The one with a swim

June 22

15.7 miles, 1387.6 overall (William Brien Memorial shelter)
The morning comes too quickly. So many consecutive early days are taking a toll on me. Around 5:30 I get up and I’m hiking by 6:20.

It is still extremely hot. The original forecast of 2 days of unbearable beat was wrong, and today will be another hot one. This time the humidity is higher and before long I am drenched in sweat. It is disgusting. I can feel the almost week’s worth of grime on me. I’m not one who likes being dirty. My mom likes to tell stories about how when I was little I would cry when I fell down and got my hands dirty. Even today when at home I don’t go out until I’ve showered. Going this long without showering and cleaning my clothes is necessary on the AT but the heat is making it worse.

To make matters worse, the first few miles are tough PUD’s. Not only are the ups and downs pointless, they are also steep ups and downs on what look like cliff faces until you get close enough to see the trail routed up the cracks in them. These are worse than any smooth climb of the same grade because they require more concentration on foot placement and occasionally require you to actually climb. I make myself feel better by telling myself that this is simply training for Vermont and New Hampshire where these sorts of things will be more commonplace. New York is obviously just doing me a favor by getting me into shape for those tougher climbs yet to come.

Also along the trail are lots of stone walls. There were some in NJ too but there are more in NY. I wonder what they are. When I look it up later I find out that they were created by farmers who would turn up these rocks either by deforesting the area and thus exposing it to frost heave or they would encounter the rocks while tilling. Either way, they would get them out of the way by piling them along the property boundary. Just another interesting tidbit!

After almost 2 hours I find that I have only gone about 4 miles. This is a devastatingly slow pace. However things start to level out and my pace quickens when I reach Harriman State Park. The trail is obviously more well-traveled here and as a result it is better graded. It swings around a large lake and crosses the New York Long Path. This trail evidently begins in Manhattan, runs 52 miles to this spot, and then continues on to upstate NY. So never fear all you NYC backpackers, you have a backpacking trail right in your backyard!

Just a bit beyond the Long Path is the Lemon Squeezer. It is another of those close-together rock formations that are supposed to be a tight squeeze. I am skeptical since none of them so far have been very tight, however this one turns out to be an accurate description. I have to take off my pack and throw it up ahead of me in order to get through the obstacle! Once I complete it, since my pack is already off, I decide to stop for a snack. While I’m eating two more hikers arrive and negotiate the obstacle, but they keep their packs on. They look familiar but I don’t remember their names. They are Twigs and Backtrack. Later Twigs remembers that we first met on the cliffs looking back on Harper’s Ferry.

We all move along and leapfrog each other for a while until we reach a road that the data book tells us leads to Lake Tiorati and vending machines. Vending machines are usually placed at some sort of paviliony thing, which sounds like a good place to wait out the heat today. I head for the area 0.3 miles off the trail with Twigs and Backtrack not far behind.

At the area we find people grilling out. I hope for a yogi but don’t get one as I walk by. I head for the vending machines which are indeed in a pavilion which overlooks the swimming area at the lake. Next to the machines is a picnic table. Perfect! We claim our spots and prepare to sit for a while.

Twigs and Backtrack are excited about swimming. I’m not so excited about it. I’m not a big swimmer. It’s ok, but I just don’t enjoy it that much. However once they return they appear incredibly refreshed and visibly more energetic. I think about how bad I smell and the grime that is covering me and I start thinking about the swim less as an enjoyable activity and more as a necessary one. Luckily I have a swimsuit that I alternate with my workout shorts as either town clothes or pajamas. I change in the bathroom and head down to the water.

It is really cold. I expected a lake to be warmer. However I suppose the NY climate is a bit cooler. It takes a minute to get in but once I do I immediately feel better. I get my body underwater so people can’t see and then I vigorously start scrubbing with my hands, hoping people won’t notice the hiker taking his bath. After a minute I feel cleaner and also a good bit cooler despite the still intense heat.

Twigs and Backtrack take off soon after. I wait around a while longer, watching the adult barn swallows feed the babies in the nests they’ve made in the pavilion. I plan out my next section and start making plans for a visit to a friend in Massachusetts. Eventually I pack up and move on to tackle the 6 miles I have left.

On the way out again I hope for a quick yogi but apparently I now look too clean. I hit the trail and put on a Sherlock Holmes mystery, wondering what I’ll listen to once they are all over. I get about 2 miles before I hear it – thunder. I knew there were thunderstorms likely this afternoon but had hoped they would hold off another hour. I start moving faster, hoping to get to the shelter another mile away before it starts pouring. I make it there just as the rain gets heavy so I’m wet but not soaked through. When I arrive Twigs and Backtrack are waiting out the rain and watching a deer that is eating leaves just in front of the shelter and doesn’t give a hoot that we’re only several yards away.

The rain ebbs and flows in intensity. I quickly decide that the best course of action for me is to stay here for the night instead of trying to go another 3 miles to a shelter that is another 0.6 off the trail. I am disappointed because West Mountain shelter, the one I had been aiming for, had been recommended to me by another hiker at Partnership shelter in Virginia because of its view of the NYC skyline on clear days. I get over my disappointment by reminding myself that today is not a clear day and that I will get views of the skyline on tomorrow’s hike.

I’m also running low on water. I had planned to fill up in between shelters. To give myself more water for drinking I eat a no-cook dinner consisting of various snacks I haven’t eaten yet from my food bag. I leave a half liter for morning to get me to the next water. Since I don’t cook I am ready for bed early.

As I’m getting ready to sleep in the shelter a hiker named Critter shows up and Twigs and Backtrack hike on. Critter is quiet and we don’t talk much. He heads to bed early as well. There are 2 bunk beds on either side of the shelter and we each take the bottom bunk, hanging our wet clothes on the top bunk to dry as much as possible. I am just about asleep when around 9:00 I hear some noise outside. I look to see Scholar arriving. At first I think she is alone but then 2 more hikers show up. The other 2 decide to tent while Scholar takes the shelter floor. This is great because I don’t have to move my stuff. That is, until one more hiker shows up and wants the top bunk. I move my things, annoyed by their late arrival. Still, I can’t complain. It is a large shelter and there are only 4 of us in it. I hope for a good night’s sleep so I can wake up early and get to the post office before it closes tomorrow. I’ll need to cover 10 miles before 12 tomorrow but then I’ll have a town day on the Appalachian Trail.

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Categories: NY | 3 Comments

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3 thoughts on “The one with a swim

  1. Kory

    Not sure how fast news travels along the trail but your story gave me pause. A thru-hiker named Parkside passed away on June 15 in Maine. Initially assumptions are that he went swimming in really water that was colder than he expected after doing a lot of miles and potentially low electrolytes leading to shock or cramps. Crazy stuff.

    It’s a dangerous business… going out your door.

  2. Wow Kory! That is awful! Travis, stay safe. These extreme heat hiking days are scary. Remember to drink a lot and take it as easy as possible. Don’t want to have another casualty on the AT. Hope tomorrow is cooler. Happy Hiking!

  3. Just looked up the notice of the AT hiker death and found it here. Very sad.
    http://www.maine.gov/ifw/news_events/pressreleases/2012/06-15-12.htm

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