Thursday, June 29, 2006

Appalachian Trail, Part II

I've been meaning to write about this trip for a while. I'm happy to finally get to it! The picture to the left is of Bear Mountain Bridge (I found the pic on the web). I took a bus back on June 10th to Bear Mtn. Inn via the Port Authority bus terminal in Manhattan. The bus dropped me off with all my gear at the Inn which is maybe a 1/4 of a mile south of the foot of the bridge, which in the picture is the left foot-hold of the bridge, crossing the bridge over the Hudson river from the left to the right is going east. Anyway, my idea before starting out was to hike the Appalachian Trail from Bear Mtn. Bridge to the Appalachian Trail train stop up in Pawling, New York, some 54 miles in total. I wanted to find out just what my legs could do with my pack weight close to 55 lbs. So, I set out with spry in my step.

I headed north to cross the bridge then up to Anthony's Nose, which put me in a mild panic. The weight on my back put a considerable amount of strain on my legs on the ascent up this hill. I developed an overwhelming sense of doubt so early on on the trip. I drudged on and stopped to rest when I needed. It took a bit out of me but I made it up on the ridge and continued on at a good pace. I breaked and had lunch where the trees were few. It was really windy that day, but sunny and mild in temp., mid-70's. I was barely able to hear myself think with the loudness of the wind. During my pb&j sandwiches I had a visit from a doe who was only a mere 100 ft. away. A gust of wind moved a tree above me, and creaked, that scared her off. Seeing her walk off made me feel so good and happy to be alive.

The trail was moderate for awhile, a bit of a roller-coaster that led me to Graymoor, a catholic friary. They had signs along the trail pointing to where hikers could camp for the night, which came as a blessing that day; the wind brought rain clouds that covered the sun. As I followed along the markers directing me towards the campground I came upon another hiker. [This is where I introduce Groundhog and Dutch.] We all three talked it up like we knew each other already. I was amazed at how open these two were...they were both thru-hikers. This trip Groundhog was finishing out a thru-hike, he started back at the Delaware Water Gap. Dutch was also finishing out a thru-hike, this section she started back at Bear Mountain. Conversation went on about hiking, hiking gear, hometowns and the fucked up laws of the land. We all got along magically. I couldn't have dreamed of a better situation. We slept on metal picnic tables under an oversized awning through a heavily moonlit night where no rain touched the earth. We were awakened by a family of Somalians preparing for a day of BBQ.

Happy with finding some travel companions we started our day after breakfast and tea. This part of the A.T., from Graymoor to Fahnestock State Park, afforded some beautiful views of the valley of Putnum County. I totaled over 16 miles in one day. That is the longest I have ever walked and my body was telling me about it. I was dead on my feet. We made it to the concession stand at Fahnestock just in time, just a little before 5pm. I through my three month gain on being a vegetarian out the window and ate two hamburgers with cheese, fries, a sprite and chugged a big bottle of gatoraid. I also bought some food to go. We were lucky. We met some nice people that worked in the park. They let us camp for free and use the showers, hot water showers. Groundhog, Dutch and I sat around a fire and talked while car campers blared their stereos and danced to the light of their headlamps. Some people have totally different ideas about camping than other people do. Car stereos or not, I slept like a rock that night in my one-man tent.

Hiking is now one of my new great loves now that I know my body can handle it. I'm glad I don't have to worry about my health as much. There is something so oddly spiritual about hiking and camping, and simple. I wish I could do it all the time. Well, we packed out early and headed back to the trailhead of the A.T. before any of the car campers were up. It felt good to be going back to the trail, even more so due to my new totaling record of 16.8 miles in one day. But Monday, we stopped early, gaining only 8 miles due to the RPH shelter. A centerblock building with a covered picnic table out back, bunks, a privy, a water pump, and a means to get pizza delivered. We weren't going anywhere the RPH shelter was a palace. The caretaker himself showed up and talked to us. Other hikers started showing up. I ate a whole medium pizza with anchovies and black olives all by myself. I felt it in the middle of the night. Indigestion took hold of me and had me up and out of the bunk most of the night. I walked down a quiet country road and looked at the full moon. Listened to a nearby creek. Got back to the shelter and tried sleeping in a chair...I won't bore you with the details, but it was awful, it really sucked.

Next day, Groundhog took off early. When I finally got my shit together I took off, up into the Hosner Mountains. It was truly beautiful once I got up there. I hiked by myself for most of the day till I got to Stormville. I had a salami and cheese sandwich from a deli off of the trail. I met up with Dutch at the deli. We hiked with each other a bit, enjoyed some heavy conversations about life...she was great, a really open person. I hope to see her on the trail again sometime in the future. One of the strongest women I have ever met...she kindof reminded me of my step-mom. They share one of the same character traits, they don't mince words. Dutch kept going, but I hung back for awhile. I was so tired. This was the longest day. We hiked from RPH all the way to Telephone Pioneers shelter. Now, that was the longest hike I had ever been on. After taking a bath at Nuclear Lake it took some coaxing on my get my muscles going. I was dead tired. Twlight threatened my every breath. I really didn't think I was going to make. I was prepared to walk in the dark, but finally once on top of the mountain I knew I was close. I made it. At the shelter, Dutch was getting ready for supper. Groudhog was relaxing in the shelter under a mosquito net. I collapsed and set up camp. Had supper by the fire and went to bed on crooked ground.

I took my sweet time in the morning. I knew I wouldn't be with my friends anymore. They were going the long haul all the way to Mt. Katahdin. Me, I was maybe going to Kent, CT then turn back to the train, but not sure. I let them go on without me. I made it to the next shelter (Wiley Shelter) and stayed due to some storm clouds that covered the sky. Good thing I did, the skies opened up that night. I slept in the shelter. I met a guy named Don, and an older couple from the south. We all talked and watched the heavy rain. I thought a lot about my wife and how I missed her and made a decision to go home the next day. I would hike back the way I came and down to the Pawling station. Even though I was going home early I didn't feel like I was giving up. I just decided I had had enough for this time around. Besides, it didn't make sense to keep going and then have to back, Thursday morning through the dew in the grass I went back home.

Once on the train, station after station the people crowdeed the cars and out came the cell phones, the radios, the bickering of families and whining kids. I sat there stinking of body odor, holding a walking stick acquired from the woods of the Hudson Highlands staring out the window thinking of when I'll be back on the Appalachian Trail, the dense green became past tense as the train hurried it's way to the city.

In Remembrance

Looking back on my life is like looking back at a long bridge in the rearview mirror where the fog never seems to clear away completely. Almost like looking at old black and white photographs while in a snow storm. All right, enough of these damn puny metaphors...I'm no Acidman, that's for sure. My memories reveal themselves at some of the oddest times. You just never know when one will pop up from the subconscious and make you pull over to the side of the road to hang on to it, to remember; like Robbie's laughing heard from the outside of the house on poker night.

Dad's poker nights meant I could come home in any state I wanted. Be it drunk & stoned or up in the constellations on mushrooms. 'Cause once you were inside, standing next to the kitchen table, you could'nt identify a single person for all the smoke in the room. As dad would say, "you could cut the smoke with a knife." The smell was worse than any 50 year old bar in downtown Savannah. One of dad's buddies smoked the cheapest cigarettes you could find, the smell of them would carry you off down the road. I'd be standing next to that table looking at all those possum-eyed men having a good old time, drinking whiskey and playing cards, a gang of laughing hyenas. Once, I thought I was in a cowboy movie. Those damn poker nights would go until 4 o'clock in the morning. I'd go back to my bedroom and pass out with dad and acidman yelling and laughing at the top of their lungs, competing with one another through that smoke of stale cigarettes.

I looked up to Robbie for his guitar playing, but he was still an old man to me. Shit, I didn't want to play that old man music. I wanted to play heavy metal music, like Motley Crue and Iron Maiden. Anyway, I remember watching him play the guitar. It seemed like just another limb on Robbie, like it was natural for him. That made a huge impression on me and I can remember consciously making a decision to always have the guitar in my life. Robbie was one of those people that comes along and shines a little more light on what you're doing. I know he was a good friend of my dad, Catfish. Dad used to share all kinds of stories with us that included Robbie. Still does when I'm around...

My heart goes out to Robbie's family. Mr. Robbie Smith will be missed.

Friday, June 02, 2006


I haven't updated my blog in a long time. A lot of things are going on with me lately. Changes are on the horizon and it feels really good. I guess the biggest thing is that I gave my job (which I've hated for over 2years now) 4weeks notice. And as much as my Dad is going to hate reading this I must divulge...I gave notice without anything lined up.

The thing is that I know I will be able to sign up with some Temp agencies and get work immediately. It’s just that I needed to quit in order for me to get things going for myself. As long as I worked at this job the longer I was going to be here. I've never wanted to be here. And don't know exactly where I want to be in a career, but I do know that I can't sit here and waste my life away waiting for something to happen, being completely miserable. So, I made it happen.

Come July, I am finally giving college a try too. I have many interests; that’s never changed. My last day at this job is Friday, June 9th. It's been nice folks! Saturday, June 10th I'm taking off for a full week in the woods. Hiking the Appalachian Trail at my own pace and not answering to anyone. Man I like hearing myself say that...'at my own pace and not answering to anyone.'

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Appalachian Trail

This past Memorial Day weekend I spent Sunday and Monday on the Appalachian Trail up in the area of Pawling, New York. It's that time of the year again. The weather was perfect for camping and hiking. Quite a few people agreed with me; the metro-north train was packed with hikers.

This is the first time I've gone hiking with 60lbs. of gear strapped to my back and slept overnight by myself. I was extremely excited and a bit nervous, and anxious. Anyway, I got tired quick. It was noon when I was let off the train. The sun beat hard on my back as I walked across rolling farmland with this load on my back. It was tough. I knew that getting inside the woods would give shade but I also knew it meant hills, steep ravines and steady ascents up even higher hills and mountains. Needless to say I became doubtful of my physical capabilities. Half way up an ascent I stopped for water and a PB&J sandwich, sweating my ass off, heart racing like it was going to jump out. I sat there wondering if I had enough water to last me this trip and if I was going to be able to make it to the shelter before dark. I wasn't even into 1.5miles yet and I already had these doubts. Well, I pushed my doubts aside and picked up my pack and set out.

Funny thing, the pack became lighter the longer I carried it. The longer I walked the more I thought less and less. Only paying attention to my walking and the trail on which I walked the doubts disappeared. Well, that only worked for so long. I tried to remember how I got to that state of mind and all I could remember was just walking. At this point where my doubts rushed back in I had reached close to 6miles and there stood yet another steep hill which I wasn't ready for...during this time I also developed a slight diarrhea. I dug my hole in front of a small tree, dropped my pants and hung on to that small tree...and answered my CALL OF THE WILD. I approached the hill again and some hikers were on their way up. At the bottom of the hill a man I’d say in his mid-late 50’s was sitting on a lawn chair next to other lawn chairs along with three coolers. I proceeded along the trail and he looked at me and said, “How are you?” The only thing I could say at that point was, “Tired!” He continued, “There’s food here.” I thought this exchange was odd. I was surprised to see this sort of set up so I walked closer to him and he repeated himself. I sat down next to him dropping my pack with a sigh. I said, “Is this your stuff?” He said no and that some friendly people must’ve left it for hikers. I looked in the coolers. There was ice and Gatorade and water. In another cooler there was food. We both agreed that it was a nice gesture and looked at each other pleased as punch that at least the whole entire world hasn’t gone to shit yet. He told me his name was Lights Out and I told him mine. Lights Out said that the shelter was only another 15min from where we were. That put a smile on my face. I made it to the shelter.

After taking a look around the shelter I set my tent up and answered yet another CALL OF THE WILD and passed out. I had one hell of a headache and on top of that my legs were giving out. When I woke up there were a number of people at the shelter setting up camp. I bummed some tea bags from a couple and talked to Lights Out some more. He told me the story of how he got his name and a few other trail stories that were pretty entertaining. At twilight people were cooking their supper and quieting down. I stayed up watching the fireflies. Tossed and turned while a group of coyotes started howling and sleep must’ve taken me during the owl’s wooing.

The mornings are what I really like the most about camping. The birds are at their peak between 4:30-5:30am. It's like a mandatory rehearsal that all birds must attend daily. Their symphony takes over every other sound. Lights Out and I were the only morning people at the shelter that day. We talked and ate breakfast together. He ate dry cereal from a worn zip-lock and drank water out of a Nalgene and I enjoyed my earl grey tea. We shared some more stories and said our goodbyes. He left the shelter before I did. Lights Out continued north, onward to Maine. He’ll make it too.

Well, I set out soon after Lights Out did after leaving a power bar to the couple I bummed the tea from. I went south, same way I came. My load was a tad lighter and the pep in my foot was a little happier too, even a bit stronger. Mostly due to the sleep, but I won’t discount my encounters with Lights Out or waking up to a chorus of birds. The smell of the woods is so sweet that early in the morning. I heard turkeys deep in the woods off the trail, couldn't see them to save my life. I scared a deer. Deer are so beautiful to see while they are doing their everyday thing. The deer was just standing there off the trail a good 100feet away, saw me then ran off as quick as you can say 'boo'.

My trip back to the train station didn’t take half as long as it did getting to the shelter. I had 4hours wait time on the next train back to the city. I sat and read. Bought a Pepsi at the rest stop near by…then set out in the other direction (south) to kill some time. I met another fella up on Corbin Hill who had two dogs with him. We chatted about hiking and camping long distances. He told me a few things like completing the Appalachian Trail when he was younger, what you should and should not carry; you know, things he thought I should know, while his two dogs ran all over the place jumping into the swamp and chasing each other.

I turned back and there was someone else to meet. She came all the way up here from Brooklyn on the metro-north line to buy some Native plants from the Native plant store. I thought that was great. Anyway, we talked about everything under the sun. She was a really open and sincere lady, perfect company for waiting for a train. I had a great trip!