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Filling in some gaps -- in agonizing detail

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One problem with doing all 2100 miles of the A.T. via day trips and section hikes is that it is easy to miss a few miles here and there. If the trail consists of points A-B-C-D, and hiking is easy to arrange between points A & B and between points C & D, then it is almost inevitable that the miles between point B & C will be forgotten. That is what I found for the 21.5 miles between the Warwick Turnpike near Wawayanda State Park and Highway 17 near Southfields. The latter was where I got to during my hike of 2011 July
and the former was where Shuttle dropped me off during a few day-hikes between there and High Point State Park. Doing that amount of mileage can be done either by (1) two days of day hikes, with Shuttle dropping me off and picking me up each day, (2) innumerable day hikes of my driving there, hiking up to some point and then doubling back, (3) hiking between two spots where mass transit is easily used, or (4) some combo of these. (1) is difficult to arrange during the school year, and (2) would be hard to do at about five miles per visit.

Which means option (3). I've used the commuter train from Harriman Station along Highway 17 before, but it requires arrival at the station before 4 pm -- that's the latest one can ride the train all the way into Philly. Since the last part of the hike involves coming down "Agony Grind," I had a feeling I should give myself a lot more flexibility on arrival times. A little bit of searching found that I could instead use the Coach USA bus from Southfields,
which has a bus leaving for the NY Port Authority Bus Terminal as late as 9:43 pm. Would I want to arrive in NYC at 11 pm, meaning I would not get back to Philly till the middle of the night? No -- but it's nice to know I COULD if I was severely delayed on my hike down to Southfields.

Further digging allowed to find I could ride a NJTransit Bus to Greenwood Lake (GWL)
making for a 15 miles hike between the top of the Village Vista Trail (VVT) to Highway 17. The rest of the mileage, I figured, could be handled by two "hike up and hike back" treks.

The latter two hikes were relatively easy. I did the first as a kind of "scoping out" the town of GWL; followed by a hike up the VVT, then south to Prospect Rock, and finally return to GWL. The second part was completed yesterday: a hike from Warwick Turnpike, north to and past the NY-NJ State Line (getting my obligatory photo), then to Prospect Rock, and finally return. For both trips, I chose days with almost ideal hiking conditions: cool, clear days with sunshine and a light breeze. No surprise, I got some pretty nice views on both days.

The two-day, one night hike between the VVT and Highway 17 SHOULD have been just as easy, even if it meant coming down Agony Grind. Because cheap bus tickets between Philly and NYC must be bought seven days in advance, I couldn't just wait till the last minute to make my trip. However, I figured I could check the ten-day forecast for GWL and know when I could get two consecutive days of clear weather. It was on that basis that I chose May 7 and 8 for this trip -- good weather was predicted for both days.

As the days got closer, the weather forecasts for May 8 became wetter and wetter. Unfortunately, because the cheapest Greyhound tickets are unchangeable (that's why you can get them for $10 each way), I had little choice but to make the trek on those days. I figured that I needed to learn how to handle hiking in the rain eventually, as waiting for two weeks (I'll eventually make hikes of that length) of cool temps but no rain was going to be a bit unrealistic. Also, I concluded that a two-day hike would be ideal for such a predicament, as it would be over after one bad day. So I decided to go.

This was my also first trip since I got my smart phone (NOTE: for those who hate hearing people talking about electronic gear, or even gear in general, please skip this paragraph). The ONLY reason I got even a cell phone was to contact Shuttle each day on the Trail, lest she worry about me. The original cell phone could not hold a charge after only one two or three phone calls, so I knew I had to get something new. I also wanted a combo cell phone and camera, simply because I didn't want the weight of a camera around my neck. My choice was the Droid Razr M, which not only had this combo, but could go a long time between recharging. I should mention that I long ago chose Verizon as my carrier simply because they are known for having "bars" even in remote locations. Thus, I am learning how many useful things I can do with this relatively small and simple piece of equipment: store maps (in jpg format) and trail notes (in text) from books; gets news, weather, sports, and finance reports at (just about) any time; have music and books (in Kindle format) available at any time; show off photos I've taken many years ago; find businesses in trail towns or at road junctions; and get located on the Trail to within a few meters. The latter is particularly nice for sending progress notes back to Shuttle -- I can rapidly e-mail my location (she can look it up on an online map) and add a few words of update. This works it a lot better than leaving a phone message along the lines of, "I just passed Highway 100, which is also known as Hog Creek Road, and is fairly close to I-78." I hate to admit it, but I love using all these features -- and my apologies in advance to all the people who'll have to endure (and already have) my doing so.

The trip to NYPA Terminal went fine, as did locating an outlet for my smart-phone near a wi-fi hotspot. For the curious, this is in the corner next to the bowling alley. I intentionally had nothing to drink while there, as I knew I would be on a NJTransit bus for over 90 minutes with no chance for a bathroom break. Again, I got to GWL with no problem, walked up the VVT to the Trail, and headed north. Got to the Wildcat Shelter well before dark, and had my first problem (sort of): there were six other people hoping to sleep there this night. This early in the year, I thought the place would be near-empty, but I was wrong. Yes, the guide says that this shelter will sleep eight, but getting even seven under the roof was problematic. We just re-arranged ourselves as best we could, and somehow got us all to fit. As usual, my first day(s) left with no appetite or hunger, so I had almost nothing to eat during the entire two days.

Since the Shortline Bus I wanted to catch at Southfields arrives there at 6:16 pm, I decided I need to leave Wildcat Shelter as early as possible. This means at 6 am, meaning waking at 5 am. Amazingly, I awoke at 4:52 and had little trouble getting ready to go. Almost as soon as I left, and just as predicted, it began to rain -- and it never really stopped the rest of the day. Since I knew this would most likely happen, I was ready with my Goretex{R} jacket, wool sweater, wool socks, and water resistant boots. Yet, despite all this readiness, I kept getting wet -- worst of all, within my boots. It only took a couple of hours before my socks were soaked, and I could hear the sloshing of the water at every step. Blisters? No -- I long ago learned to use inner sock liners under my main socks. But it wasn't terribly comfortable to feel water "gooshing" around in my boots with every step. Normally when I get wet clothes, I stop at the first granite bald, and use the sun to dry them out. As the rain never really ended and the sun never came out, this was not an option. I just waited for a small break in the rain, and wrung out the water as best I could. This never really made much difference -- each time, in less than an hour, the socks were just as soaking wet as before.

Rain not only soaks your socks, it makes dirt on the trail into mushy mud, and rocks far more slippery. Because of that, my speed, particularly while on climbing on rocks, went down quite a bit. Amazingly, I only slipped once, and then suffered more hurt to my pride (I was specifically trying to be extra careful) than to my body. Not having poles didn't help, but I will soon replace the bargain-basement ones I broke last year.

My topo map showed a significant elevation drop just before the Trail got to Highway 17, and the area had the name "Agony Grind." Thus, I can't say I was unprepared for going down this part of the Trail.

Being prepared, however, doesn't make it much easier to go down this area while water is still coming down (it was just mist by this point). I gave absolute priority to safety over speed, making me glad I left at just after the crack of dawn. Somehow I managed to get down without major incident, and felt a true sense of accomplishment at getting through what (I suppose) is one of the toughest parts of the Trail below the Whites.

The 1.6 miles walk to Southfields led to a abandoned, grey store where I waited for the Shortline Bus, trying to get into some halfway dry clothes while under an awning. Once again, I had to force myself to eat something for lunch / dinner, and was too tired to walk to the Valero for anything to warm up with. Despite the paranoia I noted in my link above, the bus came by just fifteen minutes late, and got me to the NYPA Terminal in a much relaxed state. Greyhound and Septa easily got me to Upper Darby, and Shuttle got me home. I felt as if I'd passed a major test.

Updated 06-16-2013 at 14:43 by GoldenBear