Stratton Mountain:  Where it all began

That behemoth in the distance is Stratton Mountain.  Legend has it that Benton McKay, the man credited with creating the Appalachian Trail, was standing on this mountain’s summit when he came up with the idea of a national trail.  That vision became  the Appalachian Trail.

We are definitely in ski country.  Stratton has a large resort that reminds me of a smaller version of Breckinridge, CO or Vail.  The picture above was taken from Bromley Mountain, another ski area and peak that Paul hiked over.
I went the easy way—I drove to the resort.  Paul had the more challenging day.

Just getting to the trailhead was an adventure.  We had to drive 13 miles over unpaved road to get Paul to the start.

Here’s proof that he made it to the top:  Stratton’s iconic fire tower.

Paul has had to stay out several nights due to the lack of accessible roads.  I’ll finally get to see him tonight.  He has now hiked over 800 miles.  Go Paul!

Moving on up

We’ve been absent from the blog for a little while.  Just because I got lazy does not mean that Paul did.  He is taking on Vermont now.  I’ll go back and catch up on what we’ve missed, but I thought that everyone would like to know where we are.
Vermont is more rugged and has a wilder feel than the previous states.  The gorgeous Green Mountains are steep.  Paul is going to get tested here.  

At Vermont the AT combines with the Long Trail.  The trail now actually looks like an obvious trail now.  So now when Paul can’t find a blaze for a long while it doesn’t matter as much.  The Green Mountain club, which oversees this section of the trail, is very concerned with the amount of traffic on the trail and the damage that causes.  It’s published in our guide book not to get off of the trail.  That means walking through lots of mud.  That’s a fairly new obstacle for Paul.  And since it rains every day, there is lots of it.

I had a planned trip back to San Diego so Paul was on his own for about a week.  I dropped him off in Massachusetts and he hiked his way up.  We are starting to see more of the fast hikers who started in Georgia appear.  Most will never catch Paul but a few of them are showing up.  Plus Paul is seeing more hikers because of the Long Trail and weekend hikers because it is beautiful, yet challenging hiking.  So I did not worry about him being alone.

 We parked the RV at  Greenwood Lodge.  It’s next door to the Prospect ski resort.  Chris and his family were wonderful hosts, the place was impeccably clean and the alpine  setting was beautiful.  I felt very comfortable leaving Paul knowing they would look out for him.

I commented to Chris, our host, that the ski runs next door were short but very steep.  He told me that the lift broke years ago and people either used the miles of cross country trails or they had to climb the mountain themselves and ski down.  I asked if people paid money to do that.  Yep.  These Vermontans are a tough breed.  

When I got back from California I took Paul to a steakhouse to reward him for the hard work.  The Publyk House in Bennington had huge steaks and a magnificent view of Bennington.  When we walked in, Paul was greeted like a celebrity.  A group of hikers from New York that Paul met on the trail were surprised to see him.  It was endearing to see their reaction.  They had all conquered some tough hiking trails and were celebrating.  It’s that commeraderie that makes the experience so rewarding.

Back on the trail

The ubiquitous New York hot dog stand.  “The Best Dam Hot Dog” stand is a seasonal landmark near Greenwood Lake, NY.   It is a sight for sore eyes when you pop out of the woods and find this guy on the side of the road by the trailhead.
After getting the doctors’ approval, Paul hit the trail again the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend.  It was unseasonably hot and humid.  We didn’t care.  We were both excited to get back out there.  Plus it was nice to see some blue skies again.

I dropped Paul at the trailhead by this hot dog stand.  He was excited to get started.  He promised to take it easy and would call me if he needed anything.  
I noticed a hiker headed down the hill into the town of Greenwood Lake.  I asked her if she would like a ride.  She hopped in and asked if we could pick up another hiker she met at the shelter who was also headed into town.  KT wanted to go to a farm stand.  She was on a mission to get some watermelon.  Based on my own experiences with the farm stands, I was afraid she was going to be disappointed.  But why not try.  She is from New Hampshire and like everyone I’ve met from the Granite State, she is proud of it’s beauty and ruggedness.  Let’s find this hungry hiker some juicy fruit.  

Halfway down the hill we picked up the appropriately named, Quick.  He’s from Alexandria, VA.  He started at Springer Mountain.  Even with taking some time off to attend to an injury he is still one of the earliest thru hikers we’ve met who started in Georgia in March.  He is Quick!
Greenwood Lake is a community accustomed to hikers.  When I dropped Quick off at a hiker friendly coffeehouse a lady pulled up to us.  She asked Quick if he was hiking the AT.  When he said yes, she handed him a ten dollar bill and said “I always buy the hikers lunch”. Then she drove off.   I was amazed.  Quick thanked her and promptly gave KT, whom the driver had not seen, half of the money.  Wow.  We said good bye to Quick and went to find the farm stand.
As I suspected there was no watermelon.  Even the strawberries were imported from California.  The rains this season went on for so long that the crops are late.  About the only local fruit available was an apple.  I will always remember the look on KTs face as she bit into the apple.  It was a look of disappointment but knowing that you had to be satisfied with what you got.  I imagine the hikers have learned to live with that emotion a lot.  Another life metaphor from the trail.
I thought I would surprise Paul with a treat.  I knew his spirits needed some lifting.  Plus it was stinking hot and humid.  So I booked us a room for a couple of nights at a hotel.  We’ve not stayed in a hotel since we hit the trail.  He could watch the Indianapolis 500 in air conditioned comfort.  I could take a bubble bath.  It was a win win.
When I spoke to Paul later in the day he told me that he met another hiker who retired from the military the same year he did. They hiked together for a couple of hours before Paul told him to go on while he took a break.  Rain is hiking while his wife, Sprinkle, is following along with their Airstream.  She was parked at the trailhead we were going to.
I knew Paul was whooped so we agreed to pick him up one trail crossing early.  I went back to the hot dog stand and bought a bunch of dogs.  I wanted to meet Rain and Sprinkle so we went to the trailhead where they were meeting.  We passed Rain as he was coming into the final stretch.  Paul hopped out of the car and greeted Rain with a hot dog and a cold coke.  
We met Sprinkle and they had a surprise for me:

Trail magic for me!  Texans know the significance of Shiner beer.  I asked where in the world they found Shiner in New York.  They found it in a little store in Vernon, New Jersey.  
We stayed and talked at the trail head for awhile.  We had an ice chest full of soda and water.  Not too much later we saw Quick again.  In spite of taking the side trip into town he still managed to cover huge miles that day.  
We finally left when a family from Harlem came out of the woods and they were completely lost.  They had wandered seven miles away from their car.  We gave them the rest of our water and gave the dad a ride back to his car.  The kids stayed with Rain and Sprinkle until he could get back.  

Paul was thrilled with the hotel idea.   He can rest up before tackling the next challenge:  The Lemon Squeezer.  
More on Rain and Sprinkle on the next post.  It felt really good to be back on the trail.

Getting the 411 on New York

The Bellvale Farms Creamery–great views and even better ice cream
During our days off we did a little recon of the area.  We met a couple of police officers from Connecticut at this ice cream shop on top of Mt. Peter near Greenwood Lake, NY.  We overheard them trying to figure out how they were going to get to a deli at the bottom of the mountain in time to get a grinder and catch the bus back into the city.  They’d been out several days doing a section hike and they were starving.  
We introduced ourselves and offered to take them to the deli.  They were grateful for the ride.  We laughed about how we would never pick up strangers back home and we do it all the time here.  They said they don’t even do that in their patrol cars.
I didn’t catch the first guy’s name but he could talk a million miles an hour with the NYC accent.  He referred to his partner as Big Country.  They were helpful in telling us about the terrain in New York.  The trail is still rocky in New York, but not like in Pennsylvania.  On this side of the Hudson River they warned us of the rock walls.  There are several rock features that you have to negotiate up or down.  They aren’t high, but they are a pain and really slow you down.  Just inside the New York border Paul encountered “The Ladder”.  The pictures show an actual ladder leaning against a rock face.  However when Paul got there the ladder had been replaced with rebar hammered into the wall.  They look a bit like large staples and are intended to be used as steps.  Try climbing up that with a heavy backpack.  We heard later that the day after Paul hiked that section a hiker fell off of the ladder and broke his leg.  He layed there for two hours before anyone found him.  Nightmare!  
The other difference in New York is that for some reason they don’t do switchbacks.  The mountains may not be that high but they are pretty steep to have to walk straight up.  Both guys reassured us that the trail does get better once you cross the Hudson River.
We thanked the guys for the information.  Fortunately for them the bus stop was right in front of the deli.  They had an hour to enjoy their grinders before the bus got there.  I think Paul is now mentally prepared to tackle the walls of New York.  

West Point

The chapel at West Point Military Academy
2nd picture-the parade grounds and dorms.  3rd pic–view of the Hudson River from Trophy Point at West Point 

During the waiting period for Paul’s tests I got a travel companion.   As the AT travels through the Hudson River Valley it passes within a few miles of West Point.  As an Army guy,  I thought that Paul might be interested in seeing a part of his heritage.  I was positively giddy because I love visiting historical sites, particularly if they are scenic.  At the very least I thought it would be a good distraction for Paul.

We got there the week after graduation.  It was one of the few occasions where there are no cadets on campus.  Unlike other colleges or universities, the cadets don’t get the Summer off.  That’s when they go for more advanced Army training.  Whether it is Air Assault school or tactical schools, they are still learning.  Paul remembers having cadets come through Basic Training when he was a Drill Sergeant.

If you are in the area I highly recommend taking the guided tour.  There is so much history here.  George Washington selected the site.  It was the plans to Westpoint that Benedict Arnold was selling to the British.  They caught his accomplice in a boat on the Hudson.  Most of the high ranking officers on both sides of the Civil War went here or taught here.  Both Robert E Lee and Stonewall Jackson are still highly regarded here.  My favorite story was about Patton.  It took him 5 years to graduate, which would not be allowed now.  (He had dyslexia).  He said it took him so long because he couldn’t find the library.  So now his statue is prominently placed in front of the library.  There is so much tradition here.  I would LOVE to go to a football game here.  It would be nice if they would win one too.

I love this picture of Paul.  We are in the chapel and the guide was telling us about the candle lighted behind Paul.  It sits in the middle of the pews.  It represents the POW/MIAs.  And it is always lit.  It was a particularly emotional moment for all the Veterans on the tour.
I learned on the tour that the Army mascot is the mule.  I think that is so appropriate.  Paul definitely shares the attributes assigned to the mule:  stubborn, hard working, clever, tireless….  And those traits will continue to serve him well on the trail.

Ups and downs on and off the trail

Today is Paul’s last day in New York.  Since my last post was from when Paul entered the state, I’ll try to catch you up on The last 10 days or so.  New York is where we both experienced some of our happiest days on the trail and some of our lowest.  So let me go back in fill you in.

When I last wrote,  I was returning from a great weekend celebrating my nephew’s graduation.  My journey back was a nightmare.  I sat next to a guy who was drinking vodka out of his Yeti tumbler.  Luckily for me Mario was a happy drunk and not a weepy or angry drunk.  Unfortunately for me, Mario wanted to talk.  His vodka breath was so bad that it gave me a migraine.  He also kept trying to put his earbuds in my ears to listen to his music.  I finally told him he had to stop talking and it would be in everyone’s best interest if he took a nap.  Thankfully he did.  

Once we landed I discovered that my ride confused my arrival time and was going to be two hours late.  Great.  When she did pick me up I found out quickly that she is a rabid fan of a political candidate that I can’t stand.  She had even campaigned for this candidate in other states.  I told her that we had not turned on the TV for 2 months and I loved not being subjected to all of the political mudslinging.  I asked her to change subjects and tell me about the history of the area we were driving through.  She somehow turned that political too.  Everything wrong in the area was the fault of the other political party.  When I finally got back to the RV I just wanted to crawl under the covers.

That’s when I noticed that Paul didn’t seem himself.  I’d only been gone a few days, but something was wrong.  Paul told me then that he had been struggling with an injury and was concerned that it could mean the end of his hike.  That’s when my day just seemed a little annoying compared to what could be a dream killer.

The next day we went to an Urgent Care in Goshen, NY.  Dr. O’Connor confirmed what Paul was afraid of…he has a hernia.  Paul had one 20+ years ago so he knew he was susceptible.  Dr. O’Connor suggested that Paul get a CT scan to determine the degree of the damage.  Hernias don’t get better over time.  They have to be surgically repaired. If any of the intestine or bowel is involved you run the risk of it strangulating and that can be life threatening. The recovery from surgery is about two months to get back to normal activity.  No telling how long it would take to get back to doing this kind of strenuous exercise.  Amazingly we were able to get the CT scan scheduled within 3 days.  

Those had to be the longest three days to Paul.  We went to St. Anthony’s in Warwick, NY.  The locals call it “St. Agony’s”, but we found them to be very professional and friendly.  That day we learned that the tear is very small and there is no intestine involved.  After consulting with two doctors (thank you, Anne) and weighing the risks, we’ve decided to continue.  Paul got some supportive/protective gear so he feels good about this.  We’ve tried to lighten his load.  And he is being conscientious about using proper  lifting techniques.  He is paying close attention to his body and if things change we may have to take care of this sooner than later.  But for now we are going on.

By this point in the trail I’d say the majority of the hikers have had to contend with illness or injury.  We’ve even met one who took a month off and came back.  Sometimes you don’t quit as much as you get taken out.  It’s a testament to how hard this is.  That’s why some folks call this the “Appalachian Trial”.

But we are back.  I’ll have more posts about what we’ve seen and done in New York.  I’m off to go take a picture of Paul crossing the New York/Connecticut state line.