I woke up at 5:30am and immediately started packing. I slept comfortably in a natural dip in the rock – it was like sleeping in a stone hammock. My feet were sore and my legs were stiff – I stretched and rubbed my feet before having breakfast. At 6:30, I was finally ready to leave camp and start hiking.
The trail did not let up on me from yesterday – I immediately faced a steep, rocky descent and boulder scramble for the first few miles. I was moving slowly – there was no need in burning myself out on the tough parts.
At 7:30am, I hit the Orange Turnpike and found a very nice spread of trail magic. I sat down and filled my water bladder directly from the jugs on the ground. Water scarcity has been a huge problem in NJ and now in NY. Many of the springs, creeks and streams listed in the AT Guide and on my GPS app have already run dry.
I ate my last bit of breakfast foods and starting looking over my snack rations – with a hot meal today, I’d be close to running out of food by the time I hit Fort Montgomery. This is not of concern – I still have my emergency meal.
I found myself sitting there for a while – I just didn’t feel good. I hadn’t felt good since leaving Branchville, NJ four days ago and was starting to wonder if I was getting sick. I sat in one of the chairs, half-heartedly consulting the AT Guide, when I heard another hiker approaching – it was Black Santa. He ended up tenting about a mile behind me – I don’t know how I missed him.
After refilling his water, the two of us set off north. After another steep descent and busy road crossing, I followed Black Santa as he re-entered the forest. I passed another rat snake on the way.
In an hour’s time, I hit the Lemon Squeezer – it’s a natural crevasse between two boulders. The only way to get through is to lift your pack high over your head and climb sideways. It was challenging for sure – and the fact that it was starting to warm up didn’t help matters.
At 1:00pm, I finally passed the Fingerbowl Shelter, having hiked eight miles on the day. I was finished – sweat was pouring off my brow and I felt very weak. I quickly pitched my tent and fell asleep inside.
I woke four hours later at 6:00pm. I stretched and looked around. The sun was starting to set and a cool breeze was blowing through the forest. I stretched my feet – they hurt, but not nearly as bad as they did when I first laid down to nap. I initially thought I might try hiking in my camp shoes, but rejected that after a test run.
I did end up stripping the insoles out of my camp shoes (they were the old Merrell inserts anyway) and putting them under my Superfeet insoles in my boots. It was my hope that the extra padding might be enough to help.
And it worked – or at least, it seemed to work. I quickly made my way down to Arden Valley Rd by 7:00 and cooked a hot dinner – I was starting to feel good. After dinner, the AT actually leveled out a bit and I got to enjoy some relatively easy hiking at sunset.
At 8:00pm, I texted Savage and Black Santa. She was with the rest of the group at West Mountain Shelter eight miles ahead – he was nearing the summit of Bear Mountain and getting ready to camp. I felt hesitantly better than I had in days and decided to push to catch up with Savage at least.
I hit a series of rugged ascents and descents, nothing like I went through yesterday, however. At 10:00, I paused at the summit of Black Mountain and looked to the south – for the first time on the AT, I could see the New York City skyline all lit up against the dark skies. It was neat – I rested for a good 15 minutes taking it all in.
The ascent up West Mountain was challenging but brief – I quickly passed the shelter Savage, McDoubles, Champa and Get Weird were tenting at and continued down, and then up, Bear Mountain.
I really enjoyed the hike up Bear Mountain – the grade couldn’t be beat. Every gain in elevation was marked by a stone step – the flat sections were gravel paths. I had a little trouble navigating in the dark – I lost the trail a few times. Finally, at 1:00am I reached the summit of Bear Mountain, spreading my sleeping pad and bag out in front of the vending machines.
* * *
Tonight is the third night in a row I’ll be cowboy camping. It’s nice – especially tonight. A stiff breeze is keeping the bugs away. Speaking of which, I need to buy a bug net for my face.
The Merrell boots are shot. That extra insole provided some padding, but not enough to keep them around. I don’t know how many many miles are left on my trail runners – I’ll find out tomorrow when I pick up my maildrops.
While I feel great now (just gorged on vending machine snacks), I really felt sick earlier in the day. I’ve been drinking plenty of water, but not eating as much as I normally would. And I’ve been much more tired than usual. I think I’m being affected by the heat (today nearly hit 90) and poor footwear as opposed to being sick. Here’s hoping.
On Thursday, Black Santa and I could potentially be on a train headed for NYC. I need to look a the numbers first – I want to summit Katahdin the first week in August, about 45 days away. I have plenty of time to reach this goal – I just need to be very careful how I use my days off.
Savage and the rest to the group are about four miles back – Black Santa is somewhere on this mountain, I think.
I’m heading to the post office first thing in the morning – it’s about four miles away just off the AT. I’m setting up another bounce box as I’ll be receiving much more food than I can carry. I’ll likely have it sent somewhere in Connecticut for use after I return from NYC (if I even go).
I’d like to hike at least eight miles before taking my mid-afternoon nap – it’d be great to put in some more miles after the sun goes down as well.
Breakfast: two 20 gram protein bars
Lunch: two sleeves of flavored crackers, two bags of peanuts, two jumbo cereal bars (the Golden Grahams bars are great)
Dinner: White Cheddar Queso Rice Side with two tuna packets
Vending Machine Snacks: three mini cans of Pringles, two Powerades