AT Thru-Hike #76 – Stratton Mountain Visions

“What I must do is all that concerns me, not what people think.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

“What is a cynic? A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.” – Oscar Wilde

Day 135

I left the Wilbur Clearing Shelter and began my descent toward the Hoosic River. About halfway down the mountain I saw Foxfire talking to two southbound hikers. It turns out they were a Canadian couple from Quebec on a section hike, and were out doing trail magic. After eating some of their raspberries, I thanked them and hiked on.

Canadian Trail Magic
Canadian Trail Magic

At MA 2 I headed west 1/2 mile to a grocery store on the outskirts of Williamstown. I did a big food resupply and had a couple of blueberry muffins and chocolate milk for second breakfast. I returned to the trail, crossed the Hoosic River, and began a long gradual climb out of the valley.

Above the Clouds
Above the Clouds
Bring on Vermont!
Bring on Vermont!

At mile 1596.3 I arrived at the Vermont border and celebrated with a Snickers bar and good conversation with several southbounders. This is also the southernmost point of the Long Trail, as it runs concurrent with the AT for the next 105.2 miles before breaking off toward Canada. A mile later, around 3 pm, I crossed paths with Long Strider on another of his southbound slack pack hikes. Little did I know that I would not see another human being for the next 24 hours.

Privy Humor
Privy Humor

After a 12.9 mile mile day I stealth camped near Roaring Branch Pond. I was glad to be in Vermont and excited to be hiking in its famed Green Mountains. Fun fact: Green Mountains is the literal translation of the French Verts Monts, which is how Vermont was named. The idea was suggested in 1777 by Dr. Thomas Young, an American revolutionary and Boston Tea Party participant. Remember that, as it will be on the final AT exam.

Plantar Fasciitis?
Planter Fasciitis?

Day 136

During my morning hike I stopped for water near the Congdon Shelter. The water was cold and clear. The shelter was a dump and in need of attention. I learned later that Foxfire tented near the shelter the previous night and battled mice throughout the night. They got into her food bag hanging from a tree branch and were crawling on her tent. Bummer.

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By mid-afternoon I reached Harmon Hill and saw a group of girls in their early teens from a day camp taking in the view. Although they were the first humans I’d seen in 24 hours, I didn’t stay long because all twenty of them were talking at the same time and no one was listening. Too much humanity in one spot. It made me dizzy. I may have become an INTJ. Later, at the footbridge at Hell Hollow Brook, I caught up with Foxfire and Pigeon Toe, a retired coal miner from Kentucky.

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I ended my 18.6 mile day near the crowded Goddard Shelter, just as a light rain began to fall. There was an interesting combination of hikers there, including northbound and southbound AT hikers, Long Trail hikers, and day hikers. I enjoy the friendly rivalry between AT NOBOs and SOBOs. SOBOs trash talk us for not yet having done the most difficult sections of the AT, the Whites and southern Maine. We trash talk them because we have hiked a thousand more miles than they have and are smarter and better looking.

Day 137

I looked forward to today’s hike because I would be climbing the 3936-foot Stratton Mountain. The mountain holds a special place in hiking history. While on the mountain in 1909, James P. Taylor came up with the idea of a trail from Massachusetts to Canada which would become Vermont’s Long Trail. While on Stratton’s summit during construction of the Long Trail, Benton MacKaye, a forester, planner, and conservationist, conceived the idea of a trail spanning the entire Appalachian range. His grand vision would eventually culminate in the completion of the Appalachian Trail.

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I have always admired visionary leaders and I have worked with and for some great ones. Jonathan Swift, an 18th century Irish writer, said that “Vision is the art of seeing things invisible.” I love that. I think it starts with talking to people (customers, family members, etc.) about their challenges and problems. What’s not working in our family, company, church, or even society? And then you start using your imagination and brainstorming about what could possibly be done to address that problem, even if it would require considerable resources, has never been done before, or initially sounds absurd. You then have to sell your vision, acquire the resources, and champion the cause until it comes to fruition.

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Benton MacKaye, like Thomas Jefferson, Albert Einstein, Steven Jobs, and others, was a visionary. He had a big idea and saw a really long Appalachian Trail in his head. I’m sure there were cynics coming up with all sorts of reasons why his idea wasn’t realistic or plausible. There will always be cynics. Sometimes the cynics are right, because not all grand visions succeed. And yet, some grand visions do succeed. Some big dreams become a reality.

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So what’s your vision? What do you want your family, business, church, or community to look like in 5, 10, and 20 years? What’s the biggest challenge each of them faces? Have you ever really thought about it? Have you sat down with a pencil and paper and brainstormed solutions? Better yet, have you gone on a long walk in nature to think deeply about the challenges and possible solutions? You may not be the next Steven Jobs who revolutionizes an entire industry. But not all visions have to be grand. Maybe you start by just solving a persistent problem facing your family.

Vermud
Vermud

I grew up in a family that had problems like any other family. But I always knew that my dad was somehow working on them. He was the family visionary and big problem solver, whereas mom ran the daily operations of managing the household and keeping everyone clothed, fed, and alive. As a youngster, knowing that gave me a lot of comfort. Is your vision and your approach to solving problems bringing comfort to your family, business, church, classroom or others that you may be called to lead? Or are you satisfied with the status quo, thinking the problems are too big to solve? Something to think about.

Stratton Mountain Caretaker's Cabin
Stratton Mountain Caretaker’s Cabin

So as I climbed beautiful Stratton mountain, I thought about Benton MacKaye up there dreaming big dreams of an Appalachian Trail. I also spent some time thinking about my future after the trail. I prayed about it. I thought about some things, big and small, that I’d like for Janet and me to do. I thought about some problems that need tackling and brainstormed solutions. It was a fun exercise that took my mind off the grueling climb.

Stratton Descent
Stratton Descent

At the Stratton summit I walked by the tiny caretaker cabin and met the sweet couple who live there and keep an eye on things during hiking season. They grow their own food, get water from a spring, and offer helpful advice to hikers. I walked by the fire tower but decided not to climb it because I was tired and needed all my energy to get down the mountain before it got dark.

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Stratton Pond
Stratton Pond

At the base of the mountain I took a .5 mile side trail clockwise around Stratton Pond to the campsite on the north shore. I tented there along with Foxfire, Other Brother (an Air Force veteran and former C-130 crew chief) and a few other hikers. I built a big campfire and sat there with Foxfire discussing today’s hike. It had been a good 19.5 mile day of hiking and thinking and dreaming big dreams.

Fob

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AT Thru-Hike #75 – The Big Cheese

“Every human mind is a great slumbering power until awakened by a keen desire and by definite resolution to do.” – Edgar F. Roberts

“Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought.” – Albert Szent-Gyorgyi

Day 133

Foxfire offered me her three leftover hard-boiled eggs for breakfast and I accepted. That brought my total to nine hard-boiled eggs eaten in twelve hours…tripling my previous personal record. I broke camp and headed north 9.5 miles to Dalton, Massachusetts. The highlight of my morning hike was spotting my first wild weasel climbing up a tree. As I approached the tree he was in, I started humming the first song I ever learned.  I hoped he would slip and fall off a branch just as I went by so I could look at him and say “plop goes the weasel.”

An AT Weasel
An AT Weasel

In Dalton I checked in to the Shamrock Inn and showered and did laundry. Fun fact: Dalton’s largest employer, Crane and Company, is the only supplier of paper for the Federal Reserve Note, the United States’ paper money. Okay, so that fact isn’t very fun…I’ll try again later. I had a steak sandwich and salad at Angelina’s and then re-supplied across the street at Sav More. I spent the rest of the evening resting and catching up on news. A side benefit of being on the trail is not having to listen to the endless political banter of this election season and other bad news. After the trail, I hope to enjoy more sunrises, sunsets, and walks and take in less news and political rants. Before bashing either unpopular presidential candidate, maybe we need to drop to a knee and pray for the eventual winner. He or she is going to need it. Just a thought. Later I ordered some House Special fried rice and spring rolls and ate dinner in bed while leaning against a soft, fluffy pillow.

Day 134

Today was a fairly easy day of hiking with gradual climbs and descents. Near The Cobbles, a marble outcropping with views of the Hoosic River Valley, I crossed paths with Hammer and another hiker. They were doing a southbound slack pack and we shared notes on our respective upcoming terrain.

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At mile 1577.5 I arrived at Chesire, Massachusetts. Fun fact: in 1800 the town, known for its dairying and cheese, sent a 1,235-pound chunk of cheese, made of curds from every farmer in town, to President Jefferson. The big chunk of cheese, moved on a sled drawn by six horses and then on water, resulted in a thank you letter from President Jefferson to the Chesire farmers. Historians disagree on whether the President cut the cheese himself, or delegated the responsibility to the White House chef, Myron Toots.

Corn on the Fob
Corn on the Fob

My only stop in Chesire was a terrific ice cream place called Diane’s Twists. Upon arrival I noticed several hikers sitting at the picnic tables outside. Long Strider was finishing off a banana split. Gusteau (an LSU grad and science whiz) was sitting under a shade tree licking his ice cream cone. Other hikers had little globs of ice cream in their scraggly beards that didn’t bother them a bit. Suddenly a familiar looking hiker with a thick, German, Hans Gruber from Die Hard accent approached me and said, “Your son poop on trail.” While it’s common for parents to live vicariously through their children or to be known for their children’s accomplishments, it’s less common to be known by the inappropriate placement of a child’s bowel movement. Such is the trail life of a Fob W. Pot. I met and talked to the German hiker, Dream Catcher, at the Low Gap shelter a few months ago, and it was good to see him doing well and enjoying his great American hike. It was also good to eat a large Cookie Dough ice cream and wash it down with a cold Mountain Dew.

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I spent the afternoon making the 2500-foot ascent of Mount Greylock, the highest peak in Massachusetts, coming in at 3489 feet. The summit features a 93-foot-high Massachusetts Veterans War Memorial Tower, Bascom Lodge, Thunderbolt Ski Shelter, and a television and radio tower. In addition to being on the National Register of Historic Places, Mount Greylock is the location of Ilvermorny, the North American School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in the fictional world of Harry Potter. Now that is a fun fact!

MA Veterans War Memorial Tower
MA Veterans War Memorial Tower
View From Mount Greylock
View From Mount Greylock

After consuming a Coke and chips from the Bascom Lodge snack bar, I descended the mountain and ended my 20.5-mile day sleeping in the Wilbur Clearing Shelter. I met several section hikers and southbounders, including Mission, Raven, and Angel. My friend Foxfire was also there, and together we sat around a campfire sharing stories of life on the AT. Someone in the group reeked of hard boiled eggs and I couldn’t get away from them, regardless of where I sat.

Fob

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AT Thru-Hike #74 – Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On

“Every new day begins with possibilities. It’s up to us to fill it with the things that move us toward progress and peace.” – Ronald Reagan

“It is wonderful how much may be done if we are always doing.” – Thomas Jefferson

Day 131

The highlight of my morning was a fascinating hike along Ice Gulch, a ravine so deep that it will often have ice or snow in it in the middle of summer. Although it was a warm and humid day, I at least crossed several streams and ponds. I played leapfrog with Sunshine and Moxie throughout the day, and enjoyed talking to them on a couple of breaks.

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At mile 1531.1 I went by Benedict Pond.  A local section hiker told me they stock the pond with trout via helicopter.  I would love to have seen a helicopter trout dump while I was there but that was not to be.

Benedict Pond
Benedict Pond

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My goal today was to reach and camp at the Shaker Campsite, mile 1538.2. Ann Lee, a charismatic young woman, founded the Shaker religion in Manchester, England in 1747. She claims to have had a vision that taught her that humans must renounce carnal knowledge in order to gain entrance to heaven. Thus, the Shakers practiced pacifism, celibacy, communal living, and gender equality. As someone who has practiced all four of those things on the AT, I consider myself somewhat of a Shaker and a mover. After facing persecution in England, Lee and her followers fled to America in 1774 and settled in Albany, New York. The utopian group claimed 5000 believers by the mid-19th century and spread around the northeast, to include a small settlement in a wooded valley near modern day Tyringham, Massachusetts.

Shaker Campsite
Shaker Campsite/Ruins

After 14.1 miles, I called it a day at the Shaker campsite, with a couple of remnants of their stone structures still visible. A section hiker’s clothes line full of undergarments and a stuffed animal only slightly detracted from the historic feel of the area. I talked with fellow hikers ETA, Foxfire, and Apple Jack for awhile, and then gave myself a mini sponge bath at the nearby creek. I wasn’t sure if standing in my underwear sponging myself by the creek was consistent with renouncing carnal knowledge, and feared my doing so might get me expelled from the Shaker Campsite. On the other hand, the sight of an emaciated Fob dripping wet in his underwear all but assured my celibacy for the foreseeable future, consistent with Shaker doctrine.

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Day 132

Less than two miles into my morning hike, I crossed Jerusalem Road and saw a young boy standing next to a wooden hut in front of his home. I walked over and discovered that the enterprising young man had established a little business selling drinks, snacks, eggs and other products to hikers. The little hut, a self-service, pay as you go store, was even wired to power a refrigerator. I purchased and consumed a couple of drinks and snacks, and bought a couple more for later. It occurred to me that this young fellow, maybe around 12 years old, works harder to stock his store and earn a living than some in our country who do very little and live off welfare. A mile later I reached Main Road and discovered a cooler full of ice-cold watermelon slices. It had been a good morning.

Young Man's Trailside Business
Young Man’s Trailside Business
Watermelon Magic!
Watermelon Magic!

Shortly after seeing a snake at Baldy Mountain, I crossed paths with a southbound group of hikers known as the Silver Scramblers. They were a fun, motivated group of somewhat older hikers, and I enjoyed stopping and talking to them for a few minutes.

Massachusetts Snake
Massachusetts Snake

At mile 1548.1 I faced a decision. Option 1 was to take a .5 mile side trail to popular Upper Goose Pond Cabin. This would give me an easy 10-mile day and an opportunity to swim in a beautiful pond and have blueberry pancakes in the morning. Option 2 was to take advantage of the relatively flat terrain and decent weather and hike eleven more miles to Washington Mountain Road. This would allow me to camp in the popular Cookie Lady’s yard and enjoy her cookies (complimentary) and option to purchase hard-boiled eggs, sodas, blueberries, raspberries, and Klondike bars. Tough win-win choice, but I went with Option 2.

Upper Goose Pond
Upper Goose Pond

I reached US 20 by early afternoon and went .1 mile east to a hotel to get a soda and re-charge my phone. I then pounded out ten more buggy, muddy miles and finally reached the Cookie Lady’s house! Foxfire, ETA, and a couple other hikers were already there. ETA had just finished mowing some grass, something I would also have been willing to do to help the family out had the sun not been setting. For supper, I purchased two cokes, a Klondike bar, a pint of raspberries, and six hard-boiled eggs. Don’t judge me…I’m a long distance hiker. The couple is in their 80s and he is in poor health and in the hospital. They have been serving cookies to hikers for decades and also offer their soft lawn for tenting. Their property is gorgeous, featuring a blueberry patch, shade trees, and a picnic table and chairs for hikers to use. Although the patriarch is ill, they had at least one child and a couple of teenage grandchildren there serving cookies, selling the other products, and keeping the tradition alive. Good on them.

Finerty Pond
Finerty Pond
Cookie Lady's House
Cookie Lady’s House

It had been a great 21 mile day, my tenth 20+ mile day on the AT. I like to stay under 17-18 miles per day as much as possible as that is easier on my body, more sustainable, and more enjoyable. However, I can and will go longer occasionally to reach a trail town or other special destination, and the Cookie Lady’s property definitely qualifies. My only regret on the day was consuming six hard-boiled eggs before and after drinking a Coke. There are consequences to such choices, and for me, the consequences could be heard throughout the night and across the sprawling property.

Fob

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AT Thru-Hike #73 – Whatever It Is I Need

“My trust is in the mercy and wisdom of a kind Providence, who ordereth all things for our good.” – Robert E. Lee

“You have brains in your head, and feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.” – Theodor Seuss Geisel (Dr. Seuss)

Day 129

Less than a mile into my morning hike, I arrived at the Great Falls from which Falls Village gets its name. Some consider them the best falls on the AT. I think they are the loudest and most powerful, but as for pure beauty, I would give the edge to Laurel Falls and Dismal Falls.

Great Falls
Great Falls

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At mile 1498.8 I took a .5 mile side trail west to the cute little town of Salisbury, founded in 1741. Like my wife in a Sunday dress, it looked upscale and classy but not pretentious. Meryl Streep and her family live here, and it was also the home of Margaret Hamilton (the Wicked Witch of the West) prior to her death. As I walked down the main drag a construction worker holding a sign asked how I was doing and how my hike was going. I told him I was hungry and Salisbury was about to solve that problem. At the Salisbury pharmacy, a kind young lady helped me find Turmeric and then, without prompting, told me where to find groceries and a place to charge my phone. She knows and loves hikers (or maybe just dug my beard) and is a good Ambassador for the town. I got some groceries and a large sub, and sat down next to Torch to eat lunch. Another hiker named Taskmaster walked by to warn us that a big storm was due in that afternoon. I filed that away in the things to possibly care about later in the day part of my brain.

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Bear Mountain Summit
Bear Mountain Summit

I left Salisbury, got back on the AT, and hiked along a really pretty and not too difficult section of trail. With storm clouds threatening, I climbed Lions Head and got water with Smiley (a retired NASA rocket scientist) at the Riga Shelter. A mile later I stopped at the Brassie Brook Shelter to have dinner with Long Strider, who showed me a picture of a large bear that he spotted a mile up the trail. It’s interesting that Long Strider does a lot of slack packing (hiking without a backpack) and routinely passes me and yet he never stays ahead for long. His approach also includes the use of a fellow hiker’s cars to position themselves so that they can go in the easier direction that day. He’ll end up having an easier hike than me but I’m not sure his approach will get him to the end any quicker.  Maybe his goal is just an easier hike.

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Since the storm had passed and I still had some fuel in my tank, I hiked on and made a tough descent down to the Sages Ravine Campsite. Just prior to arriving, I entered the state of Massachusetts, although the welcome sign is incorrectly placed a bit further down the trail. As I entered the state, I couldn’t help but loudly say some words that I heard many times growing up as a young Philadelphia 76ers fan. Prior to their home games, the announcer’s final player introduction, which I always said along with him, was…”Number 6, from the University of Massachusetts…Julius Errrrrrrr-ving!” Julius Erving (Dr. J), Roger Staubach (Cowboys), and Mike Schmidt (Phillies) were my three main childhood sports idols. I also had crushes on Marianne (from Gilligan’s Island), Julie (from the Love Boat), and the Cheryl’s (Tiegs and Ladd). I digress.

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This popular camping area has a caretaker on site giving instructions on where and where not to camp and answering hiker questions. I sat my tent up next to Josh, an artist from near Hartford who makes a living as a handyman. He’s out on a section hike but is considering a thru-hike some day. I was happy to answer his questions about my gear and experiences on the trail. Had he asked me to, I would have introduced Dr. J.

Sages Ravine Campsite
Sages Ravine Campsite

Day 130

The morning hike along Sages Ravine was absolutely gorgeous. There were dozens of small waterfalls and swimming holes. Massachusetts was off to a great start. As I made the tough climb up to Mount Everett, I passed a group of young trail maintainers preparing to drill and insert metal rebar steps into the side of boulders on the most difficult portion of the climb. They are known as the Greenagers, and I thanked them for what they are doing. Many future hikers will benefit from their work. As for Fob, I had to scale the boulders sans rebar, and I did it like a Mountain Goat after getting into a case of 10 Hour Energy shots.

Sages Ravine
Sages Ravine

At the Guilder Pond Picnic Area, about halfway down Mount Everett, I came to my first Massachusetts Trail Magic! During hiking season, a local woman comes to this spot every single day to refill two dozen jugs of water. What a cool thing to do! While sitting there taking a break, a van came zooming up a forest road and whipped into the parking lot. “Great Scott!” said I. I just assumed they were Libyan terrorists trying to get plutonium from Doc Brown. I was prepared to tell them that Doc had already used the plutonium to power his DeLorean Time Machine. But that proved to be unnecessary, as they were not terrorists. On the contrary, it was Rob and Nomad, who had arrived to do some Trail Magic! The back of Rob’s van had drinks and snacks for me and several other hikers, including Long Strider, Josh, and Steve and Eric, who collectively go by the trail name Sega. They are former Special Operations troops and we know some of the same people at Special Operations Command (SOCOM).

Rob, Nomad, Josh, SEGA
Rob, Nomad, Josh, SEGA

At mile 1518.8 I crossed Sheffield Egremont Road and came to the Shays’ Rebellion Monument. In 1786 and 1787 Revolutionary War veteran Daniel Shays led 4000 rebels in rising up against perceived economic injustices and the suspension of civil rights by Massachusetts. Although the rebels suffered a military defeat, their rebellion had two history changing consequences. First, the rebellion brought George Washington out of retirement to help resolve the conflict. That eventually led him to becoming our first President. Second, national leaders called for a stronger government to deal with future rebellions, which led to the convening of a Constitutional Convention. So Shays’ Rebellion was a big deal, and it came to an end in the field I walked through.

Shays' Rebellion Monument
Shays’ Rebellion Monument

A couple of miles later I arrived at US 7. Although the towns of Sheffield and Great Barrington were just a few miles away, I didn’t need a re-supply. However, I did walk .2 miles west and charged my phone from an outlet on the front porch of a closed furniture store. While it was charging, I sat down under a nearby oak tree and ate supper and watched the cars go by.

A He Tree
A He Tree

I hiked a couple more miles and began looking for a place to stealth camp. It was getting late, I had hiked 18.1 miles, and I was low on water, so stopping near a water source was paramount. I noticed in my guidebook that an approaching footbridge might have water underneath it. When I arrived at the footbridge I looked down and the little ravine appeared bone dry. I was really bummed as that meant I would have to hike three more miles in the dark to the next water source or get by with just a few ounces of water that evening and the next morning. Not liking either option and really needing water, I decided to look harder. I walked way up under the bridge and into a dark, narrow ravine. I saw something shiny at the base of it and that something turned out to be a just a few inches of spring water! I was so happy that I filmed a video of the water source there. I drank nearly two liters of water before going to bed.

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As I laid there in my tent next to the footbridge, I reflected on what had just transpired. I think there are two takeaways. First, I think some of God’s blessings are near us and available to us, but it takes some extra effort on our part to find them. He showers us with countless blessings, but not all of them are dropped right in our lap. I found the water because I kept looking for it. I was borderline desperate, but I was also determined and showed some initiative. You won’t find water in every seemingly dry ravine. However, you will find it occasionally simply by not giving up and making a little extra effort. I wonder how many blessings I’ve missed out on in life simply because I gave up too soon, not willing to try harder or look under a seemingly dry ravine.

My second takeaway deals with prayer. When I get on the trail each morning, I make some very specific requests of God, based on my plans and desires for the day. I’ll ask God to remove my foot numbness or to hold off on an anticipated thunderstorm until I’m in my tent that night. But since my second month on the trail, I began daily (on my first AT step of the day) asking God to “Please give me whatever it is I need today to get through it.” Because God knows what I need better than I do. Maybe I need a little foot numbness to slow my pace to avoid injury. Maybe I need a mid-day thunderstorm, however scary, to replenish water sources that are about to dry up. Maybe he needs me to stop after 14 miles, rather than 18, because there’s someone I need to meet and talk to at the campsite 14 miles away. God has the big picture and the whole picture. So I’ll ask for things based on my narrow perspective, but ultimately I want the God of the big picture to give me whatever it is I need. On Day 129, I prayed that prayer. And on Day 129, God gave me what I needed…an extra ounce of energy and initiative late in the day to go looking for water under the footbridge. He placed it there, in a natural spring, and I think he might have smiled a bit when I found it.

Fob

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AT Thru-Hike #72 – Sharpen the Saw

“I still need more healthy rest in order to work at my best. My health is the main capital I have and I want to administer it intelligently.” – Ernest Hemingway

“‘On with the dance, let the joy be unconfined!’ is my motto, whether there’s any dance to dance or any joy to unconfine.” – Mark Twain

Day 127

I woke up today and realized I needed a break. It had been 17 days since my last zero or near-0 and a recharge was overdue. I’ve previously blogged about Stephen Covey’s Habit 2, Begin with the End in Mind, and how that principle is useful on the AT. Day 127 was all about Habit 7, Sharpen the Saw. According to Covey, sharpening the saw is about preserving and enhancing the greatest asset you have–you. It is critically important to renew yourself physically, socially/emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Doing so allows you to stay fresh, have energy, and take on the challenges that life deals you. If you fail to sharpen the saw, according to Covey, your body becomes weak, your mind mechanical, your emotions raw, your spirit insensitive, and your person selfish. That’s a bad position to be in, especially out on a long distance hike.

Cornwall Bridge Breakfast
Cornwall Bridge Breakfast

Here’s how I’ve gone about sharpening the saw on the AT:

– Physically – taking zeros and near-0s and staying off my feet. Getting a massage in Birmingham while in town for my son’s wedding. Soaking in a hot tub in Hot Springs. Enjoying various hot, Epsom salt, essential oil baths at friends’ homes and hotels. Especially during the first two months, taking breaks during the day and soaking my feet in a cold mountain stream. The AT pounds you physically, all day long, for five to seven months. You simply must create opportunities to rest and rejuvenate your body.

– Socially/Emotionally. I have been renewed socially many times simply by good conversation around a campfire, in a shelter, or on a lunch break. When you hear five different and funny stories about people falling in the mud, you start to view it as something funny, not a hiking disaster. I have been encouraged, strengthened and renewed by some amazing people out here. I have also been emotionally renewed from phone calls and texts with my family, and wonderful comments on my personal and Trail Journals blogs. Emotionally, I’ve tried to just let my emotions run wild. I’ve cried thinking about my mom. I’ve gotten angry at rocks (which does a lot of good!). I’ve laughed with people, at people, and about people. Letting these emotions run their course sort of resets me.

Toymakers Cafe
Toymakers Cafe

– Mentally. I try to keep my mind sharp by thinking about all sorts of things. Sometimes I’ll calculate my average miles per hour, or number of days until the end at different daily mileage averages, or the number of bugs I can kill per hour, or how long to a shelter going 1.75 or 2.25 miles per hour. Sometimes I write songs or blogs in my head or analyze the lyrics to songs. I’ve tried to remember the names of all my past teachers, all the tight ends the Dallas Cowboys have ever had, my Top 10 favorite songs and movies and places, and other useless information.

– Spiritually. For me, the AT has been a highly spiritual environment, even more so than I anticipated. God’s creative power and awesomeness is so overwhelmingly evident all day long. How anyone could hike the AT and end up an atheist is beyond me. For 127 straight days I have said at least one long prayer every day and usually several each day. Sadly, that’s not something I did nearly as well in my pre-AT life. I think my prayers have been more conversational and less formulaic. I’ve also been renewed by attending worship services whenever possible, participating in an online Bible study, and listening to inspirational iBooks. Although I will return to the real world a flawed, sinful man, I think this experience has made me a stronger Christian.

So it was time for some renewal. I made an easy 4.1 mile hike to CT 4 and then hiked .9 miles east to the town of Cornwall Bridge. It was a nice little town in which to sharpen the saw. I stayed and did laundry at the Hitching Post Motel. I ate three massive meals at the Cornwall Country Market while talking to the locals. I also visited Housatonic River Outfitters/Bookstore and bought a bottle of Permethrin to spray my clothes with.

My time in Cornwall Bridge was certainly rejuvenating for my body, mind, soul, and spirit. My saw was sharpened and I looked forward to a good night of sleep in a bed before hiking on.

Day 128

After a huge breakfast at the Cornwall Country Marker, I made my way back to the trail and spent the day on a roller coaster of small ups and downs. The weather was nice and I felt really good. That’s what hiking with a sharpened saw does for a person.

After 14 miles of hiking I arrived at the quaint town of Falls Village, founded in 1840. Falls Village, the second smallest town in Connecticut, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s the kind of place you’d go to get away from it all and write a book.

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My guidebook said that tenting was possible behind the hiker-friendly Toymaker Cafe, so I headed that way. Greg and Ann Bidou run the cafe, which was unfortunately closed for the day when I arrived. However, Greg kindly offered to fill my water bottles and showed me where I could tent behind the cafe. Greg’s side business, T100 Toymakers, imports parts for vintage British motorcycles. A red barn behind the cafe is filled with frames and matching motors for old Triumphs just waiting to be rebuilt.

I tented in the backyard along with a few other hikers including Lou and Julie. Before dozing off, I looked in my guidebook and noticed tomorrow I would cross the 1500 mile milestone and enter a new state. A lot of miles remain on this journey…I’ll need to keep my saw sharp.

Fob

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AT Thru-Hike #71 – Re-Imagine

“Reach high, for stars lie hidden in your soul. Dream deep, for every dream precedes the goal.” – Pamela Vaull Starr

“My message to the world is ‘Let’s swing, sing, shout, make noise! Let’s not mimic death before our time comes!” – Mel Brooks

Day 125

Thankfully, Rasputin and I slept well last night in the side yard of the vacant purple house, avoiding arrest. As I crossed the street to get back on the trail, I walked by Dover Oak, the largest oak tree on the entire AT. I believe I am the largest Fob.

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A short time later, I crossed a series of footbridges and boardwalks over creeks and swamps. I decided to listen to some tunes on my phone, and the first song that came on was Imagine by John Lennon. It’s a classic song about mankind living in peace and harmony, but Mr. Lennon takes us to such an idyllic place by removing heaven and religion from the equation. As I hiked, I thought about how the lyrics might have been different had Lennon been a Christian and held a Christian worldview. We’ll never know as he was against religious teaching and organized religion, and according to his song God, didn’t believe in Jesus or the Bible. Well, I happen to believe in God, Jesus, and the Bible, so I thought I would rewrite the song from a Christian perspective…

Re-Imagine
By Sir Fob W. Pot

Imagine there’s a heaven
It’s easy if you try
A hell down below us
It’s one or the other, when we die
Imagine all the people
Trying to obey, aha-ha

Imagine all the countries
It isn’t hard to do
Jesus was willing to live and die for
To save our souls, yes it’s true
Imagine all the people
Living life God’s way…You…

You may say I’m a Christian
But I’m not the only one
I hope some day you’ll join us
Believing Jesus is God’s Son

Imagine our possessions
Shared at home and across the seas
Taking food to the hungry
Helping out the least of these
Imagine all God’s people
Lifting up the world…You…

You may say I’m a Christian
But I’m not the only one
I hope some day you’ll join us
Assured of victory, through God’s Son!

At mile 1448.3 I passed the Appalachian Trail Railroad Station. I briefly considered a day trip into New York City, but decided I’d rather wait and do that in clean clothes with my wife. I did stop at the hiker-friendly Native Landscapes and Garden Center for an apple, two sodas, and two Klondike bars. The lady at the cash register was very friendly and interested in my hike. She probably sees ten to twenty hikers each day and yet made me feel like I was the only hiker on the trail. That’s a gift.

AT Railroad Station
AT Railroad Station

Around lunchtime I stopped at Wiley Shelter and visited with Loligag and Little Rhino, the pride of Little Rock, Arkansas. They offered me a cookie and I accepted, because one must accept all food offers while hiking the trail. About a mile later, I crossed the border into Connecticut!

Connecticut!
Connecticut!

At 4:00 p.m. I arrived at a beautiful campsite on Ten Mile River. After 12.2 miles, I decided to call it a day so I could swim, rest my feet, and enjoy the surroundings.

Ten Mile River Campsite
Ten Mile River Campsite (I’m on far right)
Ten Mile River (camped on right bank)
Ten Mile River (camped on right bank)

Day 126

This morning I crossed historic Bulls Bridge and stopped at the Country Store for second breakfast and some re-supply. The original Bulls Bridge was built across the Housatonic River by Jacob and Isaac Bull in 1760. Legend has it that George Washington crossed the bridge while it was under construction. The current bridge, one of three surviving covered bridges in Connecticut, was built in 1842 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Legend has it that in 2016 Sir Fob W. Pot crossed the bridge before and after consuming a muffin, banana, Gatorade, and cup of coffee.

Bulls Bridge
Bulls Bridge

At mile 1466.7 I considered going into Kent but decided not to. Two different hikers told me it’s not a hiker friendly town. One hiker said the laundromat isn’t hiker friendly. I can’t imagine what they would have against hiker laundry. Another hiker said hello to some people downtown and they replied, “just keep on hiking.” While it’s not fair to write-off a town on the basis of two reports, it was enough for me to push on to the next town.

Bug Stalks Fob
Bug Stalks Fob

Late in the day I descended the St. John Ledges, steep stone steps leading down to the Housatonic River. I then began a long, flat walk along the river. It was pretty but I had dozens of gnats swarming my head and sweaty body, by far the worst attack of my journey. I declared war on them. I put my trekking poles up and pulled out my DEET. I sprayed them with my left hand while hitting myself in the face and side of the head with my right hand. As I flailed around swinging wildly, I suspect I looked like the Gerasene demoniac Jesus encountered in Luke 8. The gnats and black flies fell from the air in masses, as more smashed casualties piled up on the sides of my face. My right hand was covered in bug splats, even as more gnat reinforcements arrived. It was an epic battle with no clear winner.

Housatonic River
Housatonic River
Sam Squanch & Boss
Sam Squanch & Boss

After a 15.6 mile day, I tented along the river near Stewart Hollow Brook Shelter. I was joined by Loligag, Little Rhino, and Count, who got that trail name by carrying and reading the large Count of Monte Cristo novel early in his hike. Later, I was happy to see Brits Sam Squanch and Boss come into camp. I asked how their two days in New York City went. Sam Squanch said it was pretty overwhelming and New Yorkers are “not that friendly.” He managed to buy a street performer’s demo CD, on sale for $10, for the price of $20 because the artist couldn’t make change.

Fob

976 total views, no views today

AT Thru-Hike #70 – Chasing the Tennis Ball

“The aim, if reached or not, makes great the life: Try to be Shakespeare, leave the rest to fate.” – Robert Browning

“The only human beings I have thoroughly admired and respected in the world have been those who carried the load of the world with a smile, and who, in the face of anxieties that would have knocked me clean out, never showed a tremor.” – Henry Brooks Adams

Day 123

I left Graymoor and headed north feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. It was a warm day and the trail was like a kiddie roller coaster with short ups and downs. I set my sights on Clarence Fahnestock State Park. Just after World War 1, an influenza epidemic hit the United States. While treating patients with the disease, Dr. Fahnestock became sick himself and died. His brother Ernest later donated the property to the government as a memorial to Clarence, and they turned it into a 14,337 acre state park and recreation area.

Fahnestock State Park
Fahnestock State Park

I arrived at NY 301 at 3:10 p.m. and saw a sign posted on a tree that there was a snack bar at the park, that it was two miles away, and that it closed at 4:00 p.m. I took off down the trail like Forrest Gump when he was being chased by the bullies. I went about as fast as I could go given the terrain and weather and my fifty-year-old feet. When you live off of crackers, granola bars, and tortillas, the very thought of a concession stand burger can make you salivate and hike like a mad man. At 3:52 I arrived at the edge of the lake in a full sweat. I ran up the sidewalk by the beach, dropped my pack, and stormed into the snack bar at 3:58 p.m. “Can I still get a burger?” I asked, huffing and puffing. “Sure,” the young lady at the counter replied. “We don’t close until 5:00.” I was elated they were still open. I was also frustrated that I had unnecessarily gone into sprint mode for nearly an hour. I stayed there 90 minutes, drying out while eating a bacon cheeseburger, ice cream, and Gatorade.

Mountaintop 9/11 Memorial
Mountaintop 9/11 Memorial

I traveled another five miles and ended my 18.8 mile day at the RPH Shelter. I arrived too late to order pizza, but once again earlier arriving hikers had plenty of leftovers and offered me some. I set my tent up and then sat around sharing stories with northbound and southbound hikers and a trail maintainer.

Day 124

New York’s reputation for having a deli or eatery at every road crossing is only slightly exaggerated. That trend continued today when I arrived at NY 52 and travelled .4 miles east to enjoy two slices of pizza. While sitting there eating and surfing the Internet, I came across an article that would serve as my inspiration today.

Privy Moth, Moments Before His Death
Privy Moth, Moments Before His Death

Thirty-three year old Drew Houston founded Dropbox, the file-sharing and storage service, at age twenty-four. He was a billionaire by the age of thirty-one. While giving a commencement speech in 2013 at MIT, his alma mater, he said if he could give a cheat sheet to his twenty-two year old self, it would have three things on it: “a tennis ball, a circle, and the number 30,000.” The tennis ball is about finding the thing you’re infatuated with. His dog gets obsessed and goes wild when you pull out a tennis ball and the most successful people he knows are obsessed with solving a problem that really matters to them. The circle represents the idea that you are the average of your five closest friends, so be sure to surround yourself with people that bring out your best. Finally, 30,000 represents the number of days the average person lives. So you have to make each of those days count.

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I left the pizza place full, motivated, and with 3 liters of water, because water sources in New York are infrequent and unreliable. My afternoon hike featured a snake sighting, a deer sighting, and a stroll around the north end of beautiful Nuclear Lake. In 1958 the federal government set up a secret experimental nuclear fuel research lab along the shore of this lake. The site was fenced in and guarded and the experiments involved uranium and other radioactive materials. In the early 1970s two serious accidents occurred at the site, both resulting in the release of radioactive material. Although the site has since been given a clean bill of health, I opted not to get water there or fish for a 3-headed trout.

Nuclear Lake
Nuclear Lake

One of the most interesting parts of hiking the AT to me is not knowing how a day will end. What will the weather do? Will there be a flat spot to set up my tent? Will there be a water source? Will I see anybody I know? You see a day playing out a certain way and then all of a sudden something very different transpires. It is really important to be flexible, keep a sense of humor, and go with the flow.

Trail Humor
Trail Humor

I envisioned arriving at the Telephone Pioneers Shelter, getting water, and tenting there. When I arrived late in the day, I discovered there were no good, level tenting spots and the nearby stream was completely dry. Apparently this spot wasn’t meant to be. Little Rhino and Loligag from Arkansas were there and kindly offered me some of their water but I declined. Their water is for them and I was not yet in an emergency situation. My guidebook said if the stream is dry, hike .7 more miles and get water from a purple house just east of the trail on West Dover Road.

Snack Time
Snack Time

I arrived at the purple house and saw that a hiker named Rasputin was already there getting water from a spigot on the side of the house. The house was vacant and it was starting to get dark. We would hike on a footbridge, across a swamp, and then along a long boardwalk if we continued further north. So, we decided to go to the far side of the house, not visible by the neighbors, and camp there in the yard. Technically, we were trespassing as the only thing expressly allowed is access to the spigot. I was willing to take the chance of being cited for trespassing in order to have a nice, flat grassy tenting spot near a water spigot. In fact, as it got dark, I went back and used the warm water spigot (there were two) to give myself an Allan from Colorado-style full-body sponge bath.

Day 124 (one of about 30,000 in my life, if I’m lucky) didn’t turn out like I had planned, but it turned out just fine. Tomorrow would be a new day and I looked forward to what was in store. Why? Because right now hiking the AT is my passion…my tennis ball…and I know I will need a lot of that to make it to the end.

Fob

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AT Thru-Hike #69 – When Necessary, Use Words

“Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.” – St. Francis of Assisi

“Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” – St. Francis of Assisi

Day 122

As far as I could tell, I was the only person on Bear Mountain last night. They close the road and there didn’t appear to be any other hikers. During my descent, I walked by more litter than I had seen on my entire journey. Apparently the mountain is a popular getaway for people from New York City and elsewhere, and more than a few of them just toss their trash along the trail. At the base of the mountain I walked by an otherwise beautiful park with lots of litter, next to scenic Hessian Lake. There was a tiny little island on the lake just a few yards from the shore and even it had litter on it. Come on, people!

Litter! Ugh!
Litter! Ugh!
Litter on an Island
Litter on an Island

Since the Trailside Museum and Zoo weren’t open yet and I needed to re-supply, I decided to hike over to Fort Montgomery. This is when things started to get interesting. I came to a large, busy traffic circle and walked by an accident scene. The police were there interviewing one driver, while the other driver, an elderly man, leaned against his car in obvious distress. I went over and started talking to him. He said the woman cut into his lane and hit him and he was on his way to a doctor’s appointment. Exasperated and with no phone, he said, “What am I gonna do?” I told him everything would be okay, the police were there, no one was injured, the car could be repaired, and the doctor would reschedule his appointment. He declined my offer to use my phone to call the doctor. We then started talking about my hike and the story behind my trail name. By the time I left, he at least had a smile on his face to go along with his damaged Buick. I guess he figured as bad as his day was going, at least his children don’t poop on the trail.

View from Bear Mountain
View from Bear Mountain

The normal bridge and passenger walkway to Fort Montgomery were under construction and closed, but I was told there was a footpath through the woods and over a footbridge to the town. I headed down the footpath near the Hudson River and came to a fork in the trail. The main path seemed to break left but the right fork would take me toward the water and what appeared to be a bridge over it. I chose the right path which would turn out to be the wrong one. The path became increasingly rough and rocky, and then I came to a “No Trespassing” sign. There’s your sign, Fob! Undeterred by this warning, and feeling unusually stupid, I kept going, certain there was a footbridge ahead that would take me over the water and into town.

Hudson River
Hudson River
How We Get Over the Hudson
How We Get Over the Hudson

When I finally got to the water, I discovered that what I thought was a footbridge was actually a railroad bridge. I was on private railroad property which explained the No Trespassing sign. Determined to see how many dumb decisions I could make in a row, I decided to cross over the railroad bridge rather than turn around and backtrack. It was just wide enough to fit me and a train, I figured. If not, I could always jump off the bridge into the water, like the scene in the movie Stand By Me. With my ears listening for a train, I kicked it into high gear and sped along for a few hundred yards across the bridge. My next Fobstacle was a railroad tunnel going under the mountain for a couple hundred yards. It was wide enough for me and a train, but was pitch black. I donned my headlamp and headed into the tunnel, knowing Janet would disapprove. It was super creepy in the tunnel, the kind of place where Injun Joe might go to murder Widow Douglas. I didn’t see any rats in the long dark corridor but I’m certain they were there and saw me. I finally cleared the tunnel, breathed a sigh of relief, and then hiked another mile or so uphill into Fort Montgomery.

Where Fort Montgomery Barracks Once Stood
Where Fort Montgomery Barracks Once Stood
Fort Montgomery Armory
Fort Montgomery Armory

After resupplying and having a few snacks at a convenience store, I decided to tour historic Fort Montgomery along the banks of the Hudson River. Back during the Revolutionary War, both sides understood the strategic importance of controlling the Hudson River. It was the major means of transporting troops and supplies throughout much of the northeast. The Continental Congress directed that fortifications be built along the Hudson to maintain control of navigation on the river. (Pay attention…this will be on the final.) I walked by the location where the good guys placed a river battery of six 32-pound cannons, pointed toward the Hudson River. Unfortunately, on October 6, 1777, a combined force of about 2,100 British regulars, Loyalists, and Hessians attacked the fort and neighboring Fort Clinton from the land side. By the end of the day the British defeated the grossly outnumbered colonialists, burned the forts, and tore down the stonework buildings. This was a Pyrrhic victory for the British, though, as the campaign delayed their arrival to Saratoga, where the Americans won a big victory. Class dismissed.

Cannons Positioned Above Hudson
Cannons Positioned Above Hudson

I exited the historical park and found the correct path and pedestrian footbridge over the water. Next on the agenda was to visit the Trailside Museum and Zoo. The zoo only houses permanently injured or orphaned animals that would be unable to survive in the wild. They also must be native to New York State. I think this is a good thing, although when I walked by the injured Bald Eagle, I wondered about his quality of life sitting on that perch 24/7/365. I wondered if he had ever known the joy of soaring over a mountain or swooping down and catching a field mouse (and bopping it on its head). Would it be better to have those memories to think back on or to have been injured and rescued early in life so you don’t know what you’re missing? Or do bald eagles even have memories like that? I don’t know.

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I made my way over to the bear exhibit which is the lowest point on the entire AT. The bear was laying in a hammock taking a rest, surrounded by fifty or so vultures. It was truly a weird scene, like when you walk in on your parents kissing. He just laid there watching the tourists and we just stood there watching him. The vultures were still and silent, as if posing for an Addams family Christmas card photo. I felt uncomfortable and would have to agree that it was the lowest point on the AT.

With my re-supply, historic tour, and zoo trip complete, I got back on the trail and crossed over the majestic Hudson River. I climbed 700 feet and then descended to the intersection of US 9 and NY 403. I stopped at the Appalachian Market, conveniently located by the AT, and consumed a double cheeseburger, onion rings, slice of pizza, milkshake, Coke, Mountain Dew, and Gatorade.

“For it is in giving that we receive…It is in pardoning that we are pardoned.” – St. Francis of Assisi

Graymoor 9/11 Memorial
Graymoor 9/11 Memorial

Less than a mile later, at mile 1409.6, I arrived at the Graymoor Spiritual Life Center, a monastery that allows hikers to camp at their softball field pavilion. Known formally as the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement, they have been called, in the words of Saint Francis of Assisi, “to heal wounds, to unite what has fallen apart, and to bring home those who have lost their way.” In the summer of 1972 the first AT hiker stumbled upon Graymoor and asked to spend the night. Since then the Friars have graciously welcomed hikers to stay on their grounds, seek shelter under the pavilion, access their well water, and use their port-a-pot. Each day a Friar comes by the field to check for sick or injured hikers. I think Saint Francis would be happy about that. It’s a special place with a special vibe, and I can see why people with addictions come here to walk the grounds and find healing and peace. At the top of every hour, the beautiful sound of church bells played over the loud speaker.

Graymoor Softball/Hiker Pavilion
Graymoor Softball/Hiker Pavilion

Normally at a campground or shelter in early evening, hikers would be sitting around talking and laughing and sharing stories from the day. At Graymoor, the fifteen or so of us hikers were spread out along picnic tables and across the field journaling, thinking, and meditating alone. At least one of them was praying, thanking God for a special campsite on an amazing trail in a wonderful country. It had been an interesting day, featuring an accident scene, the scary crossing of a railroad bridge and tunnel, a historic battlefield, and a bear surrounded by vultures. As I lay in my tent, I thought about the elderly man at the accident scene and hoped that he was safe at home and at peace. I wasn’t at home, but I felt safe at Graymoor and very much at peace.

Fob

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AT Thru-Hike #68 – A Beard Fit For a Jew

“It is difficulties that show what men are.” – Epictetus

“Being optimistic after you’ve got ever’thing you want don’t count.” – Kin Hubbard

Day 120

I awoke at 6:00 a.m. to the sound of rain, so I rolled over and slept some more and then listened to an iBook entitled Kingdom Man by Tony Evans. After the rain stopped I headed north on a wet, puddle-filled AT. Near mile 1378.3 I passed the Long Distance Trails Crew on a break and gave them a fist pump and my thanks for their important work on the trail. Later, near West Mombasha Road and again at the Orange Turnpike, sweet souls had left jugs of water for hikers they may never meet.

Harriman State Park
Harriman State Park

While descending Arden Mountain, I slipped and fell on my behind. After not falling for about the first 800 miles on the AT, I’ve fallen about eight times since. No harm was done other than some dirt on my shorts and pack. At NY 17, I caught up with Foxfire, who was enjoying some water and apples, our third trail magic of the day. Is that too much? Absolutely not, especially when you’re talking about water… in mid-summer…on a stretch with notoriously unreliable water sources. Good job, New Yorkers!

Foxfire & Fob
Foxfire & Fob

Late in the day, I arrived at the Arden Valley Road parking area and saw a tent set up. Yes, it was full-up Trail Magic, the fourth of the day, courtesy of Uncle Rog. Uncle Rog asked if I wanted a burger, sausage, or both. I’ll bet you already know my answer. He also had a tub full of all types of snacks and a cooler full of drinks. He previously thru-hiked the AT and, like so many others, does trail magic to give back and stay connected to the AT community. After filling my stomach, emptying my trash, and grabbing a few snacks, I thanked him and hiked on.

Uncle Rog Trail Magic
Uncle Rog Trail Magic

A short while later I entered Harriman State Park which is jaw-droppingly gorgeous and will easily make my final Top 10 AT sections list. There are several things that set it apart. First, the forest is less dense than elsewhere on the trail, allowing sunlight beams to shine through and cast beautiful shadows. Next, it has long, vibrant green grass that makes you want to plop down on it and take a nap. Third, throw in scenic lakes and large boulders spread throughout the park. Finally, the trail itself is not overly rocky or strenuous, which allows a hiker to glance up more often to enjoy the views.

Harriman State Park
Harriman State Park

At mile 1385.1, after a rain-shortened 11.7 mile day, I pitched my tent in a terrific spot overlooking Island Pond. After setting up camp and having supper, I took a good close look at my trail shoes. They had served me well for hundreds of miles, but it was time to say goodbye. I set them in the fire ring, put a match to them, and sang Ring of Fire as they quickly went up in flames. (Yes, I know that is bad for the environment. So are the fumes produced in my tent each night.) With the fire still burning, I pulled out my new Salomon XA Pro 3Ds, a full size larger because the trail has swelled and flattened out my feet. Strangely, it was a bit of a morale boost being in this beautiful spot and knowing I would start tomorrow on fresh new treads.

Day 121

The first test for me and my new trail shoes came quickly this morning, as I made my way through a narrow passage of rock known as Lemon Squeezer. Actually, it wasn’t a tough challenge for my feet but did, for the first time, require me to remove my backpack and carry it over my head to get through it.

Lemon Squeezer
Lemon Squeezer

I set my sights on Lake Tiorati Beach which, according to my guidebook, would offer free showers, restrooms, vending machines, and swimming. At mile 1388.8 I took a side trail and arrived at the beach. Dozens of families were lined up grilling and having picnics, although there would be no magical offers of a burger for the passing Sir Fob. Job 1 was to hang up my wet tent to let it dry in the sun. I then showered, hand-washed a few of the nastier clothes, re-charged my phone, and consumed three ice creams and two sodas from the vending machine. The only downside to the pretty beach and picnic area was the incredibly loud noise caused by the large groups of motorcyclists who came storming by every ten minutes. After a nice two hour break, I headed back up to the trail and continued hiking.

Water is up there!
Water is up there!

Later in the day, at mile 1395.4, I made the mistake of not stopping to get water at a brook. I still had a little under a liter and figured there would be more ahead. That was dumb, because when it comes to water on the AT, you don’t assume or hope…you check and calculate. While climbing West Mountain, considered the toughest climb in New York, I stopped and talked to three southbound day hikers. They were Jewish and asked if I was also Jewish on account of my beard. Little did they realize this was a huge compliment for a guy whose goal of growing a respectable, visible beard ranks just below summiting Katahdin.

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My climb up West Mountain was rewarded with a great view of the Hudson River in the valley below and the New York City skyline far off on the horizon. I needed water but noticed that it was a .6 mile blue blazed trail to the shelter and even further to water. Altogether that would be about 1.6 non-AT miles round trip and I wasn’t feeling that so I hiked on. My next opportunity for water was vending machine bottled water at the top of Bear Mountain, about 4 miles away. It was 6:30 p.m., I was tired, almost out of water, and now had to descend and then climb a mountain to buy water and find a place to camp before dark. Doable, but not ideal, it was the kind of stress I like to avoid whenever possible.

New York City on the Horizon
New York City on the Horizon
Atop Bear Mountain
Atop Bear Mountain

I made the climb up the widely popular Bear Mountain and spent $10 on PowerAde and bottled water at the vending machine. I instantly chugged two of the bottles, as the sun started to set. There was a beautiful view from the summit and a deer stood nearby watching me breathe heavily, drink, and belch. I’m sure she also was impressed with my new trail shoes. I quickly found a stealth camping spot near the summit, set up my tent, and hung my bear bag.

My new trail shoes had survived their first 15.3 mile day on the AT and three Jews had complimented me on my beard. What more can you ask for? Well…As I prepared to enter my tent, a couple of Hispanic teenagers at the rocky lookout above me shouted something in Spanish (something about Vamos a destruir Fob) and began shooting off fireworks. Great stuff, amigos!  In fact, I hadn’t seen fireworks like that since my time at the bed and breakfast in Pennsylvania.

Fob

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AT Thru-Hike #67 – How Not to Hang a Bear Bag

“These vagabond shoes, they are longing to stray, right through the very heart of it, New York, New York.” – Frank Sinatra

“Reject your sense of injury and the injury itself disappears.” – Marcus Aurelius

Day 118

I crawled out of my tent and the donkeys were gone. My guess is that some of the other hikers butchered and ate them. I broke camp and headed north. Two miles into the hike I took a side trail .7 miles west to the town of Unionville. I’ve read and heard that New York and New Jersey have periodic AT road crossings with delis nearby and that the sandwiches are wonderful. I went to the End of the Line Grocery to find out for myself. I threw down a delicious egg, ham, and cheese sandwich along with coffee, orange juice, and chocolate milk. I also did some basic re-supply of food. Out on the front porch I met Big Al who lives in an apartment with his wife above the store. He asked lots of questions about my journey and told me that he and his wife were about to move “up north” to start a farm. He was super friendly and I hope his new farming venture works out for them.

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At mile 1347.3 the trail turns east for a flat, open, 1.2 mile walk along the Wallkill Reserve. I appreciated the flat part, but hiking 1.2 miles in direct sunlight in the middle of summer with a 30+ pound backpack felt like about three miles. Thankfully, the trail turns back into the shade of the woods. Just a few minutes later, I stopped with a hiker named Journeyman for some Trail Magic! Some good soul left a cooler of cold sodas, jugs of water, and several cartons of raspberries.

Magic!
Magic!

Later in the day I enjoyed the nearly mile long walk on a boardwalk over a massive swamp. Although I was once again exposed to direct sunlight, sometimes it’s nice to get a break from the long green tunnel.

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Late in the afternoon I made the somewhat challenging climb up the “stairway to heaven” to the summit of Wawayanda Mountain. At mile 1358.1 I looked up and 15 yards ahead was a large black bear foraging for berries along the trail! It was the largest black bear I’ve ever seen in the wild. Although New Jersey has the highest population of black bears per square mile of any state, it is always surprising, unexpected, and tense when you encounter one. I stopped, reached for my phone, and took two steps backward to position myself behind a tree. On the second step, the bear looked up, saw me, and took off into the woods at full speed. It was obvious that Fob was the new mayor of Wayawanda Mountain.

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I went another .4 miles and, after a 15.8 mile day, found a nice stealth camping spot by a footbridge and stream. I dipped my sweaty clothes, and then self, into a pool in the stream. After eating supper I went to hang my bear bag which seemed like a smart move given my recent encounter. Hanging a bear bag involves putting a rock in a small duffel bag and attaching a fifty foot piece of parachute cord to it by a carabiner. You then throw the rock-filled bag over a branch at least twelve to fifteen feet in the air and about six feet from the trunk. The branch needs to be big enough to support the weight of your food but not big enough for a bear to crawl out on. Using the branch as a pulley, you replace the rock back with your food bag and pull on the loose end of the rope to suspend your bag in the air by the branch.

I’ve gotten pretty good at hanging bags but tonight was a big fail. For the first time on my journey, the rock bag didn’t clear the branch and got stuck in it. I mean really stuck. It was almost dark, I had just seen a bear, and I was holding an eight pound bag of food. This was not good…not good at all. I tugged and tugged at different angles but the bag remain lodged. I decided to give one final tug with both hands and all the strength I could muster. As I yanked on it, I heard a snap and the rock bag came flying at me at warp speed! Before I could even say Wayawanda, the rock struck me violently in the stomach. It hurt so bad that I went to one knee, certain it had done some damage. Fortunately it struck the softest, fleshiest part of my body (with my buttocks a close second), and would just leave a painful bruise for several days. Had it struck above my neck or below my waist, it could have been lights out for my thru-hike attempt.

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Tired and bruised, I crawled into my tent. Before dozing off, I called my wife to check on her. I told her I had survived my encounter with a New Jersey bear, but was less successful in my encounter with a bear bag.

Day 119

This morning featured two unmanned Trail Magic spots…a cooler of warm soda at Barrett Road and several jugs of water at the trail leading to Wayawanda State Park. At mile 1365.4 I crossed a rocky ridge and took a break at the sign showing the border between New Jersey and New York. I posed for a sexy shirtless photo because I knew Janet not only wanted that, but needed that.

Feeling Fobulous
Feeling Fobulous

The trail in southern New York is very challenging, despite the modest looking elevation profile in the guidebook. The rocks, endless ups and downs, and hot humid weather made the first few days in New York some of the toughest hiking since Virginia. Just after crossing the border I climbed over Prospect Rock, the highest point in New York. Atop the rock someone had raised an American flag and I stopped to salute it. Despite all of our nation’s problems, this is still a great country, founded on freedom and God-given inalienable rights. I am still proud to be an American.

The Hiker Special
The Hiker Special

Just north of Greenwood Lake, the AT passes near a hot dog stand and Bellvale Farms, reportedly some of the best ice cream in the state. With storm clouds approaching, I went to Hot Dog Plus and ordered the hiker special, two long hot dogs, chips and a soda. It was so good I ordered a second one. As I started into the second plate, heavy rain started to pour. I was sitting under one of those vinyl umbrellas which kept my food and head mostly dry. However, rain hit my neck and back, drenching the back half of me. The owner wisely closed the stand and departed. So there I was…alone, in a downpour, getting drenched, and eating four delicious New York hot dogs. These are the less than glamorous moments that don’t always surface on Instagram. These are also the moments that I’m glad Janet is not out here with me, as she would be miserable and I would hate to see that. Still, it was a scene I will always remember.

Bellvale Farms
Bellvale Farms

With a momentary break in the rain, I walked just up the hill to Bellvale Farms for some ice cream. Several hikers were huddled inside, including Torch, Sunshine, and Moxie. As heavy rain began falling again, I ate a large cookie dough ice cream and talked to young Torch some more about a military career. I asked the lady at the counter if I could charge my phone and she said there was a hiker charging station outside, seemingly oblivious to the fact there was a torrential downpour underway outside. While waiting for the rain to stop, I had second dessert, a large chocolate milkshake. I may have looked like a wet, homeless Amish man, but for the first time in awhile, I was a full one.

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Once the rain stopped I hiked north two more miles and tented near Wildcat Shelter, completing a 14.9 mile day. I was glad to see Torch, Wheels, Waterfall, and onesie-wearing Treebeard all staying in or near the shelter. Despite more rain in the forecast, I hung up my wet clothes, hoping to replace some of the sweat with water. It had been an interesting day, and it was good to feel safe, dry, and warm inside my tent.

Fob

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