Swimming to Maine: The New York Lake and Pond Tour

It stopped raining just around sunrise that morning at Waywayanda Shelter, and somehow I managed to be the first one out of camp, out into the foggy, grey dampness the storm had left behind, the storm which heralded the arrival of a miserable heat wave. The goal was to cross into New York, then take the side trail into Greenwood Lake to find some wifi to upload the video I had failed to upload at the pub in Vernon for the blog post I was working on, resupply my snackage, and have a nice dinner, then hike out of town to the first shelter.
Less than a mile from the shelter, I turned off onto the side trail to the Waywayanda State Park Visitor Center, where I used a real bathroom and refilled my water bag from the city supply. New Jersey and New York are enough to spoil a hiker.
A couple of miles later, I climbed a short but fairly steep hill, and soon discovered that my bowels weren’t quite relieved. At the top of the hill, there was a side trail to a view that used to be on the A.T. and I went down it and over a rock and then dug a hole next to another. I thought I was in the bushes enough, but I’d put myself back close enough to the A.T. that passing hikers could catch me with my pants down if they were paying too much attention. At least one passed me in that condition. Desperate times call for embarassing measures.
The rest of the trail that day was mostly level, yet devilishly difficult. It stayed on the top of the ridge and ran along the rocks. It wasn’t far to the state line, which is where the going started getting rough.

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Less than a mile after that, the trail ran right into the sheer vertical side of a boulder and continued on top of it. Tied to the boulder with steel cable was an aluminum ladder. The only way through was up! I climbed it first and put my pack and poles at the top. Copper was stymied as to how to climb a ladder. He started looking for a way around, but there wasn’t one. I climbed down and put him on the ladder in front of me, then climbed up behind him pushing him forward and up and giving him something to lean on. He leaned so hard, he nearly toppled me. I foisted him onto the ledge at the top of the ladder and climbed around him to the actual landing ledge. He was facing the wrong direction and could see nothing except the ground at the bottom of the ladder. Seeing no way to safely turn around, I could see him considering jumping back down. I shouted him down, then picked him up by the handle and rotated him. He wagged his tail and followed me up.
The trail remained rocky and annoying with many tricky obstacles, but what got me next was not the trail. A horsefly fluttered down to the back of my hand and immediately bit me at the base of my index finger. I swatted and missed. The fly escaped, and my hand started itching. I scratched a bit and the area started swelling. Within the hour, my hand looked like Pink Floyd with a fever. That’s about when I found the Village Vista trail. We turned off and headed straight down into Greenwood Lake.
By the time I arrived, it was early afternoon, and the one cafe in town had closed. I tied up Copper there and went looking for information. But I realized I was starving, and started at the pub next door. After lunch, I resumed my quest. The restaurant behind the cafe, which also claimed to have wifi, had closed. I tried the library, which was about to close itself, and learned it also had wifi. I started the video uploading and hid my phone there near the library while I walked down to the Cumberland Farms convenience store. Copper had been watered when I walked past the cafe again, and I broke a decorative bench trying to sit down next to him and give him his supper. A woman living above the cafe offered him a treat, and then offered to let us stay in her backyard for the night. I agreed to let Copper stay in her yard until I had visited the store , which had a bare minimum of resupply, but good enough since I wasn’t exactly in a desperate situation. I got a soda and a gatorade to quench my dehydrated thirst, packed up, gathered up Copper, and road-walked two miles uphill out of town as the sun set.
At the top of the hill, I nearly missed the way back into the woods, walking right past it and on toward the hot dog stand. I caught myself before I was out of its side, and we turned around and dove back into the dimming woods. I decided I would go as long as I could without getting out my headlamp to practice navigating by moonlight, hopefully all the way to the shelter. Soon I came to a triple-blaze in sky blue and turned down it, hoping it would be the shelter trail. It just ended up connecting back up with the AT a little ways down. I looked back down the AT and saw that I’d skipped a nasty rocky ridge/crag that would have been treacherous and annoying to climb over in the dark. A half-mile later, I managed to turn down yet another such bad weather trail without even realizing I had done it. I came out on an enormous slab with a deep crack running through it, and could see no trail around me. Copper looked at me like he wondered whether this rock would be the best camping spot and sat down. I caved and got out my headlamp.
There was nothing interesting to see from Cat Rocks, and I wandered around the slab until I found the trail at one end of it, nearly grown over. Light still on, I moved at top speed over the remaining mile or so of trail to Wildcat Shelter. The area was already crowded with tents when I arrived, and I followed the trail well into the woods looking for the shelter but only finding the privy. Unable to find the shelter in the dark, I hung my hammock across the trail from the bear box. I was almost ready to climb in for the night when someone else arrived even later than me. Timber and Little Engine had teamed up with Ambo again and had caught up with me. A dog barked at their approach, and Ambo said “Is that Blast? I thought that might have been your dog greeting us.” I said, “I don’t know whose dog that is. Copper’s over here. He doesn’t bark.” We caught up a bit and Little Engine agreed to put Copper in a future video.
I slept late the next morning and never saw Hitched Hike again. The dog turned out to be Disciple’s dog Koi, and I spent the better part of the morning chatting with him. I had planned to do 15 to Fingerboard Shelter in Harriman State Park, but little did I know that that wouldn’t happen until three nights later.
The late morning/early afternoon started out pretty nice as we descended to the next road and crossed into an area filled with streams and waterfalls. We stopped to wade in a stream and collect some water. Then, we walked over to where the waterfall was. The area was filled with day hikers, other dogs, and some folks eager to chat with through-hikers. The weather felt pretty nice too.

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It didn’t last, though. The temperature rose throughout the day, and the terrain became hellish, consisting of a series of near-vertical climbs up and down, always on the rocks and frequently in the sun. At one point, the trail went over a six-foot-high ledge with no ladder that couldn’t be climbed without removing my pack. I could see no point in it, as there was a blue blaze that went around behind it to a place I could just walk up. After giving the climb an abortive attempt, I took the blue blaze.
I was sweating quite a lot and my clothes were soaked with it. As a result, my chafing flared up quite suddenly. After only 9 miles, I reached the top of Arden Mountain and couldn’t muster any more strength, energy, or pain tolerance. I headed off trail a bit and hung my hammock in the weeds. I removed all my clothes and listlessly cooked supper. I set out Copper’s food bag, and he proceeded to eat the entire thing, which I had thought to be a two-day supply. He must have been hungered by the day’s workout as well. Before darkness even fell, I rolled into my hammock, blood sugar still feeling a bit off, resolved to somehow get into town the next morning.
It took an hour to pack up and an hour of quick downhill motion to get to the highway in the morning. Copper had to go without food, of course, but I figured the previous night’s feast would hold him until we got to town. I later learned (from Toast and Rusty Ramps) that the climb down Arden Mountain was called by some the Agony Grinder, and while it was steep and rocky, I didn’t experience anywhere near the agony the previous day had wrought. I also heard (from Hudson) that the entire section was also referred to by that moniker. That I could better believe.

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I had a terrible time trying to catch a ride there at the entrance to Harriman State Park, and the cab companies were going to take forever and charge an arm and a Tuxedo pantleg to get to town, so Copper and I started walking down the blazing blacktop under the soul-melting sun. After a mile and a bit, we arrived at a gas station, and Copper ran around behind the building to hide in its shade while I went to grab a Gatorade and inquire about lodgings in the area. By the time I got back to Copper, there was a young blonde girl crouched over him with a look of worry. It didn’t take much to convince her to give us a ride to the local motel. It was a tiny, crappy little motel and it didn’t allow dogs. So we drove across town to another hotel and another. No dogs and no dogs. So then she offered to keep Copper while I stayed at the motel (the fact of her having to babysit her 4-year-old niece making my staying there not an option, nor would I impose) and we went to her mom’s house. Copper had a bowl of ice water there and I left some clothes washing in the washer. Then, we went to Petco where I bought some high-quality food and a new bowl for Copper, and finally I was left alone at the crappy little motel. It was early afternoon and the heat was on, so I took a much-needed shower and cooled off with a TV break.
The previous evening, I’d noticed my phone misbehaving, the keyboard not typing right. In the morning, hunting cabs, I’d seen the same again, it would type a few letters and refuse to type anymore, and then it would randomly spew numbers every few seconds, keeping it from going to sleep and, in fact, making most functions slow and difficult to use, so when I set out to explore Monroe, I had my sights set on the Verizon store there. The man was very nice and set me up with the folks up the corporate ladder who could do warranty replacements. I told them it would be several weeks before I could get the old phone back to them, but they said a new one was on its way to Snellville.
From there I had my sights set on margaritas, but the frozen North is unlike the South (plus Pennsylvania) in that there are very few Mexicans living there, and as such, no Authentic Mexican Ristorantes. I had to walk through the entire city center of the Birthplace of Velveeta to get to one tiny little place called La Rancherita or something like that. I got a bottle of Strawberry Soda and a XX Black to go with my unexpectedly enormous burrito.

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I took half of the burrito back to the motel, where I received a desperate text from Jone begging me not to let Copper continue the trip. She said she had seen the quick coming out of his short-clipped nails after they went for a walk.

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I agreed to go with her to the vet in the morning to get it checked out, though of course I was reluctant to call off Copper’s trip halfway.
She showed up (with my clean laundry) before I was done packing the next morning and Copper followed her into my room so I could get some picture of his foot to share with the vet back home.

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When the owner came to kick me out of the room, he saw the dog and freaked out. Jone yelled at him and ran him off for me while I finished packing. It was a whole new and fascinating side of her and much appreciated.
She dropped me at the vet while she took the niece to a dance class or something. I got in a walk-in visit just 30 minutes after arriving, and they weighed Copper (down to 83lbs.) and put some powder on his toenail and said he was in fine shape.
So, Jone came to get me again, and we set out to find Copper a way to cool down on the sweltering July afternoon while I continued to try and get in touch with the vet back home to get a second opinion. She knew of a good spot at Silvermine Pond, which is said to have been located on top of an old pirate silver stash from the dawn of America. The stories say the pirates came back to the stash at times to abscond with more of the silver, but perhaps they eventually took it all away, because no silver has ever been found there. On our way out of town, we stopped at the gas station and the construction site we’d stopped at on the way into town the previous day, as I realized that my chamois towel I’d been using as a headband had gone missing somewhere in that vicinity. No luck. We drove up a closed road into Harriman State Park, and stopped to chat with the ladies at the Tiorati Circle Visitor Center. Jone inquired about job opportunities, as she had once worked there in her youth and had just arrived back in the area. I got a soda from the machine and we went on down to the beach.
Anyway, we spent several hours on the beach. Jone was phobic about the bottom of the pond and wouldn’t get in above her knees, even though the water was clear enough to see the bottom even when I was out in it up to my chest. But then again, Copper wouldn’t get in above his belly either, so she had company there in the shallows. Jone turned slowly pink in the sun while jumped every time a minnow bit one of my moles.

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But I could hardly get any cell service by the pond, so I needed to head back toward town. We took another closed road to get into town at the southern end of the park, but this one was actually blocked by road construction crews, but the abortive attempt at shortcut allowed me to see the remainder of the park’s seven lakes.
We took a different route which ran us right through Tuxedo. Yes, the very Tuxedo which brought the world expensive suits. Now it brings the very rich expensive private security for their community of multi-million-dollar homes. The town itself looked awfully drab.
I got through to the vet, and got nothing more than that it was hard to tell anything from my photos, a description of how to do a range-of-motion test, and a suggestion that it might be best if Copper avoided walking in ninety-degree weather. So Jone offered to keep Copper for a few days while I swam my way up to Canopus Lake at Fahnestock State Park.
We border-hopped into New Jersey for gas. Self-service is illegal in New Jersey and the gas tax is lower, so most New Yorkers who live near the border regular drive over the line to get cheap hands-free gas. The downside is, of course, long gas lines. While she waited in the car for the pumps to open up, I went to the store and bought a gallon of water to fill my bag with. I wasn’t going to waste another $70 at the fleabag. I was hiking out that night.
Jone dropped me at the parking lot just down the road from where I’d walked out the woods the previous morning and drove off with Copper. It was around 6pm, and the plan was to go just four miles to the first shelter (Fingerboard) and stop. It was hiking so easy I don’t even remember it, even though I know it was nice. But the reason I did it, rather than skipping ahead to Tiorati Circle, was to see the one interesting feature in the park: The Lemon Squeezer.

I remember the shelter, though. It was built of rock on an enormous slab of rock down the side of Fingerboard Mountain. There was an older gentleman there when I arrived and a doe grazing just a few feet away. Another guy arrived to tent behind the shelter, and a couple from Quebec (the Snails: Blue and Green) arrived to tent at the site down the hill and cooked supper down on the rock with me.
I was the only one willing to brave the shelter. As soon as darkness fell, the mosquitos rushed in. But it was too hot to sleep in my bag (I was still rocking the 32 degree Coleman bag I’d switched for in Pearisburg) and whenever I exposed any body part to cool off, the mosquitos dive-bombed it. I climbed inside my hammock’s bug net by degrees, but that just made me hotter and anywhere it touched my skin, the mosquitos could attack right through it anyway. Eventually, too harried to sleep, I gave up and hung the hammock from the roof beams of the shelter, and wrapped the rainfly up around them too to maximize airflow. I stripped off all my clothes and draped the sleeping bag loosely over me. It was around this time I decided I should get my mom’s 55 degree travel sack shipped up. With that happy thought and a slight breeze cooling me, and the faint buzzing song of mosquitos no longer able to get close enough to bite, I finally fell asleep.
The next morning, I was the second to last to leave the shelter (taking time finally to read the log, especially the essay from Disciple about how Koi had been prevented from hiking the PCT due to the undue concern of others and how he wished people would trust him a bit more when it came to the disposition of his own dog), but I caught up to the Snails two miles away at Lake Tiorati Circle (where stands the Visitor Center I’d visited the day previous). I availed myself of the public restrooms and filled my bag at the water fountains, but the concession stand wasn’t open and all the vending machines were locked away, so no sodas were to be had.
I passed the Snails snacking on the trail a couple of miles later, even though they’d left the Circle well before me. I stopped for a bite at the next shelter (William Brien Memorial) which was even more distinctive than Fingerboard, as the entire back wall was a vertical rock slab, a part of the hill behind, with the rest of the shelter built of rock against it. As I sat eating and drinking on the boulder in front the shelter, the Snails came up again. I informed them of the opportunity to go swimming just a mile ahead, where the AT crossed the side trail down to Silvermine Pond, but they seemed to be in an awful big hurry to get up Black Mountain to West Mountain Shelter. So I set off alone, turned aside at the appropriate side trail, and descended for fifteen minutes until I reached the pond, and continued following the road until it reached the dam and turned aside. At this time, I had a bathroom emergency and quickly dug a hole not far from the road. When I could relax again, I rock-walked across the stream running out of the pond, crossed the dam, and arrived at the same beach I’d been to previously. It seemed I had the place to myself, so I hung my hammock and the proceeded to go for a swim sans any clothes. When I tired of that, I went and sat on a rock. Soon, I heard voices coming up the path to the beach, and I got my shorts on in time to see another strange but well-supplied couple came up to the beach with their tiny dog. We spoke only a few words, and despite sharing the beach for several hours, we pretended like each other didn’t exist. I lay in my hammock for a while drowsing, then went back and swam from the beach to way down the dam where the woman was sunbathing with her much larger, much smarter dog stalking around and generally guarding her. Before I left around 2pm, I got a small donation of water from the strange couple, and hiked back up to the base of Black Mountain.

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Black Mountain is the one on the left and Fingerboard is the rest, though the shelter is way off to the right and on the back side.

I left at that hour in hopes of making it over Black Mountain and down to the Palisades Parkway before five. The couple at the lake had given me just enough water to climb one mountain in that blazing heat, and the Parkway was on the other side. Just a half-mile down the median was a little shop: the Palisades Parkway Bookstore. In addition to filling up my water bladder at the spigot on the side of the building and spending an hour until the store closed sitting in the bathroom for no reason other than to soak in the air conditioning, I bought an AT bandanna to replace the lost towel. (I later got a replacement towel shipped to me, but it was neither as absorbent, long, or quick-drying as the one I lost, so I continue to wear the bandanna to this day.)
The rest of the evening was spent climbing West Mountain, in hopes of getting to West Mountain Shelter before dark. Somehow, I missed the side trail. I came into a clearing just before the descent of West Mountain and realized I must have gone too far. I hung my hammock as the sun set over the mountains in the distance.
The next day was to be a full one, even though I wasn’t going far. I climbed down West and up Bear, and when I came to the blue-blaze side trail that led straight up a series of long staircases to the summit–rather that working its way slowly around three-quarters of the mountain as the A.T. does–I took it. Mountain-climbing isn’t love-making after all; save the foreplay for the day hikers.
I climbed the tower and enjoyed the cool breezes funneled into it by the tiny windows. It wasn’t even 9am and I was already feeling the heat. I took a few minutes to check out the exhibits on the lower floors, and tried to see Manhattan in the distance from the upper floor, but it was too hazy.

I left the tower and practically ran downhill, passing a group of girls (including Aviator in her eponymous sunglasses) and arrived at the Bear Mountain Inn at about 10am. I found my way to the bar, and ordered a glass of ice water with lime in it, as I had been craving for days, and received a glass of ice water with lemon in it, which was close enough that I still drank it gratefully. I waited an hour for the bar and kitchen to open, then proceeded to have a couple of beers to accompany an absolutely amazing sandwich. Somewhere around noon, I paid and gathered my things and headed a half-mile away under the road and to the pool, the entrance to which stands right on the trail.
For two dollars, anyone can swim in the pool, which is as old as the Inn and the State Park, and the state of the locker/shower room shows it. But it must make a fortune, because everyone and his brother and sister and son and daughter was there. I availed myself of the diving boards a couple of times, chatted with some life guards, put on some sunscreen, and eventually was asked to put my shorts on because apparently my compression shorts upset people and don’t constitute proper swimwear (even though I always wear them for swimming and they provide far more coverage than Speedos). The lifeguards were fine with me using the pool as an impromptu washing machine for my sweaty disgusting hiking shorts (“It’s a public pool. It’s already nasty.”) so I obliged them and got a clean semi-bleached pair of shorts from the deal too.
When I got tired of swimming, I left in the midst of a herd of children (probably affiliated with some urban summer camp) to return to the concession stands along Hessian Lake. I had to wait behind one such group before I could order my gatorade and chicken fingers, and despite already being late for their bus, it took them a solid twenty minutes to clear out of the only ordering line. Once I had my food, I went to sit at the picnic tables around the old bus arrivals cul-de-sac, and at some point, Toast and Rusty Ramps came to join me here. I gave Toast my wristband for the pool in case they wanted to go swimming, and gave them some of the food I couldn’t eat either. I was positively stuffed after the lunch from earlier, the chicken fingers, the soft pretzel, fries and gatorades, but I rolled out to get through the zoo right at 4pm. Yes, the AT passes straight through the zoo.

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But first it passes Walt Whitman

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There are a series of animals in separate cages, all rescued from wounds and unable to live in the wild.

Not far beyond was the bear cage, which featured 2 black bears and about a hundred buzzards. It’s the lowest elevation point on the AT. I took a video there too, but that video was lost for reasons that are related to the phone issues mentioned earlier in this post but which will become more apparent in a later post. Next, I went into a few of the many Trailside Museums. The first was full of reptiles and amphibians: frogs and snakes and turtles. The second, which came after the most powerful water fountain I’ve ever seen, at which I filled my water bag, was full of geological and anthropological artifacts. Such as these fluorescent rocks:

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A description of a couple of old trails the AT follows on its approach to Bear Mountain

At this time, I was being ushered out of the zoo, which closes at 4:30. I took a look at a hawk (this video was also lost) and departed on the heels of Toast and Rusty Ramps.

It took about ten minutes to cross the Hudson on Bear Mountain Bridge and when I stopped to put on the bug spray and headnet, those two left me in the dust. It was the longest, steepest climb I’d had in days and it left me sweating.
I caught up to them at the Appalachian Market, a convenience store that sits right on the trail. I bought drinks and snacks and a sandwich, as I’d worked off some of all that food I’d eaten at Bear Mountain with an hour of ridge-walking, though I couldn’t fit much and end up carrying most of it with me. Though trailside lunch options had been available several times previously, I consider this the beginning of the New York Deli Tour, which is the concern of the next post.
We walked together the rest of the way to the Graymoor Spiritual Life Center (a Franciscan Monastery and Hospital of sorts), singing songs about zombies as we walked. Many people were already there gathered in and around the Picnic Shelter when we arrived, including Candy Pants and Noodles, Mowgli and others. The sun was setting when we arrived, so I ended up showering in the dark. I hung my hammock behind the shelter and went to sit by the fire with Noodles and Candy Pants and chat. There was no need to cook a full supper. I had eaten plenty that day.
I was going to finish this post when the Lake Tour properly ended and I had Copper back, but I think I’ll save the rest for the next post and conclude at the end of New York and the end of the Deli Tour. Following that, the end of July. This post is plenty long already and too long in the coming and I have way too much to do today. Next post: At least a week out.

4 thoughts on “Swimming to Maine: The New York Lake and Pond Tour

  1. Jacob

    I’ve got a feeling the popularity of Jersey gas has a LOT more to do with price than someone else doing the pumping for you. If having a guy pump your gas was important to people, you’d actually see them outside of the states that require their presence by law. I’m not assuming that most people are like me and would always choose self-service over the attendant if the price were the same, but I’m willing to bet the price being the same, the attendant doesn’t draw more sales.

    On an unrelated note, I think a lot of people have a tendency to think of dogs as children, when, in fact, they’re not. A reasonably healthy dog of normal size should really be able to manage safely anything a normal human is capable of, physically. Obviously, I’m not talking about climbing or anything that requires thumbs, but they can walk a long way without risking anything serious.

    They don’t dissipate heat as efficiently as we do, of course, so that is the one real exception. Freaking out over a normal dogs’ ability to hike a trail is silly. I can understand not wanting them on the trail for other reasons (harassing/killing wildlife, pooping on the trail, etc.), but that’s all stuff that can be prevented with responsible owners. The problem is that far from all dog owners are responsible.

    Which is why I keep meaning to buy dog mace. I’m tired of being chased by aggressive pit bulls that are allowed to just wander around down here.

    Reply
  2. Jacob

    I had to turn down the volume on my computer for the Lemon Squeezer video so people walking by my room wouldn’t get the wrong idea.

    Reply
  3. Brenda

    So excited to see your post; thanks for continuing to share your adventures with those of us who wish we were hiking the AT as well….maybe one day soon 🙂 I continue to keep tabs on you through your mom … so glad that your hike continues safely!

    Reply
  4. Karen Rutter

    I am still amazed that you can type these long posts, and insert photos and videos on that tiny little keyboard on your phone. If I were writing posts, they would be short and sweet unless I had a full size keyboard! With that being said, I am so happy to see this one. I was missing my adventures on the trail as told through your eyes. Copper looks great in that picture on the rock even if he has lost about 12 pounds! I still pray for his and your health and safety every day. Hope your backpack survived the lemon squeezer. It sounded like it was ripping the fabric. Such a tiny little space. The heat should be gone by now and hopefully the rest of your journey will have moderate temperatures. Take care and know that I think about you every day and look forward to seeing you in all your Katahdin glory! And, remember to get some folks to take pictures of you along the way. You’ll be glad that you have them upon your return home.

    Reply

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