“It is difficulties that show what men are.” – Epictetus
“Being optimistic after you’ve got ever’thing you want don’t count.” – Kin Hubbard
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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