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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2 thoughts on “AT Thru-Hike #67 – How Not to Hang a Bear Bag”

  1. When you saw the bear and grabbed your phone, what were your intentions? 1: throw the phone at the bear, 2: take a “final” picture as he devoured you. 3: call for help from somewhere on the AT and hope for the best! Glad you survived!?? Uncle Phil

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