Lovin’ Kent

Kent Laundromat, Kent, Conn., AT NOBO mile 1,4xx, Tuesday May 20, 2014 — Why do hikers criticize Kent? What’s not to like? This is a lovely community.

We marched the 0.8 miles east up the road from the trail crossing on a bright sunny temperate day. The first thing we see: ICE CREAM! We’re in.

Annie Bananie’s was fantastic as was the banana cookie dough ice cream. The owner was very friendly as was the proprietor of the Fife and Drum motel where we are staying.

All our packages were at the post office. yes! The lady behind the counter loves hikers. With our boxes in hand we slipped next door to the town hall to have a conversation about the laundromat situation.

The selectman’s office was shocked to see the page in the guide where it says “Hikers NOT welcome” on the Kent town map where the laundromat is marked.

Not kosher was the immediate response, and they copied the offending page as evidence. Best of all, I was assured I could to my laundry without fear of arrest.

Further the matter of being unwelcoming will be brought to the attention of the Chamber of Commerce. This, it seems, is inconsistent with the brand the town is trying to project.

All of this just goes to show that “something” can be done, if the right approach is used.

Let’s hope the long term trend is favorable. It’s times like now when I love having gray hair. 🙂

Love the view of the IGA out the laundromat window.
Rain from tomorrow through Sat. 😦

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Manhattan Transfer

Wiley Shelter, N.Y., AT NOBO mile 1,450.5, Monday May 19, 2014 — The AT has its own train station, yup. Well, it’s a stop, not exactly a station, but what the hey, the train to Manhattan does stop right exactly on the AT.

According to the log books, a lot of folks take the train out to go hiking on the AT. A lot of hikers who’ve never seen the city ride in to see what NYC is all about. Pretty good deal, I’d say.

It was in the low 40s again this morning. Tomorrow we’ll be in infamous Kent, CT where my summer gear awaits. I’m thinking of bouncing it ahead to Mass because I have my doubts about just how warm my Army poncho liner really is.

One idea I’ve come up with is to curate the trail. The educational opportunities are unlimited. This trail passes through 12 of the 13 original colonies plus West Virginia. Think of the history both chronological and natural. It wouldn’t be quick or easy, but it could be accomplished over time.

For example, today we hiked past Nuclear Lake. Every year hikers muse in their blogs about how the lake got its name and what nearby companies GE/ATT/IBM might have buried there. Hummmmm… Nothing in Wikipedia.

Other than that, it was another great day.

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Rude pizza guy

Morgan Stewart Shelter, N.Y., AT NOBO mile 1,433.9, Sunday May 18, 2014 — I promised this blog would be about a rude pizza guy. It is. You’ll see. But first a word from our sponsor.

Long distance hiking definitely helps sooth the mind, but Hike for Mental Health is more than that. Like bike rides, marathons and similar challenges. Hike for Mental Health hopes to use long distance hiking as a means to raise money in support of much needed research in the field.

As a former senior administrator at one of America’s leading research universities, I can attest to the criticality of funding for academic research. Without the creation of new knowledge, problem solving would grind to a halt. So it is with mental health. Here’s how hiking fits.

The Appalachian Trail was conceived as a way to get people from the urban areas into the wilderness. Its visionaries never imagined thru-hiking as a component of the trail experience, but one guy did.

Earl Schafer was the first thru hiker in1948. He was “walking off the war” (WW II) in terms of his own experiences and to cope with the tragic loss of his closest boyhood friend in that war. He needed the time, the space and the opportunity to commune with nature to help himself cope.

In my own case, I needed a way to decompress from a highly stressful career and do some unfettered thinking about the future, those I love, and my personal successes and failures. To date, hiking has been marvelous medicine for me, and this blog is part of that process.

I asked Hiking for Mental Health to put its donate button on the right hand side of my blog page for the purpose of trying to help a good cause. When this hike is over, I plan to click on it and make a small difference. I hope you will too.

Back to our story.

It was around 42 degrees this morning at wake up time. My tent was cosy and I hated to abandon ship. We were up and out of the park, walking briskly in our short sleeve shirts to stay warm, before almost anyone else was awake.

We hit the 9-11 memorial rock painting within minutes. Later we lounged for lunch at the exquisite RPH Shelter. If it hadn’t been 24 miles away, we might have stayed there instead of Fahnestock Park.

Everyone was in a great mood and looking forward to the pizzeria and deli where the AT passes 4/10ths of a mile from the highway to Stormville, NY. We’d be there around 2:30 pm and could walk the extra distance off trail in time for a tasty late lunch. Our anticipation was high!

Upon inspection, the deli was more of a convenience store with no seats so we decided to eat at the pizzeria. Swayed and I entered and ordered a $26 large pie to split between us.

Then Swayed made a simple request and asked where the restroom was so he could was his hands before eating. The guy behind the counter said they didn’t have a restroom, but Swayed could use the spigot on the side of the building.

I went on red alert. In NY, as most states, any restaurant with tables must proved a restroom for customer use. I scanned the small establishment but could see nothing obvious. Spigot… On the side of a building… It has a certain historical ring to it.

As we were bulldozing our way through the pizza, we noticed customers using a room marked “private” from which noise sounding strangely like flushing emanated.

Bingo! This guy doesn’t like hikers. I didn’t care much for his tasteless pizza either, but I got the picture. It works like this.

The vast majority of thru hikers are kids in their early 20s. Many are just out of college. Some are drop outs. Others never went. They stereotype into three groups, only the smallest of which is positive.

The other two groups act and sound either like Beavis and Butthead or characters from the 1983 Nicholas Cage “Valley Girl” movie with the upward inflection at the end of every sentence. They have little money, outdoor expertise or sense of personal hygiene.

The hiker trash stereotype is derived from their example and behavior. In dozens upon dozens of conversations with hostel owners, shuttle operators and restauranteurs, almost no one has had much good to say about them.

Swayed and I have met our share and concur. It’s been a constant topic of conversation since we met.

Back to our pizza guy. This jackass cannot differentiate between a couple of obviously polite middle age, affluent and educated folks and the boneheads. Worse, he’s breaking the law. Just insert any racial group into his equation.

I posted photos and a notice on the AT hiker class of 2014 Facebook Page. I noted that the deli is great, so I hope everyone goes there.

Flash forward.

Tuesday sometime we should reach the very affluent and reputedly hiker unfriendly little burg of Kent, CT.

The guidebook says hikers are “unwelcome” at the laundrymat. Guess who’s gonna test that one? This could get interesting. Stay tuned.

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Zoo

Clarence Fahnestock State Park, NY, AT NOBO mile 1,419.9, Saturday May 17, 2014 — Swayed and I are tenting in a NY state park not far from New York City on a weekend. Guess who’s on exhibit? Why us of course.

“Hey Vinny! Did ya see doz guys?” We being “doz guys.” Actually, if you know how to ‘nice them out’, New Yorkers are pretty good folks. Let’s just say that we’ve been well treated since we’ve been here. Swayed’s British accent helps.

We got a late jump on the day being that the shuttle leaves the motel at nine. That’s really late for us. We set our sights on a 20 mile day while Bus elected to stop much shorter. He caught the chest and head cold I’ve been nursing for the past week and is a bit under the weather.

We all wanted to see the Bear Mountain Zoo. Within, the bear exhibit is the lowest elevation on the entire AT. Sadly, we were too early. It wasn’t open yet. Every hiker wants to liberate the poor bears. We like them much better outside cages.

Since we had the extra time, our day started with a high octane pancake breakfast served with Italian charm. We loved it.

Next up at lunch time was the Appalachian Deli which is right on the trail. It is truly an amazing place. I gobbled an excellent plate of rigatoni with chicken for lunch. Washed down with Gatorade of course.

The day was decent hiking with the exception that the trail was seriously waterlogged from the heavy rain overnight. I did run into a friendly garter snake whose curiosity about me was amusing.

This weekend is Trail Days in Damascus, VA. Thousands of hikers gather there. Hike for Mental Health, which I support, has a booth. I plan to write about the hiking and mental health tomorrow. It’s a propitious time to do it.

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Pounded

Bear Mountain Bridge Motel, N.Y., AT NOBO mile 1399.7, Friday May 16, 2014 — Everybody complains about Pennsylvania. The reason may be that the worst of the PA rocks occur in the final 2 1/2 days in the state and the resulting misery leaves a lasting impression.

What almost nobody mentions is that NJ and NY are substantially different, but in many ways offer even more challenging hiking.

The NJ/NY rocks grow progressively larger and the talus piles require more and hand-over-hand up-climbing as the trail progresses. Trekking poles get stowed. It’s grunt work just to make headway.

The corollary to these vertical ups is steep, jarring down-hills that eat knees and quads – not to mention the back pockets of your hiking pants – for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Add a bit of rain to this recipe of slick rock and left over leaf litter and down you go – sometimes more than once.

So it was yesterday. Three days worth of hard landings lit up the damaged nerves in my right foot for the first time since this hike began.

Early readers of this blog will recall my concerns that an old, but severe injury to my right ankle and foot might make this hike hell on earth. Until the past day or so I’ve experienced no issues thanks to special orthotics and targeted physical conditioning.

Now we’re dealing with phantom signals that suggest bone on bone pain. The pain is real, but the fact is not. This is a purely neurological issue so Ibuprofen doesn’t help. The best Rx is Rest until the damaged nerves calm.

Swayed’s knees and feet were barking too, so after a tasty lunch in the 3-star Bear Mountain Inn, we called a 10-mile NERO for yesterday and a zero today. We’re back at it in the morning.

The good news is that the Bus rolled into the motel around mid-morning, so the Gang of Three is back in business!

A couple of notes: Yesterday we hiked over Bear Mountain featuring some of the most exquisite rock steps, retaining walls and trail engineering I’ve ever seen. I texted Bus (the engineer) to be sure and void his bladder before hiking this part of the trail for fear that he’d wet his pants. It’s that good!

When we were on Bear Mountain it was pouring rain, so unfortunately no pics. We did say a final goodbye to Maglev who we encountered in the Perkins Memorial Tower on the summit.

Our motel is vintage 1920, featuring only six units. Its market is primarily hikers and people visiting nearby West Point.

There’s another similar “hostel” motel just outside Fontana Village, Tenn called the Hike Inn. The economic model is similar in both cases, as is the vintage charm. The owners are all wonderful folks.

My foot is feeling much better after 24 hours. I’ll be ready to rock and roll in the morning.

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Kamakazi Trail Day

William Brian Memorial Shelter, N.Y., AT NOBO mile 1389.6, Wednesday May 15, 2014 — It’s official, less than 800 miles to go! Seems like I was just celebrating the completion of the first 800 miles. Miles fly when you’re having fun.

Today was a hard day. Since crossing the New Jersey border the rock scrambling has grown more intense. A fitting trail marker that looks like a Japanese flag turned up in Harriman State Park. I can’t imagine a better fit with the hand-over-hand climbing we’ve been doing.

Tomorrow and Friday it’s going to rain. The rocks are especially slippery when wet. I think the worst of them are behind us, but we’re a bit concerned safety wise. The going will be very slow if today’s terrain is any measure.

Today’s tasty morsels included the “Lemon Squeezer” which is a very narrow rock passage, and some trail side magic, the first I’ve encountered. The cooler had fresh fruit and cookies. The water was extra welcome on what was a hot day.

The deer in Harriman Park seem about as tame as those in Shenandoah. I was almost able to pat a young doe on the rump this afternoon.

Last night we were paid a special visit from a hiking club from Indiana. They arrived long after hiker midnight, headlamps blazing and announcing their presence with hoots and hollers.

These are gray- haired types though it appears they were unaware of AT protocol. At first they seemed to think they were going to pile into the shelter, at least until they realized was full. So, they tented. We asked their shuttle driver, whom we met at a trailhead this morning, to help educate them on how to behave after dark. A little courtesy goes a long way out here.

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Highlight Reel

Wildcat Shelter, NY, AT NOBO 1370.0, Tuesday May 13, 2014 — We said farewell to the Bus this morning after breakfast. Bus had what hikers call a drop box (CARE Package) to pick up in a nearby town and would not be able to make it to our location by nightfall.

As we reminisced, Bus reminded me of the morning we were awakened by a very bold little humming bird.

I was sleeping, deeply buried under the sandman’s handiwork at about 0515 when a certain sound punched through to alert my subconscious control center.

Imagine the noisiest bumble bee you’ve ever heard – on steroids; without a muffler. It sounded like a B-17 on short final, dicing the air into drumming little sound bites that tumbled into my ear like tiny Energizer Bunnies pounding away.

If I hadn’t already been prone, I would have ducked to get out of the way.

Bus said the little hummer landed briefly on my boot, which was about six inches from my head, then flew away to a nearby crab apple tree which was in bloom. By then, we were all fully awake and alert. The air raid alarm had sounded.

Bus underscored that moments like that are why we’re all out here. Here’s hoping I see Bus again. I have a wedding in Atlanta July 12, meaning I probably won’t be quite finished before then. I may be able to link up and finish with him if that happens.

When we crossed permanently into NY around 11 a.m. this morning, a pointed concern punched my red alert button.

What if the bears in New York could smell the Red Sox cheers on my breath? What would happen then? What would they do?

“This is not good,” I worried! I spent the remainder of the day looking right and left.

But you know, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that they are New York bears, not New York Yankees. I hope I’m okay unless the odd bear is a Yankee fan.

Right after the border we passed the highest point on the AT in NY. You could even see West Point in the Hudson Valley vista.

The rest of the day was a rock scramble that was good practice for New Hampshire and Maine. We closed at an ice cream store where I drank, count ’em, two coconut milkshakes and a vanilla cream soda.

I’ll admit that the last two miles to the shelter were agony. Good night all 🙂

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Under the Boardwalk

St. Thomas Episcopal Church Hostel, Vernon, N.J., AT NOBO mile 1,352.9, Monday May 12, 2014 — New Jersey is famous for its boardwalks “down by the sea,” but it’s the ones in the mud I’m lovin’ at the moment.

This little corner of New Jersey is full of wildlife refuges and associated wetlands. The really good news is that they are accessible to foot traffic.

Hiking the AT is often a journey of discovery and serendipity. Yesterday we discovered Jim Murray’s farm quite by accident. His farm is one of the most soothing places I’ve been on this hike.

Today it was a series of boardwalk highways through wetlands (swamps) most people would never think of investigating. The number of red wing black birds was fascinating. Who knows what we’ll trip upon tomorrow.

We’re at a generous church hostel 2 1/2 miles off the trail. Fortunately a trail angel gifted us a free ride to the tiny village of Vernon. We resupplied at the A&P and pigged out at the pizza place. We’re good to go.

The walk today was cross compartment from west to east as we close our stay in NJ. We’re on a steady descent to the lowest point on the AT – 218 ft. at the Bear Mountain Zoo. After that, it’s all up hill.

Though we were walking over ridges, many of them appeared to be glacial moraines judging by their composition. We also saw our first granite.

The weather is warming rapidly and the vegetation and insect life are responding accordingly. We’re all bouncing our spring gear northward to Hanover, NH soon. Hanover is the gateway to the White and Presidential ranges – real mountains with real weather. Meanwhile shirtsleeves are a novelty.

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A bit of heaven

Jim Murray property, N.J., AT NOBO mile 1,339.4, Sunday May 11, 2014 — Heaven. In New Jersey? You bet.

A former thru hiker has a farm with two friendly mules and a couple of tiny cabins, one of which he has set aside for hikers. There’s a well, outdoor shower and a privy. Zowee! When we saw the set up, we dropped anchor.

Maglev was here for a short time, but his hike ends Tuesday, so he motored on. Bus, Swayed and I moseyed a mile plus I to the nearby town of Unionville, N.Y. for dinner, then trucked back to Murray’s bunkhouse.

As we hike along the NY/NJ border, the trail is changing to rocky tops and soggy bottoms as the two young hikers from Rheinlander, WI foretold. We also passed the NJ veterans memorial. Tomorrow night we’re in a church hostel in Vernon, NY tho we won’t have officially crossed the border.

Meanwhile we’re thanking Mr. Murray and loving every minute of our stay.

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Another day, another rock

Rutherford Shelter, N.J., AT NOBO mile 1329.7, Saturday May 10, 2014 — Today was all about nature, human and otherwise.

First, last night Swayed, Bus, Maglev (the nurse) and I were at a shelter with two young women from Rheinlander, Wisconsin. They were. It only a total delight, but a hoot as well. It’s been a long time since I’ve met anyone that genuine.

The girls are on a six week southbound section hike for all the right reasons. Adventure and discovery will punctuate their personal growth. May the wind be at your back ladies.

Today’s hike was rocky enough that we thought we’d taken a detour back into Pennsylvania. The rocks will thin out permanently within the next 100 miles or so. Not going to fret about them.

We discovered where a bear had been making its own blazes. I only wish humans could to that well. We spent two hours this morning chasing the trail due to some poor and unconventional marking techniques.

Later we encountered some tourists near a parking lot. “No, I didn’t see any bears today!” I need a sign to put around my neck to answer that ubiquitous interrogative.

A funny black snake which had a payday crossed the trail. He was pretty slow, being fat in the middle. Once his head was hidden, he stopped trying to get away thinking we could no longer see him.

Also watched some red tailed hawks trying to make their living.

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