Friday, October 30, 2015

Day 97: Revolutionary War Explorations

June 12: Although I was in a hotel with the curtains closed, I still woke up at the crack of dawn. Trail habits die hard! Most of the morning I spent working, catching up with emails and messages, but eventually we had to check out. It was Friday now, and the cost of the hotel was about to skyrocket for the weekend. We needed to move to cheaper digs.

Our first stop for the day was at Fort Montgomery where fledgling American troops battled the British during the Revolutionary War. The fort was a short jump off the Appalachian Trail along the banks of the Hudson River, although I still had a number of miles to hike before I'd reach that point. With Amanda driving, though, I could see it early. =)

Most of the building that made up Fort Montgomery have long faded into ruins, but the foundations are still quite clear!

The battle isn't one I'm particularly familiar with. I don't remember learning about it in school, and George Washington never fought there so nobody probably cares about it. It probably didn't help that Americans soundly lost the battle as well. People don't tend to dwell on battles they've lost. However! The silver lining--if you really want one--is that although Americans did lose the battle, it delayed the British--who were heading up the Hudson River--they were delayed just enough so that they didn't arrive in time at Saratoga allowing Americans to win that battle which was a huge victory and is mentioned in history textbooks all over the country. Even in California where I grew up. =)

Anyhow, Amanda and I spent a couple of hours wandering around the old fort, reading all of the interpretive signs and watching the video at the visitor's center. It's all very well done and includes some nice views overlooking the Hudson River.

Then we stopped at a nearby deli for lunch where we bumped into Focus, a thru-hiker I met briefly a day or two earlier. We were definitely in thru-hiker country!

Ultimately, the closest hotel we could find that was within our price range was way down just over the border in New Jersey, so that's where we started driving.

Until we detoured, veering a short ways off our drive to hit the Stony Point Battlefield and Lighthouse. This was another Revolutionary War battle that I'd never heard of before, but this one was a resounding victory for the Americans. (Go America!) It was a short battle that relied on darkness and stealth to overwhelm British forces before they knew what hit them. George Washington even dropped by for a visit after the battle had already been won, but they decided that they couldn't hold Stony Point once the British came back with reinforcements and abandoned it almost immediately after winning the battle.

Which isn't to say that the battle was useless. American forces did capture a bunch of guns, cannons and ammunition, along with a bunch of prisoners of war that could be traded or otherwise taken out of action. But in the grand scheme of things, the battle didn't really amount to much which is why I probably never heard about it in my formative school years.

After spending another hour or so exploring this area, we jumped into the rental car and continued on to our Super 8 just over the border in New Jersey. We ate dinner at a nearby restaurant (named "Boom" if I remember correctly). The food was fine, but I was kind of put out by how loud the place was. What's wrong with a nice, quiet dinner? *shaking head*

And the rest of the night, I got back on my laptop and worked on stuff like this blog! =)

Amanda makes a new friend! =) This was taken during a brief stop at the Bear Mountain Inn--which is located ON the Appalachian Trail. Just a sneak peak of what I'll be hiking through later! =)

Flowering trees at Stony Point Battlefield and Lighthouse

The battle at Stony Point was more fascinating than the lighthouse, but it's known for the lighthouse too! Amanda walks by to get a great view down the Hudson River.

View down the Hudson River. New York City is out there on the horizon somewhere!

The entrance for Stony Point State Park.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Day 96: The Lemon Squeezer!

June 11: The humidity and heat must have rolled in during the night, because even early in the morning, it was miserably hot. The trail wasn't a cake walk either, with lots of tough climbs, drops and scrambling.

The scrambling, as bad as it was, peaked when we reached the dreaded Lemon Squeezer. I always added the word "dreaded" because it made it sound so horrible and I liked the idea of freaking out the other thru-hikers--aren't I sweet? =) But the truth was--the Lemon Squeezer is actually quite fun. It's a large boulder that cracked eons ago and the trail runs right up through the narrow crack. The crack is narrow, but still a couple of feet wide in most places which would hardly make anyone claustrophobic.

No, it's not the narrowness of the crack that makes it difficult--it's the fact that the crack is tilted slightly off from vertical so you can't stand up straight in it. Imagine a crack barely wide enough for you to fit through comfortably, then knock it over about 10 degrees and try to get through. You scrape the sides of the crack, not really able to stand and walk at the same time, and you end of slithering through the crack more like a snake moving sideways.

It's a short section, probably not more than about 20 feet long, and entirely possible to just walk around the whole thing if fitting through the Lemon Squeezer doesn't appeal to you. But I loved it--it was something different than the normal.

When I arrived, there was no one else around. I took a few photos of the Lemon Squeezer, but without someone in it, the pictures just looked like normal rocks and not particularly interesting. I really wanted a photo of someone in the Lemon Squeezer, so I took off my pack, sat down on a rock, and waited. I knew McGuyer wasn't far behind me and I figured he'd be along within minutes.

And sure enough, he arrived about 10 minutes later. Actually longer than I expected it to take, but he arrived. I took a couple of quick photos just as he was entering the Lemon Squeezer, pouncing like a member of the paparazzi. Then I started taking a video because I wasn't really sure that simple photos could capture how tricky it was to get through the Lemon Squeezer. It looks deceptively easy, but turns out to be a lot more difficult than first impressions would suggest.

And sure enough, McGuyer struggled to get through the crack, taking about a minute and a half to get through. I did have to warn him to watch his cussing, though, since I was taking a video. ;o)

After he got through, we continued down the trail together, but we hadn't even walked for a minute or two before the white blazes led up a steep cliff. There was a bypass around it available, but both McGuyer and I wanted to stay true to the trail and go up the cliff. It would be a fun little challenge.

We examined the cliff and each of us had our own ideas about the best way to scramble up it. I was thinking about how to get up if I had been by myself but McGuyer was smart--since we were together, he was figuring out how to get up without his pack--then have me heft it up to him once he was already up--which is what we did.

Then I handed up my own pack before scaling the small cliff myself. McGuyer put out his hand for me to help me up, but I deferred preferring the steadiness of the solid rock.

We made it up and continued hiking together for the rest of the afternoon. The Lemon Squeezer is located in Harriman State Park, and much of the terrain included a thick carpet of grass around the trees. It was kind of strange to see, but nice. Most of the time, the vegetation below the trees is a bunch of brambles and visibility is limited, but here it was just grass and we could see a surprisingly long distance despite being in the trees.  I liked it. =)

My day's hike ended at Arden Valley Road where Amanda had parked the rental car and was waiting for my arrival. We gave McGuyer a ride a short ways down the road to a beach with some vending machines and other facilities, then Amanda and I drove off to find a hotel near Bear Mountain. Hotels in Bear Mountain were quite a bit out of our budget, but we found something acceptable in nearby Highland Falls.

Today, sadly, would be the last time I'd see any of the Four Horsemen. I suspected that might be the case since I'd be meeting up with Amanda and taking some days off the trail. I couldn't imagine a scenario where I might be able to catch up with them again, although it certainly wasn't impossible. Heavyweight passed me late in the morning. Blueberry never did catch up before I got off the trail for the day--I last saw him at the shelter before I left in the morning. Superman had taken a day off the trail to visit his girlfriend that had driven out from Maine (or at least that's the story he told us!) Bostrich, of course, was still a solid week or two ahead of the rest of the us and we'd long written him off as someone we'd likely never see again. (Not on the trail, at least!) For me, it would be the end of the Four Horsemen--which was sad. They'd been my best friends along the trail, and although I had all of their contact information and knew we'd keep in touch, I would miss their presence on the trail.

I might have been miserable with the heat and humidity, but the snakes sure seemed to like it!

I was rather amused to find this "I ♥ Bob Peoples" pin so far out of Bob People's territory (near the TN/VA border).

Trail magic! Awesome! I don't really need any first aid, but I'll take some trail magic!

What?! There's only first aid stuff? *shaking head* It does appear to be pretty well stocked, though!

I loved the lush, green grass in the forests in Harriman SP!

Yep, the trail goes through the rocks!

The dreaded Lemon Squeezer!

McGuyer checks out the Lemon Squeezer.

I climb up the cliff--but passed my pack to McGuyer ahead to make the climb more easy!

Monday, October 26, 2015

Day 95: The Blueberry Incident

June 10: If you're one of those people who enjoy cute, fuzzy little animals, don't read this post. Seriously. You'll do yourself a favor by just skipping this post....

For the rest of you, however! Let's continue.... My night was uneventful, and the morning wasn't particularly eventful either. I did have a little scare in the morning when I met two hikers heading southbound on the trail and they asked me if I was hiking southbound. Which, clearly, I wasn't supposed to be, but what if I somehow got turned around unexpectedly?

'Twas a beautiful sunrise!

But no, it was definitely them who were going southbound. They were thru-hikers. Or rather, very long section hikers I supposed, because apparently they had jumped ahead on the trail and hiked to the shelter just ahead for the night, but because they got on the trail at a location where they had not gotten off, they weren't entirely sure which direction was north and which direction was south. They chose... incorrectly. But I got them straightened out. =)

When I introduced myself as Green Tortuga, they got really excited about meeting me. "We've been following your register entries for months!" It's not an uncommon reaction, but the one hiker, who was walking ahead of me at the time, turned around and wanted to shake my hand. I'm not really big on shaking hands with dirty hikers. I prefer fist bumps. =) So when he turned around and started hiking forwards again, I quietly squirted some hand sanitizer into my hands and all was right with the world again.

The trail soon crossed the border from New Jersey and into New York. Technically, the trail had crossed the border several times, bouncing back and forth between states. I first crossed into New York state yesterday. But I don't really count them for a couple of reasons. One, there's no sign saying, "You've entered New York state!" to take a photo of. Two, it doesn't even show the NJ/NY border in our guidebooks until we cross into New York and stay in New York. And finally, the cross-border jaunts were very short. We'd cross into New York for maybe 10 minutes, then be back in New Jersey again. It didn't feel like a border crossing, and nobody treated it as such.

Until today, when we "officially" crossed into New York state. There's a "sign" (for lack of a better word) painted on the ground marking the New Jersey/New York border. There's a register to sign to prove you were there. And that's where our guidebook marks the border crossing.

Hello, NEW YORK! Frank Sinatra's song about the city ran through my head. The trail was rough and rocky--which I remembered from my 2003 thru-hike. What I did not remember, however, was how long the rocks lasted. It seemed that for most of the day I was scrambling over rocks and one place even had a ladder help help hikers up a small cliff.

So the going was slow, but it wasn't particularly problematic. Temperatures were uncomfortably hot, but I had suffered through worse.

A mile or so before the trail reached the shelter, it crossed Highway 17A and that's where I caught up with Pumpkin Butt and his family. I'd met Pumpkin Butt for the first time a few days earlier, and mostly in passing since we'd somehow managed to wind up at different shelters every night. But this time, his family had brought lots of pizzas and they offered some of it up for me (along with a Gatorade) which I was happy to accept. I probably spent the better part of an hour chatting with the group.

With one slice of pizza left, Heavyweight arrived and joined the festivities. Pumpkin Butt's mom offered to drive us a quarter mile down the road to an ice cream shop, but said we'd have to walk back ourselves. I'd been thinking about doing that anyhow--walking down for ice cream, that is--until I filled up with pizza. Heavyweight, so wasn't so weighted down with pizza, still wanted the ice cream and I went along because hey, it's ice cream. I didn't need my arm twisted very much to get ice cream. =)

So we got a ride to the ice cream shop and spent a good half hour eating and slurping our ice creams and using the restrooms (flush toilets!). Heavyweight started walking back up the trail as I lingered a bit longer to fill up all of my water containers with water from the spigot in the front of the store, then followed Heavyweight back up to the trail.

And that's when the day suddenly became a lot more interesting....

While walking up the road back to the trail, Blueberry was walking down the road to the ice cream shop. "Tortuga!" he shouted. "Look what I've got!"

He pulled out a thick, white plastic bag. It was rolled up into a ball shape and he started unraveling it. In my head, I was thinking, "Oh... this can't be good. This can't be good...."

He finished unraveling it and pulled out a small animal, holding it up by its tail. "I got myself a groundhog!"

Oh my God!

I was left a bit speechless at first. "What... are you going to do with it?"

"I'm gonna cook it for supper!"

Huh. "And how'd you get it?" I asked.

"Well, I was walking past this meadow, and there were a bunch of them. A mommy, a daddy, and three kids. I ran after them, and the parents just ran away leaving the babies to fend for themselves. This one," he said, holding up the groundhog by the tail a bit higher, "he was the slowest of the bunch."

Darwinism at its best. He had said it almost like the groundhog deserved its fate for being so slow.

Blueberry continued: "The other two groundhogs tried to run away, but this one just stood there, trying to hide--and not doing a very good job of it--and I whacked him over the head with my trekking pole."

I nodded, not sure what to say.

"He fell over and his eyes rolled into the back of its head. At first I thought he was just unconcious, but nope---he was dead!"

About this time, I realized that we were still standing on the side of this relatively busy road while Blueberry was holding this dead baby groundhog out by the tail.

"Maybe you should put that away," I suggested, "before anyone driving by notices."

And I didn't really need to look at it anymore, I thought.

We talked a bit more, then Blueberry continued down to the ice cream shop, and I continued back to the trail shaking my head on wonder. That boy is full of surprises. He might not have caught himself a chipmunk, but he did get himself a groundhog.

That last mile or so to the shelter, I caught up with McGuyer who continued bragging about the ungodly number of bears he'd seen on the trail the day before. (Nine? I forget now!) Yeah, showoff.... But did he see Blueberry's groundhog? No, he hadn't. "Well, you're gonna be in for a special treat tonight," I assured him. =)

At the shelter, Heavyweight had already arrived and everyone there had already heard about the groundhog Blueberry had caught. McGuyer spent some time applying Shoe Goop on his shoes trying to get a few extra miles out of them. He had a large tube of it, more than he really needed, and asked around if anyone else needed some. A couple of other hikers took him up on the offer, but he still had more Shoe Goop than he knew what to do with, and we started thinking up ideas for what else we could do with it.

"Hey," I said, remembering Blueberry complaining about how much it hurt when his balls were stung by a wasp. "Maybe Blueberry could apply some to his balls to protect them from wasp stings!" We all laughed at that idea, but Blueberry was crazy enough that I wouldn't be surprised if he actually gave that idea some merit.

I had placed my water bottle upside-down in the shelter. Not for any particular reason except just to balance it on the narrow opening because I had nothing better to do at the time, but McGuyer asked why it was like that.

I looked at the water bottle--and knowing full well that everyone knew I didn't treat my water--joked that that was how I treated my water. I turned it upside-down to get all of the bad stuff to float to the top, then when I turned it over again to drink, all of the bad stuff would be at the bottom of the bottle and away from where I drank it.

McGuyer seemed to enjoy my excuse, and later called that method of water treatment the "geomagnetic filtration device" which I approved of. It sounded like something we needed to patent!

Trail magic at a road crossing! I had Pepsi and oatmeal cream pies!

Not more than a half hour later, Blueberry finally arrived. Except for Heavyweight and myself, nobody else had seen the groundhog yet so Blueberry pulled it out to show everyone. Once again, he held it up by the tail, and I couldn't help but notice that it was completely, soaking wet now. It hadn't been wet the first time I saw it.

Someone else asked about why it was all wet before I could, and Blueberry answered: "I washed it!"

Synapsis in my brain started making connections that led me to a horrifying conclusion. Between the highway and the shelter, there were a couple of tiny little water sources--but not really large enough to thoroughly wash a groundhog. But I did remember that spigot at the front of the ice cream shop.

"You didn't wash it at the ice cream shop, did you?"

"Yeah! There was a water spigot right there in front! It was perfect!"

OMG... I put my face in my hands, imagining a troop of young Girl Scouts being traumatized by the sight or something. Even the adults there, I were sure, probably wouldn't have looked too kindly on seeing a dead groundhog being washed as they ate their ice cream.

Heavyweight commented, "They're going to ban thru-hikers!" Yeah, did any employees happen to see this?

Oh my goodness.... *shaking head*

Heavyweight and Blueberry went somewhere behind the shelter to skin the groundhog. We told them to take it WAY behind the shelter--we didn't want them drawing animals to the shelter during the night with its carcass--and they were gone for the better part of a half hour before they showed up again. This time, the groundhog and no skin on and looked pretty well gutted.

Blueberry saved the skin, wrapping it around a hand like a glove asking if others thought it would work as a glove. He also saved the tail which he wanted to turn into a necklace or something.

Then they worked on building a campfire to cook the groundhog. We were in New York now, and campfires were once again allowed. Someone joked that Blueberry needed to put an apple in the groundhog's mouth as it roasted, but that was clearly a joke because nobody had any apples and anyhow, an apple would have been far too big to fit in the small mouth.

Blueberry still carried the container of party mix that he'd brought unexpectedly to the shelter back in Pennsylvania, and it was sitting right in front of me in the shelter as the comment about the apple was made. And as I was looking at it, and without even thinking about the words coming out of my mouth, I pointed to the container and said, "an apple wouldn't even fit in its mouth, but those peppermint candies would."

As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I wanted to take them back. I meant it as a joke, but immediately realized that Blueberry would actually do something like that which is exactly what he proceeded to do.

Blueberry pulled out a peppermint candy and forced one into the groundhog's mouth. He put some real effort into it--I think the mouth was a smidgen too small to fit the candy comfortably, but eventually he got it in there and showed off the results to everyone.

McGuyer was appalled. "Is there no respect for the dead?!"

He shook his head, then told everyone, "If I die on the trail, would someone please bury me so deep that Blueberry could never get at my body. Just bury and hide my body."

Once the fire got going and there were some good coals, Blueberry worked on grilling the baby groundhog. After it was done, Blueberry offered it to anyone who was interested, but only Heavyweight took him up on the offer.  The liver, they both agreed, was excellent and the best part. The rest was good--according to them--but the meat looked a little charred and unevenly cooked to me.

When they were done eating, they threw what little was left of the groundhog and its bones into the fire to cremate it.

At the shelters, certain topics of conversation come up often. Hikers will talk about privies--which are nice, which are not, which are full, which are smelly. They'll talk about farts and food and other hikers.

But I'm pretty certain that tonight, this was the only shelter on the trail talking about cooking groundhogs over a fire and putting Shoe Goop on Blueberry's balls. One thing I'll say about Blueberry--he definitely keeps things interesting!

Horrified? Well, you can't say I didn't warn you! Right there in the very first paragraph of this blog post! Heed my warnings next time!

I really wanted to get a good photo of the damage that the gypsy moths were doing, but I never did get a decent photo of the damage. You could see "shredded leaves" littering the trail from where they had been eaten off the trees. There aren't any whole leaves because the gypsy moths ate those. These are just the scrap leftovers that they didn't manage to get before it fell off the tree.

It's a beaver dam! I'm truly astounded at the giant lakes these small animals can create.

It's official now! Goodbye, New Jersey! Hello, New York!!!!

The trail was quite rugged for much of the day! Just look at that drop!

I took a photo of the frog, obviously, but you can also see some of the "shredded leaves" around the frog--more evidence of that gypsy moth infestation.

At last! A ladder for one of the steep sections! (The only ladder, though...)

Seems like there were suddenly a lot of US flags ever since crossing into New York.

Cairns on the trail are no uncommon, but I'd never seen any spotted with blue dots like this one before!

Pumpkin Butt and his mom check out the trail ahead. I love the fact that I got a photo of Pumpkin Butt carrying a roll of toilet paper. =)

Taking a break! That's Heavyweight in the background eating his slice of pizza.

The ice cream shop, just a quarter-mile off the trail. (See the spigot under the "Local=Good" message? That's where I filled up with water, and which Blueberry would later use for... other purposes...

That's McGuyer at the top, and I forgot the name of the person just behind him.

Blueberry shows off the groundhog he caught. A very wet groundhog....

And here's the same groundhog, skinned and prepped--down to the peppermint candy in its mouth. Heavyweight is building a campfire in the background to cook it on. (HEY! I WARNED you not to read this post in the very first paragraph!)