Epilogue Day 5: Harriman State Park

Epilogue Day 5. And with that, I’m done (again). Thanks to yesterday’s big day, I was able to easily close out the final 19 miles today and connect the dots of my thruhike. All 2190.2 miles are now officially complete. And it feels good … mostly because I don’t have to go out again tomorrow, but also because I stuck to my promise of finishing what I started. It was a long week in the woods, and a very very wet one, but it was peaceful and lovely all the same. But, oh that rain…

Seriously, weather dictates SO MUCH of one’s experience out here. It’s significantly harder to enjoy myself in the rain, and to enjoy the treasures of the trail while avoiding the wet. Today was supposed to be cloudy and dry all day, but of course it was the opposite. I steady stream of mist and rain from morning to night. It’s not that I dislike rain, it’s just that it makes the trail so frustrating and dangerous. I spend twice the effort desperately trying to avoid puddles, in order to avoid wet socks, in order to avoid blisters. I also take twice as long walking along ridges, rocks, and boulders to keep from slipping, falling, and seriously hurting myself. The moral is lower, the pace is slower, the stops are fewer, and the terrain is tougher. It’s just not as fun.

But, as I said yesterday, attitude is a powerful thing. So I thanked the AT gods for giving me light rain instead of a downpour, and fog instead of snow. I made the most of it, remembering why I’m out here, and wandered through today’s trail in peace. I stopped for a brief snack at Fitzgerald Falls, looked out at a foggy but quietly beautiful view atop Mombasa High Point. I scaled Buchanan Mountain and Arden Mountain, forded a creek, walked through a very well maintained Harriman State Park, and saw the infamous Lemon Squeezer (a tight squeeze between two enormous boulders).

All in all, I had a good day and a good end to the Appalachian Trail. I’m not sure I’ll come back to see 98% of it ever again, but I’ll remember the great moments and memories of the adventure all the same. I hope others were inspired by my story to fulfill some of their own dreams, and others encouraged to seek out this trail in the future. It is a spiritual and emotional walking path that is was a lifeline dream to complete, and I’m forever thankful to be able to experience it.

Side note, for those interested in logistics. From Harriman State Park, I took an Uber to the Tuxedo Train Station, from there the Port-Jervis Line train to Secaucus Junction, then a subway to Penn Station, and finally the Martz bus from Port Authority to Stroudsburg (Delaware Water Gap). All in all, that travel took about 4 hours.

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!

  • Start Mile: 1373.1
  • Start Time: 08:10
  • End Mile: 1392.7
  • End Time: 13:40
  • Miles Hiked: 19.6
  • Miles to Go: 0.0

Epilogue Day 4: Greenwood Lake, NY

Epilogue Day 4. I woke up this morning determined to have an amazing day. Attitude is a choice, and I was choosing the wrong attitude for being out here these last few days. So today, I decided I’d put a positive spin on whatever was bothering me and enjoy this trail for all it’s worth on my penultimate day. And you know what? It worked. I had an AMAZING day today, as I enjoyed the majesty of hiking through America once again.

I wanted to get a very early start on the day, so crawled into bed last night while it was still light out. However, a few hours later (after dark), 3 southbound hikers wandered in from the rain and cold to join me at the “Secret Shelter”. That did not bother me, as the floor of the cabin could easily fit 4 people with room to spare … but the snoring did. It was 2 girls and a guy, the latter of whom spent the whole night loudly sawing wood. It may have been the proximity, or the echo of the empty room, but it was deafeningly loud. I woke many times throughout the night to the sounds of his snores, but eventually did get some good rest.

At 6am, we all crawled out of bed and packed up for the day. I was on the trail by 6:45 with nothing but blue skies to greet me. The ground was still flooded from the week’s rain, but my socks were still wet anyways so I didn’t let it get to me. I hiked for miles before stopping for a break, admiring the wide and soft trail that bordered people’s homes here. It had been pretty rocky in NJ this far, so these miles were a mice treat on my feet to start the day. After not too long, I entered the Wallkill Wildlife Refuge, a gorgeous wetland of marshes that also hosts a bird sanctuary. I saw cranes, geese, swans, ducks, and more as I walked along the sunny path circling the marshy refuge. I decided to throw some John Denver tunes in my ears to really maximize the effect of the beauty … and it did. I’ll remember the hike around that marsh for years to come.

A little while later, I came to another marshland crossing. This time, however, a nice boardwalk offered me a dry path through the bog and creek. The Pochuck Creek Boardwalk was a popular destination for runners, hikers, and dog-walkers, so I had plenty of company as I journeyed across. I chatted with a couple that was section hiking with their RV, and then a group of girls walking their tiny dogs for exercise. It was nice to have conversation and be social after so much time alone that morning.

By midday, I had put in 18 miles and felt confident I could push another 10 before dark. This would put me in the town of Greenwood Lake, which I found had a new trail angel hosting hikers coming off the mountains. It was just a small comment in the Guthooks app, but I decided to give it a try and called the man named Carl to inquire. Carl is a trail angel indeed! He offered to pick me up at the trailhead later and bring me back to his home, where he had converted the basement to a 1 bedroom apartment. Although still under construction (no toilet yet), he was only asking $10 for the night which was too good to pass up. It all sounded perfect, so I threw my pack on and ignored the blisters on my feet as I headed North again.

The trail wasn’t too bad from there, but I did notice a significant shift in terrain once I crossed into NY. Someone painted the state border on a rock, and almost immediately the trail went up. For the next 5 miles it was rock climbing and boulder scrambling along the mountain ridge line. Not what I was hoping for after already putting in 20+ miles, but I made the most out of the situation and enjoyed the fact it was still sunny. My feet are pretty sore now, but they are happy those miles are done and not waiting for us tomorrow morning.

Carl was waiting for me as promised, and his place is as good as he claimed. The shower is still in an unfinished bathroom, but the water was hot and the soap cleansing. There is a bed, couch, table and kitchenette to make anyone feel at home. I made some dinner, and shared a couple cold beers with Carl before calling it a night.

I’m glad I made the decision to enjoy today more, as I truly think it made a difference. Tomorrow is my final day out here … the epilogue and hike in whole will be done. I’m excited to finish this once and for all, and thankful for the experience and opportunity to live out this dream to its fullest.

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!

  • Start Mile: 1344.9
  • Start Time: 06:40
  • End Mile: 1373.1
  • End Time: 18:45
  • Miles Hiked: 28.2
  • Miles to Go: 19.6
  • Lodging: Carl’s House (Greenwood Lake, NY)

Epilogue Day 3: Secret Shelter

Epilogue Day 3. When I looked at the weather for this part of America on Monday, it showed sunny or partly cloudy for 6 days straight. I thought I was going to be blessed with perfect weather to push these miles out. Not too hot, not too cold, not too wet. Nope, wrong again. All 3 of my pairs of socks (including the supposed waterproof ones) or soaked through. The ground has been saturated with rain water all week, and it poured on me yet again today.

I was really hoping I’d get in the 18 miles to this shelter before the thunderstorm hit this evening. Reports were showing 30% chance of rain from 3-6pm, and then worse after sunset. I woke up a bit late, but still tried to push my hiking pace, so as to arrive between 3 and 4. I thought I had a good chance of staying dry until I ended the day, then staying dry in the comfort of a shelter. It was great this morning, with the sun even poking out at times for a quick and warm hello. But then the rain hit at 2pm, and it was a straight downpour until 4pm when I finally arrived at camp. And of course, now as I sit here under this cover of roof, it’s dry skies again. When it comes to weather, I simply can’t catch a break out here this time, and it’s really starting to annoy me. However, I’ll look optimistically to tomorrow, who’s forecast shows clear blue skies and sun. I need that sun. Both to dry out my gear and warm up my spirits.

Side note, how cool is this photo? It looks like the sun is heart-shaped and sending down rays of sunshine like a carebear.

It was a generally nice hike today (before 2pm), and I saw a handful of Sobo hikers again as I traversed my way North. Done we’re chatty, some not so much … but it was great to see people all the same. There were a couple of nice rest areas to kick off my shoes and let my piggies breath, and some not-too-difficult ups and downs in-between. Physically, I could tell that yesterday had taken a toll on me, though not as bad as I feared. I was a bit slower to start, but then found my hiking legs as I made good time trudging through the trail rivers and wet pasturelands of today’s AT.

The shelter I’m staying at, is actually a privately owned cabin on a farm the trail passes through. its called the “Secret Shelter” because it’s not advertised in the printed guidebooks (though is marked on the Guthooks app). A thruhiker from 1989 bought this land and established the cabin as a refuge for hikers in need of shelter along this section of New Jersey, which does not allow stealth camping. It is locked at times during the year, but I was pleased to find it open today and available to me. I hung up some gear, laid out my bed, and ate dinner on the porch while watching a donkey graze nearby. Although I was frustrated from the rain, it was a very tranquil evening. I’m always amazed at the community supporting this trail, and this is yet another example of a past hiker opening his home to future walkers of the path. It’s nothing special, with just a dirty tile floor to put a sleeping pad on, but it’s dry and it’s here. It also has a water spigot and electrical outlet to charge my phone, which is nice.

Tomorrow might have to be a really long day, as it’s 18 miles to a shelter or 26 miles to a town. After the past 3 days, a motel in town sounds like heaven to me. If I cant get that far though, I have a feeling I won’t be able to get all my missed miles in before Sunday. We shall see, but I can always come back another time if I need to.

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!

  • Start Mile: 1326.1
  • Start Time: 08:15
  • End Mile: 1344.9
  • End Time: 18:30
  • Miles Hiked: 18.8
  • Miles to Go: 47.8
  • Lodging: Secret Shelter

Epilogue Day 2: Gren Anderson Shelter

Epilogue Day 2. Wow did last night scare the crap out of me. After I posted my blog, the storm got worse and worse. Apparently there was a tornado watch in Stroudberg, just a few miles away. I spent most of the night crouched under my tarp in full clothing, watching lightning strike all around me, ready to sprint straight down the side of the mountain if needed. The wind was so strong at times, I legitimately thought my hammock tent would be ripped away into the night … with or without me in it!

But it calmed down by 11pm and I eventually got back into bed and fell asleep. I woke around 7am to a calm and mostly dry hilltop, ate my breakfast and packed up my mostly dry bed. And then I hit the trail. I didn’t expect to see anyone today, and especially not someone I know … but an hour later, a familiar face rounded the bend. Atlas, a retiree I hiked in Virginia with, was still trying to finish his flip-flop to Harpers Ferry. I saw him briefly in Maine when he flipped up in July, but did not expect to see him again. It was great to catch up and chat for a bit, and was just the thing I needed to lift my spirits for this journey. But he was headed south and me north, so eventually we said goodbye and went our separate ways.

I then made it to the Mohican Outdoor Center, an AMC-operated facility with a restaurant, store, cabins and showers. I had hoped to make it here last night but started too late in the day. Given what transpired up on Kittatinny Mountain last night, I wish I had pushed to it. The nice 20-something staff were happy to tell me “we close at 5pm” when I called yesterday … but today I was informed “one building remains open all night for emergencies”. Yeah, last night was a tornado watch you jerks, that sounds like an emergency to me! It would have been nice to be informed of this option when I called yesterday!

Oh well, after a short curse under my breath, I ate a snack and moved on. And after that sour morning, the next 8 hours of hiking we’re actually quite nice. I ran into a dozen or so Sobos along the trail, and got to rest my (very) wary feet at some great vistas. The Catfish Lookout Tower, Blue Mountain, and Rattlesnake Mountain were exceptionally beautiful with great views along the cloudy horizon. Then, about 1 mile before stopping for the day, I crossed Culvers Gap and stopped to watch the sun set at the Culver Fire Tower. There was a picnic table up there overlooking Branchville, NJ below, and I just took it all in as the sky began to turn.

Side note, I reflected up there on all the amazing love and support I received from my friends and followers after yesterday’s post. Thank you for being here with me, then and now! I feel like I’m hiking with all of you, and it still helps motivate me forward.

I stayed there for about 20 minutes. Not because I was so enamored by the view or deep in thought, but because my feet refused to move. I hiked 22 miles at this point, and my legs were cramped, sore, and simply done. They called it a day 2 hours earlier, and when given a chance to rest, screamed at any movement thereafter. I thought I’d be able to do 20+ miles every day this week, but I took a beating today and may not have the strength to continue that goal tomorrow. With some more cursing, this time not under my breath, I hiked slowly crawled downhill to the Gren Anderson Shelter. No one else is here, so I can at least lay my gear out to dry in the shelter over night, which is nice. But I’m camping alone for the second night in a row. I’ll reassess the feet situation in the morning, but I have a feeling it will be a late start to the day either way. I need my beauty sleep. Oh, and more thunderstorms are expected tomorrow evening. Great.

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!

  • Start Mile: 1303.3
  • Start Time: 08:10
  • End Mile: 1326.1
  • End Time: 18:30
  • Miles Hiked: 22.8
  • Miles to Go: 66.6
  • Lodging: Gren Anderson Sheltee

Epilogue Day 1: Kittatinny Mountain Tentsite

Epilogue Day 1: And just like that, I’m back on the Appalachian Trail. It’s been two months since I summitted Katahdin and ended my thuhike, but I would never forgive myself if I didn’t go back to finish those 100 miles I skipped between Delaware Water Gap and Harriman State Park. So, here I am. Back again on the trail, in what I am calling the “Epilogue” of my thruhike adventure.

I had hoped to do this earlier, when thruhikers would still be out and about to provide company and camaraderie for my hike. But life has a way of getting in the way, as some personal things took longer to finalize with work and housing in our new Washington DC home. There was also that whole Hurricane Florence thing I wanted to avoid.

But now I’m back, and I will tell you … it feels much different. I could blame it on the 4 hour drive to get here, the onslaught of rain all day, the thunderstorm crashing around me at night as I type this, or the lack of conversation with others at the end of the day. But, I think the real problem is that my heart just isn’t in it this time around. Emotionally, I already feel fulfilled by what I accomplished, and now it seems more like an errand. It’s not much fun, it’s (still) awful trail conditions, and it’s lonely hiking alone. But I have to do this, and I will do this, even if it is only to check the box for the miles I missed. And even if it’s not a fun outing, it’s still hiking in the mountains, which I love to do.

To start off, today I managed to get in just over 8 miles before darkness and the storm hit. I left my car at Delaware Water Gap and crossed the river where the famous ground-sign marks the entrance to New Jersey (photo above). It was a pretty easy slope of trail from there, though it was lined with wet rocks big and small to trip up my progress. I managed to stay on my feet all day (poles!) as I passed the Kittatinny Point Visitor’s Center, Sunfish Pond, and finally a decent view atop Kittatinny Mountain. It’s here that I could see the storm clouds rolling in from all sides, so I quickly made my way down a bit further to a campsite and set up shop for the night. I just barely got my hammock up and dinner cooked before the rain started. And then it really hit. Hard.

Side note, it’s scary to camp alone in the mountains during a thunderstorm. I was in a shelter pretty much any night it rained or stormed last time around. And I only camped alone 1 night during my entire journey … but today I had no choice, and it is a symphony of wind, lights and sounds surrounding my hammock right now. This may be the angriest storm I’ve ever been out in, and I’m of course alone. I’ll be very happy if I get any sleep.

But that’s what it takes right now. I put it off as long as I could, but to say I thruhiked the Appalachian Trail is to say I walked all 2190.2 miles in a 12 month time. If I don’t do these miles before March 1 of next year, then I would never forgive myself. I’m not a purist in that sense, but I’m committed to my goal and now it’s time finish it. If I survive the night, that is.

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!

  • Start Mile: 1294.7
  • Start Time: 15:00
  • End Mile: 1303.3
  • End Time: 18:05
  • Miles Hiked: 8.6
  • Miles to Go: 89.4
  • Lodging: Kittatinny Mountain Tentsite