22 June 2015
Turns out yesterday I didn't go far enough, as usual. I went far enough today, maybe too far. Maybe I'd have been better off camping by myself at one of these lovely camping sites on top of the mountain, closer both today and tomorrow to water. I like camping by myself but I also like sleeping with other people at the shelter.
I was really excited about today's shelter—.6 off of the trail on a ridge-line with spectacular views of the New York City skyline—but I set up in the corner where I can support my battered knees on my rolled-up tent and I can't even see the view. Today was too exhausting for me to enjoy it anyway, and there's no water to cook and I'm dehydrated and feeling sick. I was afraid I'd diarrhea or vomit on the way here. I'm not eating dinner. It doesn't appeal.
Maybe this means I am sick. I have two more days of hiking and then I have to flag down a bus to New York City at the trail crossing. Supposedly it comes by. I don't even care. I'll wait till dark, then camp there if it doesn't come. I have enough food, I can yogi water if I need to, and there's a hotel in the nearby town.
There's no water at the shelter here, and unlike the north-bounders who were able to collect water within a half-mile as they climbed the ridge, I had to carry my pitiful two liters all the way from drinking fountains at the base of Bear Mountain, four miles and across two summits. It makes sense to hoard my water for morning.
I'm with two guys tonight—No Hurry, a flip-flopper from Harpers Ferry whom I really like for his lackadaisical pace and great trail attitude, and Skipper, a competitive sailor, who was thrilled to hear about Spirit, our double-ended cutter. Not that I'll be living aboard anytime soon. I feel hypocritical about that, like everything, even my hiking. Sure, I made it farther than any of these people have yet, all the way to Maine, but I did it at a feeble eight-month pace. Acting like I know anything about backpacking or thru-hiking is making me feel like a liar.
In leaving the trail, in leaving this peripatetic outdoor life, where there are no restrictions or requirements on me other than following the blazes, I'm afraid that I'm going back into depression, back into the mire. Here I have autonomy and purpose and will. In regular life I lose all of these things. I do regain the people in my life, my family and friends. And I do need people and their love. Don't I?
So last night I trekked into the Graymoor Friary, remembering the layout from 2004 and happy that it was still a trail stop. It was a 14-mile day, and by the end I was nearly in tears from the pain. Although the bouldering is not so bad as in Massachusetts, every step onto stone jars the cartilage in my legs, feeling like bone grinding on bone. Often I can hear it, a sound of crunching and snapping. Every day the pain is worse, every day the last two miles more intense.
So when I got to the Friary yesterday, at the end of my day, I was ecstatic. I followed the blue blazes to the field where I was told I could camp. But there was no one else there. How odd, I thought, since I'm in the thick of the pack, passing about twenty north-bounders a day. Someone told me there had been fourteen camped here the day before. But it was almost dark, and I went hunting for water, desperately thirsty (most of the water sources in New York are contaminated with coliform bacteria), and I was annoyed that I couldn't find it, since it's one of the reasons people stop here. I trekked up concrete walkways to the picnic tables and pavilion where I'd slept two nights in 2004, and then farther up, to a small chapel, where a priest was adjusting flowers or something. I nodded at him but went right to the tap without saying anything and filled all my water bottles. He looked at me oddly but I thought it was my spandex mini-shorts and at that point I just wanted to stop putting pressure on my legs. So I went down and camped and cooked by myself, in my wet tent, and by the time I was done it was dark and I slept.
In the morning, troops of hikers started walking past me as I packed. Evidently the actual ball-field for camping was a few more blue blazes down the road, where there was a shower and plenty of water and a lot of camped north-bounders. So as usual I gave up too soon, and that's why the priest gave me that look—another scantily clad female invading the sanctity of his monastery, the free services they provide for hikers deemed not good enough. Maybe I'm feeling guilt for 2004, when we zeroed here and they still fed hikers, the last year they did. I worry that we were the reason they stopped, late-season lazy-ass hikers taking advantage of their hospitality, and now I was again. His face, and my exhausted disgust as I filled up water, keeps haunting me.
But then again I like to blame myself for everything. So tonight I was determined to go far enough, all the way to the shelter, rather than stopping .1 or .2 ahead, as I've done so many times, losing the satisfaction of reaching an intended destination. But my legs are shot. My knees are getting worse.
The last two miles of the day were excruciating, as always. After the final waterless climb, the trail stretched for a mile along this gorgeous and austere ridge piled with rocks. I limped up and down, each step jarring, completely unable to enjoy the constant gorgeous scenery, the lichen-splattered rocks amid tufts of grass and dwarfed trees. Bewildering blue-blazed trails led off mysteriously, making me doubt if I hadn't already passed the shelter.
Then the shelter sign was missing, and I had to trust the arrow that someone had marked with a Sharpie. Then another .6 miles of climbs and tumbles down granite boulders, not even knowing if this extended blue blaze was the right shelter trail. That last .6 off-trail felt like six miles, up and down rocky outcroppings, with strangely blazed blue and orange and yellow trails criss-crossing the unmarked shelter trail and no water.
I could have stopped earlier and camped alone again, but I pressed on, and on, and on, and actually arrived at the promised shelter, seeing the hammocks strung up in the trees, smelling the woodsmoke. In these last miles I find myself constant playing, please God, please God. I am praying for a glimpse of a slanted roof, the whiff of privy that means other humans. Now that I'm here I'm not sure the .6 was worth it. And I'm thirsty.
I'm happy I only have two more days, for the sake of my body, but I'm nervous about the bus ride to NY and thence to Providence or Boston. I wish I was continuing, because I love life out here, but I really think my body can't stand it. On the trail, I am whole. Minus my knees.
So here, tonight, for one more night, I am home—hungry and dehydrated and sick—but home. In a three-sided shelter, with stinky strangers and mosquitoes and no view, carrying everything I need.