The Appalachian Trail is often described as a social trail. Hikers form friendships quickly and easily. And no wonder. There are many hikers on the trail, most hiking in the same direction, and frequently congregating at shelters, hostels and trail magic stops.
I’ve been fortunate to make many friends on this hike. They share some special qualities that I appreciate. Like me, they enjoy and appreciate the outdoors. They are willing to subject their bodies and mental stamina to hardships.
Together, we are pursuing the same goal: walking the entire length of the Appalachian Trail.
I frequently marvel at the way I can go several days without seeing a friend, then suddenly see that hiker at some unexpected spot on the trail. Our friendship is instantly renewed when we see each other again.
|Date||Thursday, July 27, 2017|
|Weather||Mostly sunny, but a little cooler than the last few days|
|Trail Conditions||Mostly easy, with sections of paved roads and gravel trails|
I like the people I’ve been hiking with and wish I could spend more time with them.
This explains why today was extra special to me and why I will long remember it as one of the best days on the trail. As luck would have it, nearly all of my favorite hikers were gathered today in the same spot.
Because I didn’t arrive at our campsite on West Mountain until late yesterday evening, I wasn’t in a hurry to leave this morning. I also had to work on my pack again. The repairs I made yesterday were not holding up well. The stays stretched the plastic I had hoped would hold them in place.
Because I had good wireless service here, I decided to email the pack manufacturer, Zpacks, to explain the problem and ask for a replacement. I got a quick response, but it was not helpful.
"We offer free reasonable repairs for the lifetime of your gear, when you are able to send it in we would be happy to repair it here at the shop,” I was told.
Take a couple weeks off the trail while I wait for you to repair and return my pack. Sure, no problem.
Once I left the campsite the trail started out as an easy descent of the mountain. There were a couple views of Bear Mountain from here, which was recognizable because of the stone tower on the summit. Also within the view was land connected to the United States Military Academy at West Point.
Beyond those viewpoints the trail descended more steeply, but was not difficult. The trail entered Bear Mountain State Park. This was part of the first completed section of the Appalachian Trail. It was opened on October 7, 1923, just two years after Benton MacKaye wrote of his vision for a hiking path stretching the length of the Appalachian Mountains.
At the bottom of the mountain the trail crossed a park road and then began a climb up Bear Mountain.
At the steepest part of the climb, stone stairs made the ascent easier.
As I was going up the steps I was passed by Pippi and Mechanic.
There were more views to be seen from this side of Bear Mountain, provided by open, exposed ledges. The sky was much clearer today than it had been yesterday.
Another view I was glad to see was a marker made in small rocks. It identified the spot that was 1400 miles from Springer Mountain. More significant to me, though, was the knowledge that I was now less than 800 miles from Mt. Katahdin. There was now just a little more than one third to go.
The trail continued to climb as it went around the side of Bear Mountain. More viewpoints from this side offered sights up the Hudson River.
At the mountaintop, the AT doubled as a day-hiking trail. There were several people walking and running here. An elderly couple was sitting along the side of the trail in lawn chairs, content to watch hikers walk by and say a friendly hello.
When I arrived at the parking lot on top of the mountain I found someone else who was sitting and enjoying an opportunity to chat with hikers. It was my friend Felix. He was there to share trail magic of soft drinks and snacks.
Pippi, Mechanic and Sunny Hedgehog were already here, as was the first SOBO hiker I had seen who started in Maine. His trail name was Piper.
It was a nice time for relaxing and swapping jokes.
I spent more than 30 minutes here, but eventually decided I needed to continue walking. The trail took me past the stone tower on top of the mountain. I elected to skip the climb to the top of the tower so that I wouldn’t lose too much time.
The long descent from the top of the mountain was made easy again by stone steps. Many of these steps were recently constructed by a crew that was part of a long-term project to improve the trail through the park. One section of the trail was closed and rerouted where more stonework like this was being done.
On the the descent I got my first view of historic Bear Mountain Bridge, which spanned the Hudson River. There were several day hikers on this section, as well as a nice man who told me he was the maintainer of this section. He was very proud of the fact that this was the oldest section of the AT.
Reaching the bottom of the mountain, the trail entered a picnic area at the shore of Hessian Lake. Near here was the site of a bloody battle during the Revolutionary War. It is said that the bodies of 250 Hessians who fought with the British were thrown into the lake.
An oft-repeated story says the song “Yankee Doodle” came from that battle and its proximity to Doodletown, a small community just down the road from here. That’s probably not true, though, because the song predates the battle near this lake.
I don’t know if any Hessians or British were here today, but there were numerous nationalities and races represented among the picnickers enjoying the sunny day.
I stopped at a picnic table to eat lunch, take a short break, and people watch.
After crossing U.S. Highway 9, the trail took me through Trailside Zoo. It opened in 1926 and today is the home of bears, otters, deer, bald eagles, and owls.
Some hikers have referred to the zoo as the saddest home for animals they've ever seen. Perhaps they don't realize it's really a home for injured or rehabilitating animals.
Near the entrance of the zoo was a swimming pool. As I walked past it I said to myself, “I bet Redeye swam here.”
When I passed the bear exhibit I laughed to myself. It was a good thing Stick saw a bear yesterday, I thought, because otherwise the mangey-looking bear in this pen may have been the only one he saw.
Not only is the zoo a unique section of the trail, the spot in front of the bear pen is the lowest elevation point of the entire trail.
Shortly after exiting the zoo, the trail turned to cross the Hudson River on Bear Mountain Bridge. This was a toll bridge, but hikers can cross for free.
When the bridge was completed in 1924 it was the longest suspension bridge span in the world. It was also the first suspension bridge constructed with a concrete deck.
The river was wide here and I enjoyed the view from it.
Across the river was a mountain that day hikers often visit. A trail leads to a rock outcropping called Anthony's Nose, which provides an expansive view of the river, the bridge, and surrounding mountains.
As I was crossing the bridge, Felix texted me, saying he had climbed up to that ledge and could see me from there. I accused him of being a stalker.
When I reached the other side of the bridge, I saw RedEye. She told me I was right; she did stop to swim in the zoo’s pool.
We walked together along the highway until the trail turned to climb the next mountain.
Just as we were about to begin the climb up the mountain, Two Chairz came bounding up the road. I had not seen him since Day 34 in Tennessee. We were excited to see each other again.
The next five miles were over rolling terrain, with a couple moderately-steep climbs thrown in for good measure.
At about 6 p.m. I arrived at Appalachian Market, a gas station and convenience store on U.S. Highway 9. In addition to being a place to resupply, the market is known as a good place to eat a meal.
I ordered a chicken quesadilla and then did my shopping. The store was stocked much like most convenience stores, but there were enough items to provide a decent resupply for the next four days.
Gathered here around outdoor tables were Felix, RedEye, Boomer, Jason, Stick, Ansel and Warthog, Sunny Hedgehog, Pippi and Mechanic, and Skywalker.
It felt as if we would stay here all night if we could, but eventually we needed to move on. We were all headed to Graymoor Spiritual Life Center, which was less than a mile away.
A couple hikers let Felix haul their packs so they could slack pack the short distance. A couple chose to ride with him. Stick and I elected to carry our full packs.
The Franciscan Friars of the Atonement, a Roman Catholic religious community, constructed the center in 1970. Soon after that, the friars began allowing thru-hikers to pitch their tents on their sports field, and that’s where we went to set up our tents.
Hikers are also allowed to use a pavilion where there are electrical outlets for charging phones. A couple portable toilets are also provided.
After our tents were set up we sat around picnic tables and enjoyed each other’s company. We may or may not have also enjoyed beer. I cannot confirm or deny that, but we were well-behaved.
This was a night to stay up past hiker midnight. It was the kind of night I wish every night on the trail was like.
Now my party pad is out in the woods
Its long, long way from here to Hollywood,
But I got some natural queens out on the floor
And ole Miss Mississippi just walked through the door.
Got a little whirlpool just made for ten,
And you can jump out and you can jump in.
You can do anything that you want to do,
But uh uhh, don't you step on my cowboy boots.
Do you want to drink. Hey do you want to party.
Hey this is ole Hank. Ready to get your summer started.
I cooked a pig in the ground, we got some beer on ice
And all my rowdy friends are coming over tonight.
Do you want to drink, hey do you want to party.
Hey hey this is rock'n Randall Hank, ready to get the summer time started.
We cooked the pig in the ground, we got some beer on ice,
All my rowdy friends are coming over tonight.
Thats right. Come on in!