Dates .... Monday Sept. 13 through Saturday Oct. 2, 1999
Miles .... 275 miles total 1999
From .... Mass Turnpike - southbound
To ......... Wind Gap PA
John and I spent 4 glorious days of indulgence at The Oceanside in Hampton Beach NH - three days of seafood festival. On the way home, John dropped me and my gear off at the AT where it crosses the Mass Pike and I was on the trail again. I planned to hike southbound on the AT through Massachusetts, through Connecticut - Salisbury, Falls Village, Cornwall Bridge, Kent and Bulls Bridge, then through the southeast corner of upstate New York - West Pawling, Fahnstock state park, Camp Smith, across the Hudson at Bear Mountain Bridge, through Bear Mountain and Harriman state park, through Sterling Forest and into Greenwood Lake. The AT continues along the NY-NJ border, less than 40 miles from NYC, through Wawayanda State Park, Unionville NY, High Point state park, the Stokes state forest, Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, and into Pennsylvania at Delaware Water Gap, on to Wind Gap PA where I concluded my last AT hike. Learning from the difficulties of the last trip, I had a more rugged, slightly larger pack, new boots plus a pair of sneakers, new sleeping bag liner and new stove.
My loaded pack weighed 42 pounds, with one week's food and 1 qt. of water. Each day until my U.S. Postal Service resupply, the pack weighed one pound less. At resupply points I received another week's supply of food, film, maps and guide for the section ahead, new batteries, soap and shampoo. I sent back exposed film, any extra food resulting from eating in towns along the trail, maps of the section completed along with my guide and notes for my journal. Ressuply points on this hike were Kent CT and Greenwood Lake NY, each approximately 1/3 of the way through my journey.
Though technically alone, I soon found I was anything but. Hiking north to south, I was a "southbounder" and frequently found myself in the company of a constantly changing group of southbound through hikers going all the way from Maine to Georgia. I hiked a slower pace, especially up steep climbs, but longer days and generally took less "time off" from hiking (in town, visiting friends, etc.), so as these guys got ahead of me, I often found myself ahead of them at some point, having passed them, usually unknown, while they were off someplace. I often had fellow hikers in the shelters and along the trail and sometimes I opted to tent in the woods to avoid the crowds - which you'll understand later. Many times the shelters were full or near capacity.
This section of trail was widely varied in terrain and surprised me at its rugged beauty, especially as it curved around New York City. Indeed, at several points the trail was close enough to make out the NYC skyline in the distance and that proved an irresistible magnet for many thru hikers to take a big city break. Hikers "network" a lot and the trail crosses several points, and indeed has its own train station which provide commuter access to NYC. A hiker can ride into NYC, hook up with another hiker, friend of relative there and spend several days "off the trail". This was no temptation to me, for I am not known to be one that enjoys big cities.
I ate my usual trail fare which proved entirely satisfactory on my last hike. Breakfast was a cup of hot oatmeal, one cup hot cocoa/protein mix (very high protein and calorie) and a cup of instant coffee. Lunch and mid day fuel was granola cereal mix with raisins, chocolate coated granola bars and Snickers bars for power up the big climbs. Dinner was always a hot meal of either some flavor of Lipton noodle or rice mix, Bens rice, Stove Top stuffing, or mashed potatoes & gravy. For these I only had to heat water, a little olive oil in place of butter, simmer and I had a tasty hot meal.
DAILY ROUTINE (That is, if anything about life on the AT can be routine). MORNING. Whether I tented or stayed in a shelter, it took me 1.5 to 2 hours to complete my morning tasks. I'd get up 5:30 - 6 A.M., dress, get my food bag down from the tree or bear box, put 3 cups of hot water on the stove (always out from the night before), mix and eat my breakfast and plan my day's hike destination according to shelter location, town crossing, terrain, weather and desire to see certain trail features.
Then I stuffed my sleeping bag into its compression sack, put my tent and other gear away in the pack. I'd set aside my day's lunch and put it in my camera and map bag. (Anything in the pack is difficult to access while hiking [removing and replacing the backpack takes 10 minutes]during the day so if I think I'll need something, I transfer it to the handy front camera and map bag which doubles as a fanny pack when removed from the backpack.) I'd take apart the stove, wash the pot, pan, cup and spoon (my entire cookset) pack it up. Then I would visit the privy. I'd double check to make sure all was in the pack and nothing left behind, shoulder my pack, note my departure time in the guide and hit the trail, usually by 8 or 9 A.M.
HIKING I usually took a two minute break every hour or 1.5 hrs., sitting down with my pack remaining on. As the day warmed up and I warmed up from exertion, I'd have to remove layers of clothing - off came the legs of my pants - now shorts and off came my jackets, extra shirts, etc. I adjusted my shoe lacing and resumed - usually taking 10 to 12 minutes for this process. Photos were taken as the opportunity presented. Sometimes a magnificent view or a beautiful spot in the woods or along a stream would cause me to take time to drink in its beauty. But I never lingered for more than 15-20 minutes, usually with much of that time removing and replacing my pack. I averaged 2 miles per hour, less uphill, more on the rare smooth level sections or roadwalks or very rare gentle downhill slopes without rocks. Over very rocky terrain, steep downhills I slowed down. If I pushed hard, minimized breaks and focused on covering ground, I could average 2.5 miles in an hour. I usually hiked 8 to 9 hours daily.
EVENING and CAMP SETUP I tried to reach camp destination by 6 P.M. since it got dark around 7-7:30 and camp was always near a water source. Usually the first thing I did was pump and filter 4 quarts of water since it was essential. Then I set up my tent or, if in a shelter, my sleeping area. If I got there early, I would do laundry and or hang things out to air/dry. I assembled and set up my stove and cooking area, cooked my one dish main meal, perhaps treating myself to M&M's for dessert if I was a good boy. I washed my cooking gear, used it to heat water for my sponge bath and or shampoo, did same, hung my food from a tree limb or put it in a bear-proof steel box. Then I read and signed the register (if in a shelter), socialized with others when present, listened to the radio for a weather forecast, made notes in my journal/guide. For light, I used my trusty Mini-Mag flashlight and headstrap. I put my pack where the critters were least likely to bother it, my walking stick, light, and a few throwing rocks handy at my side, undressed and was usually in bed and sound asleep by 8 PM or whenever rowdy sheltermates permitted.
THROUGH HIKERS are a special breed of character, truly unique to the extent that they have their own society and culture. You have to admire them on one hand and wonder in amazement on the other. That said, let me emphasize that despite significant departures from many societal norms, I truly admire and respect ALL through hikers. I, as a section hiker, come close to fitting in, close enough to understand them, but do not belong to their unique group which I shall simply define as a backpacker that hikes the AT more or less continuously from Maine to Georgia (southbounder) or vice versa (northbounder) in a period usually consisting of 5 to 7 months. This is a loose definition, but adequate.
Thru hikers endure an extreme physical challenge, extreme weather variations, many hardships unimaginable to the average person and require great determination, stamina, resourcefulness and trail/camping savvy. Most through hikers are, by virtue of necessity, opportunists. They are misunderstood and sometimes maligned by society at large. Sometimes they are seen as dropouts instead of achievers, and the perception of them as a person runs the gamut from crazy fool to brilliant athlete - depending upon whom you talk to and under what situation they may have encountered them. In reality, through hikers may be young or old, undereducated or PhDs, clean cut and neat or grubby and unkempt, high strung or laid back. Or anywhere in between. Each is truly individual and impossible to label except as a through hiker.
Understand that ANY hiker is limited in what he can carry on his back and how he spends his time getting from point to point. Weight is your enemy on the trail - the more you carry, the more you are challenged and the more you suffer. On the other hand, you must carry certain essentials such as water and purification means, food and cooking gear, sleeping gear, clothing, first aid and survival gear. That, and getting there - that is your focus. Almost everyone has a "trail name" (mine was Free Spirit.) and that is the name used on the trail. Through hiker's conversation is 99.9% trail talk. It revolves entirely around place (town or shelter along the AT), time, Person (other hiker's trail name) and trail events, trail conditions, or discussions of gear and equipment. Rarely is anything unrelated to the trail discussed - the trail is their life.
Cleanliness and personal hygiene, for many, take a back seat to weight concerns and getting there. In most cases a shelter is only that - a roof over your head and a water supply (spring, stream, or hand pump), usually a privy of some sort. Bear in mind that showers and laundry facilities are NOT plentiful or convenient along the trail, are not at or near shelters, and may require a several miles of extra hiking out of the way to get them. And, how many places do you know where a person can just go in a grab a shower without staying in an expensive hotel? Not many along the AT. A continuous workout (hike) results in generation of large volumes of perspiration. Water at times is hard to come by.
Suffice it to say, it is not unusual for a through hiker to smell less than fresh as a daisy. That comes with the territory. Some manage , some don't. Some are extreme, one way or another. A shelter full of through or long distance hikers can be a truly unique and unforgettable olfactory experience and a single ripe hiker trying to get a decent meal off the trail can be a less than wonderful experience for other nearby restaurant diners. Usually, "hiker friendly" establishments or towns really mean "we understand". Carrying my little one man tent gave me the option of choosing my sleeping conditions. I fought the hiker odor battle valiantly but, by most peoples standards, probably did not "win". Winning under trail conditions would be at least impractical, if not impossible, and would get far too much in the way of getting there.
I met and benefited from a lot of GREAT PEOPLE along the trail. Other hikers, of course, some great TRAIL ANGELS, and some really nice people. My DAILY JOURNAL entries will detail my many experiences, good, bad and horrible. There was the time when I was totally drenched, cold and wet, standing in the middle of the road at dusk in the wind driven downpour looking for some clue as where the @#%$((^* trail went through this road construction detour when a kind man in a nice car stopped to offer this drowned rat (me) some assistance. He knew nothing of the trail or shelter but thrust his ceramic mug full of hot coffee out the window to me saying "Here, you need this more than I do - just leave the cup under the underpass when you're done." I drink black coffee but that cup full of cream-and-sugar coffee tasted and felt heavenly. THANK YOU MISTER - whoever you are.
Many of the usual WATER sources were dried up - springs dry, hand pumps not pumping water, thanks to this year's drought. But somehow, some trail angel or good soul would leave jugs of water wherever and whenever you needed them most. In four cases, there were even coolers full of soda and spring water along the trail and once there was beer and sandwiches left by some unseen and anonymous angel. And the trail culture managed to take care of its own by leaving notes - this water source ahead is OK or dry , or direct you to a hiker friendly house or alternate water source- along the trail. It is the culture of through hikers to take care of one another.
There is nothing like a long challenging hike in ruggedly beautiful terrain, under often unfavorable weather conditions, often alone and isolated, to make you appreciate the everyday conveniences found in modern society, your home and the loved ones around you. Long distance hiking is a great opportunity to get in touch with yourself, get in shape, and develop a relationship with nature and all its beauty.
GEAR - list and performance evaluation - Appendix A (under construction 10/99)
TRAIL FOOD and MENU - Appendix B (under construction 10/99)
CAST of CHARACTERS (to name just a few - and were they characters.......) Quick Beam, Shaggy, Moon Roof, That Guy, Sasquatch, Dodger, Machine, Slip Knot, Rolling Tide, Soot, Square Peg, E Z Goin, Panama Red (and his dog Elvis), Wee Willey the Prince of Whales,
The entry header tells where I started from and where I ended, spending the night and what state I am in. Significant features or events will be in the header.
Miles hiked is a best approximation from the trail guide which identifies all significant trail features with their mileages from a defined starting point. Mileages do not include "side" distances to shelters, water, towns, etc. just miles along the trail.
Weather observations are just that - my observations. I have a small thermometer which is probably accurate to the extent that it can be read - + or - 5 degrees, I would say. .