The wind continued through the night, but the skies remained clear. I got up early, enjoying a wonderful sunrise as I sipped tea and ate oatmeal. We took our time getting on the trail. The hike was easy, mostly flat, and it became clear early on that Shari’s dog was going to be a problem. The mutt was part Lab, part Basset Hound. His short legs made it difficult for him to navigate boulders and the rocks were tough on his pads, but he was devoted to Shari and she loved him, referring to him as “The Best.” I’d been concerned when I learned she was bringing the dog, but she was sure the dog would be fine and could carry his own. She had purchased him a pack, in which he carried his food and a water dish. Shari tried to get him to drink treated water, but the dog didn’t have anything to do with iodine-flavored water, preferring to drink out of creeks. We made a short day of it, stopping after only ten miles, camping just south of Flatbrook Road. I continued to read The Genesee Diary along with Augustine’s Confessions. Shari and I also spent a lot of time talking about the trail, about Bowser, about life, about politics and religion.
We took it easy the next day. When we set out, I had Bowser’s pack strapped to the top of mine. We hiked a little over 7 miles, arriving at Brink’s Road Shelter just before the skies opened. It felt good to sit inside a shelter as a rain poured and lightning cracked. We decided to stay in the shelter for the night… Since Shari joined me, I’ve noticed that I’ve not been reading or writing as much. But I’ve been thinking a lot and have enjoyed our conversations, having not had such discussions since Reuben left at Harpers Ferry. We’d barely known each other, except that we’d both planned to spend the summer hiking and decided we’d try it together. We were not doing it as a couple, and kept those boundaries, even though I often found myself mesmerized by her smile. We’re both in school, working on advanced degrees. Shari already has a Masters in Media Relations and is now in law school. But we’re also so different. I’m Presbyterian and she’s Jewish, although doesn’t consider herself religious. Yet, we had lots of interesting religious discussions and I was fascinated to learn of her family’s experience with the holocaust. She tells me about a family trust, from her grandparents, that she’ll inherit but only if she marries another Jew. Her prospects haven’t looked good as she’s dated atheists, Baptists and Buddhists. I jokily tell her I’d convert for a little while. We also talk about politics, about the writings of Ayn Rand, pitting the author’s heartless capitalism against a faith that calls us to transcend worldly values to a different plain of morality.
Shari is also a vegetarian. As she’d brought her own food, this has been no problem, but I’ve not been eating much meat along the trail either. As I’m fixing dinner, a Lipton Chicken Noodle package, Shari reads the ingredients and is horrified that there is no meat product in it even though it’s advertised as “Chicken noodles.” We have a good laugh even though I’m sure I’m consuming plenty of unsavory chemicals. During the night, Bowser got sick again.
July 2 started off cool and rainy. Shari decides that they can’t continue. I suggest we forgo breakfast and hike to US 206, where there is supposedly a restaurant and store. It’s a three and a half mile hike and we arrive by 9:30 AM and enjoy an late morning breakfast. Shari talks to the owner, who arranges for someone to give her a ride into Port Jarvis. She calls her brother, but he’s not able to pick her up until the following moring, so she also makes a reservation at the Holiday Inn for the night. We say our goodbyes and I store Shari pack in a stranger car and then shoulder my own as we depart ways. I hike on. After nine miles, I stop for lunch and to dry off from the rain at Mashipacong Shelter, spending some time writing about hiking with Shari along with reflections of Nouwen’s book and on hiking. For some reason, I am now repulsed at the macho ideal of the individual hiker conquering the trail. Even though I hike and endure my sufferings alone, there are many others before me who have paved the way, including all the trail crews who make this possible. Although an individual feat, it’s still a group effort.
I leave the dry comfort of Mashipacong Shelter behind and head on north. I make good time as it’s too cold to stop. I wear my rain jacket for warmth and think about the hermit that Nouwen visits in The Geneses Diary, who praises the rain and says we should always be happy when it rains and willing to get wet, for its’ the Lord sharing his blessing. I would like a little less blessing. I stop again, this time at High Point, the tallest mountain in New Jersey and warm up in the Ranger’s Station. I then use the payphone outside to call Debbie and check in and let her know that it looks like I’d be hiking alone to Katadhin. It’s a short call and she seemed distant. I wonder if she was upset with me over hiking with Shari. I then called Eric to see about my next mail drop, but he wasn’t in, so I leave a message. Then I called the Holiday Inn in Port Jarvis. Shari and Bowser had arrived safely and were enjoying the rainy day inside a hotel room.
Leaving High Point, I hike down down it’s north flank, stopping for the night at the High Point Shelter, only a mile away. It’s been a good mileage day as I’ve hiked nearly 20 miles. Slim Jim and Daddy Long Legs are there. I though they were further up the trail as my mileage had dropped with Shari along, but then I learn that they’d had a long and interesting evening in town to celebrate Jim’s 21st birthday and they too hadn’t been up to the long miles.
The rain continued and the next day the three of us set out. We took a half mile side trip into Unionville for an early lunch. The skies then cleared and the cool rain gave way to steamy heat. According to the data book, we hiked 23.5 miles, but we probably covered another 3 or so miles with our side trip and a detour around a sod farm (definitely the most uninteresting part of the trail so far as we walked 2/3 the way around a field that had to be a square mile in an attempt to keep us off the road for another mile). Walking along the sod farm was hot as there was no shade to be found. It’s July 3 and we can hear the sound of fireworks in the distance, a preamble to the next days celebration.
New York State freeway
On July 4th, we hike 16 miles to Fitzgerald Falls, arriving mid-afternoon. It’s cool and refreshing by the water and we notice two women walk up. Daddy Long Legs and I put on a show, talking about how nice it would be to have a few beers for the Fourth and in a few minutes one of the women catches on and offers me a ride into town. I leave my pack with Slim and Daddy Long Legs and jump into Sue’s car, a Honda CRX which she drives like a race car driver. We fly into town and I pick up a couple of six packs. Heading back, we drop the extras into the cold water and the five of us begin drinking the cold beers which taste good after the long and hot day. While I was riding with Sue, Slim and Daddy Long Legs were talking to JoAnne, who invited us all to a party. We’d planned on hiking another two miles and camping at an overlook of New York City, but the promise of food and drinks and a bonfire sounded more exciting than watching the fireworks on the horizon.
JoAnne and her husband Bob own a 30 acre mini-farm right next to the AT. The evening started out wonderful, with all kinds of food and drinks. We talked for a while with Bob about his Vietnam experiences, roasted hotdogs over the bonfire and shot off firecrackers. As more and more drinks were consumed, a fight breaks out between Jo and her husband. The three of us look at each other and whispered about heading back into the woods, but with a swell of cursing, Bob goes inside and crashes. Everyone else were leaving when JoAnne came back out and said her husband was sleeping and offered to put us up for the evening or to have us sleep on the porch. We asked if, instead, we couldn‘t sleep out under a pavilion that was away from the house, saying we’d be gone early the next morning.
We didn’t leave as early as we’d planned the next morning, none of us exactly ready to jump out of bed, but we were on the trail at 7:30 AM and hadn’t heard anything stir at the house. We heading passed Mombasha High Point, where we had thought we’d camp the evening before in order to watch the New York City fireworks. On a clear day, you are suppose to see the Manhattan skyline, but the day is hazy and humid and we can’t make it out. We cross the New York State freeway, filled with six lanes of traffic which seems odd for midday on a Sunday. We then continue on through Harriman State Park with its beautiful hemlocks and straw covered grown. The interpretative signs tell us about the importance of iron mining at this site, especially during the Civil War. Daddy Long Legs and I joke about the that iron being made into cannon balls to lop at our great-great granddaddies. One of the highlights of the trail is the “lemon squeeze,” where the trail goes through a house sized boulder split in half. You have to squeeze through it, without your packs and we all end up with bloody knees for our effort. Later, we find a water tower that is overflowing and we all take cold showers. We stop at a grill for hamburgers and I call Charles, a friend in New York who's also a hiker, but he’s unable to make it out as he has to be at work early the next morning.
We stop for the evening at the William Brien Memorial Shelter after hiking 20 miles. Camping with us is Bill, a guy I’d meet briefly back at Harpers Ferry. He’s taken the trail name “Shiloh,” a name given to him by Doug, “The AT Believer” who’d asked him what the most important battle in the Civil War and he’d suggested Shiloh. Shiloh is a teacher in Memphis and had attended Westminster Theological Seminary for a few years. I told him I couldn’t image studying there, that I had an image of the Orthodox Presbyterians being too self-righteous and thinking too highly of their own piety that it couldn’t have been much fun. He laughed and said that whenever there was too much God-talk in the cafeteria, there was a custom where someone would stand up and shout, “Princeton Rules” and everyone would know to change the subject. Westminster was founded in the 1920s, when a few professors felt the older school had become too liberal and left Princeton to form Westminster.
I woke early on July 6, dreaming of my ex-wife. It’s been two years since I’d last seen her, at a school reunion, and over four years since we’d split up. In the dream, she was married to the guy she’d married the day after the divorce was final and we ran into each other and we each began to brag about how good life had been for us since the split. I woke up troubled. It was my second dream I’d had about her along the trail. I got on up and packed and fixed breakfast, oatmeal and tea, and got an early start along the trail. Sunrise was beautiful. Along the way, I saw an owl and a turkey.
I arrived at the tower on Bear Mountain at 8:45 AM and it didn’t open till 9, so I took a break. Jim and Daddy Long Legs arrived at the tower as I was leaving. I told them of my plans of staying at Graymoor Monastery and of trying to get into Peekskill to get my boots repaired, again. They planned to continue on, so we said our goodbyes, knowing we’d meet back up again. I saw them later, around noon, at a picnic area just outside the zoo. Harry, a police officer from the Bronx was there with his family and we’d started talking and he’d invited me to have lunch with his family. He’d had to work the fourth of July weekend, so was now taking time off with his family and they’d come out to Bear Mountain to escape his “jungle.” I asked about how it was to be a police officer in the Bronx and he said his precinct had four murders on the Fourth. He gave me a hamburger fresh off the grill along with chicken wings and a beer. While I was eating, Slim and Daddy Long-legs came by, their mouths watering.
Hikes along the AT in the Summer of 1987Hiking the AT in Northern Virginia
Duncannon to Delware Water Gap (the hike before this one)
Hiking the Berkshires, Massachusetts
Sugarloaf Mt, Maine
Photos of the trail in PA