“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
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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