 this morning. It took me a while to get all my stuff together and leave home - for good this time. I soon realized that, with such a late start, I wouldn't be able to reach my intended destination. Even if I did get an early start, I probably wouldn't be able to; I must have miscalculated my mileage when I was planning.
The morning wen pretty slow. It seemed like I was paralleling the Palisades Parkway forever! I finally reached the State Line lookout, where I had lunch. There's a small cafe there, but the only people there were the staff, and I sat outside on a picnic bench. It was foggy and misty all day, and at all the overlooks I couldn't even see across the Hudson River to New York.
After lunch, I soon reached the NJ-NY border. It was very bizarre - there was a chain link fence, and the trail crossed it through a gate. I don't understand why the fence is there; the land on both sides is all part of the Palisades Interstate Park. I feel like there's more border security in the woods between NY and NJ than there is between the US and Mexico!
Anyway, shortly after that I met two people from the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference (the group that oversees the Long Path) doing trail maintenance. One of them was Jakob Franke, the person in charge of the Long Path south of the Catskills!
The next few hours were pretty easy. I got to Piermont, a cute little town on the river, aroud 6. On my high school cross-country team, we would have a bike practice every fall, for which we would bike to Piermont, have ice cream (at 10am), then bike back. Turns out we biked on part of the Long Path. Of course, when I saw where I was, I had to take a .1 mile detour to get ice cream (coconut chocolate almond, the perfect flavor)!
I decided then that I would camp near Mt. Nebo. It looked like a flat area about 3 miles further. The trail there from Piermont went through a cemetary, passing the grave of the person who transported Cleopatra's needle to the US.
By the time I got to Mt. Nebo (the former site of an Air Force Nike Missle base during the Cold War), it had started to rain.
I got mixed up with some side trails and realized that I wasn't exactly where I had intended. I searched for a tent spot but everything was really overgrown, and I settled on a blacktop area near a parking lot. I quickly cooked pasta and ate it (straight from the pot), but by this point it was pouring. I realized I couldn't stay where I was. There was an inch of water covering the entire blacktop, and there were also power lines directly overhead.
So I packed up, looked at my map, and started walking to another place that I thought might be good. It turned out to be a big clearing. I pitched my tent on the edge of the clearing, stored my food bags, and got into my tent. I'm using to Ursack bags to store my food. They're made of Kevlar so bears and rodents can't get to the food. They weigh less than plastic bear canisters and (the best part) I don't have to hang them (hanging bear bags can easily take up to an hour each night).
So here I am now, tired but mostly dry and warm. The sound of the rain beating down on my tent is relaxing and therapeutic. I'm ready to sleep!
End: near Championship Golf Course, Rockland Lake State Park
Before I begin, there's more to add to yesterday's post. I fell asleep pretty quickly, which I was happy about. I had thought my first night alone in the woods would be hard, but it wasn't. Anyway, at 2am, I woke up to thunder and lightning and pouring rain. When I could tell the storm was within caution range, I put on my rain gear (still wet) and went outside. I found a stone ledge a short ways in the woods and assumed lightning position for a half hour, singing to myself and yelling the seconds between when I saw lightning and could hear the thunder clap. (I didn't feel safe in my tent because it had metal poles and was on the edge of the clearing.) Luckily the storm never got too close.
So today, I woke up to my alarm at 6:30, but it was raining again so I dozed off for another hour. It was still raining at 7:30 but I decided I had to get moving then.
I reached Nyack aroud 11, filled up on water at a gas station, crossed the NY Thruway, and made my way to Hook Mountain. By the time I got to Nyack, the sun was out (finally, after two days of rain!) and it was really hot and humid. I had lunch on a ridge right above Nyack High School. I couldn't see the school, but I could hear the bells and students outside.
In the afternoon, I climbed Hook Mtn. It had an amazing view. I could see the Tappan Zee Bridge and Piermont, where I had been yesterday, and couldn't believe how far away it looked. Soon after I ran into an older couple doing trail maintenance. They asked me how far I was going, and I told them I was thru-hiking. "Not a lot of thru-hikers on the Long Path," the woman said. They had been doing trail work in the Catskills yesterday, and told me the condition of the trail up there was abysmal, because of under-use. It's interesting - I've seen as many people out for day hikes as I've seen doing trail work. Without the work of volunteers, the trail would become overgrown, blazes would be worn away, and there wouldn't be a trail.
Around 5:00, I reached a beautiful area to camp - flat, near the edge of the Palisades, overlooking the river and Westchester County, NY. It was beautiful. It is almost within sight of a golf couse, on the other side of the trail, where I went to fill up water. I'm writing this sitting against a rock, watching the river, as the light fades away.
There were a lot of ruins on the trail today. This morning the trail went by an old target wall and firing range. It was run by the National Guard and closed after WW1, and the area was turned into a forest. I later passed the stone foundations of an ice harvesting plant. Around the turn of the century, ice harvested from Rockland Lake was world renowned. After the company closed (due to refrigeration), the land was boght by the state and turned into a park. I also passed an old family cemetary. Most of the two dozen headstones were so old that I couln't see any writing. But one grave, of a 9-month-old baby who died in the 1800s, had some flowers next to it.
Then there are the ruins whose origins remain a mystery, like the totaled car that was in the middle of the woods. It looked like it was from the 1980s, but I couldn't figure out how it got there; the trail was too narrow, the forest too thick. All these ruins are reminders that the land 100, 75, even 25 years ago looked a lot different. Many of the forests I walked through today were actually very young, though now it's so mature that, without hints, I can't tell how young it actually is.
It's 9:30 now, I'm going to sleep. I'm going to try to cover 16 miles tomorrow.
End: Big Hill Shelter, Harriman State Park
I'm writing this entry on Sunday, June 14. I was too tired last night to write.
The morning went pretty well. The weather started off sunny and it got pretty hot. I had camped near the edge of the Palisades, and I awoke to a beautiful view of the sun over the Hudson River. I was facing east, but I didn't wake up early enough to catch the sun rise over Westchester County, NY.
I made decent mileage in the morning, passing by the Tilcon quarry. It was a huge undertaking; they were carving away at the hundreds of feet of Palisades (a sign on the property said they had been doing so for 80 years. It was quite a sight to see.
I then began to climb to High Tor, the highest point on the Palisades. The top was all rocks, and there were some remnants of a former airplane beacon. It had views in all directions, and after taking some pictures I had lunch. As my luck would have it, within 10 minutes, the sky became overcast and it started to rain.
Naturally, I didn't want to be on the highest point for 30 miles if there was lightning, so I packed up and took the trail down. I was pretty hot, and it didn't rain too hard, so I didn't bother to put my rain gear on.
Around 4, I got to Mt. Ivy, where I filled up on water at a car wash. It was a pretty seedy town, with liquor stores, a deli, and a number of abandoned stores. I got moving quickly, because I still had 6 miles to go.
The next two miles were really annoying. The trail was very poorly maintained, and it passed through a swamp beside the Palisades Parkway (again!). My boots were often completely submerged in water and mud!
The trail finally moved away from it, climbing up to an abandoned woods road. Right where the trail turned onto the road, there was an overturned car. It must have flipped whil driving on the woods road some 30 years ago. Sadly, it was so totaled that it didn't look like the driver could survive the crash. Maybe that's why the woods road was closed to cars and turned into a trail...
A little while later, I passed a small, ungated cemetary alone in the woods, about 200 yards from the road. It was very odd...most of the graves were just marked by small numbered plaques stuck into the ground. They just had a three-digit number, no name. About a tenth of the graves had real gravestones, which were all in good condition. The guidebook didn't offer any explanation; I'll have to look it up when I get home.
I got to the shelter around 8. It was empty. I quickly made mac and cheese, then went to bed. Not long after, it began to pour.
It was weird. I had expected to see more people on the trail, since it was a Saturday, but I saw absolutely no one. I also expected to see people at the shelter, but no one was there. I was a bit disappointed at that.
End: Fingerboard Shelter, Harriman SP
Today was a short and relaxing day. My mom wanted to join me for some of my trip, and she came tonight and will leave tomorrow.
So much for what I said about my Kevlar bags being rodent-proof. Last night a family of mice chewed into one of the bags and feasted on EVERTHING! It's a good thing my mom came with more food today.
Much of what I hiked today I had already hiked last May on my leader training trip for Outdoor Action (a weeklong backpacking trip for incoming freshman, one of Princeton's pre-orientation programs). We had also stayed at Big Hill shelter.
The morning went pretty quickly. I passed St. John's in the Wilderness Church, an old but still active church that is along a road but, well, "in the wilderness" almost. It must've been around before Harriman State Park was created, because I think it's the only private land in the middle of the park.
There are a lot of bikers who use the roads in Harriman (both bicyclists and motorcyclists, neiter of whom had much respect for other users of the road. I also saw a lot of people out for day hikes.
After passing Lake Skanattati, the trail went through some areas that used to have heavy mining. The "mines" were still there - big holes in the ground filled with water. I also passed through an area that looked like it had been through a forest fire in the past 20 years. There were lots of burned trees and young forest growth.
So often we hear of forests being cleared for housing developments, mining, or other purposes. But much of the area I have walked through these past few days has been the reverse - formerly developed areas that were preserved and turned into forests.
Around 3, I got to Lake Tiorati, where I was to meet my mom at 5. Until then, I went for a swim at the public beach and dried out my socks and boots. The swim was pretty refreshing, but it was no hot shower!
Right before my parents and sister Molly came, I met my first Appalachian Trail hikers of the trip - Pony Express and High Octane. Pony Express was a teacher doing part of the AT for summer vacation - how cool! They were filling up water and then moving on, but I was excited to see AT thru-hikers.
For the next few days, I will be on the Appalachian Trail. Because the Orange County section of the Long Path has too many road walks, the suggested thru-hiking route is to take the AT from its intersection with Long Path in Harriman SP south to High Point monument, then the 30-mile Shawangunk Ridge Trail north from High Point, rejoining the Long Path in Wurtsboro, NY.
When my mom came we had sandwiches for dinner at the lake, then hiked 1 mile to the shelter, where we met Dutch and Bones, AT thru-hikers. A few more AT hikers came in after dark, when we were in our tent.
End: Wildcat Shelter, on AT
Today was a long day. It was really nice to have my mom join me.
Last night we got hit with some thunderstorms and, though the tent held up well and kept us dry, we awoke to a lake all around our tent.
In the morning we passed the intersection of the AT and the Long Path. It was 50 miles south on the LP to the George Washington Bridge, where I started. We took the AT. I'll rejoin the Long Path in 82 miles.
We made our way out of Harriman Park, crossed the NY Thruway, and had to tackle Agony Grind, a short but steep rock scramble. We crossed paths with a lot of AT thru-hikers, all heading north (we were going south). We had to minimize our breaks because we were meeting my dad, who would take my mom back home.
In the afternoon we got more rain, with thunder in the distance. We climbed to Mombasha High Point, but the overcast sky meant the view wasn't great.
I told my mom about the cemetary from a few days ago (with barely any headstones), and she knew exactly what it was - Lechworth Village Cemetary! Lechworth Village was a mental hospital that used to be in the area. That would explain the nameless graves - patients.
The sky cleared up later in the day, and we passed a beautiful waterfall (25 feet) before meeting up with my dad and Molly. I dumped some of my food with them and they gave me a Chipotle burrito for dinner. Just then the sky got grey and it was going to rain again. We all said goodbye, and I was off on the trail by myself again.
It started to rain really hard and I covered the 1.5 miles to the shelter - uphill - in 25 minutes! (Now if only I could keep up that pace all day!) When I got there, it was full with AT thru-hikers, but I was able to wait out the rain in there with them. It was so nice that there was a campfire going when I got there. Even in the rain, they kept it going. I hadn't made a fire yet on my trip, because the wood has been too wet, but Ryan and Sire had started the fire before the rain started.
The other hikrs didn't talk much, and I didn't get their names. Then Big Turtle came an hour after I did. He was a character - a Vietnam Vet who rolled his own cigarettes and loved to talk and laugh at himself in his raspy voice.
As my mom rightly put it, there's a whole culture and community on the AT. Most thru-hikers started in Georgia in March or April, heading north to Maine. I'm encoutering the early part of the northbound wave. Since I got on the AT, I've crossed paths with about 15 hikers each day.
Some quick terminology for those who don't know... Thru-hikers are people who hike the trail in one trip or hiking season. (Technically I'm thru-hikng the Long Path, but it's not quite the five-month jouney that the AT is.) Section-hikers do the trail in sections, and it can take years to complete.
Most hikers on the AT go by trail names (like Dutch, Bones, Big Turtle). Trail names are usually given to them on the trail by other hikers. I felt a little weird introducing myself by my real name. Maybe I'll get a trail name before I leave the AT...
I set up my tent near the shelter and went to bed quickly.
We passed a lot of trail magic today. Trail magic on the AT is when someone gives stuff to hikers - food, water, anything. We mostly saw jugs of clean water, left by trail angels for hikers to fill up. Trail angels are people who provide help to hikers, such as trail magic, rides, etc. Dutch had told us about some trail magic where a trail angel pulled their car up to the trailhead and had free food and beer for hikers. Too bad I missed that one by a day... :)
End: Hiker Hostel, St. Thomas Episcopal Church, Vernon, NJ
For the first time, I left the trail and am now staying at a hiker hostel in Vernon, NJ. Many hikers on the AT stay at hiker hostels when they stop in towns to resupply (about once a week, at least). I figured, to get part of the AT experience, I might as well spend a night at a hostel. And, it is 5 miles past the shelter I had originally planned to stay at tonight, so it gives me a head start on covering more mileage tomorrow.
Hiking felt pretty comfortable today. Maybe I'm getting used to my pack, maybe my legs are getting used to it, maybe it's because I dropped some extra food weight when my mom left, but I'm not complaining.
Hiking in the morning went over a lot of rocks. Around 2pm I reached the NY-NJ state border, this time crossing from NY back into NJ. This was so much more low-key than the first border crossing I encountered on Day 2 - there was no fence or anything! Just a small line painted on the rocky ground.
Once in NJ, I later saw a big snake right in the middle of the trail. It was at least three feet long. I went around it by walking off the trail a few feet, but then I saw another one curled around a tree! I went around the other way.
I reached Wawayanda Shelter around 4:30, and since it was a beautiful day and only 5 miles to Vernon, I decided to continue hiking. Pony Express and High Octane recommended I stay in this hostel.
I decended Wawayanda Mountain, passed through a beautiful meadow, and reached the road near Vernon by 7:15. There's a farm stand that sells ice cream there, but they were closed. I had hoped to get ice cream, but I guess that's what I deserve for not getting out of camp earlier. I started walking the 3 miles to Vernon and was able to hitch a ride to town.
There are three other hikers staying at the hostel tonight - Perennial, Trent, and Jen. The church welcomes hikers for a $10 suggested donation. They have a shower, TV, laundry machines, and a kitchen, and we sleep in the community room in the basement. Hikers also have to do a small chore, like take out the garbage or put the dirty towels in the washing machine. Every night around 7 a member of the church stops by to check in on everything; otherwise it's pretty self-maintained. I arrived just as tonight's member on duty was leaving.
Taking a shower felt great! There were probably 50 bottles of shampoo in the bathroom, all donated or left by hikers. After I showered, it was almost 9:00, and I went out for pizza and a big salad for dinner. Then I washed my socks, shorts, and shirt. I had to wear my rain pants and jacket while I did laudry because I hadn't planned to stop here and didn't have any other clothes to wear.
Today was finally my first day without any rain!
End: The Mayor's House, Unionville, NY
Tonight I'm staying at the Mayor's Houe in Unionville, NY. Almost every AT hiker I've met in the past few days said I had to spend a night here. Technically it's called the Outhouse, since the mayor retired last year after a 12-year stint, but on the trail it's still known as the Mayor's House.
Until I got there, my day just hadn't been going well. I had a nice breakfast of eggs and pancakes at The Mixing Bowl, a diner in Vernon. But then it took me over a half hour to hitch a ride back to the trail (3 miles from town).
Once on the trail, which wasn't until 11, I was moving very slowly. My feet hurt and I just couldn't get my legs to move.
I passed through Pochuck Swamp in the morning, which was pretty beautiful. There was a mile-long boardwalk to walk on, and to my happy surprise there weren't a lot of mosquitos. I also crossed Pochuck Bridge, which is goes over a stream on the trail. It's a suspension bridge that can withstand massive floods. Apparently it's an engineering feat. It also cost $30,000. And it's only used by hikers.
In the late afteroon, I passed through Walkill River National Wildlife Refuge. It's the only wildlife refuge on the AT. It's a huge, manmade wetlands that's home to many rare birds.
On the trail, I met Marked Path. As he mentioned, he was the only black backpacker that some through-hikers on the AT had seen since they got on the trail in Georgia. Now that I think about it, most of the AT hikers I've seen have been white males (80%), with white females comprising the remaining 20% Of the perhaps 100 hikers I've seen on the AT, Marked Trail was the only one outside these two groups. Age-wise, though, the AT hikers spread the gamut. Sure, there are other people in their 20s, but there are also a lot of hikers in their 60s.
Anyway, Marked Trail was looking for Moses and Misplaced. His wedding ring slipped off his finger a few days earlier (he lost some weight on the trail), and word traveled up the trail that Moses and Misplaced had found his ring. Now he just had to find them.
Like me, Marked Trail started walking out his front door. He lives in Maryland, outside Washington, DC, and he began hiking the Chesepeake and Ohio Canal towpath from Georgetown until it intersected with the AT in Harper's Ferry, WV, when he got on the AT. When I told him about the Long Path, and how it starts at the George Washington Bridge, he said he would get on the Long Path when it intersected with the AT and take it to NYC. I said he could take a bus or train from the AT and save himself waking 50 miles on the Long Path, but he said he might as well walk it.
Now, about the Mayor's House. I feel like I could write a book about it, but I'll try to distill my thoughts as best I can.
When I got to Unionville, I went to the general store and asked about how to get to his house. They were all out of directions, so the cashier called him up and, within 60 seconds, someone was there to pick me up. He introduced himself as Butch, "the mayor's Secret Service agent." During the short ride to the house, Butch explained the rules:
-During your stay, the house is yours. Please treat it as such.
-No shitting in the downstais toilet.
-Absolutely no washing dirty dishes.
-You need to send us a victory photo when you finish hiking.
-No using words longer than 3 syllables in the house.
-Wake up at 6:30, breakfast at 7.
I got to the house just as dinner was being served. I put my pack in the basement (where there were 6 bunks for hikers to sleep on) and went to the kitchen to meet Dick, the mayor.
Dick was finishing cooking dinner. "Dick, this is Jacob. He's hiking the Long Path," Butch said.
"Are you fucking crazy? You're worse than these assholes on the AT!" Dick said. " Welcome to the Outhouse."
Dinner was pasta and stew with a bean salad and garlic bread. Then they brought out dessert: a huge cookie covered in this strawberry pudding and whipped cream.
In addition to Butch and Dick, there is Bill. Bill is 81 years old, Dick is 70, and Butch looked like he was in his 40s. Every third word out of their mouths was a swear. Since they first took in hikers two years ago, they have hosted over a thousand. Last year they hosted over 700.
After dinner, we sat with Dick in the living room for an hour while he gave us an inspirational talk and showed us our "required viewing." He showed us the winning performance on Britain's Got Talent by Paul Potts, a phone salesman who always dreamed of singing opera. He sang a beautiful aria (which I've heard before but forget what opera it's from). It ends with him saying three times "vincero!" - I will win.
Dick explained that they wanted us to win. The reason they welcomed hikers was because being able to help us gave meaning to their lives. "Three years ago, Bill was in a senir home with people waiting to die," Dick said. "Now, he has a reason to live and his life is meaningful. He's looking death in the face and saying 'fuck you!' "
Dick said none of them were hikers. "I don't, for the life of me, understand why the fuck you crazy bastards do it. But I hope, when you leave here, you'll accomplish your goals and finish what you started."
Our pep talk lasted for an hour, and I wish I could transcribe it word for word. It really stuck with me. I do believe that Dick, Bill, and Butch do this because it makes them feel good and gives meaning to their lives. They are amazing people.
End: near Shin Hollow Road, along SRT (camped illegally)
Today I finally left the Appalachian Trail. When I got to High Point, I got on the Shawangunk Ridge Trail, which leads north 30 miles to reconnect with the Long Path. It's really just a connector trail, blazed in the same aqua color as the Long Path.
Dick came down to the bunkhouse at 6:31 this morning to wake everyone up. And by 7, we were all sitting upstairs eating breakfast. Bill had made eggs and bagels. Apparently he gets to the house at 4am to start making breakfast. When we went upstairs at 7, he was working on a cole slaw for lunch or dinner.
They have six photo albums with pictures of all the hikers that stay there. After breakfast Dick took my picture (telling me to "say shit!" instead of the usual "say cheese"). I was hiker 178 for the year. He usually takes in people through October.
At 8, Butch drove us to the trailhead, and I was on my way again. I really enjoyed my stay at the mayor's. Moose Boy was also going south on the AT (like me). We had spent some time talking last night. He's just out for a few days, doing a section on the AT in NJ. He went ahead while I adjusted my pack and put my rain gear on (yup, it rained all day, again!).
The morning was gradual uphill. I didn't mind it that much. The worse part was the rain - it had turned many parts of the trail into a stream. And some of the streams were so flooded that I had to wade through knee-deep water to get across.
I stopped at High Point shelter for lunch. I got there just as Moose Boy as leaving. We would both leave the AT when we got to High Point State Park - he to catch a train back home to NYC, me to continue hiking north on the SRT. I stayed at the shelter for an hour, eating a big lunch and hoping the rain would stop (which it din't).
By 1:30 I made it to High Point, the highest point in New Jersey, at just over 1800 feet. There's a big obelisk there, like the Washington Monmument, that's a memorial to New Jersey's war heroes. I was here with my mom and sister Molly two years ago for a short overnight hiking trip (we stayed at a nearby family campgroud). There are great views in all directions. And they recenty opened the monument so people can climb to the top. Unfortunately there was nobody else there. I couldn't see any views, I couldn't climb the monument and I couldn't take a picture of myself at the highest point in NJ. The monumnt did look cool disappearing into the fog, but it was too wet to try to take a picture of it. Oh well.
I hiked along the SRT all afternoon, finally setting up my tent illegally around 7:30. I covered a lot of mileage today and am pretty tired. The early start from the Mayor's House helped. As did his inspiration - Vincera!
Tomorrow I go to Wurtsboro to resupply and take a zero day (as in zero mileage). Looking forward to getting hiking poles and new boots!
I forgot to mention, I got off the AT without a trail name. I was hoping I would've gotten one, but I wasn't on the AT for that long. Maybe I'll get one later on my trip, but probably not. Oh well.
I'm writing this post on Friday and Saturday. I got to Wurtsboro Firday and am spending all of Saturday here.
The hike to Wurtsboro went along an abandoned railroad bed through Bashakill Wildlife Management Area. The Bashakill is a river that foods in the spring and summer to form a big wetlands. It's a protected wildlife area by NY state, with a rail-trail running alongside it. I saw lots of wildlife here - contless birds and frogs, two turtles, four snakes, and a racoon (it was climbing a tree).
I take back any complaints I had about crossing streams on the flooded AT in knee-deep water. There was one quarter-mile section in Bashakill where the water flooded the trail. There was no way to avoid it; the water had risen from the wetlands on both sides of the trail. So, for 10 minutes, I was walking through water that was well above my knees. At some points it got up to my waist! And this was dirty, mucky water from the wetlands, not clear water from moutain springs. Of course, my boots weighed 10 pounds after that.
I got into Wurtsboro around 4. It's a cute, small, historic town, named for Maurice Wurts, a businessman and one of the founders of the Delaware and Hudson Canal, wich used to run through Wurtsboro. When I got to town I went to the post office to pick up my mail drops. I had sent two boxes to myself, containing food, new maps, clean clothes, batteries, and various odds and ends. I will mail them ahead to Phoenicia, my next stop, before I leave town.
Then I checked in at the Valley Brook Inn, the only place in town. The woman was happy to see me check in finally; I had changed my reservation three times before. She didn't seem to mind, because she upgraded me to a cottage. It has two beds and a kitchen. Not that I need it, but its still nice.
My grandma and Aunt Sharon planned to come visit me in Wurtsboro, and we spent Friday night and Saturday together. It was great to see them!
I had planned to gets some supplies, including fuel, boots, and hiking poles, at the Catskill Hiking Shack, which is on Sullivan Street (the main street in Wurtsboro), but they had closed down. My grandma and aunt were trail angels and drove me to another store outside of town.
I was also able to do some laundry and upload photos at their hotel - hope you like them! The time went by really fast. I can't believe I have to start hiking again tomorrow (Sunday).
Thanks for everyone's comments and support, both on the blog and in private e-mails...both get sent to me. I really appreciate it and it helps keep me going at times. Next upload should be on Tuesday, if I can find a phone, othewise Friday when I get to Phoenicia.
End: Roosa Gap State Forest
It rained all day yesterday, when I was resupplying and doing errands, so I was happy to wake up to sunny skies this morning. The only problem was I didn't want to leave! I was so busy doing stuff in town yesterday that I didn't have much time to relax. Although it was nice to give my body a rest.
I left town around noon and got back on the trail. It wasn't as early as I wouldv'e liked, but I've found that I'm slow leaving towns to get back on the trail. I soon reached the intersection of the Shawangunk Ridge Trail and the Long Path. The SRT just connects the AT to the Long Path, and it ended at that intersection. So I'm back on the Long Path!
It was very hot and buggy today. I probably drank 10 liters of water. Most of the day was walking north along the Shawangunk Ridge. At some points there were some excellent views. I could see hills to the east
and west, the Catskills (looking very intimidating) to the north, and Bashakill and even High Point Monument to the south (it looked so small, perched atop the Kittatinny Ridge).
Around 6 I descended from the rocky ridge and found a really nice place to camp. I'm in a state forest so I'm camping legally tonight. And it turns out I camped legally on Thusday night as well.
I passed through one area today where a fire had been recently. The earth was charred and the trees were burned. Some small scrub had begun to grow in, so I think the fire was probably last year.
Forest fires are a part of nature, often started by lightning. And yet humans try to prevent and stop them. Sometimes it's to protect property and homes, but oftentimes I think it's to preserve the ideal of what we consider a forest, or nature. A burned area just isn't aesthetically appealling to us. I wonder if there are any measurable ecological effects of humans trying to prevent forest fires.
It's 8:30 and the sun's still out, but I'm tired and going to bed. My pack, although it was full of food, felt pretty comfortable today, even though it's really heavy to pick up. Once it's on my back it feels fine. I guess my body is finally adjusted to it.
End: near Lake Awosting, Minnewaska State Park Preserve
My mood changed a lot during the the day. I started with a long uphill climb to Sam's Point Preserve. It was very hot, and I wasn't too happy.
Then I got to the Preserve. It is managed by the Nature Conservancy. On the edge of the preserve, I passed some abandoned and destroyed shacks. On the map they are listed as huckleberry picker shacks, but there wasn't much explanation beyond that. Clearly they were remnants of the previous owner of the land.
They have a conservation/nature center there and I would've liked to look around inside, but it was closed (even though the signage said they should be open on Mondays). I had a big late lunch (which ended up tiding me over for dinner) at a picnic bench.
Then I climbed the half mile to Sam's Point. It afforded some amazing views to the south, east, and west. I could, again, make out High Point Monument to the south on the far horizon, though it was much smaller than how it looked yesterday. I could see for miles. It was very beautiful.
Soon after, I took a short side trip off the Long Path to the Ice Caves. The caves have openings on top but not on bottom, so when cold air enters in the winter it sinks and then stays in the cave in the summer. The trail led through the cave a little bit, and it was refreshingly cold inside. And, yes, there were large blocks of ice inside.
Then I walked along the ridge for two miles to Verkeeder Kill Falls. The walk along the ridge - in fact, all the hiking since I got to Sam's Point Preserve - was so beautiful! I was mainly walking on rocks, with some small shrubbery all aroud, and there were such amazing views. The falls were very cool too. I could look at the water dropping 100 feet down the cliff face.
So now I'm camped illegally again. There shouldn't be much more illegal camping. Though my morning was pretty crappy, my afternoon was great. I would say the afternoon - since Sam's Point - has been my favorite part of the Long Path so far.
It rained a little last night but I stayed dry in my tent. I really hope it doesn't rain again tonight because I'm not in a great tenting spot and I couldn't set up my rain fly that well. The sky looks pretty clear, and it was sunny all day, but there is a nice breeze that could bring in some rain clouds.
I reached 2000 feet in elevation today, for the first time on the trip. In just a few days I'll climb Slide Mountain in the Catskills, over 4000 feet high.
End: near Uppper Cherrytown Road, Catskill State Park
There's a lot to say about today, some of which my parents won't want to hear about, but rest assured it's 9:30 now and I'm safe in my tent, camped where I wanted to camp.
The day started out very well. I climbed up from the lake to Murray Hill, which offered more great views like yesterday, and continued to walk on the flat rock along the top of the ridge. Like yesterday, it was very beautiful up there. Then I had to climb to Castle Point - literally, I was basically rock climbing to follow the trail up there. More great views to the south, east, and west. There was a large valley below, with the outlines of hills and mountains rising in the far distance and on the horizon.
After walking along the rocks for a little while, I got to see great views of the Catskills to the north. They looked so magnificent. The view to the north was much better than the earlier views to the south.
Then I got to Rainbow Falls, another amazing waterfall. The trail yesterday led to the top of Verkeerder Kill Falls. The trail today led to the bottom of Rainbow Falls. I think it was cooler to look at the falls from above.
Anyway, around noon, I was following the trail on a woods road when it intersected with power lines. The woods road turned left, and I followed it down the hill, along the power line right-of-way. Twenty minutes later, I stopped for water and to check the map. I hadn't seen blazes in a while, but I didn't think I could've turned off the woods road. As soon as I looked at the map, I realized I had gone the wrong way. I trudged back up the hill and saw that, when the woods road intersected the power lines and turned left, the Long Path went straight across the power lines and turned right. I was never worried about being lost; but I was very annoyed at myself for missing the turn. Lesson learned: don't walk for more than two minutes without seeing blazes, otherwise check the map and turn aroud.
About two hours later, just as I was leaving Minnewaska State Park, I came across my first bear! It was on the trail, about 200 feet in front of me. I started yelling and it ran away as soon as it heard me. I stayed where I was for a minute, yelling to scare the bear away, and then continued down the trail. I was still yelling ("Bear! Bear! Go away! Happy Birthday! Go! Potato! Corn! Hey! Hey! Bear!"...whatever came to my mind) when I reached where the bear had been. It was only 50 feet up the trail from where a residential road dead-ended. When I got down to the road, a father and his 7-year-old son were staring at me like I was deranged, wondering why the hell I was yellling non-sequiters. I don't know who was more scared - the bear or the father. Anyway, I told them why I was yelling ("I promise, there was a bear here a minute ago!") and we spoke about my trip briefly, then I was on my way.
The next 13 miles were a road walk. It was my longest road walk so far. The trail led three miles downhill to Kerhonkson, a town in a valley that I had hoped would be nice, but it turned out to be pretty seedy like Mout Ivy (see day 3 or 4). When I got to town I uploaded the past few days of blog entries from a pay phone and had pizza for dinner. Based on the time (4:30) and how much longer I had to hike (9 miles), I decided to just get dinner in town so that I wouldn't have to cook when I got to camp, which I expected to be around dark.
After dinner I had a long uphill road walk to the entrance of Catskill Park, where I'm camped now. The walk was actually very pleasant even though it was on roads. I passed many farms and large fields. I got to my camping site around 9:00, just as the last light was fading. I quickly set up camp near the parking lot, and now I'm going to bed.
So, today was a lot of milestones. First bear sighting. First major wrong turn. First major road walk. Longest mileage so far (24, including detour when I went the wrong way). And I entered Catskill Park. And, it's my longest stretch without rain so far (2 days).
End: Bouton Memorial Lean-To
Today just wasn't a great day. Walking was really uncomfortable because I developed some new blisters on my feet yesterday. There isn't much I can do about them.
In the morning I passed Vernooy Falls, a small set of waterfalls that were decent. A little after that the trail left the woods roads it had been following and was very poorly maintained. I didn't get lost because I could see the blazes, but it was very overgrown and littered with dead trees.
Then I climbed Peekamoose Mountain. From here on, the trail condition was good. There was a nice overlook before the summit, but it started to rain when I got there. There were too many trees at the summit to see any views. I soon descended Peekamoose and climbed Table Mountain, which also had no views from the summit. Both mountains were over 3800 feet, my highest climbs yet.
I made it to the lean-to around 8, but because of the rain it was already getting dark. There's a couple here at the lean-to with me. I'm in the lean-to; they're tenting. When I first got here I thought I was alone, because I didn't see any signs of other people. Then I heard a rustling in the bushes and shouted "Hey, bear!" - it turned out to be the other people. I went over and said hi, then went back to the lean-to to make dinner. They just introduced themselves and we haven't had any other intraction. I guess they want their privacy.
Previous visitors left some great wood for a campfire, and I tried to get it to light, but it was all too wet.
I'm glad there are other people at the lean-to with me, even though they aren't friendly. On the Appalachian Trail, it was nice to have a big group of fellow hikers when I arrived at the shelter. By the way, the lean-tos in the Catskills are very similar to the shelters on the AT - three walls, a wooden floor, and a roof. They can sleep 6-8 people.
In the register at the shelter (a notebook for people to sign in and write their thoughts and messages), I read that a group of 3 people thru-hiking the Long Path came through here about two weeks ago. They should've finished by now. I hope they made it.
It's 9:30 and I'm goingoto sleep after a nice dinner. The rain stopped, but I'd still rather stay in the shelter than tent. It's a nice change. Big day tomorrow - three mountains and a road walk, and hoping to get to Phoenicia before the post office closes so I can get my packages of food and clean clothes to change into. I haven't made a reservation at the motel in town, but hopfully they'll have a room on a Thursday night.
Today marks two weeks on the trail.
Bottom line: I made it to Phoenicia just in time, 4:55, five minutes before the post office closed. But it was an exhausting day before that. (I have a clean set of clothes that I mail to myself from town to town, along with food and supplies. The clean clothes are what I wanted to get.)
Since I'm taking a rest a in Phoenicia, I'll have this entry count for Thursday and Friday.
I woke up early Thursday and was hiking by 8. The couple who tented with me at the lean-to last night were still sleeping when I left. I had some big climbs today - Slide, Cornell, and Wittenberg Mountains, all above 3500 feet. Slide Mountain, at 4100 feet, is the highest peak in the Catskills and the highest point on the Long Path.
I got up to Slide around 11:30. There were some decent views, but the trees often got in the way. Going up to Slide wasn't that bad, but it was very steep coming down. There were a number of steep rock faces that took a while to maneuver. Several times today (going down Slide, up and down Cornell, and down Wittenberg) I had to take my pack off and throw it up or down the rock face, so I could manage the climb/descent more safely. I hadn't expected these steep parts, and they slowed down my pace since I had to be very careful.
There were a few good views right before the summit of Cornell, but nothing from the top (too many trees in the way).
Wittenberg had the best views. Ther was a big open cliff with great views to the southeast.
Now I'm in the heart of the Catskills, and the trails are well maintained. I also saw half a dozen people on the trail today.
Anyway, I was rushing all day to try and get to Phoenicia by 5:00. I did take some time to enjoy the summit views though. By the time I got down to Woodland Valley, it was 4:00. From here, it was a six mile road walk into town. I was exhausted and really thirsty, and decided I couldn't make it to Phoenicia in time.
So, I drank two liters of water and had a snack, and then started walking into town at a more relaxed pace. I figured I might be able to buy a souvenir T-shirt and a bathing suit in town.
The road I was on was very quiet. After 15 minutes of walking, I heard a car coming from behind me (the first car going the same direction as me). I stuck out my thumb to try to hitch a ride, and it worked! I had so much trouble hitching rides along the AT, when I was on busy roads, and now I was on a quiet road and the first car stopped for me! It was a young couple, probably in their late twenties. They had an infant in the back seat and a dog in the trunk. They said they were from New York City. The wife said that when she was in college, she and some friends had talked about doing the Appalchian Trail, but they never got their act together. Anyway, they were going toward Phoenicia, and they even detoured into town to drop me off. They were so nice! And I made it to the post office just in time!
Phoenicia is a very small town. Main street is just one block long. I went to the motel and was able to get a room, and I took a shower.
I had a big dinner in town, then ice cream. Then a thunderstorm rolled in so I went back to the motel to soak my feet in the bathtub before bed. I figure it will help my blisters.
Friday I just relaxed in town. I took care of resupplying and planned out the next part of my trip. I will get to Middleburgh on July 2, and will spend the night at a hotel with my dad and brother. Then I should finish the Long Path in Altamont on July 6.
I uploaded some photos using the computer at the Phoenicia Library, but I didn't have enough time to do all of them.
My appetite has really changed. I'm eating a lot on the trail. When I was in town, I would often order two entrees.
Next blog updates should be by Thursday, maybe on Wednesday.
End: Tremper Mountain Lean-To
I was going to start by saying today way a failure, but that's not entirely true. It was, however, not very successful.
This morning I took my last shower, went to the post office to mail ahead extra food, clean clothes, etc., and then had to buy a pair of socks at the general store.
I think I forgot to mention this in yesterday's post, but I had to hand wash my clothes in the bathtub. There was no laundromat in town, and the owner of the motel had a strict policy against letting guests use her laundry machines (apparently I was th fourth person to ask her that week). So, I bought a bottle of Woolite and washed my clothes (socks, shirt, shorts) in the bathtub. The water was a very dark brown from all the dirt and grime! Anyway, my socks weren't dry this morning, and I knew if I hiked in wet socks I would get more blisters, so I bought a new pair of socks to wear.
I also found out my water filter broke. I spent a half hour trying to fix it yesterday, but it didn't work. The general store in town didn't hav any chemicals that I could use (iodine, chlorine). So until Thursday, when I meet up with my dad and brother who will bring me chlorine drops, I will have to get all my water from faucets. So, I bought two big plastic bottles of Gatorade in town which I could use to hold water in addition to my Nalgene bottles, so I left town carrying four liters of water.
So, I finally got hiking around noon, and I just wasn't feeling right. I kept taking breaks. Then a storm rolled in, and luckily I was just passing a lean-to then, so I stopped at the lean-to for an hour to wait out the storm. While I was there a few groups of day-hikers also came in to take shelter. They were hiking the three miles up to the Tremper Mountain fire tower.
There used to be a number of fire towers on the peaks throughout the Catskills, where people would watch for forest fires. Now only five towers are left, and you can still climb to the top of them for great views.
I finally got hiking again, but decided to stop when I got to the top of Tremper Mountain, a mile later. There's a lean-to at the top near the fire tower, and I decided to just spend the night here. The next lean-to, my intended destination for tonight, was 10 more miles, and I got here aroud 5 and decided to call it a day. It turns out the fire tower is undergoing repairs so it's closed, but with the rain I probably wouldn't see anything anyway.
So, the only successful part about today is that I got a fire started. Someone had left dry wood in the lean-to, and I was able to get a decent fire going. That was nice. It's the first fire I've made on the trip.
Now it's 8:00, and I'm going to bed. I have to catch up on big mileage, and tomorrow I have the Devil's Path, one of the most strenuous trails in the Catskills.
Nobody else is at the lean-to, which is kind of disappointing. I would've liked some company tonight.
End: Mink Hollow Lean-To
I didn't sleep well at all last night. I was all alone at the lean-to, and then I got some visitors (of the rodent variety) overnight. I had seen lots of scat in the shelter, but I didn't want my tent to get wet, so I set up my tent in the shelter. I could hear mice scurrying all night, keeping me awake. Then a porcupine came by and wouldn't leave. I would yell at it and shine a light on it, and it would slowly mosey away, but then it would come back ten minutes later.
So, I was happy to leave the shelter this morning. The morning was on a pretty poorly maintained trail. I had to take a detour (actually followed an older version of the Long Path before it was rerouted a few years ago) so I could fill up on clean water at a state campground.
In the afternoon I started on the Devil's Path. It is very steep (both up and down). I saw about half a dozen day-hikers.
I got to Mink Hollow Lean-To around 4:30. There is a small group of tenth-grade boy scouts here along with three father troop leaders. I spoke to the troop leaders for a little while, and I mentioned that my water filter had broken (to explain why I was carrying four litres of water). Then they offered me some chlorine drops that they had as backup - trail magic from trail angels! It was so nice of them, and it takes away some big headaches with me having to worry about getting clean water.
I had originally planned to camp here last night. It's six more miles to the next lean-to, and I could probably have gotten there just as it was getting dark. But it's a steep hike ahead, and the troop leaders convinced me to stay. It's also nice to have company at the lean-to. I haven't said much to the scouts, but I've enjoyed having some conversations with the leaders. The kids are being loud, but I think I'll be able to sleep (I hope).
I'm a full day behind what I had planned, but I had a relaxing evening.
The last time I was at this lean-to was two years ago, on my freshman pre-orientation backpacking trip (shoutout to Outdoor Action group C21!). Some nice memories of that trip came back when I was hiking the Devil's Path and at the lean-to.
End: South Mountain
Today was a very long day. It rained last night. I stayed dry in my tent, but the rain convinced me to sleep in an extra hour, since I didn't want to go outside. I didn't have any trouble sleeping last night. Apparently (the troop leaders told me this morning) the scouts were up talking and laughing and singing into the wee hours of the morning. But I fell asleep before the troop leaders left the boys at the lean-to and went to sleep in their tent.
In the morning, I had to tackle more of the Devil's Path. I climbed Sugarloaf, Twin, and Indian Head Mountains. Like yesterday, the descents and climbs between peaks were very steep, and it took me a long time to maneuver the rock ledges. But there were some nice views. I also saw about 15 people doing day-hikes. They used some side trails allow loops on the Devil's Path.
I stopped for lunch at Devil's Kitchen Lean-To, at the eastern end of the Devil's Path. There was an assistant forest ranger there, and we spoke for a while. He was out on his patrols. He was also in college, and he had been doing this as a summer job for two years.
Just when he left, a group of four guys came (they looked college-aged as well). They were just there for the night, but their packs probably weighed more than mine. They had a new stove that they were trying to figure out how to light. Finally, after fifteen minutes, they lit it. But they had spilled so much fuel that the entire stove went up in flames. They almost burned the lean-to down! It was amusing to watch, and I left soon after.
Around 6:30, I got to Palenville. It seems like a very small town, but I didn't walk to the main part of it. I stopped at a gas station that had a grocery and deli. I've been so hungry lately that I've eaten more than I planned for. I got a deli sandwich for dinner, which I ate there. I also bought some Clif bars and peanut butter. They only had Jif creamy in small containers, but I'll deal with it (I'm a Skippy superchunk guy).
I still had a few more miles of hiking from Palenville, and I wasn't sure of an exact place to camp tonight, since there's no lean-to nearby (the closest one is another ten miles from here). I had to hike with my headlamp for a little while until I found a spot to camp.
The area where I'm camped is the former site of the Hotel Kaaterskill. In the nineteenth century, the Catskills were the major vacation spot for the rich and famous from New York. The Hotel Kaaterskill, and the nearby Catskill Mountain House, were two of the most prestigous. Now they're both destroyed. Nearby, there's a large state campground now (North/South Lake).
Apparently the Hotel Kaaterskill was built by a guy who got in a fight with the Montain House because they didn't accommodate the dietary needs of his daughter. So he bought some land a mile away and built a rival luxury hotel.
I'm really tired now. In one week I'll finish the Long Path, and be sleeping at the Altamont Inn (the only lodging option in Altamont).
End: Batavia Kill Lean-To
The weather really played games with me today. It was sunny when I woke up. Then it rained for two minutes around 8:00, only to get sunny again. For the rest of the morning it was sunny with a nice breeze.
Then around 2:30 it got cloudy, and I could hear thunder off in the distance. I was on my way up Blackhead Mountain, and decided to stop before the final ascent and wait out the storm (I didn't want to get stuck on top of the mountain when the lightning came). I put my rain gear on and sat on my pack, waiting. After a half hour with no rain (but thunder in the distance still), I decided to keep going. Five minutes later, it started to pour. So I stopped hiking and decided to pitch my tent and wait out the storm in the tent. I wasn't in a great spot but I was able to stay dry. After a little while I got out my sleeping bag and curled up inside it, listening to the rain hit against the tarp and the thunder echo through the mountains.
By 6:30, the rain had died down (though not stopped entirely) and the lightning had passed, so I packed everything up and started hiking again. I had hoped to get to Elm Ridge Lean-To today, covering 8 more mies, but the rain delay changed my plans. I took a small detour to get to the lean-to. Apparently the descent down Blackhead is one of the steepest in the Catskills, which didn't sound appealing while it was raining and the rocks were wet, so I took a roundabout way to descend and get to the lean-to. Even though it was 1.5 miles longer, I felt more comfortable not having to deal with the rock ledges in the rain.
When I got to the lean-to I made dinner and then tried to make a fire. There was some nice wood, but it was wet. I got creative and piled it on a metal grill that was here, which I held over my stove. Eventually the wood died and ignited, and I built up a decent fire.
There's nobody else here at the lean-to. It would've been nice to have company, but I was glad to get the fire going instead. According to the journal, this isn't a very popular lean-to. Many people wrote about a porcupine that comes in the middle of the night. Well I didn't have to wait that long - it came by while I was having dinner and now it's purring in the bushes.
This morning I passed a number of noteworthy historical spots. First was the site of the former Catskill Mountain House. The building is gone, but there's a spectacular overlook there. Later I passed Artists' Rock and Sunset Rock, two more overlooks that were the frequent site of paintings by Thomas Cole and other Hudson River school painters.
Later in the day, the trail passed a small two-person plane that had crashed into the mountain. It was right next to the trail, and was still pretty intact (given that it had crashed). It was very eerie to stumble across. I hope they survived. I wonder what the story behind the crash is.
End: Nickerson's Campground
Today I encoutered the infamous "northern part" of the Long Path. I had heard that, north of the Catskills, the trail is very poorly maintained. I left Catskill Park in the late morning, and the trail continued along on some old logging roads.
Then, it became hell. The trail was so overgrown, with stinging nettles that were three feet tall, that it wasn't distinguishable. I could see the blazes pretty well, but the trail was too overgrown to be seen, and for a mile I had to bushwhack from blaze to blaze through the stinging nettles. At one point I stopped to put pants on, but when I did some thorns got stuck in my pack and later dug into my back. My arms and legs got all scratched up and were bloody and stinging. It was awful. After a mile, the trail conditions got better. But a few hours later, I had to encounter another two-mile stretch of it. I was pretty miserable. In my opinion, those sections should be closed and rerouted along roads until the trail can be cleaned up. (Not that I'm blaming trail maintenance volunteers...they are, after all, volunteers, and I have so much of the trail to thank them for.)
I finally got through the abysmal Sections 24 and 25 of the Long Path, and then had a long road walk. Section 26 of the trail is apparently impassable at poins, and parts of it have been unmaintained for years, so there is a road walk detour for thru-hikers. After doing almost half of it, it was getting dark, and I was able to hitch a ride to the campground. The driver was a town supervisor, and he went out of his way to take me where I was going. What a trail angel! I didn't feel too bad hitching to avoid five miles of road walk; I have my fair share of road walking on this trip. The road walk was actually pretty enjoyable. I'm out in the country now, and it's on quiet roads past large farms.
I got to the campground a little after 9. The Long Path actually goes through the campground, so it's a convenient place to stay. It's owned by a very nice couple who bought it four years ago. Apparently they had been expecting me; they heard from someone at the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference that I would be coming by on a thru-hike. I also went on a little shopping spree at their store, buying ice cream, cookies, and other junk food. While I was eating dinner, the husband (Doug) came over and we had a nice talk for a while. Apparently he sees about ten thru-hikers a year come through the campground. Nearly all have been men under 30 (an interesting contrast to the Appalachian Trail, which, as I think I mentioned, gets men and women of all ages).
A very cool part of today was when I was climbing Windham High Peak in the morning. To the left of the ridge, it was all sunny. But on the right side, it was very cloudy. There were times when I got high enough that I could look to my right and actually be above the clouds. I took a few pictures but I doubt they'll capture the full effect.
Need to get an early star tomorrow. I'm meeting up with my dad and brother tomorrow in West Fulton, then spending the next day relaxing and resupplying.
End: West Fulton, NY
Today my dad and brother came to visit. It's so nice to see them. They picked me up from the post office in West Fulton and we drove a half hour to Cobleskill, which is the closest city with a hotel.
I'm now in some very rural areas of New York. I had agreed to meet my dad at the West Fulton post office, because we figured that would be an easy to find place. Well, that's all there is in West Fulton. Literally! No store, no restaurant, no gas station. There's just a post office and a firehouse.
The road walks up here have been very pleasant, because they're on quiet roads along farms.
This morning I passed by a visitor's center for the New York Power Authority. There was a very impressive set of exhibits about generating electricity and related stuff. There's a big hydroelectric dam nearby.
Next to the visitor's center was Lansing Manor, an old home from the early 1800s that was restored and turned into a museum. It's also owned by the NY Power Authority, and I got a quick tour of the house when I stopped by.
The weather today alternated several times between downpours and being very hot and sunny.
It's really nice to spend the night at a hotel. Before going to bed I took a bath with epsom salt, which felt really nice.
End: Vroman's Nose
My dad and brother helped me with a bunch of errands in the morning - laundry, grocery shopping, etc. It was a nice and relaxing day. We just bummed around in Cobleskill, the drove to Middleburgh and walked around there. Middleburgh is a cute little town.
We had a late lunch in Middleburgh and then around 4 they dropped me back at the trail. They're off to India tomorrow, and I'm continuing on to finish the Long Path and head to the Adirondacks. It was so nice to see them, even if only for a day.
I had originally expected to be dropped off shortly before dark and just hike a couple miles today. But I had the time so I decided to get to Vroman's Nose. Vroman's Nose is a hill with a rock formation that looks like a big nose from below. It's right outside Middleburgh, a popular spot for a short day hikes, and there are camping sites at the summit.
It was well worth staying here. The view is so amazing. Directly below are farms, and off in the distance are rolling hills. I can also look down on Middleburgh at the edge of town. I sat on the ledge for a while just taking it all in. Then when it got dark, I could see some fireworks. It was a very nice night.
It's weird to think that I started hiking nearly four weeks ago. I just have three more days until I finish the Long Path in Altamont. That's the current official end of the Long Path. But the Long Path remains a work-in-progress, and I think there ar blazes further north from there. In 1987, it was first completed as a continuous hiking path, but only went as far north as the Catskills. Over the years it's continued to be blazed farther north, and although the official end is now in Altamont (according to the 2005 guidebook), routes have been scouted (and I think parts have even been blazed already) to continue north to the Mohawk River and Adirondack Park. So, I'll see what awaits me in Altamont. From there I have three days of road walking to get to Northville, in the Adirondacks, where I begin the second part of my trip (the Northville-Placid Trail).
End: Partridge Run Wildlife Management Area
Today was a fairly relaxing day, given that I hiked 16 miles. I started my day by hiking two miles down from Vroman's Nose to Middleburgh (where I had lunch with my dad and brother yesterday before they dropped me off at the trail). It's a small town but it has a number of stores and restaurants (it's bigger than Phoenicia and obviously much bigger than West Fulton). I had breakfast at Mrs. K's, a nice diner-type place. Of course, with my hiker appetite, I had to order two breakfasts - French toast and scrambled eggs. I was hoping I could watch a July 4th parade there, and I wasn't pressed for time, but there was no parade; the only parade was in Cobleskill.
So I was on my way. After leaving town I climbed the Middleburgh Cliffs, which offered some nice views from the top. While I was walking along the top, I also saw a fox (my first fox on this trip!). It had orange fur and was pretty skinny, and as soon as it saw me it ran away into the woods.
Later in the day I met two trail maintainers (Mark and Glenn) from the Long Path North Hiking Club. They had actually heard about my hike and blog from other Long Path trail maintainers. They knew I would be coming through, but they weren't expecting me in that section so soon. We had a nice chat for a little while and then I was on my way. I do want to get involved with trail maintenance work in the future. Hiking the Long Path has made me realize how much care the trails really need.
Soon after that enounter, I passed Cotton Hill Lean-To, where I stopped to have lunch. It was a very nice lean-to (although there was a lot of trash around). I would've liked to spend the night there, but it was only 2:00 when I finshed lunch. So I kept hiking. (Also, if I stayed at the lean-to, I would have to hike 26 miles tomorrow.)
Nothing really eventful happened in the afternoon. I didn't have a set destination for today, so when I saw a decent camping spot around 6:00 I decided to stop. Now, two hours later, I'm going to sleep.
The "finish line" seems so close - 2 more days. I really enjoyed the Long Path (except for a few overgrown parts), but I'm excited and ready to finish and move on to the Adirondacks and the Northville-Placid Trail.
End: Willsey Farm
There wasn't anything too eventful today. Normally I find it a challenge to distill a whole day's adventure into a few paragraphs. But there's not too much to report from today.
I really enjoyed the section in the afternoon (Section 32). The trail was well maintained and often went through pine or spruce forests. It also went on some nice country roads. I only saw one other person on the trail today, a guy out walking his dog.
I crossed a few wooden foot bridges that were built ten years ago by a group of prison inmates. I also walked by the National Weather Service's doppler radar for the Albany area. It was a tower with a huge sphere on top.
I also passed a small, old family cemetary. There was nothing about it in the guidebook, and I almost didn't notice it on the side of the trail. There was only room for about 15 headstones, but most of the stones were broken or faded. Only two of the stones were readable, and they must've been replaced recently because the death dates were in the late 1800s.
So, around 7:00, I got to the Willsey farm. Someone from th NY-NJ Trail Conference put me in touch with Mr. Willsey. He's been active in the Trail Conference for a while, and the trail goes past his house, and he said I could pitch my tent on his farm when I passed through.
I spoke to Mr. Willsey tonight for over three hours. Mostly it was just listening to him telling me lots of old stories (about his family, his house, his time in the Air Force, a guy he knew from New Jersey, etc.). He also told me about the first person to thru-hike the Long Path, a 60-year-old woman. Mr. Willsey is 83, and the house had been with his family for 101 years. His children now all live within a mile from the house.
It was nice to talk to him and hear all his stories. Around 11, I finally went outside and had to set up my tent. It's so cold tonight, once the sun went down! For once I'm glad I brought a heavyweight sleeping bag.
So now I'm curled up in my sleeping bag, trying to stay warm. Tomorrow is my last day on the Long Path!
Start: Willsey Farm
End: Altamont Inn
Altamont! After 27 days, I completed my thru-hike of the Long Path! It's a weird feeling. I can't believe that just a month ago I was still at home; it feels like I've been on the trail for so long. And yet, I can't believe that I'm done with the Long Path already. It's a very weird feeling to be have finished it.
And for me, this is just a transition in my trip. For the next few days I will make my way to Northville (following a possible extension of the Long Path from Altamont to the Adirondacks). And then, I have another, albeit shorter, trail to thru-hike: the Northville-Placid Trail.
I was woken up by the roosters at 6:30 this morning (I know that sounds like a cliche, but it's true). It was actually very hot outside by that point. After breakfast and another talk with Mr. Willsey, I was on my way. I only stopped once today, for lunch.
The trail passed through John Boyd Thacher State Park, a lovely park with a lot of nice trails. It also included the Helderberg Escarpment, a massive cliff. From the lookout, I could see the Albany skyline, the Green Mountains of Vermont, and the Taconic and Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts (including Mount Greylock, the highest point in Massachusetts). They looked liked blue-grey hills off in the far distance.
After leaving the park, there was about two miles of road walk until the trail ended abruptly - and rather randomly (I have no clue why this spot was chosen) - at the intersection of Lewis Road and Route 146. This is the official end of the Long Path. There's just a stop sign there - nothing special. It was somewhat anti-climactic. I got there at 2:40.
There was a blaze indicating that the trail continued down Route 146, but as I went that way for a mile to the village of Altamont I didn't see any more blazes. As I think I've said already, there are plans to extend the trail, but I don't know how far they have progressd. From what I saw today, it looks like it's not yet marked or blazed. I have a written description of a potential extension which I will follow for the next three days to get to Northville in the Adirondacks. The main problem the trail has encountered is that there aren't any woods to go through; the next three days will be 65 miles of road walking.
Altamont is a very small village, but it surprisingly has two gas stations (and the same number of restaurants). I'm staying at the Altamont Inn, a lovely bed and breakfast in a beautiful old house just outside town.
I was able to upload some photos from the computer at the public library, and then had a celebratory dinner of pizza (my choices were pizza or Chinese food) and then ice cream. I ran into the innkeepers at the ice cream shop and they gave me a ride up the hill the the inn with them.
It's difficult to assess how I've changed in the past month. There are the physical changes - In the beginning, I was struggling to do 15 miles in a day; now I can do 20 easily and probably 26 or even 30 if I push it. And I have a nice beard going. But the internal changes will probably take time to notice. I do recognize the simple pleasures - At the end of the day, a warm meal (plain pasta) and a dry sleeping bag can really hit the spot.
I've also thought that I'm not really "roughing it." Sure, to many people having to camp outside and carry all my stuff on my back sounds like hard work. But I am pampered with technology. I use lightweight, waterproof gear. I cook with a portable propane stove. My tent takes five minutes to set up and keeps me dry all night. I never have to build my own shelter or find my own food. And when I have made campfires, it's been for aesthetic (not survival) reasons.
Just some brief reflections. And so, I keep walking. The next week is a transition period. On Sunday, I begin my next adventure, the Northville-Placid Trail.
End: Duanesburg, NY
I had expected today to be a rather uneventful day of roadwalking, but that was not at all the case.
I slept great last night and had a wonderful French toast breakfast at the Altamont Inn this morning. Soon after I left, clouds started rolling in. By the time I had walked the half mile into town, it was raining really hard and there was thunder and lightning. The good thing about being out of the woods is that there are many safe places to take shelter from storms. So I ducked into the public library and spent some time uploading the rest of my photos. By the time I left, the sun was back out, but it was lunchtime, so I got lunch in town. I didn't start hiking until 2:00!
Nothing too eventful from the road walk. I crossed into Schenectady County. Around 4:30 another thunderstorm moved in pretty quickly. I was passing a golf course that had a bar/restaurant, so I decided I would buy a Coke and wait out the storm in there. Just a few minutes after I got inside, the storm was directy overhead. It was pouring, and there was less than a second difference between the thunder and lightning. It got pretty crowded inside, with the regular bar patrons now joined by all the golfers whose games were interupted. (Is it called a game of golf? I'm not very familiar with golf vocabulary.)
Anyway, I became quite an attraction at the bar. Everyone loved to hear about my hike and they all wanted to buy me drinks. One man, TJ, was the golf course superintendent and actually lived upstairs. He was very nice. He also drank six whiskeys on the rocks while I sat with him. He insisted on buying me dinner. I refused repeatedly, but then he went into the kitchen and brought out the chef and pretty much forced me to order something. It was very nice of him.
So while I was there, I was talking a lot to the guy next to me (Dave) about the Adirondacks (where I'm headed next). Dave was there with his wife Laura having dinner. He went to the Adirondacks a lot, and was giving me a lot of advice and suggestions.
As he and his wife were getting ready to leave (and I was too), his wife offered for me to stay at their house tonight, in a one-room log cabin in their backyard that Dave had built. I said no at first, but when she asked a third time, I figured, "why not?" If I had continued hiking to a park where I had planned to camp illegally, I would've gotten there around dusk. They live just around the corner.
So now I'm at Dave and Laura's house. I know it sounds very sketchy to stay with strangers who I met at a bar, but I trusted my instinct and they are fine people. They have two sons (17 and 20) who I enjoyed talking to when I got to the house. Zach, the younger son, had some friends over, and I'm sure they thought it was a bit unusual for me to be there.
Their house was beautifully decorated with tons of nature stuff. It looked like a cabin in the Adirondacks. Dave was really into Native American artwork (that he crafted himself), and many of his pieces hung on the walls.
Before I went to bed, I was talking to Dave on the porch and he was telling me about how his family goes to primitive rendezvous. They are gatherns modeled after the rendezvous gatherings of fur traders in the early 1800s. In springtime, the fur trappers would come together at a gathering called a rendezvous, where they would trade, resupply, and get drunk. So Dave and his family go to these primitive rendezvous, where everyone wears clothing from the early 1800s and camps out for a few days. He showed me the clothes that he had made himself, using leather from a deer he had hunted. It all sounded pretty neat. Apparently the gatherings are really big, and I'm sure it'd be a cool thing to see.