Trail Report – July 27 (1690 miles)

Trail Report
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Dear friends,

I left you last when I was in Bennington, Vermont. In thinking back over my last email to you, I was struck by how much I emphasized eating. But it is true, I have to eat in order to hike. I am likely burning 5000 to 6000 calories a day, and I am lucky if I can consume 4000 calories a day on the trail. I make up the difference when I come into trail towns, which averages about every five days. I find that thoughts about food keep me motivated on the trail, and memories about food give me comfort. For instance, during our night in Bennington, Ironman, Bon Bon, and I went to an Italian place called Allegro. It was a much more upscale restaurant than we were told by our hotel proprietor. Even though we were in hiker clothes, we were welcomed inside. Business was kind of slack that Sunday evening. We had a fabulous meal of cream sauces over pasta with chicken for Ironman and me and shrimp for Bon Bon. We toasted the Trail with glasses of Merlot wine.

The memory of this meal helped me survive Tuesday, July 21. You see, after one night in Bennington, and most of the day spent at the post office, library, and outfitters, I hit the Trail after catching a shuttle to the trailhead five miles outside of town at 3:00 PM on July 20. With such a late start I was only able to hike 10 miles before darkness started setting in. I found a level place off the trail and set up a solo camp. I found myself smiling, sitting on a log, fixing my supper, and listening to wood thrushes singing around me. I slept incredibly well that night.

The morning of July 21 came overcast, but I have a saying: “Never judge a day by its dawning.” After breakfast, I hit the Trail at 7:00, hiking 9 miles before an early lunch at 11:00 at the Kid Gore Shelter. This is when my day changed. The rain started slow at first with falling temperatures and gusty wind. Then it poured. I hiked on anyway another 4.6 miles to the Story Spring Shelter, arriving at 1:45 that afternoon. I found the shelter full of wet hikers, both section and thru, already hunkered down for the day. Even though I had only hiked ten miles for the day, I made he decision to stop. It was another ten miles to the next shelter, and the colossal Stratton Mountain, standing 4000 feet in altitude, stood between my current location and there.

I have never concluded a hiking day so early, but I rolled out my sleeping pad in the shelter, spread out my sleeping bag, and made a cup of coffee to warm myself up. My intention was to keep on my wet clothes and let them dry from my body heat. I watched for the signs for hypothermia: numbness of bay parts, shivering, slurred speech, and irrational behavior. Fortunately none of this set in. I decided to use some of my afternoon time in writing this message to you, to be typed in on a computer when I next got internet access.

I find that as I write this out on a little piece of paper with very small handwriting, I feel satisfied that I did the right thing today by warming and drying off in the shelter. Warmth is gradually coming to my body. I am sure it will be an early supper and bedtime for me with hopes that tomorrow will give me better weather for hiking. The memory of that Italian meal with Ironman and Bon Bon comforts me as I listen to the wind and the rain hitting the shelter roof.

So, today, July 27, I am in comparative luxury as I sit at a computer in Mountain Meadows Lodge outside Killington, VT. Classical music is playing the background as I type this message to you shortly before breakfast is served to all the guests. Let me back up and tell you what has happened to me since that rainy day in the shelter.

I got up the morning of July 22 concerned about the conditions I would find on the Trail since it rained all night long. After a standing up breakfast with water dripping on me from the trees above, I hit the Trail at 7:15. It was a two hour climb up Stratton Mountain, but I felt great after all the rest from the day and night before. When I reached the top, shrouded in fog, I discovered that this peak was very important to the Appalachian Trail and to the state of Vermont itself. It was on this peak in 1921 that Benton McKaye — forester, author, and philosopher — conceived the idea of the Appalachian Trail, a footpath that would link the scenic ridges of the Appalachian Mountains running up the entire East Coast. It was also on this peak, in 1763, that a new state in our Union was named Verd Mont, French for Green Mountain, and shortened to Vermont.

I have been hiking in the Green Mountains from that day until this. I reluctantly admit that the thing I will remember the most about Vermont is the mud. My fears on that morning after the heavy rain proved true. The Trail has turned to mud in many places. I am talking thick, black, boot sucking mud up to eight inched deep. I have tried to keep my feet as dry as possible by skirting the deepest puddles and also by stepping on rocks and tree roots. But let me say that stepping on wet rocks and tree roots is an invitation to catastropic falls if not done very, very carefully!

Ironically, I spent that night, July 22, with another thru hiker by the name of Roots from Hiawasee, Georgia, We stayed in the beautiful Spruce Peak Shelter, built in 1986, with four windows, a sliding door, a woodstove, and big wooden bunks for our sleeping pads. Sweet! I felt good about my energy and output this day. I had hiked 18.3 miles, at least half of it in the aforementioned mud.

The next day I continued hiking in the incredible variety of environmental diversity that Vermont has to offer. I climbed steep mountains, I hiked through bogs, and walked boardwalks through swamps. All this time I was looking for the largest variety of deer that North America has to offer, Moose. Moose can get as large as 8 feet tall and weigh as much as 1,400 pounds. They love the aquatic plants that thrive in the bogs and cattail filled ponds in northern New England. No, I have not seen my first moose, but I have found tracks and scat right on the Trail. I stayed that night at the Peru Peak Shelter and, much to my surprise, both Ironman and Bon Bon showed up around dusk for a grand reunion. Thunderstorms moved in during the evening and it poured rain all night long. Ah, the mud!

Ironman and I hiked together the next day, ending up at the Greenwall Shelter after a 14.5 mile day. We had the place to ourselves and had a very peaceful night even though we were pounded by yet another thunderstorm. Everybody here is getting tired of the rain. Even the locals I have been running into on the Trail have commented that this is the wettest spring and summer New England has seen in many, many years.

One thing that is happening now on the Trail is that I am starting to run into thru hikers who started in Maine and who are moving south. These hikers are called Southbounders and pride themselves with the fact that they have done what most regard as the hardest part of the Trail — New Hampshire and Maine — first. I have enjoyed talking with them and finding out about what they have experienced in the area I am now approaching. The Southbounders (or Sobos as they are affectionately known) tell me they had 31 days of rain in Maine followed by good weather for the White Mountains of New Hampshire. The Whites are intimidating to most anyone. They are tall like the Smokies down south, but many of them are above timberline, making for high wind conditions and severe weather. I will likely be entering the Whites in another 7 to 8 days. Debra Bowick, my housesitter, has sent me my winter sleeping bag and long underwear. I am ready and excited for the challenges that await.

One last comment on my latest overnight accommodations. On Saturday, July 25, Ironman and I stayed in the “Secret Shelter.” This is a non-publicized shelter, built by a former thru hiker on her private property. We found out about it by talking to the Sobo hikers. We got directions to it by a very strange way. Just before a particular road crossing, we were told to look for a large shelf bracket mushroom attached to a tree. Directions to the Secret Shelter were written on this fungus! We followed the directions and found a beautiful handmade shelter with pegged hand-hewn log construction. The mysterious owner had left us four cold sodas and four oatmeal pies. We dined by candlelight that evening. The privy or outhouse was the nicest I have seen on the Trail. It was round with attention paid to every detail. Two picture books on outhouses from around the world awaited our visits to the this facility.

My last day of hiking has brought me and Ironman to the Mountain Meadows Lodge outside Killington. Strangely, Ironman’s daughter was married here in 2005. I did not know this, or even know Ironman himself, when I booked these accommodations months ago and had my supply boxes sent here. Another package I was excited to see when I arrived yesterday was from REI, the outdoor equipment company. REI in Washington State, at their own volition, has supplied me with a pair of boots that will hopefully see me through to the end of the Trail, all free of charge. When I called to order a new pair, they looked at my purchasing history and noticed that this would be my third pair of boots for the Trail. “We want to contribute to your success,” the young man told me when he offered the free boots. There was one condition: that I return my current pair of boots so they could evaluate them. I predict that the folks at REI in Washington will get a laugh out of the condition of the boots that have taken me from Virginia to Vermont. The boots are in shreds! There are gaping holes where the uppers meet the soles. And the black Vermont mud have given this pair of boots a very interesting patina!

I look forward to sharing more of my adventures with you.

All my best,

Braid, AKA Joe Liles

Joe’s Trail Hike Pool – When will Joe finish the Trail?

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At the end of Joe’s last post he commented that he figured he was going 14-20 miles a day. That got me to thinking and since I have all the data so far, I decided to calculate a table of his miles per day for each Trail Report leg of his hike. Note that these numbers include ALL his zero days, so his low numbers usually mean many of those interim days he wasn’t hiking at all.

DATE MILES PER DAY
3/11/09 27 9.0
3/20/09 76 5.44
3/24/09 111 8.75
3/27/09 135 8.0
3/30/09 165 10.0
4/5/09 214 8.17
4/8/09 271 19.0
4/16/09 340 8.63
4/23/09 410 10.0
4/28/09 460 10.0
5/3/09 536 15.2
5/9/09 623 14.5
5/17/09 715 11.5
5/26/09 850 15.0
6/5/09 1012 16.2
6/15/09 1135 12.3
6/27/09 1278 11.92
7/3/09 1358 13.33
7/10/09 1470 16.0
7/20/09 1597 12.7


Anyway, I propose to those of you keeping up with this Trail blog, that we have a pool to guess what DAY Joe will finish and summit Mt. Katahdin.

Use the data I provided above as a helper, or just close your eyes and point to a date on the calendar. Only 1 rule: leave all your guesses in the comments of this blog post. If more than one person picks the winning day, I’ll have a random draw of the names that chose it.

THE PRIZE: I was thinking about what could be a prize and it was immediately pretty obvious… how about Joe’s Appalachian Trail Reports printed and bound as a booklet – and I’ll see about getting Joe to autograph it as well before sending it on to the winner.

(I’ll rule myself out of the contest, but I’d guess September 12)

Trail Report – July 20 (1597 miles)

Trail Report
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Dear friends,

I am in the public library in Bennington, VT. It is a pressurized situation with few computers, lots of people wanting to get on, and a librarian with a bad temper. So, I’ll give you a short update first and fill in the blanks if I have the time.

I hiked into Vermont yesterday. Since I last communicated with you a week and a half ago, I have hiked through New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. The gentle mountains are over! I am back in very challenging terrain, and it is getting more and more challenging the farther north I go!

These last states have been very enjoyable for me because the weather has improved. I have had many days of gorgeous sunshine. Because I am mostly hiking under the cover of deciduous and evergreen forests, the temperature has been cool. I have contended with a few violent thunderstorms, but this spate of weather has really improved my attitude. Another thing that has lifted my spirits is that I have finished the twenty-one day course of medication for Lyme disease. I am feeling great. I am concentrating on eating mass quantities of food to keep my strength up and at least a few fat reserves in my body. My body is mostly down to muscle, tendon, ligament, and bone. I truly have become a lean, mean, hiking machine. OK, maybe not mean. I am still a humble person on the Trail.

When I communicated last, I was staying at the home of an old friend, Sandy Rhoades, in Falls Village, Connecticut. Sandy and his wife, Sis, gave me the royal treatment. Sandy and I share a love for American Indian music and Straight Dancing. Sandy also is a rare individual in the Indian powwow world in that he has served as a clown for many powwows. The tradition of clowns among American Indian cultural celebrations goes back a long ways. Sandy told me that his role as a clown at powwows is to remind the dancers, singers, and spectators to not take ourselves too seriously. Yes, there is always a time to be serious and the time to joke around, but the goal is to find a balance between the two. Sandy believes in the healing powwow of laughter. That is what his role as a clown always sought to bring out.

I left Sandy’s and Sis’s and hiked past the falls on the Housatonic River near their home. On the trail by the falls, I ran into a man with a light spinning rod. He was shaking visibly. I asked him if he was all right. He said, “I just caught the biggest rainbow trout of my life! It was nearly as big as my arm! It was the most beautiful creature I have ever seen. I just turned it loose in the river; I couldn’t keep and kill anything so beautiful!” I hiked on by and went to check out the falls. I met another man with a pair of binoculars surveying the people gathered around the falls. At first, honestly, I thought he was a pervert. But then I got to talking to him. He said he was trying to prevent someone from “doing something stupid.” He explained to me that two weeks earlier, with the river in flood stage, three teenagers were playing around the falls. Two of them jumped off a high rock into the pool beneath the falls. They had underestimated the power of the flooded waterfall. The waterfall keep sucking them back away from shore. They were struggling to get to the rocks on the edges. The third boy was an expert swimmer and a regular at the falls. He saw everything that was happening and jumped in. He got each of his friends to grab ahold of his shoulders. He swam with all his might to shore. The two boys were able to reach the rocks. Their rescuer, a high school student by the name of Kaelan Paton, was totally exhausted in the 45 degree water. He sunk beneath the surface. They found Kaelan’s body one week later downstream.

The man with the binoculars told me that the whole community was devastated. Kaelan’s funeral was the next day, July 13. He repeated, “I’m here to prevent anyone from doing something stupid.” I shook his hand and told him I was sorry for his and the community’s loss. I hiked back to the Trail and headed north to Salisbury, CT.

I had read about an elderly lady in Salisbury who takes in thru hikers as boarders in her home. I had sent her one of my supply boxes. When I arrived on Maria McCabe’s back porch, she greeted me enthusiastically and handed me a cold soda. That afternoon, she drove me to a grocery store, and I resupplied for the next leg of my trip. That evening, she took me to a laundromat to wash my pitiful clothes, and I treated her to dinner at a local Italian restaurant. Maria McCabe is eighty years old. Maria joked with everyone we saw that night that the two of us were on a date. Back at her house, I explained to Maria how I shared music with others on the Trail with my harmonica. She asked me to play her a song. I did.

This opened up a new dimension between us. She said that my harmonica playing reminded her of the accordions back home in Italy. She told me that she was from the Dolomite mountains of northern Italy. She told me how she had been abandoned by her mother as a little girl and how she had been adopted by a farming family. However, it was not a good life. She was treated practically as a slave on the farm, tending the dairy cattle, and taking care of many chores. She longed to escape. World War II came around, and, as a young teenager, she was told that Hitler was coming and was going to take away all her possessions. She packed a suitcase full of her favorite dresses and cherished items. She secretly dug a hole in the floor of the chicken coop, placed the suitcase in the hole, and covered everything with wood and dirt. Hitler was not going to get her favorite possessions! “That box is probably still there!” she said.

As a seventeen-year-old, and just after the war concluded, Maria fell in love with a local man, a Mr. Duntz. They wanted to get married and take a ship to America to have a better life together, but Maria was too young to get married according to local customs. She got a Catholic priest to sign a document agreeing to the marriage, and a year later, in 1947, Maria and Mr. Duntz came to America. They settled in Connecticut in a farmhouse with wood heat and no plumbing. Maria’s first husband died when he was forty-one, and, years later, Maria married Spaulding McCabe. She raised several children both as a single parent and with Spaulding.

One day, Spaulding was up in the mountains outside of Salisbury at a place called Riga Campground. This is a place on the Appalachian Trail. When Spaulding returned he had an unusual story to tell. Up at Riga, he had met a man from Germany. This man, a Mr. Hohner, gave him a new harmonica in a cardboard box. Spaulding brought the harmonica back to their home and learned to play it. Spaulding has since passed away, but Maria has filled the emptiness in her home with her care for hikers on the Appalachian Trail.

After telling me all this, Maria excused herself and went into the next room. She came back with a small cardboard box in her hands. “I want you to have this,” she said, and gave me the box. It was an echo harp, a classic harmonica from Germany, with the name M. Hohner on the front. “You play the harmonica so well and have lifted my spirits so much, I want you to have Spaulding’s harmonica.” I was dumbfounded. I played her a song on the echo harp and then packed it away safely.

Since leaving Maria’s, I have reconnected with an old thru hiker friend, Iron Man from New Jersey. I also hiker briefly with a young thru hiked named Huck Finn from Cincinnati. Hanging with these guys has increased my daily mileage and enjoyment. We hiked out of Connecticut and into Massachusetts. We stayed together at the Hemlocks Lean-to and Mt. Wilcox South Lean-to. Next, we hiked to a remote cabin on a glacial lake called Goose Pond. Just a few miles away from the pond, I ran into two women section hikers who were about my age. I stopped to talk with them. In exchanging information, I told them I was from Durham, NC and had just retired from teaching at the NC School of Science and Math. One of the women, Kate Winters “Katydid” exclaimed, “That’s where my son, Robb Winters, went to school! But that was way back in 1985.” I told her that I was teaching there since 1980 when the school was founded. “What’s your name?” she asked. I told her my real name was Joe Liles. Her jaw dropped. “I remember you! You were one of my son’s favorite teachers! I have one of your silk screen prints, the one of the cat and the stove, hanging in my home! You have made my day! I was exhausted, but now I can keep on hiking.” I said goodbye to Katydid and her friend, Nancy. But Katydid didn’t realize, she had made my day. Now I could keep on hiking.

Goose Pond and the surrounding area was obtained by the National Park Service in 1984 as a way to preserve land around the Appalachian Trail. A group of local men had purchased over one thousand acres here back in the late 1800′s. They called their group the Mohegan Rod and Gun Club and built a lodge on the shore of the lake. Their provision was that you could pass your membership on to one male member of your family. But membership dwindled, and the Park Service arrived at the right time to rescue this land.

I arrived around 5:15, too late for a swim by my figuring, but I did go soak my legs in the lake. It was beautiful! Thru hikers started showing up, one by one. Soon, the bunkroom in the cabin was full, and hikers started setting up tents in the woods. Grampy, the caretaker of the cabin, welcomed us all. Grampy appeared to be in his late 60′s. He thru hiked the Trail in 2005. A campfire that night provided the social nucleus for all the hikers. I stayed up late with one other thru hiker around the fire. He was a young guy with the trail name Apache. He explained that he was not Native American. “I got the name because I have a patchy beard.” I came to find out that Apache is from Waynesville, NC. I told him I knew all about Waynesville, that I had worked closely in Design School at NC State with a guy from there, Joe Sam Queen. Apache went ballistic. “Joe Sam Queen! He represented our area in the North Carolina legislature! I was on the wrestling team with his son Charlie!” Apache’s eyes got bigger when I explained that I had taught Charlie photography at the School of Science and Math. Apache and I now share a bond on the Trail. It is indeed a small world when it comes to human connections and relationships.

The next morning Grampy fixed all 17 thru hikers a breakfast of wild blueberry pancakes and sent us on our way.

Since Goose Pond Cabin, I have hiked through Dalton, MA. I inquired of a couple of truckers about the best place in town for breakfast. They enthusiastically recommended Duff and Dales Variety Store across the street. I can honestly say that I walked away from Duff and Dales after having the best breakfast of my life: pancakes, eggs, bacon, homefries, and coffee. I live to hike. I live to eat.

I have survived a couple of late afternoon thunderstorms lately. With one, I beat it to the shelter, the Kay Wood Lean-to. With the other, it beat me and Iron Man, too. We were climbing one of the highest mountains in Massachusetts, Mount Greylock. With an hour left in our hike, the heavens opened and drenched us with pouring rain. Lightning was striking all around us. I knew we were taking our chances, but we were still in heavy forest a good ways away from the summit. When we made it to the Mark Noepel Lean-to, Iron Man told me: “You know on that big lightning strike, all the hair on my arms was standing straight up!”

The next morning after a night in a very crowded shelter (I slept on the floor beneath the bottom bunk with only six inches clearance above my nose. It poured the whole night.), Iron Man and I hiked up to the summit of Greylock and had breakfast in the lodge up there. A caretaker took us to see a historic structure. Just below the summit was a “warming hut” built by the Civilian Conservation Corps back in the 1930′s. It was a warming hut for skiers on the first downhill skiing slope in the United States, the Thunderbolt Ski Run. It was a beautiful piece of architecture with four bunks and four woodstoves feeding into a central chimney. Iron Man and I hiked down part of the Thunderbolt Ski Run until the AT veered off in a different direction.

Hiking into North Adams, MA brought on yet another miraculous experience. We were shocked on Saturday, July 18, to find that there were no vacancies at all in the motels in town. A local woman and AT enthusiast named Bagel saw us as she passed by in her car. She stopped and offered us a ride to the grocery for a cold drink. Along the way, we put together a plan to stay in a hostel in a neighboring town, Cheshire. Jim at the Wayside Hostel treated Iron Man and me like we were royalty. A section hiker, John with the trail name Carribou, a retired judge from Maine, gave us a ride back to North Adams the next morning. We treated Carribou to breakfast at Friendly’s, a chain restaurant that is new to my experience.

Iron Man and I planned an easy 14 mile day to the Congdon Shelter. Along the way, we crossed the border into Vermont. Only Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine left on the Trail! But when we arrived at Congdon at 4:00 that afternoon, found it a zoo with hikers everywhere. We teamed up with a young woman thru hiker from Ohio named Bon Bon and hatched a plan to hike another four miles to a road crossing near Bennington, Vermont. Now, don’t jump to conclusions. Bon Bon doesn’t eat bon bons. She is a birding enthusiast and gets her trail name from John James Audubon. We did this remaining hike in good time, arriving at the road crossing around 6:00, but found that hitching a ride into town was not easy. We had counted on cell phone service to call a local thru hiker shuttle, but there was no reception. Just when we were starting to get worried, a large SUV pulled into the parking area. Hikers piled out to get on the trail north. The driver, Pounce, a thru hiker from 2008, gave us a ride into Bennington and escorted us around town until we found an economical motel with eating establishments close by.

So, as you can tell, I am living the good life. I am hiking around 14 to 20 miles a day. I am eating well both on the Trail and in towns that intersect the Trail. And I am making a lot of friends. The amazing things that keep happening to me affirm in my mind that I am supposed to be doing this. I am convinced that I am being guided by something much larger and more powerful than myself.

All my best,

Braid, AKA Joe Liles

Trail Report – July 10 (1470 miles)

Trail Report
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Dear friends,

Today is my “Four Month Anniversary” on the Trail. I started March 10, four months ago. It seems forever since that day down in Georgia when I started out with wide eyes and a lot of questions in my heart. I have learned so much since then about living outdoors, about perseverance, and about myself. I have so much more to learn.

When I left you last, I was enjoying a “zero day” in Greenwood Lake, New York. I stayed at Anton’s on the Lake, a quaint motel at the end of a bay on Greenwood Lake. The lake was carved out of the land by glacier movement in the last ice age. One thing this lake is famous for is, back during the early days of the Cold War, the United States successfully launched a long range missile from the frozen surface of the lake.

On this day of rest for me, the lake was full of both docked and motoring boats of all descriptions. I used this day, Friday, July 3, to compose and send you my last email from the public library, to get supplies for the next leg of my hike at the grocery store and pharmacy, and to eat my way through town. I enjoyed a down home breakfast at the Village Buzz Cafe and a late afternoon dinner on the front porch of Murphy’s Tavern, a restored older house on the main street. I had the meatloaf special and was not disappointed.

The next morning, Tricia, the motel owner along with her husband Robert, gave me a ride to the trail head four miles out of town. I was on the Trail by 7:00 AM, a nice early start. By late morning I met up with several thru hiker friends I had not seen in a long time: Prairie Dog and Angry Beaver, Leon and his dog Halifax. We hiked together and had lunch on a high rock summit. I had to duck into the shade of a mountain laurel bush because I am supposed to avoid sun exposure while I am on medication for Lyme disease. That night, I tented at the Fingerboard Shelter in Harriman State Park. The shelter was full of young people from New York City. I visited with them a while before turning in for my traditional early bedtime, this time at 8:30. I went to sleep hearing the explosion of July 4th fireworks from the towns below the mountain. I was too tired to climb to a vantage spot and watch.

On July 5, I continued hiking north over very rocky terrain. At one point, on the summit of Black Mountain, I stopped to admire the skyline of Manhattan, some forty miles away. At 3:00 that afternoon, I arrived at the top of Bear Mountain, NY. The place was buzzing with tourists and motorcycle guys. I climbed the observation tower there and learned from the displays how all this came to be. A New York banker, George W. Perkins, worked to acquire wilderness land so that New Yorkers could get away from city life and enjoy the healing effects of the out-of-doors. Perkins and his son worked from the early 1900′s until the 1930′s to establish Palisades Park, Harriman State Park, and Bear Mountain Park, all thirty miles from New York City. They were also able to preserve the palisades rock formations along the banks of the nearby Hudson River.

While I was wandering around outside the observation tower on Bear Mountain, I met a maintenance worker for the park. He told me an interesting story. He said that the thing that got George Perkins started on preserving the area was a prison. In the early 1900′s, the state of New York wanted to build a prison known as Sing Sing on the palisade side of the Hudson River. George Perkins plunked down $100,000 to persuade New York to build the prison on the other side of the river, thereby preserving the rock formations and setting in place the drive to acquire more land for public use. According to the maintenance man, the town of Sing Sing that surrounded the prison decided they wanted to distance themselves from that notorious incarceration facility. They changed their name from Sing Sing to Osing, NY.

The climb down the north side of Bear Mountain was interesting in many ways. One was that tourists would stop me, Prairie Dog, and Angry Beaver and ask what we were doing. They were amazed that we had already hiked from Georgia and were headed for Maine. The big surprise, though, was what we found at the bottom of the mountain. We passed under an old ski jump and came out on a huge field with hundreds of young people playing soccer. There was a carousel merry-go-round, many food concession stands, a lake with sailboats, a huge swimming pool, and thousands of people picnicking. Remember, this was still July 4th weekend. I was struck by the diversity of people. It seemed like every country in the world was represented. I couldn’t resist the food and settled down with a plate of pulled pork barbecue, slaw, and corn on the cob roasted in the husk.

After enjoying this late afternoon feast, Prairie Dog, Angry Beaver, and I continued our hike north. The Appalachian Trail actually goes through the Bear Mountain Zoo. Originally, the founders of the Trail envisioned a educational facility in each state that would educate the people about the animals, geology, and the natural ecosystem of that region. New York was the only state to live up to this dream. Incidentally, the lowest elevation of the entire length of the Appalachian Trail is at 124 feet above sea level right in front of the black bear exhibit. But, much to our disappointment, we learned that the zoo was closed. The three of us had to walk the highway to cross the Bear Mountain Bridge over the Hudson River. The bridge was built from 1923 to 1924. It is 2257 feet long, 355 feet tall, and takes cars and trucks (and us!) 153 feet above the swirling water of the Hudson. We were safe on a pedestrian walkway, but we had some tricky maneuvering with traffic to get to the trail up the mountain on the other side. We camped that night high above the river. We hiked 16.4 miles that day.

The next day, July 6, I ended up hiking with two young hikers from Massachusetts: Brave Little Toaster and Frank N. Stein, oh yes, and their dog, Pork. We ended up hiking 19 miles at a fast pace and camping on top of a high ridge. This was the fourth day in a row of beautiful weather, and we were loving it. That night, we had a campfire with songs and stories. It doesn’t get any better than this!

The following day, I felt drained. It could have been due to the long hike of the previous day. I prayed that it wasn’t the Lyme disease or the effects of the medicine I was on. I still had ten days to go of two pills a day. I cut my mileage down to 12.2 and stayed in a very crowded Morgan Stewart Shelter. It was crowded because we had already endured one thunderstorm early in the day and another one was brewing for the evening.

I was encouraged on Wednesday, July 8, to find my energy back. I hiked to the edge of Pawling, NY, right by a little platform on an Amtrak rail line called the Appalachian Trail Railroad Station. I went to an adjacent business, Native Plants and Landscaping, and picked up a supply box I had mailed to me there. The owner is a former thru hiker and does nice things for hikers. He lets them take showers and even tent on the grounds. It was early afternoon, so I did not stay. I did treat myself to a couple of chili hotdogs from Tim’s Hot Dog Stand a little bit down the road. Another six miles, and I finished a 16.3 mile day at the Wiley Shelter. I decided to tent instead of stay in the shelter due to voracious mosquitoes. The crazy thing was I was only one mile from the Connecticut border with New York. So close, but not quite there!

On Thursday, July 9, I crossed into Connecticut in the early morning. I made a very strenuous climb up Schaghticoke Mountain. I found the climb down to be very rocky and challenging. After fifteen miles, I solo camped on top of a high ridge. I was astounded by the beauty around me. The late afternoon sun made everything glow orange. I had made it to New England.

Today, July 10, after a 14.6 mile hike over challenging up and down elevations and rocky terrain, I was picked up at a road crossing by a guy driving a pickup truck full of old shingles and roofing nails. I rode in the back with the shingles. The ride took me to the town of West Cornwall where a one lane covered bridge crossed the Housatonic River. I hung out like a homeless guy in the deserted parking lot of the Wandering Moose Restaurant. Then, my good friend, Sandy Rhoades, who I have known for thirty years on the the American Indian powwow circuit, picked me up and transported me to his home in Falls Village. Sandy and his wife, Sis, treated me to a lobster dinner. Can you believe that lobster is $7.99 a pound up here? I feel like a new human being after a shower and such a nice meal. Sandy will take me back to the trailhead tomorrow morning, and I will continue my trek north. In two or three days I should be in Massachusetts. I am full of hope for what the future holds.

All my best,

Braid, AKA Joe Liles

PS. I am mainly isolated from current events in our country while I am on the Trail, but I do know this is a time of economic challenges for a lot of people. In the period of the Great Depression of the late 1920′s and early 1930′s, our country accomplished many great things that I am experiencing on my adventure: The Appalachian Trail, Great Smoky Mountain National Park, Shenandoah National Park, Pallisades Park, Harriman State Park, Bear Mountain Park, the Bear Mountain Bridge, and more. I hold out hope that we can work together in this modern time of similar hardship and uncertainty to create new legacies to leave to our children. Join me in being an optimist. The alternative is just too depressing.

Trail Report – July 3 (1358 miles)

Trail Report
trail map


elevation map


this long Trail Report is continued from PART 1

I hit the Trail on Saturday, June 27 by crossing the Delaware River on a pedestrian walkway adjacent to the traffic lanes. On the other side of the river, I entered New Jersey. I stopped at Kittatinny Point and learned about how the Lenape or Delaware Indians used to live in this area. Soon after European contact, the Lenape were confined to a reservation town called Brotherton. Brotherton didn’t work out. European diseases wrecked havoc on the Lenape. Many of the survivors were moved to Indian Territory in far away Oklahoma. There, their descendants still live today. A very few remain in the land of their ancestors.

I only hiked about ten miles that day. I was only about 80% of my former self, but I could feel I was making the miraculous recovery the doctor had predicted. I skirted the shore of Sunfish Pond on top of the mountain above the Delaware River. It is a lake formed by the glaciers of the last Ice Age. In fact, most of the rocks I had been encountering were a result of these glaciers. I climbed to a tall ridge overlooking the surrounding countryside. I could see rainstorms in front of me, moving away. I stopped at an old Boy Scout camp now operated by the Appalachian Mountain Club and called Camp Mohegan. I found that the camp was being used by the AMC that weekend for a leadership training retreat. Several members introduced themselves to me. They showed me immense respect as a thru hiker. I was invited to join them for a supper of lazagna, vegetables, salad, and potato soup. Homemade pumpkin pie was for dessert. I really enjoyed myself! I took this encounter to be prophetic. The AMC runs the hut or shelter system that will get me over the White Mountains of New Hampshire. A good omen indeed.

The next day, I hiked 14.5 miles to the Brink Road Shelter. My impression of New Jersey was changing hourly. Previously, I had associated New Jersey with Newark, the NJ Turnpike, and urban congestion. I was in gorgeous country and, ironically in one of the most highly populated black bear areas in the United States. I was soon to find out just how populated it was. Midday, I took a lunch break on a high ridge. I was eating a peanut butter bagel when I had the feeling that I was being watched. I looked to my side. Fifty feet away was a 200 pound juvenile bear, beautiful shiny black fur, tan snout, black nose, watching me eat. He must have been attracted to the smell of peanut butter. As soon as I made eye contact with him, he bounded away. Just before reaching the shelter at 6:00 that afternoon, I was leading another thru hiker, Stretch, down a steep hill. My head was down watching the rocky trail for food placement. All of a sudden, Stretch hollers out, “Braid! Freeze!” I stopped dead in my tracks and looked up. Only 60 feet in front of us, right in the middle of the Appalachian Trail, was a 500 pound black bear in the process of . . . how can I put this . . . making babies with a 400 pound female. The bears turned their heads in our direction, uncoupled, and slowly sauntered down the path. The male was breathing heavily. Luckily for us, he had his mind on finding a more private place for his amorous activity rather than taking retribution on us for the interruption.

I made it 15.3 miles the next day to the Rutherford Shelter where I tented for the night. The next day, I hiked about 10 miles to the town of Unionville, NY. Yes, I had made it to New York, but I had actually been hiking the border of New Jersey and New York for a while. I stopped at a little grocery store, bought a Coke, and was relishing it on the front porch. A local guy wandered up. I asked him, “Do you know where the Mayor’s house is?” He told me that he was going by there and would give me a ride. You see, I had learned from reports on the Trail that the mayor of Unionville put up hikers in his basement casino canada. Wow, was I in for a surprise! When I walked into the house, I was greeted by Dick, the former mayor of Unionville who was cooking supper in the kitchen. Bill, an eighty something year old, was assisting. Butch, who was like a young FBI agent, showed me around. Many of my hiker friends were already here. The basement was converted to sleeping quarters with 2 X 4 platform bunks. The living room was fully occupied with hikers watching the semi-finals of the Wimbledon. There was a bathroom with shower and fresh towels. Supper would be served promptly at 6:30. I was in heaven. I settled in, took a shower, did my laundry, and talked with Dick in the kitchen.

Dick had always lived in Unionville. He raised two kids here with his wife. Tragically, his wife came down with multiple sclerosis. He was mayor at the time. He took care of his wife in this home until the very end. Before she died, his wife suggested, “We ought to do something for the thru hikers who come through town. They smell so bad!” Three years after her death, Dick decided to devote the rest of his life to helping hikers. He is doing a mighty fine job, and his reputation has spread far and wide on the Trail.

I was treated to a fabulous breakfast the next morning. I gave Dick a donation to help him with his cause and headed north on the Trail out of town. I stopped at a huge roadside stand mid afternoon and had a blueberry Danish and a cup of coffee. I had one big climb that day, and it still remained. I headed up Wawayanda Mountain, met a couple of local hikers midway up, shared in a red wine toast from them to my successful hike, and reached the top in about one hour. I hiked by glacial lakes and through clouds of mosquitoes to finish my 16.9 mile day at the Wawayanda Shelter. I had the place to myself, so I set up my tent in the shelter to protect myself from the mosquitoes. It rained hard during the night. I feared what this was going to do to the Trail.

I want to insert a note here to all my friends in Durham, NC. You may have noticed a street in the Lakewood area called Wa Wa Street. Previously, I thought this name referred to that pedal you step on to make a guitar cry. But I learned while working on my Fish Dam Road project that local entrepreneur Julian Carr built a country retreat here called Wawayanda, referring to way, way out yonder. Wa Wa Street is the only remnant. I am still working on all the particulars of this name. No one at Wawayanda State Park could tell me the origin of the name.

The next morning, Thursday, July 2, I ran into thru hikers Brave Little Toaster, Frank N Stein, and old friends O.G. and Hellbender. We hiked together to the official border of New Jersey and New York and stepped boldly into a new state, leaving New Jersey forever behind. The Trail was alternately flooded with water or piled high with house-size boulders. We hiked in a constant mist that made the rocks extremely slippery. We hiked a slow and careful 10 miles to the trail crossing with New York Highway 17A. We braved traffic 1/4 mile to the Bellvale Creamery, a place we had all heard about on the Trail. Here, I had the best banana split of my life, made with scoops of butter pecan, coffee, and cookies n cream ice cream.

I have reached a milepost on my hike. I have a supply box waiting for me at Anton’s on the Lake on nearby Greenwood Lake. The rest of my hiker friends returned to the Trail, and I called Anton’s for a ride. Tricia picked me up and took me to her place in the valley. Anton’s is a nice motel on the edge of a finger of Greenwood Lake, a huge glacial lake located in the valley between two mountain ranges, one of the ranges we traversed on our hike that morning. Sailboats and little motor boats of all descriptions surround the motel. I will zero here, resupply, rest for a day, and hit the Trail on the morning of July 4. I plan to spend that day reminiscing all of my favorite July 4ths in the past as I make progress into the state of New York. New England is calling me. I can’t stay here long.

All my best,

Braid, AKA Joe Liles