Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Trail Recap 17 of 27: Warwick to Poughquag, NY

Fingerboard Shelter, built in 1928, the oldest and most picturesque AT shelter

Barrett Rd, NJ, south of Warwick, NY to Nuclear Lake near Poughquag, NY:  82.1 miles

General Impression/Theme:  Low points.  In this section the AT reaches its lowest elevation; and in my hike I reached my physical and emotional low point.  For more elaboration on the latter, see the 'Worst Memory' section below.

People:  Too many to mention:  Thru hikers 'Goose', 'Blue Grass', 'Maverick', and 'Groundhog'.  Second meeting with Eric 'Bomber' McKinley, who finished his thru hike and is now enlisted in the Air Force, training to become part of (what else) an elite Bomb squad.  'Spiral' and 'Swivel', fast moving ultra-light thru-hikers who were to become part of the 'Parkside Fellowship' that delivered Paul's ashes to the summit of Katahdin.  Other than NoBo thru-hikers I met a number of notable personalities:  Kirk and Cindy Sinclair (The 'Hiking Humanitarian') heading north to their home in Norfolk, CT from Cape Henlopen, Delaware after finishing a year-long thru-hike of the American Discovery Trail - first ones to do it west to east.  A section hiker with a condition called aphasia - a speech/language handicap (result of a stroke), who seemed thoroughly disoriented on our last meeting yet unable to verbalize his problem and unable to absorb my directions - I've worried about him ever since.  A hard working and very helpful maintainer N of the William Brien Shelter (didn't get a name).  And last but certainly not least , the blind but amazingly fast hiker Andres with his friend and guide Chuck.

Supply/Overnight:  Warwick, NY Price Chopper (south of town), trailhead parking lots, the Wal-Mart in Harriman, NY.

Worst Memory:  As I crossed into New York and hiked the difficult rocky spine of Bellvale Mountain alongside Greenwood Lake I found myself descending into a personal abyss, both physically and mentally.  It nearly ended my hike.  I was feeling like a zombie every evening - far beyond merely exhausted, I was too spent to even eat.  Most of all, I was no longer confident that I could achieve my goals - the toll that the tough hiking put on my body led me to question whether I would be physically able to get through the White Mountains and Maine.

I took three days off and went back home - making no promises that I would ever return to the trail.  I did some serious soul searching.  I studied maps, hoping to discover ways I could get through the tough sections without having to hike unreasonable distances in a day.

In the end, my map study proved successful - there were ways to hike every piece of trail ahead and still follow my self imposed rule: off the trail and back 'home' by midnight every night.  And the three days' rest restored me physically.  I had seen my weight drop dangerously low - down to 146 pounds on my 6 foot 2 inch frame.  I had been pushing myself to continue to hike the same miles I had been accustomed to in PA and farther south even though the trail had become much more difficult.

I decided to go back and continue to try to push north, but with an adjusted attitude.  I would take it easier, slower, not force myself to make any particular deadline.  I would listen more closely to my body, and I would take care to keep it properly fed, nourished, and rested.

Needless to say, it worked.  Within a week of returning to the trail, my energy and enthusiasm were back.  I was loving the adventure again, and ultimately I was able to see it through to the end.

Stone Steps, south (west) side of Bear Mountain
Best Day Hike:  I have to go with the obvious choice: The Bear Mountain Park vicinity along the Hudson River.  I recommend hiking up and over the mountain and all the way down the other side to Seven Lakes Road (there are good parking areas on either end and on the top of the mountain in the middle).  There is a handicapped accessible section of AT leading from the mountain-top parking lot to a fine vista looking north over the Hudson River Valley.  And down the slopes on either side you'll find extensive granite stone step work of a quality unrivaled anywhere else on the 2184.2 miles of Appalachian Trail.
Anthony's Nose from Bear Mountain Bridge
View south from Anthony's Nose, courtesy USGS
Anthony Van Corlear, 1858. Painting by Charles Loring Elliott
As an adjunct to this, park beside the zoo at the Bear Mountain Inn and walk through the zoo, by far the most heavily 'hiked' section of the AT anywhere, then cross the Hudson on the Bear Mountain Bridge.  From the bridge the summit of Anthony's Nose will be clearly visible directly ahead, and you'll most likely be able to see people on the rock outcrop at the top.  This is a great destination for a short out-and-back day hike.  Anthony's Nose offers a spectacular view of the Hudson 'fjord', exemplified by the USGS photo above.  This landmark was named after Anthony Van Corlaer, a 17th century trumpeter with a notably ample proboscis.

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