Day 135- Wednesday, 7/25- Vernon, NJ- (0) (1358.0 total)
Nice relax and recharge day today. Plus avoiding the rain that’s been on and off all day. Pretty much just chilled out all day at the motel, except for going in to town for a couple hours for lunch and resupply. I called that guy to give me a ride and he came over promptly and picked me up afterwards. Such a helpful guy. Older guy, maybe late 60s or early 70s. Former football player and wrestler. Kind of gruff, but kind. He dropped me off back at the motel afterwards and there were a few other hikers hanging out in front of their rooms, so he got out to come talk with everyone. The guy has one of those cell phone cases that attaches to your belt and keeps his phone on there, so it’s a little bit of weight that pulls down slightly. I glanced at it while he was standing there talking and had to double take. I could see his underwear band and it just so happened to be purple and lacy. Holy shit, the guy was wearing woman’s panties!After he drove off, I told the other guys and one of them had seen it too. We were cracking up! Well, hike your own hike. Underwear your own underwear too I guess.
That was pretty much all the excitement for the day. Ordered pizza for dinner here at the room and just relaxing and watching Netflix. This next section will take me almost to the New York/Connecticut border, to that train station where I’ll head into NYC and then up to Maine. It will be a bit of a longer section- 6 days and 17-20 miles a day to get there on time for the road trip north. Just hope the rain backs off a bit.
Day 136- Thursday, 7/26- Wildcat Shelter, NY- (17.2 miles) (1375.2 total)
Back on the trail again today after a nice zero. The motel shuttled me back to the trail head at 7am. By lunchtime today I crossed out of New Jersey and in to New York. State, number 9 out of 14. Parts of the hike today were pretty challenging, with quite a bit of rock scrambling to do. One part even had ladder rungs set into the rock face so we could climb up. I’m getting mixed reports on these rocks. I was reading the AT 2018 thru hiker Facebook page and people on there were laughing, saying that the rocks continue all the way to Maine and the whole Pennsylvania thing is just another weird trail rumor like saying that Virginia is flat (trust me, it was NOT!). But a girl I met today who is hiking southbound said that after tomorrow the rocks really mellow out. Who the heck knows. That girl also told me that the famous creamery just off the trail closes at 3:30pm. So I just flew past it and didn’t stop, since it was after 3:30 when I got there. Then all the hikers who came in to camp after I did tonight said they all stopped at the creamery and had this awesome ice cream, well after 3:30. I’m bitter about missing out on that.
Saw my first bear in a long time today. This was the first time I ever saw one directly on the trail. Usually I see them off in the woods a bit, but today I came up over a rise and there was this bear, maybe 30 yards ahead of me. I think it saw me just a second or two before I saw it, and was already starting to run away by the time I noticed it. Medium sized bear and it ran pretty quickly into the woods and disappeared down the hill.
Camping out in my tent next to Wildcat Shelter tonight. Nice spot, except that I’m fairly near some stagnant water ponds and the mosquitos are out en mass. Also the privy here is apparently full so not usable. Glad I didn’t have to find that out for myself at 0 dark 30.
Going for a 19.5 mile day tomorrow, so gotta get to bed early so I can start early. Goodnight, everyone!
Day 137- Friday, 7/27- William Brian Memorial Shelter- (19.5 miles) (1394.7 total)
Wow, what a super long day it was today. That was a slog. I knew I was doing big miles today so I left early at 6am. Along the way I ran into this guy named Grizz who I first met back in Delaware Water Gap. He has lived on Kaua’i for the past several years so we talked about the islands quite a bit. We hiked together for most of the morning today and got into some pretty deep conversation about all kinds of topics. I was really enjoying talking to a fellow hiker and it definitely makes the time pass quickly. Unfortunately, we got too wrapped up in our conversation and suddenly I noticed that I hadn’t seen a white blaze in a while. We checked the Guthook app and sure enough we had wandered off trail. This happens occasionally, but I usually catch it before I walk too far. Today tho, we were a good mile off the AT. Which meant 1 mile back, wasting a full hour. Damn, not what we needed on a day where we are already doing nearly 20 miles. Several hikers have commented that the New York section of the trail is really easy to wander off of and on to different trails. There just seem to be so many intersecting trails and roadways out here that if you are not paying full attention, are easy to detour on. In many cases the natural flow of the trail here leads you to the wrong trail, while the AT suddenly turns off sharply. Gotta keep my eyes open here.
Aside from that little setback, the trail was pretty challenging today. Lots of ups and downs, and a few spots where we had to rock scramble. The craziest one was called “Lemon Squeeze.” A good rule of thumb out here is that if an upcoming section has a name, then it is probably difficult. This Lemon Squeeze was 2 parallel overhead rock walls that narrowed as they went, leaving a kind of narrowing hallway for us to walk through. It got narrow enough that I couldn’t fit through with my pack. I think the mosquitos knew that humans walk in there and get kind of stuck for a bit. They were waiting in there for us in a huge swarm. I had to take off my pack, lift it over my head, and place it up top above this hallway thing on the flat surface. Then I could turn my body sideways, squeeze through, climb up above the hallway, and retrieve my pack. It was nuts. This was followed by a section of rock that we were supposed to climb up, but I really couldn’t see any way up it. No foot or hand holds- just way too sketchy for me. Looked super easy to fall. Luckily, there was a short blue blaze trail that went around this section and was a bit easier. Man, some of the areas this trail takes us through are crazy.
So with our little detour this morning and all the time that wasted, plus the crazy terrain in some parts today, I didn’t get here to camp until 7:30pm- 13.5 hours of hiking today. My legs were totally shot when I got here and there was thunder rumbling in the distance, threatening rain. Getting my boots off and having a hot meal has helped a lot, and a good night’s sleep is going to help even more. The rain didn’t come until 8:30 or so but now it’s coming down. Good sleeping weather.
Day 138- Saturday, 7/28- Graymoor Spiritual Life Center- (16.5 miles) (1411.2 total)
Passed the 1400 mile mark today about 5 miles into my hike, on my way up Bear Mountain. I heard people talking about Bear Mountain in New York back in New Jersey. Thought it was probably some really challenging part of the trail in NY. Turns out it is just super popular. It is close enough to NYC and an easy enough hike to where tons of people come out on the weekends to hike it. You can also drive up to the summit. The trail itself has had a ton of amazing work done to it to put in stone stairs all the way up. The work they have done is mind boggling. So it was quite a shock to our usual reality out here of hardly seeing anyone for miles and miles each day, and then suddenly running into the crowds up there. Passing many people while hiking and then all the people who drove up to the top. And the biggest surprise was coming down the other side and arriving at this huge park on a lake with about a million people hanging out, barbecuing, renting boats for the lake, etc. I actually enjoyed the crowds of people as a nice change of pace to the usual solitude, but other hikers I talked to hated it. The trail wandered through the park and then actually went past a huge swimming pool where tons of kids were swimming, and then through then zoo. I was checking out foxes and bobcats as I was “hiking the trail.” Lol! Towards the end of the zoo area, I suddenly hear someone call out my name. I turn and it’s Bearclaw, the Thai lady with her 2 kids. I thought she was ahead of me, and it was a very nice surprise to see them all again. My favorite part of the whole Bear Mountain/park experience was the variety of different people that were there. Quite the change from white Appalachia, I saw Hispanics, Blacks, Whites, Asians, etc. People from every walk of life were there hanging out and enjoying the warm summer afternoon. I felt so much more at home in that diversity. Great people watching. Walking out of the park, I crossed a huge bridge over the Hudson River. The weird part was all the telephones along the bridge that connected you to help centers for potential suicide cases. That was heavy.
At the end of the day, just about a mile from camp here was a store/restaurant. A very nice treat for dinner and a welcome change from my pasta sides. I got a quesadilla with avocado added to it. They had half or full orders- I chose the full and ended up with a quesadilla the size of a pizza. In addition, they also had those F’Real milkshake things. Wonderful after a long day of hiking.
The place I’m staying tonight is actually a Catholic monastery. It’s advertised in the guidebook as a place we can stay. We are all camped out on a huge baseball field, there is a cold shower, a pavilion, plugs to charge our electronics, and a water tap to fill our water bottles. Great spot. The cold shower was tough but actually quite refreshing after the humid day we have had. A ton of people have showed up here tonight and it has turned I to quite the tent city.
Met a girl today who told that she has done some kind of flip flop hike out of necessity, as 60 miles of the trail back in Pennsylvania is/was flooded and no one could get through. Wow. I knew that we have been having quite a bit of rain, but had no idea it has been that bad! I’m glad I made it through before all of that. Sucks for all the hikers that are in that region tho.
Day 139- Sunday, 7/29- RPH Shelter, NY- (18.9 miles) (1430.1 total)
Long day today and I’m exhausted. I’m pushing a few more daily miles right now to make it to NYC in time to get up to Maine for the fundraiser, and it’s wearing me out. I can hike up to 20 miles per day- that’s the limit of my zone- but I don’t enjoy it. After about 15 or 16 miles my legs are shot and it’s just a slog. Then I get in to camp later, get to bed later, and still have to wake up early to make the big miles the next day. I’m much happier in the 15 mile zone. But sometimes these longer pushes are necessary. Once I get up to Maine, I plan to settle back into my normal groove again.
I was kind of forcing myself through the hike this morning, not having too much energy, when I came around a corner and saw a little setup in a grassy area next to a parking lot. It was about lunch time, but I didn’t want to assume anything. Maybe just a family having a cookout or something. But as I got closer, I saw other hikers. Yes! Trail magic! Just what the doctor ordered. A guy and his son were cooking hamburgers and had watermelon and sodas for us. It was just the perfect timing. They even had beach chairs for us to sit in. That was fantastic.
I hiked on after the lunch for about half an hour. As I was starting down a small hill, I saw an older couple hiking up towards me. I didn’t pay too much attention, but as we got closer the guy yells out “Hawaii!” I looked at him, and lo and behold it was my old friend Willie Walker. I first met Willie back in Tennessee. I was camped near him and we ended up talking quite a bit. Very warm, friendly, engaging man. I liked him right away. I remember he was cooking his dinner and a rabbit smelled it and came up pretty close to us hoping for some food. Anyway, I saw him a couple of times along the trail, and the last time I saw him was in Gatlinburg. He was really hobbling around. He told me he had gotten an infection in his toe through a blister, and had to get off the trail. He had actually hiked the entire AT previously, but all in sections. This time he was trying to do it all in one go. I was sad to hear that he had to stop and I wouldn’t get to see him anymore. Well, these days he just comes up to the mountains and does day hikes with his wife. He said he was keeping an eye out for any hikers he might know, and suddenly we ran into each other. It was so awesome to see him again. Really boosted my spirits!
Just finished dinner at the shelter. Rumor had it that we could order delivery from nearby pizza and Chinese places. Upon arrival tho, I learned that the Chinese place is closed on Sundays, and there was no answer at the pizza place. I was too tired to really care, so just cooked my usual pasta side. Floyd and Butcher are here tonight. Good to see some familiar faces. This is something that worries me a little bit about my flip flop. All these people that I have met along the way and run into from time to time are great. It’s like this long lineage of people you are connected to and have known and hiked or camped with for hundreds and hundreds of miles. I’m not part of a “tramly” but these people do feel like family and we are always happy to see each other. It’s a nice boost. Heading south like I am about to do, won’t be the same. Very few people go southbound, and those that do have already been on the trail a while. Those northbounders who I do meet at the shelters will just be a one time thing. We will head in opposite directions the next day. There are a lot of pros to this flip flop thing and I think I am making the right decision, but tonight when I was telling these guys about it and saying goodbye, it kind of hit me. I will miss seeing these people along the way here and there. There is a special bond and connection that forms amongst us as we suffer through the same difficulties out here. They have become a kind of loose family to me. I will miss them.
Day 140- Monday, July 30- Wingdale, NY- (19.9 miles) (1450.0 total)
The original plan was to split up the miles a bit and camp just a few miles outside of town tonight, then come in early tomorrow morning and jump on the train. But I just thought it would be a lot nicer for the general public and my friend Jack and his family if I got here a day earlier, took a shower, shaved, and did my laundry. Try to kill some of that hiker smell before venturing back into society. So I pushed the extra miles and did a 20 into town tonight, which I’m glad I did. The hike went well today. Been pushing longer miles all week to get here by this date so I can get to NYC and up to Maine. It’s weird. On the one hand, it feels like I’m exhausting myself by hiking too many miles each day and not having time to get enough sleep in between. But at the same time, I could feel my body getting used to the longer miles and adapting. This 20 today didn’t feel nearly as bad as my 19.5 a few days ago. Like my stamina is developing. But it’s still not something I want to do consistently. Somewhere around 15-16 miles a day is my comfort zone. I can do up to 20 if need be. There are some people out here doing 25-30 a day, but that’s just not in my wheelhouse. After this fundraiser in Maine, now that I won’t have any pressure for any kind of deadline, I’m going to try to keep things in my comfortable zone as much as possible. 15-16 miles a day, zeros once a week to refresh. I was talking with a guy yesterday at a shelter for lunch who has previously hiked in Maine and New Hampshire, the 2 hardest states by far. He said, and I’ve heard this before, that in the White Mountains and southern Maine where the terrain gets the hardest, that you can only hike about 8-12 miles a day, and that’s putting in full 10 hour days of hiking. It supposedly gets that hard.
Day 141- Tuesday, 7/31- New York City- (0)- (1450 total)
Got on the train to NYC this morning. It was about a 2 hour ride into Grand Central Station. My friend Jack Silverman from Long Island met me there and we had lunch and walked a few blocks to Penn Station/Madison Square Garden to get another train to his house in Long Island. I haven’t seen Jack in about 6 years, since we worked together at the HELP Program in Hawaii while I was in grad school. Fantastic seeing him and catching up again. Got to meet his whole family back at the house before we set out for REI so I could resupply a few things.
One of the things I bought was a new pair of hiking shoes, even though I just bought a new pair recently. My first 3 pairs were waterproof, but everyone said not to buy those, as the water will eventually get in them from the top anyways and the waterproofing will make them difficult to dry. So recently I bought the non-waterproof variety. What I’ve found tho, is that although they may dry a bit faster once they are wet (still takes a long time tho), they get wet all the time and super easily. Just walking through some wet grass or a small puddle or stream or rain can get my feet wet with those. The waterproof ones keep my feet so much drier for much longer and I don’t find a huge difference in drying time. So I just decided to scrap the non-waterproof ones and go back to my original style. The only difference is that I was always wearing a low-top version, and this time I bought a mid-top style. Little more ankle support which I think will work well.
Had a great BBQ dinner on the back patio of Jack’s parent’s house. They are right on the water with a beautiful rear deck and a swimming pool. Hung out with his dad and brother in law and chatted into the evening. The 4 of us will all he going to the Broncos-Jets game on Oct. 5. His dad is working on getting the tickets now.
Day 142- Wednesday, August 2- Boothbay, ME- (0) (1450 total)
Today was the big day. Road trip with Jack up to Maine for the fundraiser and to do the flip-flop. We had originally planned to leave at 4am to beat the traffic out of the city, but decided to sleep in and leave at 9am after the rush hour calmed down. We drove to a nearby diner for breakfast before hitting the road- apparently a diner that Jerry Seinfeld used to frequent as a kid, as he grew up in the same town as Jack.
It was about a 7 hour drive up here to Boothbay, Maine. It’s funny. I walk so much these days and am usually so happy for any chance to sit down and rest the legs. So I have been daydream about this road trip and the.chance to sit for hours. But I guess my body has gotten used to all the walking, because the sitting for that long in the car was killing me. Had to stop a few times and just walk around a bit to stretch my legs. Was a fun road trip tho. Lots of time for us to catch up after all these years. Stopped a few times at rest stop places for pee/coffee/donut/lunch breaks. It’s been ages since I’ve done a road trip.
It took us longer than expected to drive up here. We were supposed to drive to the cabin we are staying in at first and get settled in here, and then join everyone at this yacht club for dinner, but it was getting late so we just drove straight to the yacht club. The two ladies who own Friends of Thai Daughters, Jane and Patty, were there, along with some of their supporters who treated us to an amazing dinner. I hadn’t seen Jane since 2009 in Thailand, although that was hard for both of us to believe as we have been in communication so much over the years. And I had never actually met Patty before just due to timing issues of when we were both in Thailand. So it was fantastic to see Jane again after so long and to finally get to meet Patty! The hosts insisted that we try some Maine oysters which I was very nervous about. I haven’t tried an oyster since I was maybe 10 years old, and at that time I gagged super hard and spit it into the kitchen sink. Just not a huge seafood guy. But they were insistent, and did up the whole lemon juice, Tabasco, cocktail sauce thing for me, so I had to go for it. I was so worried that I’d gag again and spit it up which would have been so rude and embarrassing, but it actually wasn’t bad at all. They were actually quite tasty. I ended up eating 3 and actually enjoying them, with no gagging. Wheew. After that, I had a corn bisque, an amazing Maine lobster pasta, and some key lime pie for dessert. Yum!
Now we are back at the cabin they are putting us up in. It belongs to a friend of theirs who just renovated it and will make it a rental, although we are the first ones to stay in it. It’s right on the ocean and a really quaint little place to stay. We got in in the rain and dark, so haven’t had much of a chance to see it or the surrounding area much at all. Will inspect it more in the morning.