Month: April 2022

Return to Hiking on the AT

More than two months have passed since our last planned hike was cancelled due to Lynn’s son’s tragic accident. I hope the trail, moving in nature, and thinking, or not thinking, will take the edge off the pain, even if only briefly. I let her take the lead in conversation. I am not sure if she needs to talk or needs a break from talking. We chatter about small things between quiet stretches that feel right.

Today’s hike starts at the southern part of section 7, one mile from section 8. I park my car on the side of the road in the ‘parking area’ that looks like the rest of the side of the road. We will hike south through the rest of section 7 and to the end of section 8 at the intersection of Routes 9 and 403, near the Appalachian Grill and gas station. The day has turned sunny and warm and the humidity is setting in. I wish I had worn my sleeveless shirt, but I was misled by the cool temperatures when I left home around eight this morning.

The trail leads up a hill immediately. Stone walls are everywhere-from the ‘Revolutionary Era’ according to our guide book. We cross South Highland Road. The roads in this area are narrow and often unpaved. This morning I took a shortcut after the Bear Mountain Bridge from 9D to 9. It was one lane, unpaved and rumble strip rough. Parts of it were washed out on the hills, but still passable. Multiple giant estates with huge houses, extensive lawns and fields-many with horses grazing-sit back from the road. Some are rustic and others are highly manicured. Seems like big money for a small road and makes me wonder if these properties were purchased at a time when the area was less developed and land was cheap.

We climb Canopus hill and lose sight of the white trail blazes for a while, backtracking several times until we find them again. It seems one of the blazes indicates a left turn when the trail goes to the right. We double and triple check, but the blaze is apparently wrong!  The trail becomes rocky with some steep areas, but not the steepest we’ve encountered in this adventure. Our bodies are reminding us that it has been a while since we last hiked. The next section is along a flatter woods roads, a welcome change, and we make good time.

A large rock marks the intersection of Chapman Road and Old Albany Post Road and we use it to rest on and eat lunch. We have only met one other hiker so far today, a young man who started in Virginia and is heading to Vermont. Thru-hikers heading from Georgia to Maine have a small window of time before weather closes the trail and are well past this point by now. After lunch we meet ‘Chin Up’, a young woman that started in Maine in July and is hiking south to Georgia-a much less common direction. She plans to finish around Thanksgiving. Lynn gives her the M+M’s left over from lunch and she is extremely appreciative! She is from Utah, says Maine was very difficult with lots of wet boulders and falls. Today she is on her way to meet friends that took a break for a few days to visit family.

Further along the trail the woods become very quiet. There is no sound of distant traffic, no sound at all. My ears can feel the silence, as if the air pressure has changed. It stays that way for about 15 minutes before noise creeps back in. We pass the side trail to Graymoor Spiritual Center-where thru hikers are allowed to camp, but decide not to explore it.

We reach the end of section 8, realizing a ways back that Lynn left her keys to the truck in her purse in my car back at our starting point. We will call AAA, or maybe the police, or maybe find a ride to get back to my car. It feels inevitable that this finally happened. We have come close to forgetting on previous hikes.  We sit at an outside table at the Appalachian Grill while Lynn is trying to contact AAA. A truck with New Jersey plates pulls up and Lynn decides to ask for a ride, which makes me a bit nervous. The driver is bringing his brother and friend back to the AT after a break and we realize these are the friends ‘Chin Up’ is meeting! Then we see her approaching! The driver says he will give us a ride in a few minutes. A police car pulls up in the mean time and I head in that direction to see if they can help us so we don’t have to interfere with the reunion of the hikers. I meet the driver on my way and he assures me he doesn’t mind driving us. As we get into his SUV he apologizes for the smell from his brother’s gear, mentioning they “reeked” when they arrived from the trail. I try to guide the way to my car with my AT map, with few road names, and get confused. He finally puts the info into his phone’s GPS and we find we missed the turnoff. He appears less than enthusiastic about his brother’s hike, is not very responsive to questions, but truly seems OK with giving us a ride, even with the poor directions. Lynn tries to give him money for the ride and he refuses. He may not realize it, but he just became a ‘trail angel’ in our eyes.

We drive back to Lynn’s truck and continue on to a nearby sports bar. I devour delicious mushroom ravioli with sautéed garlic, spinach, sun-dried tomatoes and chicken. Lynn has a burger that looks good. Another day, another hike. Today: 6+miles.

What we don’t know is that this will be our last hike of the year and for a long time after due to multiple reasons. We did not make our planned 100 miles, but we made the effort to travel, meet, explore, and discover new places, people and challenges. The door remains open and more adventures lie ahead.

Bears in the Woods – continued

The sun had already started its long midsummer descent, and we still needed a place to camp.  We arrived with the dusk at a campsite, relieved to see two other people there.  Maybe they would rush to my aid if I screamed in the night! 

We set up the tent, found the tiny burbling puddle indicated on our map as the only nearby water source, filled our bottles and added the purifying, metallic tasting, iodine pills.  Damp wood thwarted Erik’s efforts to build a fire in the stone lined pit.  Our backpacks carried a small stove, but my anxious surveillance of the encroaching darkness prompted his continued attempts.  Finally, flames soared and we sat in a small pool of light.  At least now I could see what was coming to get me!  We dined on cheese and fruit, and chili warmed in and eaten from the cans. Then all food was stowed in a bag and hung on the tall metal post provided to keep it safe from bears.   As we walked to our two person tent, I wondered if I would be as safe as the food. 

Erik and I settled into our sleeping bags, in closer proximity than we had been since he was a small boy.  We talked a little, and then I fell asleep despite knowing that only a thin nylon wall stood between me and whatever crept beyond.  Each time I turned over in the night Erik startled awake with a tense “Mom, you OK?!”  He would later reveal that he kept dreaming I was outside the tent walking around.  My cub was obviously already a protector himself.

            Next morning, still in one piece, we retrieved our food, also still in one piece, from the bear pole, and hiked on.  The day steamed despite the shield of dense leaves overhead.  We fell into a comfortable mix of silence and occasional exchanges as we walked. This hike was longer than I was accustomed to, and at mid day fatigue suddenly poured over me like concrete.  I sank onto a nearby tree trunk and Erik gently encouraged me to keep drinking, even after my thirst had been quenched.  Fifteen minutes and two bottles of water later, energy eased back into my limbs.   It appeared that the beast of dehydration had come stalking this time.

            I had imagined this adventure, the first with my adult son, would be filled with conversations – about him, about me, about life.  Instead his quiet patience, support and concern expressed more – about him, about me, and about life – than I ever expected.   I not only made it through the night in the darkness of the woods, but did so knowing bears could be lurking outside our tent!  And, knowing Erik was by my side, slept in relative peace.  I had hiked thirteen miles in the company of my son and not only faced lifelong fears, but discovered unexpected courage within my own heart – along with the depth of generosity and love in his.