Friday, September 28, 2012

Chapter 4 - Black water and Blue skies

New Jersey! The state was treating me well. I was getting ice cream a lot, and after the long state of Pennsylvania the end of the state was rushing towards me. While off the Trail, I set the date of wanting to get into Vermont by August 1st - 15 days ahead. That meant the rest of Jersey, New York, Connecticut  and Massachusetts. Just over 200 miles in  half a month. That seemed like a doable plan, but as we've learned already, having a "there by date" is a dangerous thing, so I didn't make it that I must be there by then, only that I'd like to be there!
There were lots of youth groups out, large groups traveling in either direction from NYC and surrounding areas. The shelter areas were occasionally hectic, to say the least. One night in particular I was in camp fairly early, along with Cheeks, Papa Wolf, and some others, when a group of 15 rolled in and setup camp. Shortly after another group of 20 plus hiked in! Talk about a busy (over-used!) site! I can understand why the site was popular, however. It actually had a flowing spring, everywhere else in New Jersey and in most places in New York the water had to be pumped, poured from a faucet, or bought at a store!

New Jersey and New York Water supplies!!
The highest point in Jersey. I had enough energy to hike a half mile out of the way to see it, so obviously not THAT high!
  The valley between where I stood and the highest point in the state, with the monument, was a very easy walk, across many swamps and board walks. These valleys had glaciers in them, and the Trail was taking me by the very lasting effects. The lakes and carved valleys were unlike anything the Trail had so far passed.
The next day, across a hazy valley, I spotted the monument I had been at the base of the evening prior.
The last day in New Jersey was a trying one. The temperatures had slowly been racketing up since I had gotten back on the Trail. The climax happened the morning after I crossed the NY border.

Even at 7am the humidity and heat were uncomfortable. By noon, dangerous. On top of this water was scarce, I was down to my last liter, I didn't have far to go, on a normal day, to get water. But with this 100+ heat index I was stopping often and not drinking enough. 
Suddenly, off to the west, peals of thunder began rolling over me. The Trail was following a rocky crest of a long ridgeline. I kept hoping I would get a bit more shelter before the storm broke over me, the storm kept getting closer and the Trail kept exposing itself to the sky. The storm broke. The temperatures dropped 25 or 30 degrees, the thunder seemed like it was right over me, I had visions of getting struck, another hiker finding my body crisped! I headed to a very shallow valley right off the ridge that paralleled the ridge (i hoped) to the west. I hunkered down and hoped the rain would pass quickly. After 10 minutes I got tired and frustrated of sitting there. I was going to get wet anyway, so why not make forward progress? I followed the valley north, trying to catch glimpses of the AT blazes up above me on the exposed ridge. I felt safer under the dense tree cover, but it also meant that I was pushing through soggy undergrowth where there was no trail.
The Trail eventually dipped off the ridge and began following a safer, and easier route down into larger trees. I had gotten rained on before I was able to eat lunch. My food was in my pack, to get to it I would have to soak myself and everything in my pack as well. I trudged on, still recovering from the stress of the heat, probably a little dehydrated, and very hungry. If I had a "Send me the EFF home right now!!" button, I would have pressed it.
Ice Cream, however, cures everything! At NY17a I walked a mere .3 of a mile to Bellvale Farms ice cream shop. Soon after, Jonnie Walker Red, Claudia, and Animal showed up too. We sat there as the rain began clearing up. I ate several scopes and had a milk shake and re-filled my water bottles. Thus prepared I walked into the semi-clearing day. I saw my last bear of the trip, running off like his tail was on fire - number 14 on the bear list!
Animal caught up and we got to a split in the Trail. The AT goes up a rock face, a blue blaze goes around. The first time we got to such a juncture I climbed the dangerous slick rocks to get no view from a pile of rocks, only to climb back down less than 100 yards ahead. The next time I took the blue blaze, while the more-pure Animal clambered over. On the other side of the rock, I dropped my pack and climbed up nimbly and safely to see what there was to see. Sometimes the Trail routers are just evil to purists!
The following day Jonnie Walker Red and Johnny Walker Black hiked together. He was a nice guy, and it was interesting to see peoples faces when we explained we had the similar trail name and had known of each other for 1000 miles but hadn't met until now. We hiked through Harriman State Park, much like Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, I began to think this was how all of New York was going to be - incredibly gorgeous, filled with very novel sights. There were yellow-grass fields under a cathedral-like dome of trees. The boulders were house-sized and the dells were magic. Jonnie and I made good time, enjoying the talk. It's always nice to have a good conversation over the course of an entire day! We got pictures of each other approaching the Lemon Squeezer (and right after that, a much more challenging rock scramble).

As the day wore down, the sun came out and dried everything. We climbed one last mountain, wanting a few more miles closer to the Hudson River. We ended on Black Mountain (it seemed appropriate for me to stay there!) and my first and only view of the NYC skyline. The views down to and along the Hudson River were very nice. Jonnie, Nomad, and I eked out places to setup. Again, having the hammock helped so we were all able to get good spots. 
In the wee hours of the night the rain began and continued until morning. I woke very early, with the vague sound of someone else packing up close by. I packed everything, and with a lull in the rain, packed the tarp and headed out. The rain began falling harder again, and would rain off and on the rest of the hiking day... mostly on and heavy! 
I was hiking thru gorgeous forest, the rain making it more pretty. The sound of the rain drops on leaves giving a wonderful music to an already magical view. I felt closer to a hidden world of spirits than I had previously on this trip. I felt like forest spirits were dancing on the puddles and leaves causing ripples and nodding leaves. The Trail began its ascent on Bear Mountain, the beauty continuing, as the Trail rose up into the clouds. There would've been views of the mountains I had recently climbed, but instead I saw a wall of misty white. I was happy though, my rain gear was keeping me dry, the weather was good to hike in, turkeys and deer were out and about.
At the top of Bear Mountain, the rain falling harder than ever, I took brief shelter in a handicap porta-john to grab a snack. It was clean, so don't cringe!! I heard later that a few "ultra-lite" hikers had decided to send their tents home and rely solely on shelters had gotten here very late and, having no shelter for another 10 miles had to sleep in the same porta-john to get out of the rain!! And that's one reason ultra-lite just doesn't make sense to me!

I quickly descended the "most expensive mile" of the AT. Bear Mountain must have a huge budget, all the way down the north side of the mountain steps had been installed. The steps were each probably a ton, 6 feet long at least and 2 feet wide. The forest was still very beautiful, and the stone work was very beautiful  in its own way. At the bottom the Trail goes around a lake, and the place was empty, but on a nice day this place would be packed. The evidence of over-use everywhere. Piles of trash, bare-ground, blacktop trails, and graffiti. I was glad I had the place to myself. I got into the zoo that the Trail passes through. And despite the rain I looked at all the exhibits, read all the informational plaques and thoroughly enjoyed my hike thru a zoo - and the lowest point on the AT. It's all up hill from here!
I stayed in town that night at a very nice little inn just down the road that picked me up and dropped me off the next morning. The day dawned clear and nice as I crossed the Hudson on the Bear Mountain Bridge, affording me some awesome early morning views up the river.
However, after this, the same trick that happened in New Jersey happened in New York. The state got mundane again! The views disappeared and the forest became that of Virginia again. But for brief stints, the Trail is nearly identical from Georgia to Vermont. If I was plopped down, or shown a picture out into the forest of most of those states I would not be able to distinguish where it was. This was a bit frustrating, especially after being teased with spots that are so truly different. 
But, at least instead of getting frustrated too much now, I had stuff to look forward to! Like Jim (Flip) coming back out for a visit! He was set to arrive in a few days and meet me wherever I was at the time!