This is my original Appalachian Trail journal from 2001 (Edited for grammar).
It includes additions that were written sixteen years later (in 2017). These are in italics.
Saturday, August 11, 2001
Vernon, NJ to Wayayanda Shelter
Today’s Miles: 5.4
Trip Miles: 1335
A funny thing happened today.
I had walked far enough.
When I was climbing the ascent out of Vernon, it hit me like a bolt of lightning. I was suddenly satisfied with my hike – almost ready to go home, to an extent. I had walked as far as I needed to. It wasn’t a lack of the will to go on, surely, as this mountain was actually kind of easy.
Today was a great day, compared to some of the last few. I felt that I had absorbed the bulk of the experience – what was necessary to re-enter the “real world” with a new way of thinking, and that the only thing yet to experience was to flesh out the rest of the journey, to actually finish.
It was very weird. I don’t know. Maybe there was something in the chocolate frosted and chocolate glazed donuts at Dunkin’ Donuts this morning. Maybe there was something in the coffee that got me thinking. Maybe it was that girl behind the counter… ha!
I mentioned what I was thinking to Freebird this evening. He dismissed it as “crazy talk.” Good ol’ Freebird. He’s probably right.
I just don’t know.
The luxuries of town were just so nice that I didn’t want to leave – the heat and bugs had been especially oppressive as of late. I felt as though I already had a full experience – I found everything I was looking for, so to speak.
The act of “finishing” the trail was the only thing that was missing, and I guess I just didn’t want to have to hike 800 more miles to do it.
Sunday, August 12, 2001
Today’s Miles: 0
Trip Miles: 1335
The mosquitoes were nasty again last night. I’ve adopted a zero tolerance policy for the little buggers. I found myself getting up and pitching my tent well after dark – after I realized they’d be a nuisance for the night.
Freebird had the same idea and pitched his tent after me. I didn’t even know it until morning. It rained as dawn broke, and it was relaxing to listen to it hit the fly, as I was nice and cozy and dry in my tent.
I took a zero day here today. I’m not quite sure why – just mulling things over, I guess. Dolphin Boy, Indian Summer, and Groovy passed through, pushing for the New York border. Spyro is spending the night here.
I’m feeling awkwardly displaced on the trail – many of my friends are drifting farther and farther ahead.
Somebody wrote something quite amusing in the register here that I’d like to share with you- “Remember the phrase ‘No pain, no rain, no Maine? Well, it should have been… No pain, no rain, no stinking armpit in the seventh level of hell HOT, no Maine” I liked that. Life is good.
Monday, August 13, 2001
Wawayanda Shelter to Greenwood Lake, NY
Today’s Miles: 9.9
Trip Miles: 1344.9
The terrain was rough today, with all sorts of small cliffs and boulders to tackle. I passed into the state of New York, marked by a small register in the middle of a rocky ridge.
I was still confused about whether or not to stay on the trail, not knowing what to do with myself. Every step dragged on, tearing myself up between the two options. It was perhaps my lowest point of the whole trip, psychologically.
I chose to go into Greenwood Lake for the night, not even sure exactly why I was doing it. Pure silliness. I road-walked the narrow shoulder on the dangerous curving mountain road into town. I wasn’t even motivated enough to stick out my thumb.
I checked the only motel listed in town – apparently closed on Mondays. It was getting late and dark. A local referred me to another place, about a mile out of town.
The town of Greenwood Lake itself seemed old and dilapidated. Most of the establishments seemed to be out of business, and those that were in business all had desperate “help wanted” signs posted.
The place I was referred to didn’t have any rooms either. The guy at the desk there called two more places in the area for me. The Warwick Motel – in a completely different town altogether – had a vacancy, but it was five miles away. Another place within walking distance didn’t answer the phone.
It was dark out. I walked to the one nearby that didn’t answer the phone, and there I was greeted by perhaps the best hospitality along the whole trail. It was an old, antique style hotel, but wholly comfortable, sitting right on the lake. Life is good.
This was the New Continental Hotel.
I ordered a pizza and two liters of Coke, and ate it all in front of the tv in the lobby area, watching Independence Day. Wow, my morale suddenly shot through the roof! More trail magic! It’s all good again.
I’d walked two miles off of the trail to get to town, and then maybe another additional mile to get to its far end. The woman that ran the hotel was so kind to me. She must have picked up on the fact that I was feeling down, and since I was 20 years old her maternal instincts kicked in. Or maybe she was just happy to have some business in this seemingly vacant little town.
Sitting and watching the movie Independence Day was oddly inspiring. Maybe it was all the pizza and Coke I consumed (Probably the Coke), but all the positive vibes in the movie about mankind overcoming adversity really helped turn my attitude around. Combined with the kindness and hospitality I received there, I was ready to tackle to the rest of the Appalachian Trail – or at least give it a good try.
Tuesday, August 14, 2001
Greenwood Lake, NY to Unnamed Campsite
Today’s Miles: 10.2
Trip Miles: 1355.1
I ate a great breakfast, alone in a huge window-lined dining room looking out over the peaceful Greenwood Lake. I could have stayed there all day, but alas, there is hiking to be done.
After a brief tour of the antiques around the hotel, the innkeeper gave me a much appreciated ride back up to the trailhead. It turns out that I slept in the room that Babe Ruth used to frequent! Sweet!
It oddly felt like autumn up on the ridge. A lot of leaves were down. I guess many of them died off in the hellish heatwave, and then the recent rain brought them down.
This was a beautiful stretch of trail. I passed an excellent spot for a view around lunchtime. The view was supposed to offer an occasional glimpse of the tips of the New York City skyscrapers, but I saw nothing of the sort on this hazy day.
I walked half a mile down a road this afternoon to a deli for a Coke (What else?) and met Klipspringer there – the first hiker thru-hiker I saw all day. Things are getting pretty deserted back here.
I’m camping in a random spot tonight with Spyro – we each have our tents set up on spongy beds of moss… ahhhhh. The mosquitoes are still terrible though, and I had to pace back and forth up the trail while chewing my dinner in order to avoid them chewing me as their dinner! At least it’s not as hot anymore. Life is good.
The setting at Greenwood Lake provided for one of the best breakfasts I had on the trail. A light wind caused some waves to ripple over the water, and it was mesmerizing to sit and watch as they lapped against the shore.
When I took my first break on the trail today, I took a moment to pull out the small rock I’d carried all the way here from Springer Mountain. Seeing that rock and holding it was motivating, and I took a picture of it there in the palm of my hand.
The overlook where you’re supposed to be able to see New York City was called the Mombasha High Point. It was a hazy day and I couldn’t see anything, but I suppose the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center were out there somewhere in my line of sight…
At camp this evening I did, indeed, pace back and forth while eating on my feet. The mosquitoes were just that bad, and the act of eating my dinner (bagels and peanut butter) in this fashion is usually the first memory that pops into my head when I think of bugs on the Appalachian Trail.
Wednesday, August 15, 2001
Campsite to William Brien Shelter
Today’s Miles: 11.5
Trip Miles: 1366.6
I got up fairly late again today for some reason, but as soon as I started hiking I felt good.
Walking along a creek and passing a pond, I entered Harriman State Park and began climbing up to the famous lemon squeezer.
The lemon squeezer is a very narrow crevice between some huge boulders – the trail decidedly goes straight through the rocks. When I say narrow I mean narrow – and the footing was a little tricky too.
It would have been quite a sight to see me squeeze and squirm my way through it, not to mention the pretty words that came out my mouth as a bonus! I seriously thought I’d be stuck for a moment, but I came out clean as a whistle on the other end.
The trail from there meandered through some beautiful woods with green, flowing grasses on the forest floor along the ridge-line… as opposed to the typical thick, tangled, strangling undergrowth.
I later went half a mile off the trail to the Lake Tiorati public picnic area. The site featured a big lake, a small man-made beach, and day trippers from New York City… but most importantly, a soda and snack machine!
While down there and enjoying some small goodies, I met Bodily Function, Mounds, and Almond Joy. One of them was flipping out with culture shock because of the crowd of people and screaming young kids – I mean, he literally couldn’t take it anymore and hurried back into the woods as soon as possible. This is what the trail does to some of us!
I hurried back to the woods myself, but later toward the evening. The shadows grew long in that pre-sunset sort of way through the same, beautiful grassy woods as this afternoon. This camping area is wide and picturesque too, and I’m enjoying a campfire tonight with a father and two sons who are out only for one night. It’s so nice to have a fire – I can’t remember the last time I did. It’s a perfect night. Life is good.
Thursday, August 16, 2001
William Brien Shelter to Graymoor Monastery
Today’s Miles: 15.4
Trip Miles: 1382
“Paint the fence, Daniel-san. Up… down. Up… down.
No no, like this. Up… down. Up… down.
Very good Daniel-san.
Do all the fence. Both side.”
(Walks away, but heard in distance)
“UP! DOWN! UP! DOWN! UP! DOWN!” AYE!”
With four somewhat significant climbs today, that was the extent of it. Up! Down!
Black Mountain, West Mountain, Bear Mountain… oh yeah. I was up relatively early this morning, on this humid day.
Crossing the Palisades Parkway was kind of cool. I don’t know why. It was just cool. Maybe ’cause it goes into New York City. Is the interstate in any way related to the “Palisades Park” in the oldie song?
The trail brought me right through Bear Mountain State Park, and the old Bear Mountain Inn. The whole area was crowded, being a vacation-type getaway place for much of New York City’s finest. So it was essentially crowded with loud people. Fortunately I was oblivious to them, as I had more important matters to attend to.
The cafeteria in the inn.
It was getting late by the time I was finished gorging my belly – late being five o’clock in the afternoon. I hoped to hike seven more miles, and it’s been getting dark earlier these days.
As I made my way through the park toward the Hudson River, a little boy on a bike asked how far I’d come. I told him from Georgia, of course.
“Daddy!” he called over to a picnic bench, “He’s another one!” The dad and I exchanged a few pleasantries in raised voices – I had to yell my responses to him, with about thirty yards of space that separated us. He motioned for me to walk over to him.
“You sleep in the bushes?” he asked me.
“Yeah, I usually camp out,” I answered.
“Damn!” he said, looking at me like I was a ghost. “And you’re going all the way to Maine?”
At that, he made some grimacing noises as if he was in pain.
“And you came from Georgia?”
“In the bushes?”
“Yes, in the woods.”
More grimacing noises, then sort of a bewilderment as another question came to his mind.
“And what do you eat, in the bushes?”
“Pop tarts, bagels, peanut butter, honey, Snickers…”
Then he started laughing as something occurred to him.
“HOO hoo, and don’t you worry, what if, HOO HA, what if a bear or something takes an INTEREST, HAHA, in your tent at night? Man! In the bushes!”
“That rarely happens,” I said.
“I’d mess my trousers! HAHA! Out there in the bushes?! Do you have a gun? A weapon?”
Then taking on a serious look, shaking his head-
“Nothing?! Oh, you’re a brave man, I tell you, in the bushes like that…”
The conversation went on quite like that for about twenty minutes or so, until I was finally dismissed.
Crossing the Hudson River on the Bear Mountain Bridge was awesome. The bridge itself is about a half-mile wide, and the wind was blowing furiously over the river, adding drama to the crossing. Cars passed by in both directions as I looked out over the water, feeling the wind. I enjoyed it very much. This is also the lowest elevation along the whole trail, at about 150 feet or so above sea level.
Inevitably I was soon climbing straight back up, and it felt as though my gorge-fest from the cafeteria wanted to climb straight back up too, so I sat and took a long break, which I really couldn’t afford to do, as daylight was fading. I hiked the last mile or so in the dark.
I’m staying tonight at the ballfield at the Graymoor Monastery. The friars here have been taking in hikers for years. I set up my tent to avoid the ever present mosquitoes of death, even though it looks like rain tonight. Life is good.
It was a significant accomplishment for me at this point to do almost 16 miles over the notoriously tough little peaks approaching Bear Mountain. Because of this, I ended up catching a significant crew of straggling thru-hikers at the Graymoor Monastery.
The Monastery housed a group of some sort of Christian monks that had been taking in hikers for decades. I didn’t seek out any of their hospitality and simply camped on their property. The guidebook in 2001 says that the establishment was called the “Graymoor Spiritual Life Center, home of the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement and birthplace of the Christian Unity movement.”
The trail-side Bear Mountain “zoo” was famous among thru-hikers (Or infamous?) with its display of caged animals that included a black bear. I passed through there when it closed after 5pm, so I missed out on that experience.
Friday, August 17, 2001
Graymoor Monastery to Clarence Fahnestock State Park
Today’s Miles: 11.8
Trip Miles: 1393.8
It rained overnight. No matter.
When I stumbled out of my tent, it was grey, foggy, and dismal, as it would remain throughout much of the day. I was told that The Amazing Dolphin Boy and Indian Summer stayed here last night, but were gone well before I got going. I’d like to see them again.
Yahtzee, Nathan, Beer Styk, and I played leap-frog all afternoon – they’d pass me, I’d pass them, they’d pass me, etc. The humidity was oppressive again, and the woods were soaked from the rain – the moisture had nowhere to evaporate to. Hiking on this day wasn’t exactly pleasurable, and my energy was at a low.
My lunch “break” was a matter of hours, near Dennytown Road. We got to complaining and feeling sorry for ourselves there, laughing at our hopelessness. Yahtzee said “Anybody that’s back here has to be @#$%ing crazy to still be trying to make Katahdin this season!” pretty much speaking aloud what I’ve feared for a little while now. T
The four of us were in the same boat – here in New York past mid August, coming from Springer, and too stubborn to fip-flop. Flip-flopping, for a practical explanation, is to jump up from a point on the trail to Katahdin, then hike back south to where you left off.
For example, I’d hitchhike from here at Dennytown Road up to Maine, summit Katahdin, then hike back south and finish my thru hike at the road sometime in October, beating the cold weather in the north. I’m sure I could do just that and successfully finish, no sweat, but there’s no way that I want to complete my thru hike at some place like Dennytown Road. I mean, really. Come on.
So yeah, while complaining about the state of affairs, it suddenly appeared that a big black cloud was heading this way, preparing to dump a big ol’ thunderstorm on us. It was as if to say “You think you’ve got problems now? Ha! Well, take this!”
The wind picked up and the sky grew dark, but no storm came. Maybe it was just a warning, a knock to our senses.
The latter part of the day was just as undesirable as the first – even more so. The trail was thick and overgrown, and the footing and blowdowns were bad as well. It hadn’t been maintained recently. All the wet branches and leaves continuously brushed up against me.
With my spirits low, I decided to spend the night off the trail at a public campground, as I wasn’t going to make it farther by dark and I was in no mood for night hiking.
I set up my tent to stealth camp on an unregistered site, out of view. I met a pair of kind couples there for a weekend vacation – they brought everything to their campsite for the weekend but the kitchen sink. Amazingly I was invited to share their dinner with them, and was served steak and potatoes! Did I say steak!? Wow! I enjoyed a wonderful evening with them, around a fire with commercial firewood and all. Life is good.
Saturday, August 18, 2001
Clarence Fahnestock State Park to Morgan Stewart Shelter
Today’s Miles: 16
Trip Miles: 1409.8
It was chilly again last night. The nights feel cold to me, because I still don’t carry a sleeping bag since I sent my twenty-degree bag home back in Troutville, Virginia. I’ve been getting by, as I have a system that does the job. Nevertheless, it will be nice when I get my sleeping bag back.
The campground has a snack bar with hot dogs, fries, and cheeseburgers and the like, so it was a late but satisfied start for me. With a road leading to a deli and pizzeria in twelve miles, my motivation was high all day long. It was a beautiful Saturday, and I was in a great mood. It must have been the Coke from the snack bar! Haha!
I didn’t see a northbound hiker all day long – only three southbounders.
“I have to be mad to still be going to Katahdin!” One of my favorite past times is doing the long division to figure out the average miles I have to do every day in order to finish before heavy snow hits in Maine.
The average keeps getting higher.
So I went down off the trail to this pizzeria around six thirty. I ate a whole medium pizza, no problem, but the important thing to note is that the guys working there were Yankees fans, and they had the game on. I sat transfixed to see the Yankees rally in the very end, but still lose after a good game against the Mariners.
It was dark by the time I hit the trail again, intending to night-hike four miles to the next shelter. The night was just as beautiful as the day had been. I came to a small dead-end road, and stepped out onto the pavement in the dark when a dog came violently charging at me!
It was fiercely bounding to attack and showed no sign of halting. I leapt back immediately and stuck out my stick in a defensive pose, ready to fight this thing if it went for me. It was big and mean too, and my life (Err, uh, hike) flashed before my eyes in an instant.
I was just about to jab the point of my stick into its lunging throat when the owner, out of nowhere, called it back in a loud, mean, commanding voice, and the dog instantly turned back. The owner continued to yell at it and scold it in the formerly quiet night air, and never acknowledged my presence. I wonder if he even saw me at all, but he surely must have.
I continued on through the darkness, thankful but thoroughly frightened and on edge for three more miles until I set up my tent and crawled inside of it for the night. Life is good.
The back pages of my journal were filled with long division – calculating how many miles I had to average per day to make to Katahdin by October 15th.
Just for fun I’ll do it again posthumously (With a calculator), and from Morgan Stewart Shelter it looks as though I’d have to average 13.2 miles every day to summit Katahdin on October 15th. That’s still doable I suppose, but all the roughest terrain of the trail lies ahead in New Hampshire and Maine.
Sunday, August 19, 2001
Morgan Stewart Shelter to Wiley Shelter
Today’s Miles: 16.6
Trip Miles: 1426.4
I spent most of the morning hanging out with the others that stayed in the shelter, two guys and the one’s son. They were cool people and were just out for a night or two, for the young one’s first backpacking trip. I didn’t get going until somewhat late, which was okay, because I was excited that today would be my last full day in New York.
I passed Nuclear Lake and took a quick break at the Telephone Pioneers Shelter. Yes, the lake was contaminated years ago with radioactive materials, and as far as the telephone pioneers… well, your guess is as good as mine!
There was a huge oak tree at a road crossing called the Dover Oak, supposedly the thickest tree on the whole trail. It was monstrous, with limbs thicker than all the forest around it. I personally preferred the “Keffer” oak back in Virgina, though… it just had a better vibe to it or something – I don’t know.
The footpath then went two miles through the valley and some marshy fields until I came to Appalachian Trail Station – the trail’s very own train station for a line to New York City! It had the appearance of a bus stop rather than a train station, but was quite random and cool nonetheless.
I then meandered through some picturesque hay fields in the twilight before ascending back into the mountains again. The last five miles to the shelter were incredibly easy, and I had to night-hike some of it before getting to the shelter.
Just as it reached the point of darkness where I had to put my headlamp on, I came to an extremely creepy, isolated graveyard on the ridge. An old, iron archway forbiddingly stood in front of it, and had the words “Gate of Heaven” engraved in it. I didn’t stick around long to explore the place.
I was greeted at the shelter well after dark by a group of about five southbound thru-hikers, hanging out and playing a simple game. I stayed up another hour or so with them. They were great company, but it made me miss my northbound friends who are up ahead – I may not see them again on this hike.