Trail Magic. Trail Sorcery. Trail Love.
Thursday, May 29th 2014
AT Segment Hike 7 – Long House Drive to Lakes Road
Today was an especially fulfilling hiking experience. As was the normal routine, we parked one car at the destination (Lakes Road, Warwick, NY) and then with the other car, headed to the section trail head (Long House Drive, Hewitt, NJ). We met a couple of kids (I consider anyone younger than 30-years old these days a ‘kid’), thru-hikers, who were passing through the segment we were about to hike. The girl, Sunrise (aka Chelsea from Denver, Colorado) was 26-years old and the boy, Farmer (aka Simon from Montreal, Quebec) was 27-years old. They both had been hiking the trail since the end of February and beginning of March. They were an energetic couple (of course they were, they were in their 20’s) who were so friendly and a pleasure to speak to. We asked them a few questions and then they were on their way.
We got our stuff together and were ready to go when Russell realized that he had left his trekking pole in his car at Lakes Road. As was our custom, we were starting the hike off with some drama (not really, but the use of the word makes this entry a little more interesting).
As we started, the terrain was a pleasant change from our past recent hikes, smooth and relatively unremarkable. However, I was stumbling over any rock that decided to rear it’s ugly head above the ground surface. The rock didn’t have to be big, it just had to be there. I was having an off-day and I wasn’t sure if it was due to the fact I was wearing my glasses as opposed to my contact lenses. I figured I might as well start wearing my glasses now on the segment hikes because I wasn’t going to wear my contact lenses when I do my thru-hike. I hate wearing my glasses when I do any outdoors activities because they are just too cumbersome. I can’t see as well as I’d like to with them and they get all sweaty and foggy.
Not too long into our hike we encountered a cute little bridge, which like many throughout the NY/NJ trails was a scout project. This particular one was a 2011 Eagle Scout Project by Thomas Tracey of Troop 86 in Bloomingdale.
The next hour was pretty uneventful. We stopped to take some pictures along the way, but there was not much going on. Then we met up with Farmer and Sunrise again. It’s always nice to run into thru-hikers along the way, but it’s especially cool when you meet the same thru-hikers again. These encounters give you a sense of familiarity with an ever-changing landscape and overall strangeness you experience with the trail, but for us it also gives us an idea of what our pace is against seasoned hikers. It’s almost like a sense of accomplishment when we catch up to someone. This time, we picked their brains even more. We must have asked a hundred questions: How many miles do you average a day? What is your favorite part of doing this? What’s your advice to someone who is going to be doing this come next spring? Have you stayed in some of the shelters on the trail? Have you stayed in hostels along the way? What do you eat on the trail? What size pack are you carrying? How much does it weigh?
There were so many questions that we had, which Farmer and Sunrise were so accommodating to answer. They said the average miles per day is about 13-15, however they said that you take it day by day. Farmer recommended not planning too much prior to actually hiking the trail, because pretty much anything you plan for goes right out the window. He’s hiked the Pacific Crest Trail in it’s entirety (2,650 miles or 4,265 kilometers, from Mexico to Canada), which he said he did a lot of planning for and all that time planning was pretty much wasted. The best part of hiking the trail (according to Sunrise) was being in tune with nature. There is just so much peace when you’re out there on the trail. There is also a great sense of ’empowerment’ and accomplishment that is indescribable. Farmer’s advice for someone doing this come next spring (e.g. me) is to venture out on your own and don’t worry about finding a hike-mate. For one, there are so many people on the trail at the same time, you are never really along. And two, sometimes having a hike-mate can make the adventure not-so-pleasing if you get on each others nerves and usually one person ends up ‘holding back’ to accommodate the other person. I see his point there. It’s fine for day-to-day hikes, but after a while of doing mile-after-mile, I can see this becoming cumbersome. I tend to be a slow hiker, so I wouldn’t want to hold anyone back for sure. They’ve both stayed in the shelters and hostels. Sometimes the shelters are so crowded that it’s best to just pitch your tent anyway, however if the elements outside are terrible, it’s nice to have a shelter to pop into rather than trying to erect a tent. As far as food goes, the variety is dependent on what you can carry. Oatmeal and stay-fresh packs of tuna are popular items as they don’t weigh as much, yet pack some energy and protein. Farmer’s pack was somewhere around the 70-liter mark and when he started had weighed almost 50lbs. This made me shudder, because my day pack seems so heavy and it’s nowhere near 50lbs! I really have no idea how much it weighs, but I would say around the 15-20lb mark (and I think that may be pushing it). We had such a wonderful time talking to them and Russ liked them so much that he invited them to come over that evening and watch the NY Rangers game. He said that if they felt like having a real meal, a real bed to sleep in, just rest and enjoy, that they were more than welcome. I had exchanged phone numbers with Sunrise so that I could keep in touch and pick her brain a little more about the trail as time went on. It’s particularly special to me personally when I meet a female thru-hiker on the trail, especially one who had started out on the trail by herself. I am in such awe with the strength and courage these women have.
With some encouraging from Terri, we decided we should move on as we still had a long hike ahead of us. We said our goodbyes and Farmer warned us of snakes. He had to go and mention the dirty ‘S’ word, which had Russ freaked out for the next 20 minutes. Of course, I was no help. I loved to talk about he snakes sunning themselves on the nice warm rocks.
“Shut the F*!k up, Lisa!”, Russ exclaimed over and over again.
It was another 30 minutes of hiking up and down rocks. We were warned of this in the official ‘The A.T. Guide (2014 Northbound edition). It specifically stated, “Despite the unimposing profile, rocks, abrupt ups and downs make this section challenging”. They weren’t kidding! We then encountered such an inspiring piece of rock outcrop. I guess it was so inspiring that someone decided that it was the perfect place to place an American flag atop of it. We respectfully took a moment to admire the flag waving in the free breeze as we took in the beautiful view of Greenwood Lake. As became my customary response when reaching such a place, I said, “I wish I could just pitch a tent right here and stay.”
About an hour later, we encountered a very striking landmark. In our A.T. Guide, there was mention of a ‘ladder’, however we were not expecting what we saw. There was a particularly steep and tall piece of rock that we needed to scramble up, which required manmade apparatus (i.e. a ladder). My mind switched to imagery from the book I read called ‘Into Thin Air’ by Jon Krakauer. It details the author’s presence at Mount Everest during the 1996 Mount Everest disaster, when eight climbers were killed and several others were stranded by a “rogue storm”. At one point he described a ladder used to traverse the Khumbu Icefall when ascending Mt. Everest. You can see some images of that ladder at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khumbu_Icefall to see why I immediately thought of that when we encountered our ladder. (OK. Maybe I’m being a little overdramatic here.)
Throughout the section hikes that we’ve done so far, we’ve developed some ‘routines’. One being the post-hike hunt for the keys. Another being, the jabbing remarks about the snakes and the gratuitous “shut the F*!k up” remarks. The best one though would be Terri’s consistent absent-mindendness in regards to her walking stick. I’ve forgotten to note this in my prior blog entries, but on every trip, she’s either lost a stick or almost lost a stick. We would stop to rest and as Russ and I pick up all of our gear to get moving again, Terri for some reason just gets up and leaves without doing the mental checklist to make sure she has everything. I made a comment a couple hikes back that made us laugh so hard.
“So, out of the four hikes we’ve done so far, you’ve managed to lose two walking sticks!”, I quipped. I’ve lent her one of my trekking poles a couple of times and I was very careful to keep a close eye on her.
Our Terri, what can I say? She’s quirky and I love her for it. Like those new pieces of hiking gear that she bought two segment hikes back. One can never go on a hike without their earplugs.
What? You never heard of earplugs as being essential pieces of hiking equipment? They are if you’re Terri Tricoli. What is their purpose, you ask? Why, to keep the bugs out, of course! (smiley face)
We’ve had very few critter sightings during our hikes. We’ve had one snake, a couple of deer, a LOT of those creepy large crunchy millipedes, birds, and various insects. This particular one was so pretty. I guess it was a moth or butterfly that looks like it lost its wings. I don’t know for sure, but I liked him.
Cairn sightings are common. This little guy was perched on a cairn that adorned a rock outcrop at 1,363ft.
Other than the blazes on the trees, there some manmade ‘landmarks’ that are encountered. The occasional ‘trail box’ (I have no idea what they are officially called) and the official trail survey marker. Then there’s the border markers to let you know when you’ve passed from one state to another.
The really cool landmarks thought are the ones that tell you how many miles you are until you get to either a shelter, an intersecting trail, or perhaps the ‘end-of-the-road’. I guess they’re cool depending on how you look at them. I suppose that they could be discouraging for those who have been on the trail already for hundreds and hundreds of miles. That would be the last thing I would want to see if I think I’m getting close to the finish and I still have over 800 miles left to go. I’ll know soon enough when I’m thru-hiking and will let you know my thoughts when that happens.
We continued hiking, for another eternal 1.5 miles, before we encountered more evidence of civilization. Although it seems a relief, encountering power lines doesn’t necessarily mean you are any closer to anything. It just means that at some point in time, man passed through there and left their mark. As always, I was lagging behind, however this time it was because my knees were starting to ache. The pain always starts off with a twinge when stepping down from a rock, but then little by little, step by step, it gets worse and worse. I will definitely need to get some knee braces to wear for support and pain relief. There’s no way I’ll be able to hike 2,200 miles if my knees are giving me trouble.
Up until now, I have not acquired a trail name. The one constant thing through our segment hikes up to date is the fact that I’m always at the end of the line. I just prefer to be last. I’m somewhat of a competitive person, however when it comes to hiking, leading is not a priority or even a thought. I don’t do it to outshine anyone, I do it because it brings me closer to nature and makes me realize what in life is truly important. Being at the end of the line, gives me the distance I need to feel alone without actually being alone. I can be left alone to my own thoughts and not have to worry about going too fast for the group or holding anyone up. There’s often been times that I’ve lagged so far behind that I think that I somehow veered off the trail. I’m a slow, steady hiker. It will be interesting to see how long it will actually take me to complete the A.T. in it’s entirety. With all this being said, I came up with a trail name that I think will stick. ‘Caboose’ is my name. This applies in so many aspects of my life, not just trail life. I often will sit back and observe others, to analyze, to learn from their mistakes, to discern what will work best for me. I do this when I participate in Spartan Races. I see how others tackle the obstacles so that I can make a decision on the best way to approach it. I learn not only from my own mistakes, but from others as well. If I can learn from someone else and not make the same mistakes that they did, then I can avoid the same setbacks (hopefully). Isn’t that what life is about? Experiencing things, learning, and advancing? I also enjoy observing people. It’s interesting to see how different people react in different situations. I was once told by a philosophy professor, in regards to a paper I wrote, that I think like Descartes (René Descartes, French philosopher, mathematician and writer. 31 March 1596 – 11 February 1650). He’s the guy best known for the philosophical statement “I think, therefore I am” (French: Je pense, donc je suis; “Cogito ergo sum”). I suppose he was somewhat a skeptic and drew his conclusions based on his own ‘experiments’; an out-of-the-box thinker. I guess you can say I’m like that. I digress.
Rewind to earlier in the day when we were doing our head/end parking routine. We had seen that there was a man with a hot dog truck on 17A and there was also an ice cream shop down the road (Bellvale Farms Creamery, http://bellvalefarms.com). With this in mind, we thought about hot dogs for a lot of the hike, especially now that we were feeling weary. We could taste them, smell them and even the mention of the name of them made us salivate. We reached 17A and met up with some gentlemen who were just getting started on a multi-day segment hike. They informed us that they just ate some awesome ice cream, which had us green-eyed. We asked about the hot dog truck and they said that it was already closed! Oh, how cruel! We were crushed and left unfulfilled. However, we made up our minds to forego the ice cream and trod on so that we could call it a day. After all, the Rangers were facing off with the Montreal Canadiens in the Playoffs and we needed to get home.
The remainder of the hike was pretty uneventful, except for the Eastern Pinnacle (N41 15.530 W74 16.425) and the Cat Rocks (41.263566, -74.270185).
The climb up the Eastern Pinnacle was a little tricky. We looked up the steep ascent and I believe a “What the F*&!” might have escaped someone’s mouth. There was a blue blaze to bypass this climb, but as is my stubborn spirit, I refused to go around. So, we climbed. The view was breathtaking (as is all of the views when you’re on the trail). As was customary, we took a picture of the vista as well as our gratuitous selfie (which I didn’t capture very well).
Next came the Cat Rocks. I’m not sure why they are called ‘Cat Rocks’ and couldn’t find any information about them other than random blog entries by other hikers referring to them. These are not to be mistaken with the Cats Rock in Pawling, NY. We made our way to the top of the rocks easily enough and were surprised by how how they were and the eagles next that was nestled cozily into the rock face. There was no way to get a good shot of the nest and I wasn’t feeling especially ambitious, so I just settled with the far-away picture that I took (below).
As usual I trailed behind, but I caught up just as Russ was making his way down Cat Rocks. The descent was steep. I guess steep is an understatement, it was vertical. Russ hates when we have to descend down these types of rocks. He did it successfully as did Terri and I, injury free. That’s always a bonus.
We whizzed by Wildcat Shelter. Usually, we stop to check these things out, but like I said before, we just wanted to put this one down to bed. Eventually, we reached Lakes Road where we had the car parked. I finally checked my phone as I recalled hearing some texts come through, but don’t like to check while I’m hiking. I received a text message from Sunrise! I felt bad for not checking, because it had been an hour already since she sent the message.
“Hi Lisa! If the offer still stands with your parents to watch the hockey game we would really love to join you guys!”
I got a kick out of this for a couple of reasons. One being that this has not been the first occasion where trail hikers assumed I was the daughter of Terri and Russ. This really pisses them both off, but they can laugh about it too. The other reason is that I was going to experience the NHL in the Tricoli household. This, from what I was told, is the stuff of legends. I was so excited to be able to share this experience with two total strangers we just met a few hours earlier. The one fact that could make this night a terrible awful disaster is that Simon is a Canadian and a die-hard Montreal Canadiens fan. Russ is a die-hard NY Rangers fan. I was just hoping for the best and kept my fingers crossed that the NY Rangers won the evening’s game, because I cringed to think what would happen if that did not occur. Not to mention the family discord that could ensue, because Russ invited a Canadian to his home. As you know, generally, die-hard sports fans are superstitious and this breaks the golden rule. However, this makes the gesture that much more genuine and worthy of a Trail Magic award for Russ and Terri.
What is ‘Trail Magic’?
According to the official Appalachian Trail website (http://www.appalachiantrail.org/hiking/hiking-basics/faqs), “the term “trail magic” was coined by long-distance hikers to describe an unexpected occurrence that lifts a hiker’s spirits and inspires awe or gratitude. “Trail magic” may be as simple as being offered a candy bar by a passing hiker or spotting an elusive species of wildlife. The work of A.T. volunteers, who devote hundreds of thousands of hours to the A.T. every year to maintain and protect it, is sometimes considered the “ultimate trail magic.” If you are considering providing trail magic, please click here to review these suggestions.”
I texted Sunrise back and she said they were at the Bellvale ice cream place. We were off to pick them up. When we reached the creamery, there they were, smiling. We packed up the car with their packs and we made our way back to pick up my car as we had come straight off the trail to pick the two up. The ride was filled with questions and trail stories and when I reached my car, Terri rode with me back to her house.
The first item on the agenda was for all of us to shower. The warm water felt so good after that long hike and eased some of the aches and pains that I had. Russ and Terri had prepared the downstairs for the ‘kids’ to stay for the night by the time I finished with my shower. Terri was already preparing part of our dinner which consisted of the fresh garden veggies that she had just received from a local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture, http://www.localharvest.org/csa/), which I took over doing so that she could take her own shower. Russ had gone and gotten us some ice cold beer to enjoy with our dinner as well as put in an order for two large pies (for those of you who are non NY-ers, that’s two pizza pies). Apparently, Russ had placed an order with the wrong pizza place and had to place another order with Mahwah Pizza, however I guess he neglected to cancel the order with the first pizza place, because they had called and asked when we were coming to pick up our order. Oh well, I guess they’ll be blacklisted from ordering from there ever again.
After the pizza had arrived, we had all headed downstairs to watch the game on Russ’ monstrous television. This TV was so large, that I don’t think it would have even fit in my little apartment! It was quite an experience to be sitting there, all of us together, watching the game, drinking beer and eating pizza. So American, so normal, so enjoyable.
Simon exchanged stories of the North, Chelsea exchanged the story of how the two met just nine days prior, Russ exchanged some stories of how he obtained his Canadien paraphenalia and I just sat and listened, absorbing all of it in. The ‘kids’ couldn’t express enough how grateful they were for all that Russ and Terri were doing for them. They spoke as if it were the first time they’ve ever had a shower, something ice cold to drink and something fresh to eat. In a sense, it was the first time they’ve had those things, because it had been so long and so many miles ago since they last experienced them. Chelsea referred to all of this as ‘trail sorcery’.
I just remembered something while we were on the trail. Russ made a comment about Simon’s access and I had said, “Well, to Simon, it’s us who have the accents!” As I look at the picture above, I remembered Russ’ exclamations, “MOTHER OF GAWD!” and “YOU THINK I’M KIDDIN YAS!”. How strange we must have sounded to Simon and probably even Chelsea too, because she is originally from Virginia. I have to admit, Russ’ accent is quite thick, even for me. I wonder what I sound like to non-natives of the area?
Despite all of the noise, loud talking (screaming even) and the thick accents, Chelsea was nodding off. The game was over and the NY Rangers won. I was so afraid of what would ensue if that did not happen. I anticipated the phone call from Russ’ son, Jared, cursing him for bringing a Canadian to his home and inviting bad juju. His daughter, Danielle, refusing to speak to her father for the next however long it took to forgive him. Luckily all of that did not happen and we decided to retire upstairs so that Chelsea could sleep in peace. I left and went home and called it a night too.
The next morning, I knew that Russ was going to take the kids back to the trail. I woke up and too my time as I wasn’t planning on going for the ride. Around 10:45 AM, I texted Chelsea to see whether or not they were back on their way. She said that they were having breakfast and were going to be leaving in about 30 minutes or so. Just then I received a frantic phone call from Russ. Something unexpected had happened that he needed my help with (I will leave that out as that’s a whole other story). I said I would be right there and got in the car to head over.
As I arrived, everyone was ready to leave.Terri was working that morning, so it was just the four of us (Russ, Simon, Chelsea and myself. We hopped in the car to make the trip back to the trail to drop the kids off at the creamery. We made a couple of stops along the way so that Simon and Chelsea could pick up a few things before hitting the trail.
It was a beautiful day. There were some clouds in they sky, but nothing that indicated that the weather would turn foul anytime soon. The moment was somewhat bittersweet. We had met two of the most amazing people you could ever meet, yet we were sad to see them go. We knew that this encounter would be fleeting, but the memory would last forever. We took one last picture together, wished the kids well and sent them on their way.
Update: Farmer and Sunrise actually ended up getting married and now have a beautiful little boy!