Day 92: Pawling, NY

Day 92. Happy and Sharkbait are on a roll! We are almost hiking like two legitimate thruhikers on the AT. After last night’s early evening, we were up around 7am and on the trail by 9. Everyone else was gone by then, of course, but it was a good early start for us. We had nearly 9 miles to hike today, but the terrain was excellent and we made great time with a steady 1.5 mph pace. We hiked around the beautiful Nuclear Lake (a perfect lunch break and rest stop), and arrived at our destination before 3pm.

Side note, we ran into Scutch and Apollo today! These two lovebirds have now met half my family, as we continue to leap frog each other during our long travels. It was great to see them (briefly) as we caught up for a few minutes during a water break. Happy was extra happy, because friendly faces means he gets to tell his jokes again. We groaned laughed, then parted ways for the umpteenth time … knowing it won’t going to be the last.

We walked on and quickly reached the hike’s end at a road crossing. Then I was hit with a realization … I’d been so preoccupied not worrying about our daily miles lately, that I completely forgot what was waiting for us at the road to Pawling … Dover Oak! The largest tree on the Appalachian Trail. At 6 feet wide, it is estimated to be over 300 years old and was quite a surprise to stumble upon. We took a few photos and then called a cab to Pawling 3 miles to the south. I would have been ok walking this, but Happy was beat after that long hike, and I can’t blame him for wanting a break.

The town of Pawling is about 2 blocks long, but absolutely beautiful. Unlike the trail towns of the south, this is full of life, character and money. No hard feelings to residents of Erwin, Atkins, or Port Clinton … but you can’t really compete with NY and New England towns. There is a laundromat, book store, deli, bar, pizza place, bakery, CVS, and a dozen other small town shops that are a joy to visit. I almost feel out of place as a hiker, but I’m past the point of awkwardness for my homeless hiker look.

Side note, got the new backpack and I have a very good feeling the Exos will work out. It’s not perfect, but fits extremely comfortably. I wish it had hip bent pockets, and if I lose 5 more pounds the hip belt won’t fit again … but if I lose 5 more pounds, I have much bigger problems. I don’t think there is anything safe left to lose!

We got super lucky on a room for the night also. The AWOL guide only lists a motel about 5 miles north in Wingdale, but a quick google search found a new place called the Station Inn Pawling with rooms available. It appears to be a house undergoing new renovations to convert to an upscale B&B, and in the interim, has 2 rooms available to rent. The normal cost is $150-200 a night, but the owner (Susan) was overly-gracious to provide a hiker rate and allowed Happy and I to stay in both rooms for $50 a piece. An incredible bargain for such beautiful accommodations! I told Susan she needs to contact Guthooks and AWOL to be added to next year’s guides. I imagine they won’t be too busy on weekdays and could support the AT community. If other hikers come through here, I HIGHLY recommend you call the Station Inn, though cannot guarantee you get such an amazing deal. The only downside is the train that rumbles through every hour, but that’s nothing new to us thruhikers.

As hinted yesterday, my wife’s aunt and uncle came up from Westchester to meet us for dinner, and took us out to another MUST-STOP for hikers. Big W’s Roadside BBQ is an amazing casual restaurant in Wingdale that has some of the best BBQ in New York. I’m still licking my lips over the burnt ends and brisket sandwiches we devoured. We ran into a few other hikers there as well (as its next to the Wingdale Motel mentioned earlier) … one of whom said this was his second meal there already today! Warren is the owner, originally from Brooklyn, and a very friendly proprietor we spent time chatting with. I’d hike this whole damn trail again just to eat here another time. New York is seriously spoiling me with its food, I mean look at this spread!!

Damn, I love NY and it’s amazing food. As for the weather … fortune smiled on us again today, as we escaped any signs of rain. It is definitely coming though. Tomorrow looks to be a 50/50 chance of showers, and Happy is contemplating a Zero day if it does. I agree with this idea, as this is as good a place as any to take a day off, and we are both a bit nervous of him traversing these darned steep AT rocks when slick with rain. He could do it, but unlike me, he doesn’t have to.

If he does rest here (assuming we can also get another night at the Station Inn), I’ll slackpack hike on without him tomorrow, then meet back up at Pawling in the evening. The only goal at this point is Kent, CT by Sunday, and either option will get us there in time.

Hello Neimans (Sharkbait and Happy)

  • Start Mile: 1439.1
  • Start Time: 09:05
  • End Mile: 1447.6
  • End Time: 14:50
  • Miles Hiked: 8.5
  • Miles to Go: 743.3
  • Lodging: Station Inn Pawling

Day 91: Morgan Stewart Shelter

Day 91. Another positive day on the trail with Happy. After last night’s comfort living , we got up early today and visited the Smoke Haus Deli next to the motel for breakfast. I love NY style delis, they are just such a comfort for me. Sandwiches are great, salads are great, pickles and snacks are great … I wish every state did deli as well as NY. It’s something we never really ever got right back home in Minnesota. Hiking along the trail in NY, it’s nice to have these periodically along the way. We picked up some bagels, salamis, pickles and coleslaw for lunch and chatted with the very nice and friendly staff while we waited for our Lyft ride. I can’t say enough great things about this place (and Mr. G’s Deli next door as well)!

After our quick breakfast, we loaded up our packs and hopped in the cab back to the trail. It was another sunny day today, but not as hot as yesterday, so a very manageable hike. And Happy’s smiley attitude after a shower and laundry was contagious. We had a great day! The terrain had its trials and tribulations at times, but it wouldn’t be a hike along the AT without any!

We met a few new faces today, and some familiar ones as well along the way. We got to the Morgan Stewart Shelter early, so rewarded ourselves with a quick catnap. Around 5pm we roused for dinner and chatted with the 4 others camping here with us. Happy told everyone his (now favorite) story from Graymoor Spiritual Life Center a few days ago, and all had a good laugh. No one more so than Happy, which is usually the case. 🙂

Tomorrow will be another longer day, as we are going all the way to Pawling to get our resupply boxes, a motel, and dinner with my wife’s aunt and uncle. They have been promising me some trail angel’ness while in NY, and I’m excited to see them again.

Side note, I have a new backpack waiting for me at the post office as well. After trying everything to alleviate some bad spinal pain from my ULA the last 3 weeks, I’m finally throwing in the towel. I very much wanted it to work, but the shoulder straps put far too much pressure on my back and they cannot he adjusted further to remedy it. I think I perhaps am in-between sizes and have too much weight for the OHM 2.0 to fit me well. I grabbed an Osprey Exos from the REI anniversary sale last weekend that should be waiting for me. I’m frustrated with how my entire backpack situation has evolved during this thruhike and wish I simply started with a ZPack model from the beginning. Ugh, oh well.

The weather app on my phone keeps changing by the hour. First it was raining all day tomorrow, then not at all, then overnight, and now just a smidge in the morning. I’m not sure what to expect, but since we are ending in Pawling, I’m not going to worry about it too much. If it’s bad the rest of the weekend (also hard to nail down), we’ll make do. I’d like to end our time together on a good note, but I can only control so many things out here, and weather darn-well ain’t one of them!

Regardless, the trip in whole is going well and Happy is great company day in and day out. I’ll admit to getting a little tired of hearing the same jokes every day, but he’s been my father for 37 years and I’ve learned to expect that. I may go so far as to say I even love him for it, but not to his face … it would only encourage him more! He’s oddly quiet in his update today, but when you have a good day, it’s nice to just enjoy it sometimes …

Herein lies the official and verified memoirs of Tom Neiman on his Day 5 (my Day 91):

I’m Happy again. It was decent hiking for the second day in a row, as Mike pointed out. Both Mike and I managed to salvage part of last night’s dinner for lunch today as well (I highly recommend Plated if you happen to be vacationing in Fishkill anytime soon). Good food, good service, good time, good beer. No other anecdotes needed, it was another great day!

p.s. I just read Mike’s closing statements above, don’t be surprised if his hammock catches fire tonight.

Hello Neimans (Sharkbait and Happy)

  • Start Mile: 1430.1
  • Start Time: 09:15
  • End Mile: 1439.1
  • End Time: 14:20
  • Miles Hiked: 9.0
  • Miles to Go: 751.8
  • Lodging: Morgan Stewart Shelter

Day 90: RPH Shelter / Fishkill, NY

Day 90. The escapades of Happy the newly branded AT Hiker continue on, and dare I say, today they take a positive upswing. I know my readers have enjoyed his torturous tale, but don’t be fooled … he actually had a good time today!

It was a beautiful morning along the trail in NY, albeit a hot one. The temperature hit 90 degrees before the day was done, but we were fortunate to be mostly cool in the shaded trees. The few times we did venture into the sunlight, it was to enjoy a scenic view and photo op like the one above looking over Canopus Lake.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. First things first, last night was a beautiful and calm one at the state park. There were about 6 of us in the field, so we enjoyed a nice fire and talked hiker talk (mainly about gear, as usual) until early in the evening. After that, no rain, no wind, and my tarp tent was a cozy home until morning. I dare say, even Happy had a good time.

Today’s hike was finally a good one in his book too. The terrain was almost all flat, and the trail nearly all an easy dirt path. Not too many rocks, not too many climbs, and don’t tell Happy … but I think I may have even seen a smile on his face once or twice. After a quick stroll, we finished today’s 5 miles by 2pm and walked up to the RPH Shelter.

And this shelter is quite impressive. It is an old cabin that was donated to the AT, opened up on one side, and converted to a hiker shelter. It has picnic tables, bunk beds, a water pump, CHAIRS, and more … it even gets pizza delivery. I dare say it is the best shelter I would have slept in.

I say would have, because Happy decided he was done smelling like a dirty hiker and wanted a shower, bad. Since the shelter is off a residential road, we called a cab and headed to nearby Fishkill for a motel. I can’t say I’m too upset myself, getting a bed, shower, and laundry is always a welcome treat. As I write this, we are digesting the largest chicken parmigiana dinners either of us have ever eaten, and laughing hysterically to a Marx Brothers movie on TV.

This was also a good time to stop in a town, as our food was running low and we both needed a few resupply items. Tomorrow we go back to the trail and head to the Morgan Stewart Shelter, then we’ll reach Pawling, just 1 day behind schedule. It sounds like we will stick to our plan of a motel that night as well, so once again I’m living the life of AT luxury.

It’s a really nice change of pace, to hike slow and do single digit miles, and it has allowed my to see more of the trail’s surroundings. I also don’t need to stare at my feet to avoid rocks anymore, which is of course nice. Today I witnessed a colony of giant beetles building a hive-like structure, a family of baby geese crossing the road, and a huge kingsnake slithering near the trail (Happy saw this too, I’ve never seen him jump that high nor run that fast). I don’t have the luxury of maintaining this pace forever, but I’m enjoying it while it lasts. Having my dad come join me out here is fantastic, even if he refuses to show it.

Actually, today he may finally admit it. After 4 days on he trail, he has finally enjoyed himself enough not to complain too much. However, complaining or not, there’s always a story …

Herein lies the official and verified memoirs of Tom Neiman on his Day 4 (my Day 90):

(From Happy): It has been said that adversity and hardship breeds character … right now I feel that I am overflowing with character. It’s not that yesterday’s trail was difficult, it was just near impossible by the end. Then we camped in an open field the size of a football stadium, and passed the evening pleasantly with some other section hikers. It’s true I was fairly exhausted, but I could not fall asleep as soon as I’d hoped … it was a night of bizarre dreams. Don’t ask me why, I don’t know. But I had some of the most vivid technicolor dreams I’ve ever had. They involved long stories with me arguing with Mike about where we were going to go for breakfast. All I can remember is that we argued, it seemed, for days on end. And finally, I agreed to compromise and go to iHop.

I still can’t figure it out, but I somehow ended up exiting my tent … next thing I know, it’s 2:14 in the morning and I’m standing in my underwear in an open field, waiting for a car to pick us up and take us to iHop. I eventually realized I was not sleepwalking nor dreaming, and there was no car coming in the foreseeable future to get me.

I woke up this morning feeling the equivalent gastronomical disappointment, as I knew there was no chance of enjoying pancakes at iHop nor anywhere else anytime soon. They say that dreams are made of whimsical experiences, but I sure don’t know where this one came from.

By the way, I failed to mention that getting out of my petite 1-person tent is reminiscent of Jim Carry’s exit from the mechanical rhino in Ace Ventura When Nature Calls … it truly is a birthing experience, rivaling only my spiritual awakening.

Then today came. Today was a happier day. The hiking was excellent, the company was excellent, the trail was excellent … and the motel we are staying at tonight is excellent.

Please understand, we desperately needed to have a shower and do laundry. The motel staff insistent on giving us free car wash coupons. We told them we don’t have a car. They said, we know … trust us.

All is well in Fishkill tonight.

Hello Neimans (Sharkbait and Happy)

  • Start Mile: 1425.1
  • Start Time: 10:15
  • End Mile: 1430.1
  • End Time: 13:50
  • Miles Hiked: 5.0
  • Miles to Go: 760.8
  • Lodging: Inn at Arbor Ridge (Fishkill, NY)

Day 89: Clarence Fahnestock State Park

Day 89. I won’t sugarcoat my blog entry, today’s hike was far from easy. It started out great, with a long restful night into a late casual morning at our serene campsite by the creek. But then we started walking, and the evil AT Gods laughed at us while we made our way North again.

I should take part of the blame for today’s low moral, as I thought our stop was 4 miles earlier than it really was, and Happy was not too thrilled to learn this news when he thought we were done. But the real blame goes to the NY AT trail maintenance crew for creating a rocky boulder path for us to traverse INSTEAD of walking along the beautiful Canopus Lake below. Or to Mother Nature, for sending a tornado through the trail last week that decimating every tree in its path, creating many strenuous and frustrating detours.

This was a bad day for hikers who are not used to these tests of will, and I dare say Happy was ready to book a plane ticket home by the time we finally finished. There was a “happy” ending though, as we made it to Clarence Fahnestock State Park in time to get a hot dinner from the concession stand. And, the weather looks clear all night for camping in a big field again.

Speaking of field, I am trying something new tonight. When I backpacked in Alaska a couple years ago, I only brought a tarp for a tent and slept on the ground. I knew trees would be hard to come by in the Denali National Park mountains, and it was very doable and comfortable. Since there is minimal wind and no rain expected, I decided to do the same tonight using my hammock tarp. With a couple hiking poles and stakes, it is very roomy. I’ll let you know tomorrow if it was a failure.

Speaking of failure, my dad would say it is a word that describes today perfectly. Our hot meal and campsite is nice, but it far from makes up for his day of pain and torment. In fact, he’ll take it from here …

Herein lies the official and verified memoirs of Tom Neiman on his Day 3 (my Day 89)…

(From Happy): First off, before I continue with today’s adventure, I need to take one last parting shot at the previous day’s shelter experience. I was so inspired by the evening’s events, that I decided to lead the rest of the hikers in a conga dance to the portapotty. Needless to say, it was an experience worthy of a picture … but no one would let me take it. So ends my “spiritual awakening”.

Now on to today. I can’t say how invigorated I feel after carrying my backpack for several days now. In fact, I felt so invigorated last night, that I went to bed at 5pm. Are you familiar with bio feedback? It involves being able to assess and communicate with your body and it’s status at various moments. Well, mine stopped communicating before the end of today, and all I heard were gross expletives to describe the state of affairs.

After a brief respite of 16 hours of sleep last night (true, 16 hours!), my one thought when I woke up was, “what part of my body is not suffering pain and anguish?” I did a quick bio scan, only to discover that the bottom of my left earlobe was the only body part still willing to communicate with me … and even it was angry.

Let me digress for a moment, I forgot to mention an all important fact for hiking the Appalachian Trail. We utilize some state-of-the-art equipment out here. One of these specialty gear items is a plastic recyclable Smart Water bottle, used for holding our drinking water. Unfortunately, Smart Water bottles also require smart backpackers, because before you can drink from them, you have to figure out how to pull off a small plastic locking tab. Mike finally found me desperately chewing off the top of the bottle, since I was unaware of this engineering requirement. My experience with that lends me to believe we will find dozens of fellow backpackers dead on the ground, as they could never figure out how to detach the water bottle top.

Now, as for today. Mike has already informed you that there was a “slight” discrepancy in the distance required for today’s hike. It was not a casual 4.5 mile jaunt in the wilderness, as it turned out to be an 8 mile “do or die” forced march to our final destination: Lake Bataan (known to the visiting public as Canopus Lake). Yes, it was a reincarnation of the Bataan Death March from World War II in the Philippines.

Now, I can appreciate a challenging hike. But, the pathway took us up a series of rocky cliffs for the duration of the day. I thought that this was enough to discourage any mortal … but no, it got worse. The closer we got to “Lake Bataan”, the more fallen trees were strewn across our path. I appreciated the fact that Mike showed me how easy it was to step over these countless fallen trees. Unfortunately though, all 5 foot 3 and 3/4 inches of me did not even match the height of Mike’s inseam. I was reduced to crawling under the trees, or if I was lucky, I could barrel roll over the tops of them (with assistance).

As we grew closer to the Cafe Acorn (the concession stand at the state park), visions of grilled salmon or a wagu steak danced in my head. We made it to the “cafe” shortly before they closed, and I found myself enjoying the delicacies of a Chicken McNugget covered in melted cheese on a bun. An epicurean experience I will NEVER forget.

Have I forgot to mention? The storm knocked out all water from the park, and my dreams of having at least a heavenly hot shower were quickly dashed, bringing me to tears and ultimate despair. I can’t stand smelling like a garbage can for one more day.

I can’t begin to tell you how much fun I’m having.

Hello Neimans (Sharkbait and Happy)

  • Start Mile: 1417.5
  • Start Time: 10:30
  • End Mile: 1425.1
  • End Time: 14:10
  • Miles Hiked: 7.6
  • Miles to Go: 765.8
  • Lodging: Clarence Fahnestock State Park

Day 88: Stealth Campsite

Day 88. Just after I posted last night’s blog, it started. To describe the 50 person bonfire party accurately, let me borrow a scene from The Lord of the Rings:

The ground shakes. Drums, drums in the deep. We cannot get out. They are coming.

It was like a scene out of a movie. A parade of adults marched down the road, led by drums, guitars, and fiery torches. When they arrived at the sports field, a 20 foot bonfire was lit to the sounds of cheering, chanting, and song. I don’t think it was a religious party, per se, but the Spanish-speaking group had a song-session of loud religious-toned songs until just before midnight. Maybe a movie is the wrong reference, it was more like an end-of-year celebration at summer camp. Instruments, songs, games, laughter, reverberating loudness through the night … you get the idea. I was very tempted to sneak up for a candid video, but didn’t want to be rude. So instead I recorded a song from the darkness of my hammock and laughed to myself. You can see hear it below.

I did a good job of ignoring them with earplugs, but Happy was not so successful. When we recapped in the morning, I learned he was up through it all, and long after, so he did not have the best night’s sleep. He actually ended up moving under the pavilion shortly after they left, so he could at least avoid an early morning wake up call from the rain. It did not help though, as raccoons and early rising hikers terrorized him loudly in the morning. Even still, he rested as much as he could and awoke ready to take on the day. Albeit, an agreed upon slightly shorter one than I originally planned.

We hiked about 6 miles, at the same 1 mph speed as yesterday. The terrain was much kinder today, but after the torment of yesterday (and night), we both agreed to play it safe. I helped by taking the tent for him, though truthfully it was more to appease my concerns than his. There were a few tough rock boulder sections Happy was introduced to today, but they were more or less manageable. We were also spared the bad rain day the weather predicted. In reality, it barely sprinkled at all, and only for an hour or two. We didn’t even need raincoats, which was a pleasant surprise!

All told, I’m very impressed that a 71 year old man can carry 40 pounds on his back and traverse this trail so smoothly and with such a positive attitude, but that’s my dad for you. Ever young at heart and ready for adventure.

That’s not to say he liked the AT today. Oh no, far from it. The feeling after hiking 6 miles was that he’s very glad to be done, and that he can’t quite figure out how I’m able to make it look so easy. “Three months of practice”, I said with a smile.

We ended the day around 3pm at a small stealth campsite on the far bank of a stream. It is not an official site, but is a nice small clearing for tents with a fire pit. We set up camp, cooked dinner, and lit the campfire I wanted yesterday. It was a nice change to have the wilderness to ourselves tonight. We relaxed peacefully by the embers and discussed plans for tomorrow before calling it an early night. Happy was asleep by 6pm, I stayed up a bit longer to enjoy the fire in the chilly night air.

Although I would prefer longer hiking days to put more miles behind us, I’m very much enjoying the comfortable pace that Happy is setting for us. We may do a similar short day tomorrow, then hopefully his body and lungs will have acclimated better for some 8-10 mile stretches. No pressure or rush though, we’ll take it one day at a time.

Oh, I also finished last week’s video and don’t want to delay publishing it further, so check it out below!

Hello Neimans (Sharkbait and Happy)

  • Start Mile: 1411.3
  • Start Time: 09:00
  • End Mile: 1417.5
  • End Time: 15:15
  • Miles Hiked: 6.2
  • Miles to Go: 773.4
  • Lodging: Stealth Campsite

Day 87.5: Happy’s Account

Day 87.5: Herein lies the official and verified memoirs of Tom Neiman on his first day (my Day 87)…

(From Happy): After assuring me the route and trail conditions were “a piece of cake”, my son proceeded to hike me across the Hudson River bridge, only to inform me that the mountain ahead of us (Anthony’s Nose, though I now call Snot’s Nose) was to be summitted, much to my dismay and future excruciating pain.

It’s not that I minded crawling several miles on my hands and knees while carrying my hiking poles, but the bodies strewn along the side of the trail began to catch my attention. This so-called piece of cake hike was actually a centuries old piece of hardtack. However … when we got to the top, much to my surprise, I was still breathing. After the shock wore off, we proceeded on a meandering set of ups and downs until we reached our camping destination. The Spiritual Life Center.

I have to admit, despite my pre-hike prepping … I was prepared to offer myself up as a sacrifice. Our accommodations were spartan, but acceptable, as anything short of sleeping on a 6-lane Highway would have been permissibly to me by this point.

What were our accommodations like? It was a shelter with a 4 foot high cement perimeter, and open above that to a roof 5 feet higher. Mike did his best to put a positive spin on the accommodations, however, I would have had to have been extremely dizzy to accept this as anything short of a KOA Campsite. But true to form, in his cheerful and supportive manor, Mike proceeded to sweep the floor with a broom that had no broomstick. As I said, it was a “spartan shelter”. I have plans to send them a donation of a broomstick in the not-to-distant future.

By the time I had almost given up the ghost of hope to rest a little, we began to meet with other AT hikers. One guy setup his hammock and gear in the dead center of the shelter, preventing anyone to setup anywhere near him. I had all but reconciled myself to accept the inevitable (not being able to sleep all night), when 2 individuals approached us in a not-so-spiritual way. They casually informed us that the Taj Mahal we were in had been reserved 6 months prior for an evening’s spiritual awakening, with 50 or more adherents to their cause … and that we had to move.

Now, some people would have found this situation daunting. I, however, accepted this fact as nothing short of devastating. Mike and I, and our fellow compatriots, wondered the field before us aimlessly, searching for any acceptable camping spot. The field itself was somewhat bereft of trees, and Mike’s only option to hang his hammock was on the edge of the field overlooking a cliff. We finally managed to put together a modest but equally unsatisfying freeze dried dinner, and awaited the impending spiritual awakening.

We knew it was going to be one of the more spectacular events on the At, because they piled enough firewood and logs to start a minor forest fire. And true to form, when the vanguard of the group came to light the massive bonfire, the flames shot 20 feet in the air (not joking). It was at this time, I began to concern myself with whether a spiritual awakening required burnt sacrifices. And then the fun began…

Marching down the road to the shelter, sporting drums, guitars, bongos, and other assorted instruments, the awakening began. We enjoyed the harmonious singing of these individuals for the better part of the next hour an a half. We finally knew it was coming to an end when the ground (and our tents upon them) stopped vibrating. I decided, against my better judgement, that sleeping on a cement floor would be more comfortable than the uneven field I set my tent on. So when all appeared safe again (midnight), I moved my headquarters to the shelter for what I thought would finally be a relaxing night of sleep.

Not to be outdone, a family of raccoons, inspired by the night’s activities, decided to carry on the party until 3am by banging on and tipping over the garbage cans in the vicinity of the shelter. Sticking earplugs in my ear, and tendering my soul to God, I went to bed for what I thought may be my last night on this planet earth.

p.s. I’m hoping to discover one part of my body that is not suffering pain and anguish. More on this later…

p.p.s. I fear I may now be permanently spiritually awakened.

Day 87: Graymoor Spiritual Life Center

Day 87. Lots to cover today. First of all, we are both feeling pretty good after reaching our planned destination around 5pm. Although it was a difficult day in many ways, we ended with plenty of time to enjoy a quiet and restful evening. Or so we thought … more on that later.

For Happy’s first day hiking the AT, it could have been worse (it could have been raining). But he would say it could have been better too. Unfortunately, no sooner had we crossed the Hudson, the trail shot straight up. We were met with a very steep staircase of a trail, which was very strenuous, and also crowded with day-hikers headed to the popular “Anthony’s Nose” lookout. All in all, it was not a good first experience for a new AT hiker trying to get comfortable in their new surrounds.

Side note, but he’s still Happy. Look at him with this white blaze!

We also quickly realized Happy’s pack is significantly heavier than first thought. After doing some walking calculations, we expect his backpack is between 40-45 pounds. Compared to mine at 25-30, that’s a big difference in comfort and speed. Our pace was a slow and steady 1 mph all day, as we traversed the remaining ups and downs with many breaks.

In the early afternoon, we arrived at the Appalachian Market, a combination gas station and deli that is common in NY. Happy dropped his pack, laid down on a picnic table and started dictating a list of all the heavy food he is throwing away … gouda cheese, powdered milk, etc. I can’t say I blame him, those items would be too heavy for me too. We hydrated up with some Gatorade, had a snack, and headed out to finish the day’s hike.

A half-mile later, we took a side trail to tonight’s campsite … a ministry that allows hikers to sleep at the old sports field on the edge of their campus. The field also has a covered pavilion with electric outlets, a water spigot, a portapotty, a fire pit and a shower building (though it is locked). It is a little run-down, but it is a beautiful place, and we are fortunate they open it so graciously to hikers for free.

This is the Graymoor Spiritual Life Center; a ministry of the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement, dedicated to the reconciliation of people with themselves, each other, and God. In their words, it “offers people of many different religious traditions and all walks of life an opportunity to slow down and encounter the Spirit in their lives.” You can read more on it here.

Shortly after we arrived, a few more familiar faces wandered in. Starman, who I haven’t seen since the Smokie Mountains is here, plus a few others: Transformer, Shaggy, Bubs, and others whose names escape me at the moment. In all, there are nearly a dozen hikers camping here. At first, we all setup in the pavilion, since we know rain is expected tomorrow. However, once hammocks we’re strung and beds laid out, a gentlemen walked over and told us he had the pavilion reserved for the evening. He has a bonfire party planned for 50 people until midnight.

Fifty people?! Midnight?! The pavilion, fire pit, and picnic tables were all forfeited and we grumbled sullenly as we gathered up our belongings and moved to the far side of the field. We still had a place to camp at least, but peace and quiet was forfeited for the night as well. Happy is … for lack of s better word, happy … to use his fancy new 1-person tent, but it’s a small consolation compared to everything else we had to give up. Needless to say, after the day we had, this was not how I hoped it would end.

We made the most of it though, finding our own private corner to camp by ourselves, and even carried over a picnic table for dinner.

After review of today’s difficulty, and the knowledge of tomorrow’s rain, we may take it easy and do a smaller 5 mile day tomorrow. I initially planned for us to go 12 miles to Clarence Fahnstock State Park, but that is looking less likely. We’ll play it be ear and see how Happy feels in the morning and later that afternoon.

Side note, as I lay in bed typing this, Happy yelled out something to me before falling asleep. “I want you to know, I’m having a great time.”

Me too dad, me too.

Hello Neimans (Sharkbait and Happy)

  • Start Mile: 1404.0
  • Start Time: 10:00
  • End Mile: 1411.3
  • End Time: 16:45
  • Miles Hiked: 7.3
  • Miles to Go: 779.6
  • Lodging: Graymoor Spiritual Life Center

Day 86: Bear Mountain State Park

Day 86. And we’re off! After a very nice and restful time with my in-laws, we picked up my dad this afternoon at the airport and headed to Bear Mountain. An adventure with Tom Neiman (trail name “Happy”) always has its stories, and we barely got to the Bear Mountain Inn before they started piling up. As many of his hiking partners can attest, it’s always an adventure when you are on adventure with Happy, and I am loving it. For those readers who don’t know my dad (he says, “you’re lucky), let me fill you in on the kind of person he is, as it will help explain the stories you’ll hear over the next couple weeks:

  • Recent retiree, spending 40+ years in adult, youth, and outdoor education. Not sure what to do with all his free time, but getting used to it.
  • Like me, a passionate hiker and backpacker, but has never hiked the AT until now
  • Can be a bit scatterbrained or forgetful, but it’s part of his loveable charm
  • A natural storyteller, and even more, a great story generator
  • Like his trail name, he is happy all day every day, and it is infectious to all around him
  • Most of all, he lives to laugh and loves to live

As you can probably tell, my dad and I are very similar souls … and the time together is already piling up with jokes and stories. When we got to the hotel, we started going through gear, helping to compare what he thinks he needs vs. what I know he doesn’t. It took some convincing, but I was able to slowly convert him to a lighter way of camping for this trip, and we are both impressed how light his pack is … although full disclosure, this is after sending a box of unnecessary gear home today. Mainly extra shirt, socks, jacket, tissues, and several thousand plastic bags he can live 2 weeks without.

As we continued to sift through gear, he donned his new hiking shirt and bandanna … both orange … took one look at us and yelled, “Hey, we’re twins! They should call us the Minnesota Twins!” So, of course, we now will. We had another good laugh as we compared our filled packs side by side (pic below). Even with the upgrades and hotel room cleansing, neither of us can figure out how his setup only weighs 5 pounds more than mine. On looks alone, his external frame pack should weigh as a much as a pregnant hippopotamus.

Side note, Happy would like to note for you that when you see him in future photos, you may just see a giant backpack with 2 legs. Rest assured, he is there even though you can’t see him. 🙂

After organizing and reorganizing and reorganizing the reorganized organizing … we finally felt good to go. With the remaining daylight, we toured the hotel, park grounds. This place is beautiful and worthy of every New Yorker’s visit. As a hiker, you get to experience the best of it, as the AT walks along the edge of the gorgeous Hessian Lake, then cuts right through the tiny zoo. The zoo has little exhibits and educational anecdotes on the area along the way, making for a fun stroll to take slow. It was a nice prep-walk for Happy, and since it was extremely hot, we decided to end it with a father-son ice cream break. I think I can get used to this.

Tomorrow we hit the trail in earnest, crossing the Hudson River and diving into the green tunnel. Given how hot it is expected to be, some tree shade will be welcome. Today was a scorcher!

Hello Neimans (Sharkbait and Happy)

  • Start Mile: 1404.0
  • Start Time: 00:00
  • End Mile: 1404.4
  • End Time: 00:00
  • Miles Hiked: 00.0
  • Miles to Go: 786.9
  • Lodging: Bear Mountain Inn

Day 85: Westchester Zero Day

Day 85. Week 11 video is up, week 12 coming soon. I’m enjoying a relaxing day off with my in-laws, soaking up the sun and as much food as possible in New York. My bus ride this morning was quick and painless, and I arrived in White Plains around 10am. I had to transfer in NYC, so if anyone wants a quick and easy route to the city during future thruhikes, this is a pretty easy option. And it comes a couple hundred miles before the Pawling train stop which is more common.

It is weird to be in non-AT civilization again, but it’s also very nice while I relax. I’ll try to get the week 12 video up today as well, and will post it here when ready. It’s nice to be able to sit on a couch with a TV and not have to walk for a couple days. But I can already tell my mind is getting excited to get out there again soon!

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!

  • Start Mile: 1294.7
  • Start Time: 00:00
  • End Mile: 1294.7
  • End Time: 00:00
  • Miles Hiked: 00.0
  • Miles to Go: 896.2
  • Lodging: Family in Westchester

Day 84: Delaware Water Gap Zero Day

Day 84. I had hoped to upload last week’s and this week’s YouTube videos today, but the church hostel does not have WiFi available. I’ll hopefully get those up tomorrow instead, as I don’t like falling too far behind.

Today’s Zero day was exceptionally nice. I slept in late (on a very comfortable couch), I went to Walmart to get a few accompanying items to my resupply box, I took in a movie (Deadpool 2), I went out to lunch, and I read an entire Calvin and Hobbes comic book. It was a very relaxing day indeed.

I also planned out and reviewed the itinerary for NY with my dad. Since he has fresh legs, I will need to drop my mileage down to 8-12 a day, and wanted to make sure we had a workable plan that he was comfortable with. It looks very doable and we both are excited to get back on the trail together in a few days.

Emotionally, I am so glad he is coming when he is, as I could not use the company of my backpacking (and life) role model more than right now. What better way to turn my spirits around, then to go on an adventure with the guy who introduced me to it all? It’s a nice new phase of the hike. And speaking of phases, let’s recap…

  • Phase 1 was tramily hiking througjou GA, TN, and NC. It was a highly social experience and provided tons of daily fun while in the “honeymoon” stage with dozens of others.
  • Phase 2 was partner hiking in VA, where I hiked with another person for a few days, then another for a few, then another, etc. It was still exciting and fun, with tons of great sights and experiences with new and different friends every few days.
  • Phase 3 was solo hiking in MD and PA. The first half was great, with all the historical sights to take in … but the second half was really tough. Horrible terrain, crappy weather, and being primarily alone every day was very difficult for a social butterfly like me. I would like to forget this phase altogether, as it puts a temporary dark blemish on my overall feelings of this experience.
  • Phase 5 is family and friends in New England, starting this Friday with my dad. It will be great to have people to hike and camp with again, and is the spark I need to reignite my passion to be out here and finish strong. Let’s hope it lasts to Maine!

I hate that I am skipping the next 100 miles, as it throws off the natural progression of the trail northward, and puts a hole in my “thruhiker” status. It’s frustrating, but I know it is necessary in order to enjoy the next section fully. I thought about it a lot today and realize there is not much else I could have done, and that it will just have to be part of my journey and story. I’m ok with that, and won’t let it change my feelings or perception of this 2,190 mile hike. As I mentioned yesterday, I will finish those miles when I can, hopefully soon after, and fulfill that temporary void in my travels.

Tomorrow I head up to Westchester to spend time with family and do a thorough cleaning and drying of gear. It will be the first double zero I take while out here, and feels good to have it so (actually, it will be a triple Zero after Friday). Then the adventure continues. I’m not sure I’ll blog tomorrow, I may take the day off from that too.

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!

  • Start Mile: 1294.7
  • Start Time: 00:00
  • End Mile: 1294.7
  • End Time: 00:00
  • Miles Hiked: 0.0
  • Miles to Go: 896.2
  • Lodging: Church of the Mountain Hiker Center