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.