The original plan included hiking five miles today, staying overnight and then hiking nine miles tomorrow. Lynn called this morning to say she could only do today–no overnight. She is overwhelmed at home after driving for two days from Louisiana, working two days and then babysitting for her grandchildren. I have to admit; I am a bit relieved. I am worried about my left foot-currently taped by the podiatrist, and still tender on the bottom toward the front. The Dr. said it was OK to ‘try’ a hike, but what do I do if midway between stationed cars I can’t continue-especially for the 9 mile hike?
Lynn and I meet at Tiorati State Park at Arden Valley road to park one car, then drive to Elk Pen Parking to start the hike at 11:40. The heat is intense, and the air feels like syrup. We cross an open field through tall grass to start the hike. I move quickly to reach the shade of the woods. We meet a young couple who have recently moved to NYC. They ask us to recommend a hike at the sign pointing in several directions. We are headed to the ‘Lemon Squeeze’ and suggest they do the same. We cross paths again on their way back–truly a sweet couple. That word ‘sweet’ seems so cliché, but it simply fits!
The beginning of the trail is a significant ascent (for me at least) up Green Pond Mt. at 1180 feet change in elevation. We had planned on hiking it on the last hike. I am glad we waited. The trees block the sun, but the heat and humidity seep through with little change. Down the other side of the mountain, we reach Island Pond. A breeze greets us as the view opens onto a serene body of water framed by large rocks and trees. Lynn puts her feet in the water and finds it warmer than expected. Several people are kayaking and other young folks are swimming to the island in the middle. We enjoy fresh apricots I bought at the farmer’s market at the Thruway rest stop. The scenery and brief relief from the heat keep us seated for a few minutes, but we need to move on to make our 5+ miles today.
We meet ‘Just Nate’, a section hiker who started in Delaware water gap, is heading to Vermont, then skipping some of the trail to meet his brother for the last 100 miles in Maine. I give him the first of three large chocolate chip cookies’ I also bought at the farmers’ market to give to hikers–a mini trail angel offering for those on longer trips. Lynn also gives him some cherries. He is from outside Philly and is a student at SUNY Binghamton studying psychology and philosophy. This is day seven of the 45 days he has to complete his hike. He has seen two bears and tells us a tale of a friend capturing a picture of a copperhead as it struck his boot! We all marvel and wonder why he would stop to take a picture! ‘Just Nate’ hikes on with us a few steps, then disappears from sight.
I keep drinking to stay hydrated in my battle with the heat. Sweat drips from my forehead and soaks the front and back of my ‘wicking’ sleeveless shirt. This is very unusual for me, since I rarely sweat no matter how active I am or how hot it is. Pain in my foot is noticeable but not enough to stop. What appeared to be relatively flat land on the map ends up being a series of ups and downs.
We meet Mark, and ask if he is thru hiking. He responds ‘not yet!’ and we get our first dose of thru hiker humor! He explains he wanted his trail name to be his real name, so when people say “Hi Mark” he feels like they are old friends. I offer an ‘angel’ cookie and apricot and he cheerfully accepts! Mark appears to be in his mid-40s and thru hiked the AT in his youth, but wanted to do it again. He concedes it is harder this time. We move on while he stays and finishes his treats. Soon after we are out of sight we wish we had asked more questions: How old was he the first time? Did he do it alone? Any bear or snake stories now or then? He soon speeds past with a quick ‘hi again’, but we do not interrupt his obvious determined focus to get the answers.
The ‘Lemon Squeezer’-a narrow path between giant boulders-is next. We remove our packs to slip through-although it was probably unnecessary. A steep climb up the face of another boulder greets us on the other side. I have no idea how it can be done without rock climbing equipment! There is also an ‘easy route’ that goes around. Doable but not what I would call easy-a relative term. More ups and downs to the summit of Island Pond Mountain (1303 feet), then down again and up again to the summit of Surebridge mountain (1200 feet), then down again and across a stream. I am reminded of two special towels in my pack that are supposed to be cooling when wet. We wet them in the stream and drape them around our necks. Their brief coolness soon succumbs to the surrounding swelter.
After the stream, we climb yet another steep rocky incline with exposed tree roots that create natural steps. We need to stop midway up to catch our breaths and meet thru-hiker ‘Gear Dog’ from Billingham, Washington. He is with another thru-hiker from Virginia, but we don’t get his name. They share the last cookie and some cherries. While we are standing there, another hiker-tall, thin, pale, and very blond-races by the four of us with no exchange of eye contact or words, obviously solidly focused on the trail. We all hike on, but Gear Dog and friend quickly leave us in the dust. A few minutes later, we spot them at a high point far ahead. Are we really that slow?? Then I remember the words of a hiker we met earlier–“It’s not the miles, it’s the smiles!” I come up with my own quip: ‘It’s not the speed, it’s the deed!’ We are on our quest, and that matters most. (But I must admit, I do feel slow!). Miles today: 5.2