After grabbing a quick breakfast, BigFoot, Mantis, and I headed back towards the trail. We quickly got a hitch, and our driver even left us each with a bottle of lemon tea. Thanks, man. It was perfect on top of that steep climb from the road! After 9 miles on this beautiful, sunny day, we said goodbye to yet another state and said hello to New York.
The three of us continued hiking together the rest of the way to Wildcat Shelter to complete a 17 mile day. So far, so good in New York. The number of sharp rocks continued to decrease, though we climbed over many rock faces and walls keeping our walk interesting.
The next morning, we awoke to the sound of rain drops on our tent and silently agreed to stay put. Eventually we exited the tent and broke down camp. Apparently, Mantis felt the same way about the rain. The three of us left camp last at a laughable 10:00. Oh well.
The rain in the morning was all we saw, and the day turned hot quickly. Best word for the terrain so far in New York? Rugged. Though we weren’t climbing large mountains, the ups and downs were continuous, frequently scaling near vertical slabs of rocks. In many places, the sun sparkled through the trees to the grass below that covered the forest floor, a welcome change from the underbrush that we typically see.
Actually, we quite enjoyed New York. Except one important factor – the water. Most of our trip, the quantity and quality of water has been excellent. In New York, though we crossed streams frequently, most of them were a dark reddish color we just weren’t comfortable drinking.
Thankfully, it seems the locals are aware and have left a most useful form of trail magic – many jugs of clean water. During our walk that day, we passed 4 different water caches. The first included a box with donuts inside. The last had assorted fruit.
With our water bottles filled, we crossed a busy highway and took off for the last 5 miles of the day. Just passed the road, we saw a group of hikers circling a truck and were waved over. We quickly noticed big smiles and a grill – more trail magic! Our host, Paddy-O, made us hotdogs with sauerkraut and calzones and had plenty of chocolate milk, tea, and beer. Writing this, that combination sounds God awful, but it sure was tasty that evening. Eventually, we pulled ourselves away from Paddy-O and finished the remaining miles to Fingerboard Shelter.
We arrived at a very crowded shelter on this Saturday evening. There were tons of weekenders some families, some groups of twenty somethings with whiskey. Not necessarily people these tired hikers wanted to camp with. But we weren’t going any further. We pitched our tent and did our best to get to sleep.
Morning came, and we broke down camp early. Mantis, BigFoot, and I hit the trail at about 7:00. Today’s high was a predicted 95°, and we were shooting for 22 miles. A few hours in, we took second breakfast with a beautiful view of a lake. We could already feel the heat and humidity rising and knew we were in for a very long, tough day.
By about 11, we hit the Palisades Parkway putting us a mere 34 miles east of New York City. We walked down the side of the highway to the welcome center for water from a spigot, and despite the heat, I couldn’t resist getting a cup of coffee for the caffeine boost.
Well, on we went through a series of constant ups and downs, the heat still rising. We made it to the base of Bear Mountain and began the climb. I already felt drained in every way, yet up many stairs we climbed. The summit was full of people picnicking and visiting Perkins Memorial Tower getting glimpses of the Hudson and the massive city that could just barely be seen.
We jealously eyed the many picnic spreads around us, decided on a spot, and enjoyed our spam wraps for lunch. Mmm. After our half hour break, we resumed hiking in the heat.
We headed down the mountain passing lots of day hikers and eventually made it to the bottom. The unfolding scene at the base of Bear Mountain was like none we had witnessed on this trip. The gravel trail turned to pavement with a big field hosting a soccer game to the right and a shimmering lake and playground to the left. We followed the blazes down the paved path looking as out of place as possible. Literally, thousands of people filled the park looking as confused to see us as we were to see them. Every picnic table and grill was occupied with every food imaginable. But none of it was trail magic, no one greeted us praising our accomplishments and inquiring about our quest. I’m guessing most of these people were completely unfamiliar with the AT and the dirty hikers passing through their weekend picnic.
We filled up our water bottles and continued walking through the park passing person after person. The trail actually winds through a “trailside zoo” in Bear Mountain Recreation Area. We followed the blazes right into a huge line wrapped around the building with just enough space to file in and out. I wasn’t in the mood for waiting in line to hike the AT and had a feeling these people were in line for something else.
We semi-forced our way around the line turning a corner to reveal a public pool, each person seeming to have about a square foot of pool space to enjoy. After a few moments of people watching, we followed the trail through the zoo featuring two caged bears and a fox near death from heat exhaustion. We were more than ready to escape this place and still had 7 miles to go.
The trail meandered through the zoo, and we exited to Bear Mountain bridge.
We crossed the Hudson and re-entered the woods. We were happy to be back under the covering of the leaves, but the 500 ft steep ascent that followed was almost more than I could handle. I stopped three times on the way up which is very uncharacteristic of me. Was it just the heat, the humidity, the afternoon lag?
Whatever it was, I pushed through covered in sweat, gasping for breath, annoyed by that sweat drop that slid between my upper and lower arm that wouldn’t just drip off my elbow.
Finally at the top of this hump, we saw a south bound hiker setting up camp. He inquired our destination, and we told him we were heading to Graymoor Spiritual Life Center that allowed free camping in their ball field and free outdoor showers. He let us know he was there that morning and people were setting up some sort of Latino Fest. Curious, we set out to finish the final 4 miles.
At about 6:30, we made it to a road crossing and stopped in the nearby gas station. BigFoot and Mantis went inside while I took a seat at the outdoor picnic tables amongst about a half dozen other hikers all worn out from this hot day. We were about a half mile away from Graymoor. While resting my tired feet, I was approached by a man very curious and seemingly interested in our hike. I quickly learned he was a former thru-hiker, a current trail maintainer, and lived nearby.
“Heading to Graymoor?”
“Ya, we heard about a Latino Fest going on. Should be interesting.”
“Well, I usually invite hikers back to my home. My wife and I live about a half mile away unless you are set on this fest…”
“The only thing I really needed was a shower!”
“Well, we’ve got those too!”
BigFoot came out to the picnic table and I told him the generous offer. Both of our faces were all smiles. Wait…
“Room for one more? We’ve been hiking with a friend all day…”
“I can take three!”
Mantis was also all too eager, and the three of us put our bags into Bryan’s trunk. Very excited, we made the short drive to Bryan’s house and were welcomed by his wife and two happy pups. Bryan led us upstairs where there were two guest rooms and a guest bathroom. An upstairs common area had a log book and a coffee table book of pictures of the AT. We all took turns showering and put our dirty clothes in the washing machine. We cracked beers we snagged from the gas station and Sara began grilling burgers. It all felt like a dream – strangers welcoming us into their home, feeding us, and drinking craft beer. What an amazing gift after this incredibly difficult day. But the blessings didn’t stop there.
After a very comfortable night of sleep, we awoke to the smell of bacon wafting up the stairs. Breakfast was served – eggs, bacon, fresh fruit, and coffee. Woah. Over breakfast, Bryan mentioned he had the day off and would slack pack us if we were interested (slack pack = hiking pack free and packs are driven from one road crossing to the distant meeting point). Um… YES!!! That would be awesome especially since it was forecasted to be another scorcher.
The three of us got ready to begin our day’s hike and brought our bags downstairs to load into the car.
“You guys can leave those packs in your rooms if you want.”
“… are you bringing us back here tonight!?”
“That’s how slackpacking works, right?”
Woah. I was completely blown away. We set up our plans, packed a couple day packs with snacks and water, and headed out for a 19 mile pack free day that we knew would end with a shower, town food, and a bed. Dreams were coming true!!!
We started at 10 am, and it was already incredibly hot and humid. We kept our heads down when passing a handful of hikers weighed down by heavy packs, sorry that we couldn’t share this gift.
We seemed to float down the trail and kept an excellent pace. Honestly, without the slack pack I don’t think we would have completed the 19 miles that day. It was simply too hot, too exhausting to do that kind of activity two days in a row. But slack we did through Fahnestock State Park with views of the lake below.
We made it to RPH shelter and the nearby road crossing at about 5 pm and arrived just as Bryan was pulling up in the Subaru.
“You guys want to stop for ice cream?”
Wow, what a day. After ice cream, we headed back to the house, showered, and did laundry again. Sara returned home shortly after, and our hosts prepared dinner – steaks, roasted cauliflower, and chips with fresh growlers.
While we were hiking that day, the thought crossed our mind to visit NYC from the metro stop near Bryan’s house instead of the Pawling stop another twenty miles down the AT as previously intended. This way we could get to the city while we were still clean and avoid another day of the heat wave. Bryan agreed to help us get back to the trail after our visit, and the plans were set. The next day, BigFoot and I were heading to NYC for the first time!!!
The three of us hikers went to bed very happy, truly blessed by these stranger’s generosity. Morning came and another fantastic breakfast came along with it. At about 10, we said goodbye to Mantis and many, many thank yous to Bryan and boarded the metro that would take us to Grand Central Station an hour and a half later.
And… boom! We were in the heart of the city surrounded by train platforms, lots of food choices, and so many (too many?) people!! Oh so thankfully, our “guide” was shortly along. BigFoot’s sister, Megan, met us right in the station with the three little girls (ages 5, 3, and 1) she nannies for in tow.
The six of us hopped on a subway carefully maneuvering the stroller and keeping our eyes on these curious kids. We were soon climbing the stairs and entering Times Square.
“It’s like a party!” three year old, Izzy, exclaimed.
That it was. It seemed there were as many advertisements as there were people. I was one of many with my smartphone camera out snapping pics of the glitz and glam.
The girls were excited to go inside the three story Toys r Us and ride the indoor ferris wheel. After, we took a stroll around the theatre district and soon took the subway to the Tribeca area that the girls called home.
We spent a few more hours at the park watching the girls enjoy this hot day. Soon, Megan was off the clock, and we went back to her apartment in Brooklyn. We rounded off the evening with excellent Chinese food including some of the best dumplings I’ve ever had. Of course, we had to grab some good beers before heading to sleep.
The next morning, Megan headed to work while BigFoot and I lazily laid around her apartment. We noticed it was restaurant week in the city and took to the web to pick out which $25 lunch deal we would take advantage of that day. We are typically all about local restaurants, but when we saw Fogo de Chao on the list of $25 deals we absolutely couldn’t resist.
We took the subway to Rockefeller Center and spent a little time taking in the massive buildings surrounding us. We arrived at Fogo thrilled to let the food shoveling begin. This restaurant is a hiker’s paradise. The meal begins with a huge salad bar with top notch greens, pasta salads, roasted asparagus, fancy cheeses, etc etc etc. Then, servers come around with skewers of various meats including steaks, lamb, sausages, and chicken and cut off as much as you want as many times as you desire. The restaurant week deal even included your choice of cheesecake, key lime pie, or chocolate cake. After many rounds and dessert, we managed to pull ourselves away from the best meal we’ve had during our trip.
We navigated ourselves near Tribeca and went into REI and somehow enjoyed the familiarity of being in an outfitter. We successfully exchanged our old smelly food bags for new ones and grabbed a couple other necessities before meeting back up with Megan and the girls. We took a stroll to the Brooklyn Bridge before saying goodbye to the girls for the evening.
Next, it was time for dinner – back to Brooklyn for delicious Indian food and beers. Before long, it was time for bed. Tomorrow, we would head back to the trail.
In the morning, we packed up and took our final subway across the city. We arrived at Megan’s boss’s apartment and began getting the girls ready for the drive back to the trail. Well, Megan got the girls ready. We got bagels, a necessity while in NYC. It was nearly noon by the time everyone was ready. We packed up the Land Rover, and the six of us headed to the AT.
We waved goodbye to the sprawling city, happy to have had the experience of the visit. We took the Palisades Parkway and noticed the intersecting trail we had walked on days before. We drove across the Bear Mountain bridge and stopped at the same gas station Bryan scooped us up from. Megan decided she wanted to play Trail Angel for our fellow hiker friends so we took the opportunity to grab some trail magic – pizza, chips, fresh fruit, donuts, and plenty of water. What a gem!!!
We took the girls to the RPH shelter with trail magic in hand. Unfortunately my speculations came true – no hikers passed by at this time in the afternoon. But we knew they would be there later, and we left the magic for hungry hikers that would be arriving in the next few hours.
After our picnic at the shelter, we drove the car over to the lake we had viewed from the trail at Fahnestock State Park. The girls were thrilled to swim in the shimmering lake.
A few hours passed, and it was time to say goodbye to our trail angels. We enjoyed the rest of our third zero at RPH shelter and soon other hikers arrived drooling over the trail magic that greeted them!!
The next day was my 26th birthday, and I was hoping to hike 26 miles – but only if this persistent headache would go away. Unfortunately, ibuprofen and the night’s rest did nothing to help my head, and I told BigFoot it wouldn’t be a 26 mile day.
We headed out at about 8:30. I really didn’t feel myself with this ache in the back of my head and a knot high in my stomach. We hiked a slow mile and a half when I realized I was missing something. I knew my glasses were right where I left them on my bunk at RPH. Sigh. BigFoot immediately volunteered to go get them while I stayed with the bags. My hero.
After he returned, we resumed hiking at an uncharacteristically slow pace. The smallest hills drained me and the headache continued. Was this really just from three days off?
After three miles, we crossed a road followed by a footbridge. On the middle of the footbridge railing, we noticed a note.
“Join us for breakfast 0.2 E #300.”
Curious, BigFoot and I (now joined by Young Gun) made our way down the road to #300. A note on the side door led us to the deck.
“Hey guys! I’m making waffles!! How many hikers are there? Do you all want coffee?”
Woah. What a cool birthday present!!! We happily munched on waffles and sipped hot coffee. Amy, our bright and beautiful host, put smiles on our weary faces. And really, just when I needed a break. Something was…off.