“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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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