Happy Rocks

Not all rocks are evil. The little buggers in Pennsylvania could pay attention to what these sweet guys are up to here in Connecticut. As soon as I crossed the border, I noticed a series of beautifully painted rocks with encouraging sayings on them. They came at a good time too as today was a hot and long 29 mile day to get into Kent, Connecticut.

It is really warming up on the Trail and now my days are focused on finding the next cool stream or lake to take a dip in. I found a strong flowing cold river about mid-afternoon and sat and soaked in it for a while. It felt amazing and really helped with the rest of the climbs. There were a ton of cute critters out today and at least one was in big trouble. I heard something screaming in the leaves and thought it was a bird. It turned out to be a little frog that had one of its legs in the grips of a snake bite. I scared the snake away and the little guy went hopping away.

Free!

I got into Kent early evening and did laundry and ate a wonderful meal at a restaurant! No really. I sat outside and ordered off a real menu and ate off of plate with silverware. It was so nice to linger over a good dinner while my gear got cleaned. I checked into a nice inn down the street and am going to enjoy a great night in a real bed.

I am back to battle with the Post Office tomorrow. I literally beat one of my packages here from Glenwood Lake and I am walking for crying out loud! I am also in the process of ordering a new set of hiking clothes and spent a good part of the day trying to make sure those are on the way. I finally had to give up on the shirt and Bryan went and bought one for me in Atlanta and is mailing it to me. Wish us luck!

I can’t believe that I almost in Massachusetts and have been thinking a lot about slowing down. I’m enjoying it so much out here and I really don’t want to rush the experience. My only hesitation is that I would lose the buddies that I’ve been hiking with. It’s a hard decision but I think that is where I am headed. Hike your own hike!

Poopy Butthole – Our Personal Trail Concierge

We are using a smart phone app called Guthook for just about everything we need on Trail. It has amazing real time mapping and elevation data and great suggestions for places to see and nearby restaurants and resupply locations. The best part about Guthook is the crowd sourced comments and suggestions. Hikers will leave recommendations and warnings that are really helpful and funny.

Our favorite comments are from Poopy Butthole. It looks like he was a 2019 north bounder and a prodigious commentator all along the Trail. Each night after dinner we spend some time planning out the next day and we invariably come upon one of his or her notes and we say, “Well, Poopy Butthole says . . .” Most importantly, PB has not steered us wrong yet. Today, we visited a lake for an early morning swim and the advice was dead on. Worth the stop but we had to fight the mosquitos to get to the water!

Ever seen an Astronaut up a tree?

Today’s hike was more fun than usual. It was a hot day and the lake felt so wonderful to cool off in. We stopped at another deli in the late afternoon and then Astronaut climbed this big beautiful tree that found we near the campsite. We can really feel how nature is taking back over as we get farther away from New York City. It was fun to see all of that but we are happy to be in a more secluded part of the Hudson valley.

We have a long day tomorrow but will be in Connecticut by early afternoon and (fingers crossed) a food resupply at the post office. I think my package is there waiting for me but I’ll believe it when I see it.

Embrace the Slime

For the first few weeks of the hike we were battling some serious cold and rainy conditions. Our favorite saying to help us through these tough times was “Embrace the Suck.” The conditions sucked but we were training ourselves to deal with it. Face it head on and just know that it won’t last forever. This strategy worked for sure and it has been adapted as the temperature warms up.

The humidity is getting more intense and the afternoons are warming up. The gnats and mosquitos are coming alive and following us as we hike in an annoying haze. The spiderwebs crisscross the Trail and cover us in a thin layer of sticky residue. We are sweating all day and our clothes are constantly wet. Add in the bug spray and sunscreen and you have a quite slimy situation. The new mantra is “Embrace the Slime.”

I like it tidy and I knew this was going to be hard for me. I was daydreaming all day today of a shower or at least a deep stream to clean off in. I was fantasizing about clean hiking clothes and washing out my nasty backpack but I won’t be in town for another three days. When we got to our campsite tonight I was so happy to see that they had a well water pump house with clean cold water on tap! I spent about 30 minutes there taking a nice cold shower and scrubbing my hiking clothes out and hanging them up to dry. I felt like a new man. Not sure if I smelled any better but it felt amazing.

The 22 mile hike today was great except for a disappointing experience at Bear Mountain. As we came across the back side of the park we were facing a sad sight. There was trash everywhere. Water bottles, clothes, masks, diapers and toilet paper littered the Trail for several miles. A volunteer was out collecting as much as she could and I stopped to thank her. She said for some reason this area attracts a lot of day hikers and they are always trashing it. It was infuriating but seeing her gave me hope that there was someone else who care about keeping the park clean.

Jellyfish and her new spoon

Jellyfish cracked me up this afternoon. As we were having lunch together at a deli today I noticed this huge stick attached to her pack. She explained that she lost her spoon a few days ago and she was whittling another one from a small tree branch. To prove it works she ate dinner with it tonight. Now that some awesome upcycling!

Low Branch – Good Omen

Sunset over the Hudson River Valley

New York is becoming one of my favorite parts of the Trail. There is so much fun variety in the terrain and the views of the valleys are spectacular. We had some bouldering climbs today and a lot of other technical hiking that makes the day go by so quickly. I stopped for lunch on top of a nice grassy hill and there was a perfect breeze coming up the mountain. I had a bottle of Coke stashed away and I broke that out today on my lunch break. It tasted better than a bottle of fine champagne!

Trail Magic water and a log book

After lunch, I ran into a woman and we got to chatting. She was amazed at what I was doing and had a bunch of nice questions about the logistics of the Trail. Before I left she blurted out in a thick Russian accent “You are good omen.” I haven’t been called that before and I quite liked it. She was so happy to see someone hiking the Trail this year and it was sweet of her to get so excited. It’s nice to feel so welcome out here. It feels like people are starving for hope. Happy to oblige.

Crossing the Parkway was like playing live Frogger

The end of the day was a pretty steep climb at sunset up to West Mountain Shelter with a view of Manhattan across the Hudson. Well, a view of the fog across the Hudson that is hiding the view. I heard about this place years ago and was so excited camp here tonight. It is quite a hike from the Trail but it’s worth it.

Photoshop skyline view here

Postal Service – 2 / Low Branch – 0

Welcome to New York

I got up at 4:30 to hike the 13 miles to Glenwood Lake NY to pick up my food resupply package. It was fun getting out early and the Trail started with a steep climb up over the rocky hillside that ran along side the valley where we spent the night. When I crossed the NJ/NY border there was a long series of boulders to hike that would have been a blast except that they were slick as ice in the light rain that fell all day. I slipped a half a dozen times but nothing serious. Just really slow going. I jammed out to Taylor Swift’s “Welcome to New York” as I navigated the boulders. It was taking much longer than I expected and I jogged up to the post office just before it closed.

Yikes! No package. This is super frustrating but not unexpected. The postal worker that sent the package for me in Delaware Water Gap explained that everything is a “hot mess” at their main distribution center in New Jersey and even showed me a picture of a huge postal warehouse backlogged with thousands of packages. I would have been a lot cooler about it all but this particular package had all of my food for the next week. Fortunately, there was a CVS next door and I’ve gotten pretty darn good at learning how to cobble together meals from drug stores and gas stations. I’ll be eating traditional hiker trash meals like Mac n Cheese, tuna packets and trail mix until I get to Connecticut. The real pain is trying to get this box bounced to another post office down the Trail. It is still spinning around somewhere in Jersey City. Wish me luck.

Deluxe!

The good news about the trip into Glenwood Lake was the pizza. Just barely over the border and I am officially in pizza heaven. No one knows how to bake huge thin crust slices like New Yorkers. I scarfed down a huge beautiful salad and three slices on the steps outside of the pizza joint in the rain. A woman walked by and asked “Dining al fresco?” That sounds way classier when you put it that way. I smiled and took another huge bite of pizza and then headed next door to a French bakery for a huge chocolate chip cookie and a coffee. I am really going to miss eating like this when I finish. It really is a blast to eat so much delicious food and not gain any weight.

Geckos are back!

The cute orange geckos are back. These guys are my favorite and there were dozens on the Trail today. They look like the same ones that I saw in Virginia but a lot smaller. I was kneeling down on the Trail talking to one for a while when a woman came by and admired them with me. She said “Oh, these guys are my favorite – it’s like Christmas out here for me today.” I agreed. They are so sweet and seem to like to be held.

I finished the day at just over 25 miles and pretty worn out. We are stealth camping tonight near a pond. Stealth camping is my favorite. It is so fun to make a little home for myself out of nothing. I just need a relatively flat space and a water source. It feels like a real back country adventure. It’s super quiet at this spot tonight and I had some nice down time before bedtime to watch a movie and enjoy the warm weather.

Amazing Critter Day

How cute is this little guy? NC’Ice helped him across the Trail and out of danger.

We had the most amazing day of cool critters. First, our campsite was filled with birds and owls that were so active and loud all night. We got to laughing pretty hard at one bird that woke us up early with a screeching song that sound more like a house alarm than birdsong. The owls were going crazy all night either hunting or mating but they sounded like a pack of monkeys. As soon as we left camp, we found a big pile of fresh bear scat about 20 yards from our tents. So glad he stayed away but we know those guys are out there at night!

Press Play. I hope the sound works so you can hear all of the birds in this beautiful wetland area

Our 28 mile hike today was a little longer than usual but we had another delicious deli break at Noon. It was so nice to kick back on the porch and eat a big sandwich and some ice cream. After lunch, I hiked over to a nearby town to pick up a package for Astronaut. They were a few hours behind and couldn’t get there before the post office closed. Luckily, I made it just in time and there was another deli next to the post office that had ice cream with fudge sauce.

Giant shy rabbit

The last part of the day was really cool. This part is a three mile elevated boardwalk through a wetlands marsh. The birds loved this area and I got a good shot of this beautiful black bird with bright orange and yellow wings. I had seen smaller versions of these in Virginia but their New Jersey cousins are much bigger.

So handsome

New Jersey continues to amaze. We are camping behind a garden center and farm tonight right off of the Trail. The owners allow thru hikers to set up tents and use their water and electricity. I am headed out really early tomorrow to get to Glenwood Lake NY before the post office closes. I mailed a box of food to myself so I wouldn’t have to carry so much and I hope this all works out as planned. The postal service has been really slow lately so no guarantees. I’ll leave you with one more video of a the boardwalk portion of the Trail. Enjoy.

Specially designed for me! No branches.

Deli Blazing

I first heard about deli blazing from Pop Rocks way back in Hiawassee and it sounded so far off and exotic. Well, here we are and it is everything that it was cracked up to be. We woke to a cool 35 degree morning and a beautiful sunrise. After an easy seven mile hike, we popped out of the woods in front of the Sunrise Appalachian Trail Deli. The owner John was so excited to see us. He loves thru hikers and goes out of his way to make us feel welcome. He has a charging station, hiker box and hiker logbook. He asked what we wanted and then stopped himself and said that we wanted the best cheesesteak sandwich in the world with all the fixings.

First Stop on the Deli Blaze

John was right. His cheesesteak was amazing and he served delicious strong coffee and jelly cookies with them. It was one of those moments that I won’t forget. A sweet group of friends enjoying great food on a beautiful morning on the Trail. It takes a lot to get here but when everything falls into place you know it. It’s that feeling that you are having the time of your life. I was truly in the moment and captured that moment in my mind (and my tastebuds).

Happiness

Our 20 mile hike today was beautiful and the terrain was so easy. We are all so pleasantly surprised by the New Jersey section. It is so well maintained and dotted with interesting features and places to enjoy the views. We are so close to New York City but it feels a million miles away. I am day dreaming a lot about NYC lately and look forward to the day when I can go back and soak up her energy.

Hiker Parking Only

The mental challenges were a little steeper today. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) issued another letter yesterday and that was followed by a New York Times article about the Trail. The ATC letter was hard to read. The tone is harsh and attacks the moral judgments of thru hikers still on Trail. The NYT article was balanced but the combination of the two really brought back the struggles that I had come to peace with. I spent most of the day in imaginary arguments – mostly with myself. And then I stopped. I am the only one that can decide if what I am doing is right. These moral judgments are coming from a misunderstanding of how we are behaving. Masks, social distancing, excellent hygiene and a careful approach to every interaction in town and on the Trail is how we are conducting ourselves. It’s not easy to do the hike this way but we care deeply about the health of everyone we meet. I’m going to put this down for good now and continue hiking. Safely.

What a Difference a State Makes

Ahhhhh. New Jersey. Beautiful, sweet, lovely New Jersey. I know I said some harsh words about her last week but I take them all back. The Trail is so nice here and mostly because we are starting to see the rocks dissipate as we get farther from Pennsylvania. There are also a lot of beautiful ponds and lakes to sit by and take a break.

See. Trail. Not piles of rocks!

We had a productive but restful zero day in Delaware Water Gap. There was everything that we needed to resupply and do laundry nearby but the highlight of this sweet town was the bakery down the street from our hotel. We each went there at least four times and sampled just about everything they had on the menu. The crowd favorite was the $2.95 hot dog and apple pie combo special and their sign was so darn cute.

I left town early and it was a perfect day for hiking. Dry and cool with bright sunshine. As much as I enjoyed the rest I was so ready to get back into the woods. I could feel my body relax as I made that first climb out of town. I stopped by a few of the lakes and enjoyed the views. I didn’t see many critters but Fire ran into a pretty good sized rattlesnake.

Rattlesnake!

The group is intentionally scattered a bit today. Astronaut and Jellyfish are hiking a few days with a local friend. The other guys went ahead to check out an”secret shelter.” NC’Ice and I decided that we wanted to check out New Jersey’s largest waterfall so we camped at a nice spot 20 miles from town and then hiked a pretty steep section down to the falls. The falls were just okay but the best part was standing in the ice cold water to rest our feet and legs. When we got back up to our campsite the sunset was a deep orange on the horizon.

It should be a great quiet night. Unfortunately, I accidentally sent home my sleeping pad with my winter clothes so it will be a few nights of old fashioned leaves for cushions for me until I can get to an outfitter. 😬 Good news is that we are getting into the “Deli Blazing” section for the Trail soon and we hit our first one tomorrow morning. Hiker hunger is stronger than ever and we are going to hit as many of these great delis as we can. We are all going to meet back up tomorrow and then we will have just three more days until we cross the border into New York.

Beste Friends

Sweet Polly Beste and Low Branch

I have an outsized place in my heart for friends. I think it comes from my childhood growing up in a military family. We moved so often and I was plopped down in a new town every few years and had to make friends on fly. These connections grounded me in a way that I needed so badly and to this day they are some of the most important relationships in my life.

A few years ago, Bryan and I went on our first vacation to Guana Island in the British Virgin Islands. It is an amazing place but what is really special for us are the four dear couples we met there and who accepted us into their circle. They have been going there for many years and they shared the island with us so graciously. Pam and JP, Susan and John, Sue and Collin and Polly and Fred Beste. We had a beautiful dinner together on the Camanoe Terrace the second night we were on the island and have been great friends ever since. They are all so kind, open, warm and intelligent. Their conversations are funny and interesting and we get to spend a blissful week with these sweet souls every year. Sadly, Polly lost her dear Fred a year and a half ago.

Low Branch, Astronaut, Jellyfish, Flamingo, NC’Ice, PD and Fire

Polly lives near the AT and met us with McMuffin sandwiches and coffee for everyone. She also made us homemade cookies and hung out with us for an hour while we enjoyed our treats. It was great to see Polly and talking with her transported me back to the Guana Island bliss that I carried with me for the rest of the day. Dear friends are so important and it was so wonderful for her to take the time to help us so generously.

Apple Pie and Ice Cream in Delaware Water Gap

Before I started the Trail, I made a list of the things that I wanted most from this adventure. At the top was the chance to make new friends. Our crew that has formed over the last few weeks as more than fulfilled that goal. They are a blast to hang out with and great hiking partners. We spend our days hiking fast and our evenings playing fun word games and puzzles. It’s exactly what I was looking for and I’m so thankful for their friendship.

Hiker Dinner Party

We are taking a zero day today in Delaware Water Gap. It feels great to sleep in and give our feet a rest. I will head out into New Jersey tomorrow with a new pair of shoes and a full food bag. We are happy to be done with the rocks in Pennsylvania and celebrated with apple pie and ice cream.

The Magic is Back

Is that enough AT branding for you?

Our penultimate day in Pennsylvania was a blast. It started out with an intense boulder scramble that people say is reminiscent of what we will be hiking in the Whites in New Hampshire. It was fun but some of the drop offs were pretty steep so it will take some getting used to.

Warm up for the whites

Once we got to the top of the climb it was a really nice five mile hike along the ridge line looking down into the valley. While we were bouldering through the first section we met a day hiker that asked us if we needed anything. We rattled off all of our favorite junk food and she said it would be waiting for us at the next gap.

Trail magic is back!

Sure enough, when we got to the next road crossing there was a huge bag of goodies for us to share. We spent a few minutes scarfing everything down and soaking in the good vibes that comes with these small but sweet gestures from generous strangers. These moments make me feel like I am part of a secret society of really cool adventurers. A proud sense of belonging to a group that I really respect. I am looking forward to returning some magic of my own as soon as I complete my hike.

The sugar rush from the junk food didn’t last long and we stopped for a healthy lunch looking over into the valley below. I made a delicious broccoli and salmon couscous wrap that my body was so thankful for. I’m learning a lot from my fellow hikers about food and we are trading some helpful tips for eating as well as we can on the Trail.

We got in early today and spent a lazy evening doing crossword puzzles during a light rain. We are all so ready to be done with the rocks tomorrow and we are taking a zero on Tuesday to recover. We haven’t taken a day off since April 28 and it will feel so good to sleep in late and prop our feet up for the day.