Days 138 + 139
Day 138: Mile 1396.1 | Black Mountain Summit Campsite
In the morning I awoke by Island Pond at 5am. It was pouring rain. Some of the strongest I'd seen since Georgia. The area around my tent quickly started flooding and my tent walls began sagging. The condensation was awful. I quickly packed up what I had inside my tent to keep it dry and just lay on the bare tent floor leaning against my pack. I didn't want to get up in this rain. The forecast said it should pass by 9am. Miles agreed to wait it out. [wpvideo ad8qxGzX ]
By 11am it finally stopped. I thought the rain would reduce the heat and humidity but it only got hotter. We left camp at noon and headed toward the next big thing: Bear Mountain and the Trailside Zoo. Right after we departed form Island Pond we came upon the latest, rocky challenge: The Lemon Squeezer.
The Lemon Squeezer itself actually wasn't so bad! It was the little rock climb after it that was truly formidable:
Miles went first and had a hard time. There were no foot holds. He took off his pack and chucked his poles up to the top of the climb.
Once he was up it was my turn. I tried to keep my pack on but it effected my balance too much. I took it off and handed it up to Miles. I'm shorter than Miles and he barely found a place to put his feet for leverage. There was no way I could use my legs to hoist me up. As far as I could remember my arms were pretty weak. I tried to pull myself up but I couldn't reach the hand hold he used. I tried again: no luck.
For my third try I decide to ignore what Miles had done and just try to do it my way. This time, with a groan, I hoisted myself up. I banged my elbow in the process, but I made it!
Once we got past the lemon squeezer it was pretty smooth sailing. We walked through some hilly, grassy areas where we saw a few tourists. At some town water towers we found a huge water cache. Both of us were hungrier than usual so we decided to sit and make some food. After that, we passed a few water caches (thanks to some local trail angels) and stayed hydrated!
I checked further ahead on Guthook. We couldn't really camp on Bear Mountain but it looked like the day we hiked Bear Mountain (a tourist trap of a park) would be overwhelming, possibly crowded, and we couldn't really plan for how long it would take. I saw some comments suggesting that up to five tents could fit on top of Black Mountain, the peak right before Bear Mountain. We decided to risk it and try to camp up there. Reviews about the views from Black Mountain were great, too.
As we hiked we passed tons of blueberry bushes and we snacked on them as we made our way up to the peak. At the top we were rewarded with hazy views of New York City!
It was incredible, by the New York Long Trail we were about 54 miles away from the edge of the city. As the crow flies probably 30 miles. But we could see the skyline all the way out here! Miles and I pitched our tents separately.
At this time I didn't have a sleeping bag because I had to send mine home in Warwick. There was an issue with the way it was cleaned and the feathers wouldn't stay in the baffles properly any more. It wasn't really keeping me warm. I thought I might be okay with just my liner because it had been so hot. There was a new sleeping bag waiting for me, along with my parents in Pawling. Apparently, the rain did take away some of the heat. We also didn't consider that we were camping at a higher altitude than normal with little tree cover to block wind.
Miles lent me his puffy jacket and I wore it over my legs to keep me warm. I wore every item of clothing I had: wool base layers, my jacket, my rain coat, everything. Eventually, as the sun went down it started to get colder. Much colder than I had expected. Down into the 50's it went. It's crazy that such a high number can be so cold! Anyway, I was cold all night. I didn't sleep much.
Around 10pm I started hearing noise. Music noise. It almost sounded like a concert when song after song sounded like the same artist and style. The music echoed over the peak from the valley. At first, I had thought maybe it was someone else camping nearby. Once I heard the echo I knew it couldn't be. It sounded like it was coming from at least a quarter mile away. It was so loud I could hear the Spanish lyrics word for word. Every drum beat and symbol hit echoed up to us. I lay there chilly and tired and annoyed. Eventually, around 2am, the music stopped. (The next day when we walked through the park I realized that the park was most certainly the source of the noise.
I finally fell asleep but only for a short while. At 5am tent stakes were being scraped and hikers around me started packing up and talking. I got up, annoyed and stiff from trying to stay warm in fetal position all night. I went to Miles' tent to give him back his jacket and he offered for me to sleep in his sleeping bag for an hour or two if it would help. I took him up on the offer.
Day 139 Mile: 1411.2 | Graymoor Spiritual Life Center
Once we left camp and headed down Black Mountain we came to the road crossing of the Palisades Parkway. A quarter mile up the road was a visitor's center / rest area that had a water spigot that we could fill our bottles at. Since we couldn't see any water sources until we got inside the state park we'd be walking through that day, we decided to make the short walk and fill up. Along the way we picked up trash and threw it away at the visitor's center.
We filled up our water and brought our packs into the shade of the back of the building. I went inside and got us some caffeinated drinks from the vending machine. A woman approached us when I came out. She told us about her son who had hiked the trail a few years earlier. He had to get off trail early because of a snake bite! She offered us some local New York bagels and we gladly accepted. I ate mine on our way back up to the trail.
It was hot again. It didn't make up for my sleepless, cold night, just made me more tired. We hiked fast. The layer of sweat covered us as we hiked and the slick, salty coating helped us stay cooler. My leg cramp that had started in Warwick a few days before finally stopped bothering me! We passed another water cache and chugged a liter there. It was getting easier to stay hydrated thanks to some local folks!
We crossed over Mile 1400:
As we climbed Bear Mountain with all of the tourists we started to get agitated. It was a pretty climb but the day hikers didn't seem to realize we were there. We yielded to all of them regardless of whether they had the right of way (whoever is hiking uphill always has right of way. Thru-hikers are expected to yield on 'flat' parts as a courtesy). Most of them played music from their phones with out headphones. It was noisy, hot, and crowded. But the trail was easy going.
We passed someone coming downhill as we were going uphill that yielded to us. Finally a real hiker! I thought. She introduced herself as Parakeet, a thru-hiker from the year before. She offered to let us crash at her house if we wanted, she lived near Pawling. It was nice to meet a fellow hiker!
We hiked through the crowd of tourists up to the viewing tower atop the mountain where there was also a parking area:
After taking in the views (quickly because the small, hot tower room was filled with stragers' perfumes that practically gagged us) the two of us went down to the state park below. There was a lodge with a restaurant, family picnics happening everywhere, and a lake with paddle boats cruising the surface. We couldn't figure out why it was so busy. Busier than one would expect for a Wednesday. Then I realized it was Wednesday, July 4th, 2018.
Everyone was having their family picnics, they had the day off from work and school! Some people even brought out small generators and TVs to watch the world cup. Outside. In a state park. Every picnic table was taken by families. They all spoke different languages. I heard little English during our jaunt through. It was amazing to hear all of the cultures mingling together. Barbecues were going, some families were making kabobs and others burgers. The smells from their fresh food were torture. All I wanted was a good, hot meal that wasn't light enough to carry in my backpack. The smells from the meats and spice mingled in the humid air and practically made me drool.
We got to the lodge and I went inside and bought myself the cheapest, coldest thing on the menu: a milkshake. I resisted buying an overpriced hot dog or burger ($7 for a dog, YIKES!) and left with just the ice cream. Miles and I left quickly after that and aimed for a convenience store/deli at the next road crossing!
After the state park we entered the famous Trail Side Zoo. I'm not really one for zoos so it was a bit chaotic. There were kids screaming, animals in small pens, and a swimming pool that seemed out of place. After being in the woods for so long it just felt like an environment no animal should be in: a pen with a high fence being watched by loud humans all day. I felt bad. They should be in a large space where they couldn't hear the loud noises of people and the highway that ran by the zoo. You could still observe the animals but they wouldn't have to be overwhelmed by people's noise.
Anyway, we walked through the zoo:
and eventually out of it after we stopped at the restroom. We ran into Hard Hat again, too! He walked with us along the highway and climbed out of the busy valley where the zoo and the lowest point on the AT lay. Up and over one more small mountain we went. The whole way to the deli we talked about all of the things we wanted to eat there. I hoped they had onion rings and red Gatorade. Miles just wanted a burger.
When we arrived to the road crossing where the deli was, we found a cornucopia of a menu. I even got avocado on my burger and a side of onion rings! I also got a couple of pastries for later, a Gatorade, and some salty snacks. It was so awesome and convenient.
After dinner we headed with Hard Hat to the Graymoor Spiritual Life Center a few miles up the trail. I had originally intended to meet my parents in Pawling at the road crossing next to Native Landscapes but we fell a bit short of that goal. They offered to pick us up at a road crossing near Canopus Lake instead, just 8 miles ahead on trail instead of 22.
We went to bed right when we got to the camping area for the Center, planning to wake up early the next day to go see my parents! It had been the longest I'd gone without seeing them. Ever. Like in my whole life, ever. I felt a little nervous. It was silly really. They are so supportive and accepting. I felt like I had changed so much on trail and even though I'd been communicating with them, I was nervous that they would be weirded out or something. Not only had I changed physically but I also hoped they noticed the change mentally, too.