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Frrrreezing. And very crowded.
Long, but very comfy drive up from Rome to Springer Mountain in the hooptie Cadillac with I&P and their nephew M. Rainy, lots of mud and puddles. Surf shoes a definite bonus; feet warm & comfortable. Plenty of grip.
.9 miles to the top of Springer Mountain from the trailhead at Big Stamp Gap. Much foot traffic. Several large dogs. Lovely fog.
Very, very chilly at the top of the hill. Wind whistling through. Fog still lovely. Quite a crowd at the top, snapping the obligatory picture in front of the plaque & signing the register. Happy to be heading down out of the wind.
Downhill still easy footing, despite mud & roots & rivulets. Go surf shoes. Plenty of passing traffic.
Lunch in the Cadillac (PB&j on dense oatmeal bread); almost too excited to eat. HUP on with the pack and wave goodbye to civilization for a few hours.
1.5 miles to Stover Creek Shelter. 2 hours. Slow but not unexpected, given the foot conditions. Everyone! else has hiking sticks, and now I see why. Only go down once, though, a graceful sideways slide into the mud. Less graceful than I thought at the time, seeing the bruise later.
3 other folks settling in at the shelter for the night. Just missed trail magic? Very happy couple headed back up trail as I came in.
Settle into a corner of the picnic table to unload and fix dinner. Tuck Karma into bag on sleeping bag inside shelter. She stays and guards while I make a run to pee and then go for water. Platypus water bottle works great! Haven't got the hang of the zip closure yet, but the carry handles & spout are most handy.
Even in the wet, the zzip stove doesn't let me down. Plenty of deadfall branches about, of which my folding saw makes short work. Probably the swiss army knife saw would do in a pinch, but I think the larger saw is worth its weight.
Coffee first, then pasta---teensy stars in pesto with fresh grated Parmesan (now there's a task for the swiss army knife saw). Too excited to eat, really, as is Karma. She bites some off my fingers, but I can't get her to dig into a plateful.
Several pointed remarks about the size of my pack, and a bit of commentary on the amount of my cooking equipment. Re-evaluate water-proofing needs (multiple waterproof stuff sacks) in light of pack weight.
Off into the woods to bury my leftovers & wash dishes, plus rinse out my muddy socks. Come back to find everyone else asleep, oops. Creep about quietly packing up from dinner, hang up my wet socks on a nail, then tuck into bag in shelter with wee dog inside bag, tarp wrapped around the outside.
Too. Darned. Cold.
Tent will be warmer, so rather than continue lying there turning into a pigsicle from the extremities inwards, leap up out of bag and shiver through the process of whooshing up the tent. No Hitch Pitch is right.
Warmer, indeed, but not enough for sleep. Restful enough, and no longer freezing. Just quietly lying there breathing and avoiding the cold spots in the toe of the bag. Admiring how my breath is no longer smoking with cold. A little companionable snoring off to my right, in the shelter. The occasional mouse rustle in the night.
Not sure what time it is, though it feels late. Sure everyone else has pulled out by now. Hustle out for a quick potty break and grab my pack, etc., off the wall of the shelter.
Yikes, there's no water. Water filter is frozen, water bottle is frozen & busted, water in water bag is frozen. Nothing to drink. Munch on dry pop tart; ponder morning chill & angle of morning sunshine. Rest on pack, doze for a bit, ponder miles to go.
Up and packing at last, when company arrives. Three thru-hikers drop in to polish off their breakfast & plan their morning's itinerary. They haven't any water, either, as their filters are also frozen. Bad news on the weather front: last night wasn't the worst night. Today will be clear and very cold; tonight will be much colder than last night; the next day will be warming. Eep! Oh, and by the way, it got down to 17deg.F last night. Eeeep!!! Socks frozen to the side of the shelter.
By this point, I've packed up the tent. I reach down for the tarp, and rrrrrrip it off the ground, to which it has frozen solid. Eep. Shreds. Not good.
Morning is glorious. Cold, crisp, clear. Smells like Elfland. Yesterday's mud ruts are frozen solid into today's corduroy. Ground crunchy underfoot. Boots warm, dry & supportive; well broken-in. Go boots.
Pack feels good, but dang is it heavy today. Keep getting slower and slower. Beautiful large white chunks of granite? marble? everywhere, just like the one I dug out from the creek bank on my grandfather's place in Cashiers, NC. Tempting in their wet gleam, but did I mention my pack was getting heavier?
Much too cold for Karma to walk, so am carrying her again today. She's *very* excited, and keeps alternately leaning forward out of the bag to see where we're going, and ducking down to warm up out of the wind. Woe betide any dog we pass, or who passes us (far more often). Less traffic than yesterday, but my goodness there's a ton of people out here! Probably every 10-15 minutes I'm having to pull over to let someone pass. Someone with a lighter pack. Sigh.
Fortunately for my dignity, there's never anyone around at the stream crossings. Last thing I need is to be taunted by someone with a lighter pack and walking sticks neatly dancing across the log dry & clear of any runoff. Grumble. Rocks & sand patches in the stream served for a top-heavy pig, thenkew, with watertight boots and woolly socks.
C. falls in with me just before lunch, and we plod along together for a while. He's sprained a knee, and slowed way down from his pace the day before. We commiserate over not having any water, and chat about why we're on the trail. He expresses some surprise over the weight of my pack. Yes, indeed, no surprise by now, he's got a 40 pound pack. Clearly I must get off the trail ASAP, and purge any lingering traces of canoe camping gear.
The day is spectacular, and the trail easy underfoot for the next mile and a half. I call for a lunch break when we hit a sunny spot just before noon. C. works out the ice in his water filter while we nibble on pellets and rest on our packs. Yeay, we'll have water soon.
Half a mile across Stover Creek, there's a lovely flat spot by a convergence of streams under some trees, near a forest service road. We pulled off the trail and dropped our packs for a few moments to get water. Such a relief! Vow to keep at least a pint in my bag on future cold nights. Even the cold spots at the foot can't be that cold.
During the water break, C. persuades me to swap packs with him, at least for a while, to equalize our paces. He keeps asking if I'm all right, so I figure I must look pretty beat, which is about who I feel. Swapping packs makes *such* a difference. I practically bound up from the campsite.
Crossing the forest service road, we head up the trail towards Hawk Mountain Shelter, 3.5 miles away, and tonight's destination. Our paces are about equal now, and I feel just awful that I've loaded this poor guy down with another 15 pounds on top of his sprained knee. But I'm having my own problems getting up this hill, so I be thankful and let him carry it. Up towards Long Falls we go, up, up, up and up. And just as we're about there, I stop for breath and realize that I Am Not Going To Make It. Oh, sure, I might make it the rest of the way up the hill to the shelter, another two and a half miles upwards from here, but then what about the next day? Nine miles after that to the next forest service road. Time for a better exit plan.
Back at the forest service road at Three Forks (the campsite by the confluence of streams), there was a van. Aha! Where there was a van, there were day-hikers, and perhaps there was a ride to town. I., bless him, made sure I had their phone number before I set off, "So you can call us to come get you." Boy, does that sound like a good idea.
C. very kindly came back down the hill with me, refusing to swap packs back and head up to the shelter as planned. Back at the campsite, he set up his tent while I left a note for the van driver, then changed into dry clothes and *plop*ped into my sleeping bag to rest. Completely beat. Wiped out. Could not take another step.
The van turns out to be hikers on an overnight trip, but C. kindly flags down another day-hiker, and secures me a ride into town. We pack up my stuff & sit in the sun waiting for my ride to finish his hike. I show C. how to read the ATC guidebook, which is confusing, but has already saved our asses once, trying to leave Three Forks the first time (crossing the forest service road is non-obvious).
My ride is charming, and the time flies as we discuss Pat Conroy, women's successes & failures at The Citadel, Kevin Spacey's outstanding performance in _The Iceman Cometh_ on Broadway, Bill Elliot and his NASCAR racing museum cum garage complex, arrestor plates at Indy, sections of the trail to come, the legendary beauty of his birthplace in the Alleghenies. He drops me off at a McDonald's in Cumming, Ga., waiting to see my phone call made and me safely installed in a booth before I'm allowed to wave him off on his way.
The staff is very kind, and I down about a gallon of soda while feeding Karma an entire cheeseburger of her very own while waiting for P.&I. to show up. Pulling out my equipment lists, I cross off all my canoe camping gear, and all of my containers & gear waterproofing measures. 8.5 pounds gone before my big Mac is completely snarfed.
Second attempt at the trail foiled by sheer nervousness. Alas.
Thursday was way propitious. I awoke to a clear, warm blue sky. Folded away my quilt-in-progress (half-basted layers), hoisted my pack, and set out for the train station.
Much lighter pack, phew. I had trimmed off 15+ pounds, going from a 58-ish to a 38.5 lb. pack. Mostly by removing containers, replacing with ditty bags and Ziplocks (plastic) bags where necessary.
The reverberating after-effects of being a canoeist for so long: you have to carry everything, and it has to be really, truly waterproof. And it's okay if it's heavy; the boat does the work.
Plus I left Karma behind, which was most saddening, but also lighter.
A block to the subway, then *whish* onto the uptown 5, to Grand
Central. Pausing at a ticket machine (which hands me back both
Sacagaweas and Susie B.'s in change, I'm pleased to note [I like both
of our dollar coins]), I hustle into the main concourse just in time
to see the sign go out over the track for the Hudson line. Busting
ass across the station and down the track past the gently waiting
conductor, I leap aboard. "Is this the train to Poughkeepsie," I ask
a fellow passenger.
Another guy nods and says, "Yes, it is."
A few minutes later, the siren sounds and the bell rings and the doors close. Pant, pant.
I stand about in the vestibule for a bit catching my breath, then toss^Whurl^Wpighandle the pack up onto the baggage rail and find a seat.
A lovely hour's ride up the Hudson River. I'm facing the rear of the train, so towns slip by on my left while the river slides past on the right, featuring the occasional yacht club, mansion or bridge. I ponder which of these little towns is the Sleepyside of Trixie Belden & Honey Wheeler fame. Ossining, like the Trixie fan page I just found on the web suggests?
On the train coming back, a couple of girls are asking their mother about Sing Sing prison, and was it really here, and did the name really come from the town's name. She said, "No," but didn't clarify further. Alas for their curiousity.
The village was originally named Sing Sing, then renamed itself to Ossining (same as the township it was in; a corruption of another Indian form of "Sing Sing", "Ossinsing") after the prison there became famous (1901). And then the prison changed its official name to Ossining Correctional Facility (1980's?). Heh.
But now it's changed back to Sing Sing Correctional Facilty; perhaps
because no one ever stopped calling it Sing Sing.
As trains go, the MetroNorth cars are particularly comfortable. The newer cars have their vestibule in the middle, with pairs of doors that open Very Wide onto the platform.
Leather bench seats with supportive backs, 3-wide on one side, 2-wide on the other. The ends of the cars often have 2-wide benches facing each other on both side of the aisle. Long rectangular viewing windows, usually pretty clean & easy to see out of.
Perfect day, as I watch the Palisades flit by across the river on my right, and savor the trail to come. Ah, the sun, drying and warming the terrain. Go sun!
Off at Peekskill, flag a taxi up to the base of the Bear Mountain Bridge. A matter of 4-5 miles, but on a nasty, twisty two-lane highway with negligible shoulders, bounded by a cliff wall to one side, and a sheer drop off to the other. Not a pleasant hike.
Taxi drops me just north of the bridge, near where the Appalachian Trail (AT) comes down off Anthony's Nose (reputedly so named because it looked like the navigator's rather prominent proboscis on this mapping expedition). Walked south along the shoulder (much wider here than along the highway south of the bridge).
A hiker comes down from the AT just ahead of me, day-pack swinging by one strap on her shoulder. Clearly a perfect day for it. Now on the trail together, we cross the highway serially, then catch up and nod friendly-like as I pass by her car, parked on the shoulder.
Turning off to the right, I head west across the Bear Mountain Bridge. Breezy, but warm and dry and clear and gorgeous. I meet a runner, and we squeeze past each other in the close confines of the pedestrian walkway. Concrete surface beneath our feet; railing to one side keeping us from falling into the river; short concrete wall to the other keeping us out of traffic.
I pause for a photo up the river on this perfect day. Seagulls fly just above my head, soaring high over the river.
Almost to the other side of the bridge, the runner on his return route catches up with me, and we squeeze around each other again.
That's the entire foot traffic for today. *SO* much better than down at Springer Mountain this time of year.
At the end of the bridge, I lose the trail for a few minutes, going all the way up to the traffic circle before pulling out my guidebook and walking back to the bridge to study it more carefully. Turns out you have to cross over to the south side of the bridge and practically u-turn under it to find the gate into the Trailside Museum, through which the trail runs. During museum hours, which alas this is not.
Back to the traffic circle, but this time on the south side of it, which involves fewer road crossings, and much less braving of traffic (considerable, this late in the day). Across the highway, then into the park beside Hessian Lake.
Continuing along the shores of the lake, I pick up the trail again where it emerges from its underpass from the trail museum. Following the white blazes, I walk to the south end of the lake, then detour to the Bear Mountain Inn, just on its southernmost edge.
There's a convention (eep!), so the Inn qua inn is full, but they have rooms up at the lodges, at the north end of the lake. Plenty of time to make it there and back for dinner, fortunately, as it's only 6pm and they're serving until 8.
Having checked in and collected my key, back around the eastern shore of the lake I go, up to its northern end (half a mile? not sure). Drop my pack and collect a jacket, my wallet, and a postcard to write over dinner. Do not think to take a flashlight, silly pig.
Dinner is filet mignon in mushroom sauce with roasted red potatoes and a carrot etc. vegetable medley. I ignore the etc. which appears fractal in nature (cauliflower, broccoli, the usual suspects). Lone waitress is kept running with two convention tables, but manages to keep up with the hostess pitching in de temps en temps.
Studying the walls of the restaurant, the photos make me a bit sad. The glory days of the resort. Which kinda makes it seem like no one comes here any more. Pitiful. Major league baseball used to spring train & pre-season game on their playing field, back in the 30's & 40's.
The fact that the entire convention---and a large party of teenagers spotted earlier in the otherwise echoing emptiness of the lower hall---manages to lose itself in the Inn doesn't help, as it really does seem like the place is ghostly empty, despite me knowing that it's packed to the gills, not one room free.
Dinner & postcard concluded, it's back to the lodge for me. Darker than expected, and oh! the stars!!! I stare upwards often, walking along the shore.
A teensy bit nerve-wracking, that last climb up the hill beneath the trees away from the lake towards the lodge. Into ever-increasing darkness, highlighted by headlights from oncoming traffic on the nearby highway. But nothing worse than nerve-wracking, and safely into the lodge with me. Did I mention The Stars??
The lodge is dark and cold and empty. I locate the thermostat & turn on all the lights, then head for bed & some companionable TV. Sleep floats in on little cat feet. The lights goes out. The TV flicks off. The glasses hit the beside table. Darkness & peace descend.
<WHAM!!!> <BANG!!> <CRASH!!!!!>
Startle awake to find a family settling into the other rooms of the lodge. "Hello!" loudly to let them know someone else is here, as they are running around banging every door in the place and shouting at each other. Phew. Quieter, at least, but oh! how startling.
Adrenalin rush, stomach churn, gastro-intestinal distress. Up all night. Repeated rushes to the w.c. All hope of sleep lost. Use up last of entire precious store of babybuttwipes as morning dawns.
Chilly, foggy, damp morning.
5 miles straight up a mountain ahead of me. 3 days before any chance of resupply. No babybuttwipes. Pain out the wazoo. No sleep. No way. Retreat, regroup, try again.
Acknowledging the essential rightness of my position (having just exhausted myself on Springer a week ago by not retreating) doesn't stop me from blubbering like a baby over breakfast---coffee, fruit loops (cereal), and an appalling tinned orange juice they actually try to dignify by pouring into a plastic pitcher.
The scattered inhabitants of the breakfast room are kind enough to ignore my breakdown. Eerie, how empty the place seems even in the morning light, with the convention in full swing well within earshot of the breakfast room.
Back to my room post-breakfast, I leave a tip for the maid, and the key on dresser, then call to let the front desk know that I've left the key and am checking out --- which is when I find that the phone in my room doesn't work. Sheesh, I'm glad I didn't try to call home during the night. I do hope they don't charge me another night, or a key fee, grrr.
Setting off back in the northward direction along the AT, I walk back south along the eastern shore of Lake Hessian until I pick up the underpass to the Trail Museum. It's a beautiful day; not clear like yesterday, but cool and damp and a bit foggy. Great walking weather.
Throughout the trail through the museum & zoo, I encounter only 2-3 other hikers. Day-hikers, none with a pack. This is so much better than Springer!!!! The zoo is sad, but the big signs explain (repeatedly) that the animals in these cages are disabled and not able to care for themselves in the wild. They were injured and have been rescued, but have not healed sufficiently to fend for themselves.
There's a bobcat, whiskered face peering out through the hole of a Christmas wreath tied over the end of a hollow log to make her a den.
And a coyote, lounging on a rock, scratching one ear with his hind paw.
And a red fox, and a silver fox, standing side by side, silver fox peering suspiciously at me.
And a river otter, climbing the fence of his cage, to which are pasted multiple giant signs "I BITE". He dives into his running pool, swims a figure 8 and climbs the fence again, looking adorably sleek. Weasel. Of course he bites.
Two black bears slumped on their rocks with an inward curving railing guarding a stone wall to keep idiots back. And a giant sign "Do not climb on the wall." I wonder how fast those bears move when someone falls in?
And the trail meanders on, past trees with explanatory plaques (one about an insect plague, alas), ponds with billboards on their eco-systems and life cycles, rock outcroppings with geological plaques, a display of local Indian arrowheads and arrowhead striking technology. There's a fish & reptile building, closed for repairs. And some side trails, which I pass up for today, wanting to save something for when I come back.
Ah! Better hit the loo before crossing the bridge & heading towards town, which might be a ways from any facilities.
Here's where the morning takes an ugly turn, of which I shall spare you the painful details, except to say that the absence of babybuttwipes was most noted, and there was again crying.
Thank heaven for an empty trail ahead, as I continue, still crying, and most thankful of my decision to retreat, along the trail out of the museum and back across the Bear Mountain bridge, to the eastern side of the Hudson River.
The river is its usual gorgeous self, and I pause to admire this view from the southern side of the bridge. (I walked the northern side coming over.) Not long, as I am still in some pain, but the walk is easing things, and I'm feeling better by the time I reach the other side of the bridge.
Looking southwards along the highway towards Peekskill and my homeward train, I shudder at the twisty, narrow two-lane shoulderless route. Not much hope for it, though I dawdle a bit and make thumbing motions at some passing cars.
Traffic is light, however, and I decide to dare it.
At first the sheer drop-off side, along the Hudson, has a walkable shoulder area. But soon the curves start, and the railing butts up almost against edge of the lane, with no room to walk at all. So I shift over to the cliff side, which has the advantage of natural formations that curve away from the road, offering some protection from passing traffic.
I must look a perfect fright walking along, laden with my towering pack, clinging to the rocks and picking my way along, because finally a car headed in my direction pulls over and the driver asks if I am looking for the Appalachian Trail. "No," I say, "I've just come from there, and I'm trying to get to the Peekskill train station."
She offers me a lift, which I *jump* at, having seen the road get narrower and narrower with each curve, losing more and more shoulder.
From something she says during the ride, I think she might have passed me going the other way, then turned around to come back and make sure I was all right --- hadn't lost the trail --- because the trail is very hard to follow at the point where it leaves the bridge and heads up Anthony's Nose. So kind of her, especially to then drive me 20 minutes south to the train station.
We have a lovely chat along the way. She's originally from Minnesota, and has spent the last 5 years slowly working her way up the Hudson River. I've been in the area for 10 years, myself, working my way down the river.
And canoe camping comes up, as I fill her in on my adventure so far and explain about having had to cut 15+ pounds before starting out again. I don't mention exactly the circumstances of my retreat, but allow that perhaps I might not have cut exactly the right things, and I've run out of some crucial supplies and must go home to resupply.
She's always wanted to do the trail, and I reassure her that about a third of the thru-hikers each year are retirees, so there's still hope. She does a lot of day-hiking in the area.
The train ride home is uneventful. I land on the platform just 10 minutes before the hourly train is due, go me. On the way in, I overhear the afore-mentioend conversation regarding Sing Sing prison, and I ponder the literal meaning of the slang "sent up the river".
Duh, they mean the Hudson River. Literally. I guess I knew that, in a sort of back-of-the-head sense, but somehow I'd never thought about it while next to the actual river, not to mention the prison itself.
Not a metaphorical betrayal at all, but a very real geographical translation of the self.
The train ride as before is just about an hour. Express from Croton-Harmon. This time I'm facing forward, so again the towns are on my left and river flashes past on my right, Palisades towering thereover. I study the mountains in their chilly fog and try to find a comfortable sitting position, half-regretful not to be out walking, but happy to be headed back to the land of babybuttwipes.
Sleep catches up with me, as with most of my fellow passengers, and we nap companionably all the way into Grand Central.
Coming off the train, I feel like stretching my legs, so I bypass the subway in favor of the street. Coming out on 42nd street, I cut west towards the main library and turn south down 5th Avenue in front of its proud lions.
(Even in crowded midtown, I never have to step aside to wave on passersby. Ha!)
Somewhere in the 30's, I'm caught by a traveling exhibit by Medecins Sans Frontieres, and I visit their trailer for a half hour on third world diseases and their unprofitability for drug companies, grrr. Signed a petition (one to Bush and one to an american pharmaceutical association) and collected more forms to take home.
Trot all the way home (just a couple of miles from the station), pausing at the drug store to stock up on babybuttwipes, and up the stairs, to greet a Very Surprised Family.