This article originally appeared on The Trek on June 15, 2021. Read it here.
The image above is the New York City skyline reflecting the sunrise. That was an experience to see! My phone doesn’t seem to want to let me edit it so that the right spot in the picture can be seen, so I’m just crossing my fingers it shows up!
Wow. I could write an entire blog entry for each day out here. How am I going to summarize the last 2.5 weeks? I’ll try!
I haven’t really been paying attention to total mileage out here, so I just did some quick math. Since returning to the trail from going home for two weeks, I’ve hiked 224 more miles. This means that so far since starting this section in Boiling Springs, PA, I’ve hiked about 394 miles. The cool thing for me is that I’ve surpassed my personal halfway mark in total Appalachian Trail miles hiked! I think I’m somewhere around 1,200? I’m not going to jump into that calculation because all I need to do is keep moving forward from here, the 300 miles in areas south of this point that I have yet to hike are for later. The trail touches four different states through the portion of trail I just hiked. I walked through New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, and into Massachusetts, and I could feel the trail take on a slightly different character in each state.
That day I traveled back to the trail seems so long ago now. I was anxious and tired, but all of those feelings have since faded from the memory that seems like a distant world. In my usual standby travel, I was lucky to board two different flights with a close connection. Then I took a bus from Newark airport to Port Authority bus station near Times Square in NYC, and the Martz bus from Port Authority to Delaware Water Gap. I walked from the bus station there a short few blocks to a hostel run by a church where hikers can stay for a donation, the oldest continuously operated hostel on the trail. By the time I got there, I had a bad headache and there were a lot of hikers there that hot afternoon, so I opted to get a motel room in town so that I could rest my eyes and start the hike on a good note. Being mentally kinder to myself was one of my goals upon returning to the trail.
It was an exciting moment when I finally did hike out of Delaware Water Gap, because after coming and going from the trail I was feeling a little “stuck” there. The morning started with a beautiful walk on a highway bridge over the PA/NJ border.
It did take me a few days to get in the swing of things, but once I did, the hike took on a much calmer tone than what I was feeling on the hike prior to going home. The next two days, I passed several groups of no less than 50 high schoolers on school backpacking trips. I was anxious at first and had that “alone in a crowd” feeling that had become prevalent for me on the trail, but I loosened up after getting to have a conversation with some of the instructors. They were so nice, and told me about how this trip is a requirement for graduation. I was impressed because my high school didn’t have anything like that! Of course, being from the Chicago area, the most we have is a small blip of a hill on the street.
I had always associated New Jersey with Newark airport, so I was pleasantly surprised with the green views and trailside ponds and lakes that this state had to offer. Then somewhere around the New Jersey/New York muddle of a memory, things got more challenging.
Right when I thought I was headed for warmer temperatures and purposely left some things at home like my sleeping bag liner and gloves, memorial day weekend hit with a vengeance. For three days it rained and temperatures did not go above the 40s.
40 degree temps aren’t so bad, but the rain can turn that into a bad situation if not done right, making things much colder and wetter. I had a personal victory in the way I felt I handled those three days, because I felt I actually used prior lessons on the trail and did it differently than I might have had it been my first time encountering that type of weather. I’ve learned to be smarter and look for windows of clear in the cold rain and use resources rather than start hiking at the same time in the day no matter what.
That first day as temperatures dropped, I worked it out so that I could make it to a shelter around 4 pm right around when the rain started. It poured from then until about noon the next day, and along with four others, I just focused on staying warm in my sleeping bag and didn’t leave to hike until the rain let up midday. Then I was able to hike through the afternoon. Although the woods were cold, dripping and damp, I wasn’t getting poured on and was able to get to the shelter that night so that I could be set up to sleep again before the rain that night.
There would have been a time when I would have pitched my tent no matter what because I sleep better in it than crammed around others, but I’ve learned that shelters are a good resource to be used when available in situations like this. I did make a mistake though – I had been chilly the night before, so before bed I draped my rainfly over my sleeping bag to warm up a little more. I never moved it, and the next morning the foot of my sleeping bag was wet with condensation because the rainfly material kept everything in. I felt very un-smart for not thinking about that, but there are constant little lessons out here that are better learned in a non life-threatening circumstance. If a down sleeping bag gets wet, it loses its insulating qualities.
One thing I was happy about was that I had my lighter synthetic puffy jacket with me instead of my thicker down puffy. It actually helped me stay warmer in these conditions because I didn’t have to worry as much if it got a little wet, even though it wasn’t the warmest layer I own. I’ve learned that I often feel more comfortable having the synthetic jacket when I have to choose between bringing one of the two.
That third day, although it rained a cold rain most of the day, I knew I’d be able to warm up after hiking in it because I had arranged to stay at a hostel that night. The previous day when I realized how cold I was from the dampness at every break I took, I knew I’d be happy the next day knowing I’d made arrangements to get inside the next night when I saw that there was a place available right where I was going to be. I have nothing to prove here – I’ve been learning to use my resources and in the moment I knew it would be well worth it to me to warm up inside on the third night vs. passing up that hostel for no reason. When I sit behind a device typing words, 40 degrees and rain for three days doesn’t sound so bad. But when you’re in it, you’re REALLY in it. Resources are there to be used when they make sense to be used.
That hostel stop turned out to be awesome – it was called Mosey’s place, run by a woman out of her home who previously thru-hiked the trail. She was at capacity with six of us staying there that night, and I got to sit and chat and pet her cat for a while – a fantastic warm up after the weather.
Once again, I’ve associated the state of New York with my good friend’s apartment in New York City, airports, the place my grandma grew up along the Hudson River, and just in general, more city life.
Well, it turns out that mountains are still mountains. Even though there are places on the trail where New York City is within a couple hour’s reach by car, you don’t get out of climbing those hills that feel like a world away from the city as you’re thrusting your pack up a small rock face and climbing up behind it.
That’s just it – I didn’t know that this New York portion of the trail was going to be so rocky. There were constant areas that required climbing up a lot of rocks, needing to involve hands free of trekking poles, and any day that it had rained made this a slow process at times. I thought about downloading the album “Slippery When Wet” by Bon Jovi to play whenever I was met with a new rocky section. Weird things start happening when you’re stuck with your own thoughts. One thru hiker local to the area told me that one of these sections is referred to as “Agony Mountain”, and I understand why that nickname was earned.
Aside from rocks and a lot of abrupt small climbs, New York still managed to bring some more “populated” vibes to the trail that made me feel like this section uniquely belonged to it’s state.
I camped in some unique places, like a drive-in theatre in Warwick, NY that lets hikers camp for free and watch the movies. It was located right behind a grocery store, so I was able to resupply and then watch “Cruella” from my sleeping bag. I admit, I had a little bit of a tough time because there were about 15 other hikers there that all seemed to know each other, and that feeling came back like I was a jr. high kid at a party that didn’t know how to fit in. But once I talked to a few people, everyone was nice as usual and I felt the nerves calm a little. It makes sense that there were a lot of people there, as it’s a unique spot that can be accessed from three different points on the trail.
Other interesting camp spots included the Graymore Spiritual Life Center, open for hikers to camp next to their baseball field since the 70s, a field behind a rather crowded state park beach by a lake and concession area that took on a completely different calm tone when the day crowds left, and the lawn next to “Tony’s Deli”. This was a spot a half mile off trail, between a two-lane highway and a railroad track, with bathroom access all night and the ability to purchase sandwiches off of an endless menu. Sticking true to my plain-eating self, I got a regular old burger and it was just what I needed on that rainy afternoon.
At first I felt an instinct to stay away from places like these and just retreat to the woods, but I quickly had a change of heart and realized that these experiences are part of what makes the trail and it’s more fun to embrace them. When spending a lot of continuous time in the woods, places like these break up the hike a little bit and start to feel welcome. All the sudden it feels really exciting to have access to a flushing toilet in the morning. I love how the trail helps remind me to be grateful for the comforts that are available to me in my day to day life.
Another thing that I’ll now associate the New York portion of the trail with are the several days of temperatures that reached the 90s a week after it was 40 and raining. Those days felt tough while walking up anything steep, but they were easier for me to deal with than the cold as long as I kept drinking water and gatorade or propel. I took advantage of any chance to rinse myself off that I could get, including a cold outdoor shower at the Graymore Spiritual Life Center and another cold shower in a family bathroom near the Fahnestock state park concession stand. Taking advantage of these shower options was great, but they don’t always go as planned, which brings me to the next state…
I say this state should be talked about more because the Appalachian Trail is only in it for something like 50 miles, give or take, but I thought it was beautiful. I could feel more extended climbs beginning to come back and the trail seemed to take on a new character once again.
So the shower story… as I’ve often mentioned, on any given day things generally don’t go as planned around here. I thought I had the perfectly resupply point planned where I would go into the town of Kent, CT. They have a welcome center which is basically two bathrooms, outlets and a water spigot on the outside, and a coin operated shower behind it. There is a grocery store and laundromat near by and the town is less than a mile off trail. How perfect! My goal has been to plan in such a way that I can go in and out of town within the same day more often, rather than staying somewhere in town every time I need to reaupply, so I was excited about taking advantage of this stop.
Well, I came into town at the same time as two other hikers I had been seeing on and off the last couple days, and we walked up to an “out of order” sign on the shower. That can feel like a big bummer when you were excited for your one shower after several hot sticky days, but luckily after being out here, something so small isn’t enough to actually make anyone that upset and we quickly laughed it off and dunked under the water spigot. This was definitely a hiker trash moment – a term dubbed on hikers out here because we find ourselves doing things like this, that seem extremely reasonable in the moment but upon looking back seem a little… hiker trashy. I’m pretty sure that thirty seconds of cold water running over my head made me significantly cleaner than I was, but who’s to say. Another hiker asked if he could take my picture to capture the moment, I think his pictures are the only pictures with me actually in them from this hike so far!
I definitely had a lower moment as I was in town that morning though. A big group of hikers had the same thing in mind and I had that “alone in a crowd” feeling again – noticing a trend here? That’s where my anxiety gets me. They were very nice, don’t get me wrong. I just find myself anxious around a lot of people sometimes, especially when they know each other and I don’t and we’re all sharing resources to do the same things like charge phones and dry out gear. It takes me a little bit of time each time I come to the trail to remember that I can put myself out there and it’s all ok, people are so nice.
Well, I am so sorry if this is too much information but I’m including it because this can add a lot to a hike, so here goes. It was there that I realized it was also that time of the month, early. (Sorry, guys. But girls, I know you understand this frustration so I’m including it for the full scope of the story). This usually means I feel extra tired, kind of sick, and the perfect plan of a zero day to align with this in several days was no longer a viable plan. For me personally, I’d truly rather not hike than hike while dealing with that. I was about to hike out of town for another few days. So I made a couple trips back to the store to grab some extra things and admittedly completely dreaded hiking on. Another hiker I had met that week saw me and said I was kind of a pitiful site to see, sitting under a tree packing up my resupply of food and looking like I had given up on life. I laugh at that one, makes sense! I was feeling pretty drained.
But as I walked back to the trail, another hiker asked me if I had been in the Chicago Bears Drumline. I remembered I was wearing my Bears Drumline hat, and we got to talking. Turns out he was from the Chicago suburbs and a few years ago the drumline visited his school and we played together with their drumline. He and I had actually drummed together at some point! How cool! A second hiker joined the conversation. We were all drumline kids, and they might not know it but the ten minutes I spent talking to them on that walk back to the trail lifted my spirits entirely and had me very excited. It’s amazing how people always appear on this trail exactly when you need them.
Well, the next few days turned out to be some great hiking days. I dealt with things, and now any day of upcoming hiking feels easy for not having to deal with a female issue. I felt some larger climbs start to come back with the introduction of Connecticut, and it’s been a challenge and enjoyment at the same time. The woods feel bigger and more open again at times.
I also had an entirely new experience in nature here – a caterpillar infestation. Walking through this portion of the woods sounded like it was drizzling all day and night, but it was actually the sound of hundreds and hundreds of caterpillars eating the leaves in the trees and then pooping. It was actually raining caterpillar poop. I want to learn more about this because I’ve never seen anything like this before.
Well, it would be nice to write more often because I feel like I’m missing writing about so many story-worthy moments. But I’m also happy with the way the hike has been all-consuming. I’ve started to get into a groove where I hike most of the day and am the right amount of tired at night, although this still varies depending on what I faced that day. I decided I had to forego my journal and go down to two writing sources: my blog, and short letters I write to my boyfriend for fun from time to time. This has helped me lessen that feeling that I wasn’t finding time for everything. I’m getting better at knowing what I can fit in during a day of hiking, and I’ve started to feel it and listen to myself when I need a shorter hiking day or a day of hiking zero miles. Today is the first I’m taking to not hike at all and give my legs the rest they definitely need! Plus I need some time to do a few gear repairs, as I just picked up a new tent pole segment in the mail and a pack pocket I use frequently has a gaping hole in it. On with the town chores I go!