I woke up so many times last night. Pretty sure I got about 5 hours of sleep with all the tossing and turning and then waking up naturally at 5am. I heard noises in the kitchen even at that hour. I later found out that the rattling about was our host, georgio, cooking us breakfast. I finally gave up on sleeping around 545 because I could hear buzzcut fidgeting, and I was starting to get hungry. I hobbled downstairs and georgio said oh the little church mice are stirring. He insisted I go back to bed, but I told him it was too late. I went down into his basement and folded our laundry. Then I creaked back upstairs with my tight Achilles’ tendons. They’re super unhappy first and last thing in the day. I can’t wait to soak my feet/ankles in epsom salt and hot water. Why does that feel so good?? Halfway and I were wondering about that way back at the holly inn.
By 630, everyone was downstairs, but Giorgio made no moves towards serving food. I have to eat pretty soon after waking, and by that point I’d been up for nearly 90 minutes. I came so close to asking him when we were going to eat, but it felt rude. Instead, I went upstairs and busied myself by putting my sleeping gear away. Then I couldn’t take it anymore, and I busted into my peanut butter and ate it with Fritos. It’s a combination I’ve seen buzzcut eat, and it’s surprisingly good. The snack sort of helped, but it also just made me want real food.
I went back down stairs and pretended to be involved in the conversation while dying to say, can we eat NOW. Finally, JD slid forward on the edge of the couch and Giorgio took the cue. Then he made us all eggs to go with her bratwurst and wheatberries. The food was incredible, and he wouldn’t let us help with any of the dishes. Then we gathered ourselves and piled into the car with the dog frantically bouncing from one side of the backseat to the other between buzzcut and me.
Giorgio of course refused our offers to pay for his gas and the groceries that he bought expressly to make us breakfast. We said goodbye to him at Arden Valley Road, and he went off into the woods with his dog. I tried to walk quickly to warm up in the cold drizzle, but the rocks were slick, and I felt like my feet were cinderblocks. I had to slow down for fear of tripping or stepping in a way that would hurt my cranky ankle. The woods in that part of Harriman felt expansive. There were mammoth boulders amongst large, spread out trees with fern ground cover. I tried to look around me, but I was just too cold. I considered stopping to put on another layer, but I knew that within the half hour, I would probably be comfortable enough. I’d rather have a dry mid layer for later than start sweating in a little while and have to stop all over again for a wardrobe change. It feels funny to call my collection of clothes a “wardrobe.” I’ve worn the same 2 shirts for the last 35 days with the variety of either having my Rapha wool shirt or my rain coat as a top layer. When I get to camp and I’m done setting up whatever sleep system is going in place, things start to get crazy. That’s when I put on my puffy coat. Living at the crusty fringes of fashion.
Somehow JD fell behind, which left buzzcut and me walking in silence for the first hour. As we passed through a boggy area with several little stream crossings that were tricky in the rain, buzzcut fell back because she needed to check on a toe situation. I decided not to wait because something about her energy seemed like she wanted to be alone, and I knew I would get cold if I just stood around. I spent the better part of the next hour walking around taking pictures of the misty woods and feeling happy that my body was not as sore as I expected. I, too, had a toe situation that I should have checked out, but I’m out of the proper tape, so I couldn’t do much about it anyway. The trail took us up towards more exposed rocks and low lying bushes. Rain fell steadily for the entire morning.
Around 1130, I made it to William brien Shelter, which thankfully was directly on the trail. I decided to take the opportunity to have a roof while prepping my lunch wrap. I saw a man named clean sweep that I met the day before and treebeard. I have been wondering how Treebeard fared yesterday with the intense elevation changes and his achy knee. As it turns out, he stopped at fingerboard shelter, a.k.a. bearville, because he was too tired to move on. The pesky bear stole his food bag! Along with four others. Treebeard said that he salvaged some of the food the bear deemed uninteresting, and when he stood on the shelter porch he could see the bear watching him from about 20 yards away.
As I sat there listening to treebeard’s crazy story, I made a peanut butter, frito and honey wrap that I decided to just eat right then instead of waiting until later down the trail. JD and buzzcut arrived looking soggy and haggard. Buzzcut stepped into the shelter and sat down on one of the bunks. I happened to look back at her and noticed that her eyes looked wet with something more than just rainfall. I asked her if she wanted to talk about it fully expecting to be brushed off. But she nodded yes, so I sat on the bunk with her, and she said, I’m gonna go home. She said she misses her kids, and listening to Georgio talk about being estranged from his family made her realize that the sacrifice of being on the trail might be too great. She couldn’t come up with convincing answers (for herself) as to why she should stay. I validated the idea of letting herself take a break and going home. At that point, other people were listening in and they echoed the opinion that if she wanted to go home it would be OK. Then we set about trying to figure out where she could get to the nearest road and actually have cell phone signal to call a cab (seven lakes road was closest but no signal). I pulled up the map that I already have on my phone for Harriman and realized that the point at which the trail crosses the Palisades Parkway is less than a quarter of a mile from the visitor center. I called to make sure they were open, and then told buzzcut that would be the best place for her to stay warm and find resources. In that moment, I felt cold and sad and so uninterested in camping in the rain alone, so I called stony point center to see if they had any open rooms for the night. I can handle rain and I can handle cold, but I can’t handle both of them at the same time on a day that also happens to be the day a good to trail friend leaves. I opened the invitation to share a room with JD and prepared, and told him to think about it over the next few miles. My new plan was to walk to the bear mountain bridge and get picked up by the center’s staff. This would involve another 9 miles of walking. JD seemed interested, but skeptical as to whether he could get that far. Treebeard expressed similar sentiments and said he needed to stop at the visitor center to use the facilities because he didn’t feel like pooping in the rainy woods.
So we set off to get buzzcut to the road and ourselves north towards a warm, dry room. First things first, climbing up this pile of rocks.
Then the trail leveled out into more of the same terrain with mild ups and downs. We had a short steep climb up to this point for a view of the neighboring ridges and swift mine lake. Then the trail headed back down into the woods and eventually popped us out onto the shoulder of the palisades parkway, which is a very busy highway. I felt like a turtle as I tried my best to run across the road between cars going 50-60 miles an hour. Okay it’s New York, they were probably creeping on 70mph. We made it across the northbound lanes and crossed the wooded median to the southbound side. I gave buzzcut a quick hug and watched her walk up the shoulder towards the visitor center. it was hard to see her go, but people have to make the choices that are right for them. I didn’t have a lot of time or space to really let her absence sink in because I needed to keep moving for warmth. Once we crossed the southbound lanes, JD and I spread out to our own paces.
I caught up with him while he was chatting with the couple that are out hiking with their three month old baby. I get slow down by taking pictures, and JD gets slow down by talking to everyone he comes across.
After is a goodbye to the cutest little family ever, we made the long, lung burning climb up what I thought was bear mountain, but actually turns out to be the mountain before bear mountain (need to look that up). As we started to climb, I looked at the elevation chart and laughed. Here’s a screenshot of what it looked like (I’m the little blue dot).
It actually wasn’t as bad as I expected, and there were several view points once we got higher up the mountain. It started raining again as we enter a flat section, so I had to take out my raincoat, which I had taken off for the climb. so much adjusting at any given moment. Here are a few pictures from the walk along the ridge and back down to the road.
Then came the climb up what was actually bear mountain, which involved a butt ton of stone steps. In some ways, stone steps are great because they cut down on the stabilizing required on uneven rocks and roots. However, they are incredibly hard on the balls of my feet and make my legs ache because there’s no give when you land.
Around 3p Treebeard texted to say that he was waiting at the bear mountain inn for us. He decided to cut his day short and give himself a break. With that in mind, I texted our shuttle driver to move the pick up location from the bridge to the end, which cut a mile from our day. At that point, I had no qualms about cutting it a little short. The exposed rock and the steps were turning my feet into minced pancakes.
I told everyone I knew to avoid bear mountain on a weekend, and had accidentally arrived there on a major holiday. But the weather saved me from having to elbow check people and feel like a smelly weirdo. When we finally got to the bear mountain overlook, it was absolutely deserted. I couldn’t believe it. The last time I was here, the place was crawling with tourists and weekenders. JD and I stopped at the Overlook to catch a wider view of the cloud covered mountains we had been seeing all morning, and then kept moving down the other side of the mountain. I hiked that section of the AT last October with a group of friends I know from banjo Camp and my former partner. I can remember how my friends got really excited about the idea of leaving something there for me to find on my hike. They didn’t do it for logistical reasons, but the memory made me feel like I had good company as I winced my way down the never ending set of stone steps that was only mildly broke up by flat stretches of crushed gravel.
JD and I made it to our date with the shuttle driver right on time. We walked to the front of the inn as the van pulled up. A talkative man named Rick said, are you jay? To jd because he had thought he had spoke to a man earlier via text and in the 20 second phone call we had about timing. I knew that he thought he was speaking to a man when he spelled out the name Jay in a text, but I didn’t correct him because I enjoy the gender ambiguity and the surprise when people realize that they’ve been speaking to someone who is not a man. I felt a little bad for not telling him, but also kind of good about causing confusion and indirectly pointing out the assumptions that we all make about gender and the way it can inform our conversations. I’m sure there’s a more eloquent way to put that, but writing this at a late hour after another long day doesn’t really lend itself to articulation.
We made it to stony point center around six and went through a very confusing check-in process that was too tedious to describe. It’s apparently a multi faith activism retreat center, which i did not realize when I booked it standing in the rain st the top of a mountain. By the time we got our stuff into the room, I was nearing a food meltdown. Civility and patience were quickly going out the window, so I set up my pot to boil water and shoved Fritos in my face until I felt slightly more sane. After about 15 minutes my rice was ready. I sat in silence and ate it while staring at the wall. Eventually, I felt human enough to carry on a conversation and take a shower. A gentleman named. Chainsaw, whom I have mentioned in passing as a late arriving high energy character, agreed to pick up a few items for me when he got ferried to the grocery store. I have an awkward amount of food to get me through the next two days, but the idea of walking around a grocery store made me want to cry. The only downside to getting the favor is that he forgot to buy Fritos. I guess I will rummage through the bear mountain vending machines tomorrow before we set out.
I’m writing this in a large common room with a pretty decent color scheme given the antiquated look of the exterior, a wood-burning fireplace,and a crucifix evoking tablecloth on the glass topped table to my right. Time to go crawl into my sleeping bag on the queenish (but actually more like a double) that I’m sharing with JD who is also using his sleeping bag.
Mile 1389.4 to mile 1402.9 (13.5)
Total miles: 399.7
Creature feature: saw several cute little frogs today and two giant turkeys across the road when we got dropped off at our starting point. Not much happening in the way of interesting birds. No snakes today, but a couple of lizards! one with a blue tail.