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Sunday, July 28, 2013

1500

We have crossed another milestone 1500 miles! Less than 700 miles to go. 

When I wrote my last post, we were sitting in a laundromat in Pawling, New York. I had written about our previous "trail magic", but little did I know that we were about to be the recipients of more New York generosity. When we finished our town chores, we headed back to the local garden center, where the owner allows thru hikers to camp for free. Coincidentally, an event was being held at the garden center for thru hikers in the "Warrior Hike Walk off the War Program." The “Walk Off The War” Program is designed to support combat veterans transitioning from military service by thru hiking the Appalachian Trail. We were invited to the event and the barbecue being held after at a local farm. We were treated to a delightful dinner, and then were invited by a local couple to spend a night at their house. We have been so grateful for the kindness of complete strangers. It truly warms the soul.  

Our hosts in Pawling, Hugh and Valerie. 
Hugh thru hiked the AT in 1976

We entered Connecticut and started to meet southbound or SOBO thru hikers who started in Maine the end of May and early June. It has been exciting for us to meet the SOBO's and ask them questions about our upcoming terrain. 

One day our hike included a difficult descent down steep rocky terrain that would have been more fun without a backpack. 


But, We came out to the Housatonic River where we sat and had lunch. 



A couple of days later, we came into Falls Village, CT. I had my first experience of being discriminated against for being a thru hiker. Our group of four went to Falls Village Inn where there is a bar in the back. Although there was no one else in the bar, it was evident that we were not wanted. We witnessed three other hikers who were met at the front door and asked to wait out on the porch, even though they told the hostess they had a room reservation in the Inn.  As we left, we saw a Maserati, a Ferrari, and a Porsche parked out front. Clearly, money abounds in the area and we were out of our element. If only we had been wearing white pants like all the other ladies in town! On the flip side, a local toy maker
allows thru hikers to camp for free on his property. He and his wife have a cafe in the ground level and we enjoyed a delicious breakfast and coffee before heading back out on the trail.  

Our hike took us up to the highest peak in CT, Bear Mountain, at 2316 feet. 


That evening we crossed the state line into Massachusetts. 



Waterfalls near our campsite. 

We expect to get through Mass. in another five or six days and then on into Vermont. 

I'll sign off this post with a fitting quote:

"The only Zen you find on the tops of mountains is the Zen you bring up there"
Robert M. Pirsig

Friday, July 19, 2013

Heat Wave!

The past six days we have been in New York and enduring a heat wave that included heat indexes of 111. Crazy hot hiking weather. I must confess that were it not for the generosity of Henry and Lola, our hosts for four days, hiking would have been unbearable. More details below. 

New Jersey started with the same rocky trail that PA had, but gradually became more "trail" like.  We had an interesting portion of trail about a mile long which was a boardwalk over a swampy marsh area. 


We were surprised by the many swampy areas we hiked through in NJ. As you might imagine, there are an incredible number of swarming blood thirsty mosquitos and we have already started on our third bottle of bug spray. 

Since we missed our opportunity in the Shenandoah National Park to see bears, we had hoped we would have better luck in NJ. We did indeed! Keith has now seen three bears, one of whom he startled as we came up over a small ridge. The bear, apparently frightened by the new pirate look Keith is sporting, took off at a gallop down the trail and then off into the woods. 

We stayed two nights in the basement of the St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Vernon, NJ,  which has a room set aside as a hiker hostel. We were glad for the day off since we had done several 19 and 20 mile days in a row. Our evening off included sharing a pint of ice cream and watching Beauty and the Beast. 


We started out of Vernon with a big climb. It was very hot and muggy and the climb included lots of big rock steps. We were rewarded with a scenic view of where we had come from that morning and the previous day. The rest of the morning was pretty nice and we stopped for lunch by a small creek and rested for over an hour. Since it was Sunday, there were lots of day hikers enjoying the trail. We spoke with a group of four who were on their way to a local swimming hold called Surprise Lake. It was really hot and cooling off in a lake sounded quite appealing, so we asked another group that passed how to get there. Unfortunately, we came across both groups about thirty minutes later, and no one seemed able to find the correct trail. We had about eight more miles to reach the shelter and the terrain looked relatively flat on our map, so we figured we would get into camp in about three hours and relax for the rest of the evening.  Ha! Instead, we entered New York and were in for a surprise. The terrain was a series of ups and downs over large rocky areas and in several areas, the trail was not clearly marked or well defined. After four hours, we had only traveled four miles and were hot, exhausted, and physically and mentally worn out. I was so discouraged that I sat on a downed tree at the side of the trail and had myself a good cry while Keith watched, not knowing what to say or do to help. We elected to cut our day short and head into the town of Greenwood Lake, NY to an inn called Anton's by the Lake for the night. It turned out that the area was under a heat advisory and would be for almost a week. We heard from our friends Trouble and Two Socks that they had encountered the same difficulty over that part of the trail and were feeling so awful that they both thought they had Lyme disease. It made me feel better to know that others were struggling as much as we were. 

The next day, we caught up with Trouble and Two Socks about three miles in. The grade and terrain of the trail was more moderate and we were able to cover seven miles without too much difficulty before lunch. We stopped for lunch, and Trouble told us about Henry, a Section hiker she had met earlier, who lived in the area. Despite the fact that he had never met me or Keith, Henry generously offered to pick us all up from the trail and let us stay at his house. We were on board already, but the fact that there was a pool made it that much better.  

Trouble asked if we thought we could ten more miles and we all agreed that we could. Once again, how wrong we were!  The terrain after lunch became rocky once more, and included more difficult rock climbs. New York does not have high elevation on the AT, but the trail goes up and down alot, so the elevation changes are  tiring. The temperature soared and we again could not seem to manage a pace that would be conducive to hiking ten more miles. It took us four hours to cover the next five miles and once again, we were exhausted, but happy to know we would have the opportunity to cool off in a pool. Henry showed up with his wife, Lola, and had a cooler full of cold drinks. You can't imagine how amazing it was for us to be treated to such hospitality. They took us to their home, fed us barbecued chicken, sausage, corn on the cob, and salad. 

The next day we had a rest day at Henry and Lola's house. We swam in the morning, read and took a nap, and then went to the grocery store and EMS. 



Keith picked up a new shirt and I got new hiking pants -  size four !  I didn't realize that my size had gone down since my weight hasn't changed much. We made dinner - spaghetti , meatballs, Caesar salad and garlic bread. Really nice evening. 

As if that weren't enough, Henry drove us to the trailhead and picked us up for two more days so that we could hike without our packs in the worst heat.  

We had views of NYC and picked wild blueberries from the side of the trail. 


We are now in Pawling, NY, at mile 1444, about to enter Connecticut.  Tomorrow we will be finished with two-thirds of the trail. 

Next update from Massachusetts. 


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

New Jersey

Well folks, we survived the trek through Pennsylvania and are at mile 1300.1 in New Jersey. I will admit that the rocks in PA made this section physically and more particularly, mentally challenging. Both Keith and I fell, and the long hours of looking down at rocks was somewhat disheartening. Most of the other hikers we have talked to agreed that they were getting the Pennsylvania Blues and were happy to get the hell out of PA. 

One highlight was our brief stop in Palmerton, where we stayed at the "jailhouse" hostel in the basement of the municipal building. We made it into town early and Keith's brother Brian drove 3 1/2 hours with his wife, Laura, daughter Amber, and granddaughter, baby Evelyn, to spend the afternoon with us. We had a great visit and it was a definite mood booster. 


When we left Palmerton, we had a 1000 foot rock  scramble up the superfund site. Because we had sent our backpacks ahead, the climb was actually fun. We've been told to expect more climbs like that when we get to New Hampshire. 



We tented two nights ago on a grassy overlook with a fantastic view and watched the sunset. 

Yesterday, our walk into New Jersey included a road section where construction was going on. 


Next up New York!

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Pennsylvania (a/k/a Rocksylvania)

After spending many weeks in Virginia, it was odd to hike through West Virginia into Maryland in one day,  and then into Pennsylvania two days later. 

The trail passes by Washington Monument in Maryland. 





We passed the official halfway point on June 24th, right before reaching Pine Grove Furnace State Park. In celebration, the General Store in the park has a half gallon challenge where hikers attempt to eat a half gallon of ice cream in one sitting. Keith and I passed on the challenge, preferring not to incur the wrath of our stomachs. The others in our group were braver and successfully devoured their half gallon of ice cream. 


Eating so much ice cream can make you feel less than stellar. 


We visited the AT museum and were inspired by the stories of the early thru hikers. 

We spent a night in Mount Holly Springs where we sadly said goodbye to three of our hiker family members. We had a lovely dinner with them followed by line dancing. 


We passed through the town of Duncannon, which felt a bit like entering the twilight zone. The town is rather run down and sad. The hostel we stayed at was dirty and had exposed wiring.

Our room in Duncannon


The following morning we had breakfast at the local cafe, which was full of strippers and the security guards from the strip joint down the street. We overheard lots of interesting conversation, including the comment, "I'm not smart. That's why I do what I do."  We were glad to leave. 

One day we came down off the ridge and out of the woods right into fields of corn. What a change of scenery! We traveled through fields for a few miles into the town of Boiling Springs, a scenic and quaint town. 

We had been mentally preparing ourselves for the rocky terrain of Pennsylvania, which we knew we would not enjoy. However, our first few days lulled us into believing that it might not be as bad as we had built it up to be in our imaginations. WRONG! PA has been very challenging because we continue to endure an abundance of rainy weather, which is mentally challenging and an obstacle course of rocky terrain, which is very hard on the feet.



It has rained so much that about a mile or so of the trail was flooded and we had to navigate as best we could around the trail. Rubber boots would have been handy!

Attempting to dry our boots. 

 We are now at mile 1212 and have started the 1000 mile countdown to the finish. We are setting out in sunshine today and hoping that we get a few days without rain. 

Next up New Jersey!