All the news on the trail today was about yesterday's accident. Everybody was so concerned since very few people knew who had been injured and what had happened. All of today's partings and farewells seemed to be filled with calls of "Hike safely" rather than the usual "Have a good hike."
I got a chance to speak at length with Chameleon earlier in the day. He looks so thin and tired now that when I saw him I wanted to ask him how he was doing. We talked for a while about how the atmosphere on the trail seems to have changed over the past month or two. I don't know whether it's the people on the trail or us. I think we're all tired and a lot of that magic that we felt every single day when we first started the trail just isn't there any more. A lot of times you wake up and it feels just like a job--an extremely exhausting and stressful one at times. Your days off are not really days off because you have to spend them cleaning gear, doing laundry, planning food, doing any repairs, and writing postcards/journals/ etc. Your body and your mind are tired after months on the trail and it's really beginning to show on some people. People that were once all smiles and happiness now look hagard and drawn. A lot of the hikers seem a lot more concerned with themselves than they once were. I think we're all just trying to survive and personal survival definitely comes before the survival of the group for most of us.
I shared with him my bout with depression while I was on the trail in Pennsylvania in early July. That was my lowest point mentally since I've been on the trail and I guess it was the closest I ever came to leaving the trail. He asked me what I did about it and I told him I took some time off to try and get back some of my excitement and positive outlook regarding the trail. After a few days off I began to miss the trail again and was able to come back feeling a little more refreshed. I had a different outlook regarding my mileage and a different standard to measure my success by--my success is only measured by the fact that I am still out here on the trail and I am doing my best to complete this journey in a manner that is right for me. It's worked for me at least.
I later found out that Chameleon decided to leave the trail today to take some time off. He's only planning on being gone a week and I really hope that it does for him what it did for me. He's one of my favorites out on the trail, and we've both always kept tabs on each other and have always been encouraged to hear updates on each other's progress. Don't forget we've got a date in Maine, Chameleon!
We entered Harriman State Park today. This is one of my favorites. I've gone on many a hiking trip in this park with my younger brother and I really love the open woodland setting. This park contains some of the first sections of the AT ever built, some of which date back to 1922.
I saw three does and a fawn that looked like it had just lost its spots. Two pileated woodpeckers flew overhead at one point during the day and I heard more hawks than I did airplanes for a change. There were large patches of Steeplebush blooming up by the Fingerboard Shelter and Spreading Dogbane was in bloom on top of Black Mountain.
The Lemon Squeezer is also on this section of trail. It's a very cool little playground if you're in the right mood. It's a narrow crevice that even smaller hikers can have a hard time negotiating. This is immediately followed by a very tough little climb where the strength of your grip and size of your girth swinging around a tree trunk as you hang over the edge are big factors in whether you can make it or not.
At the very end of the day I met a large group of young girls who were out dayhiking from a local camp. One of them is possibly planning on doing a thru-hike in '99 so I stopped to talk with her for quite a while. I see so few women out on the trail that any time I meet a female who expresses an interest in the trail, I really make an effort to be as helpful, encouraging, and positive as I can and I always give out my name and address should they ever want to get in touch with someone with questions about hiking.
It was an early day for me. I ran into 180 as I finished up at the Palisades Interstate Parkway. He was trying to dry out his tent in the median of the road by the info center. I was glad to see him since I had found one of his little homemade hip pads at the bottom of the Lemon Squeezer and had picked it up in hopes of catching up to him today. He was grateful for its return since he's been battling sores on his hips from his pack belt. He said he knew he lost the little hip pad and even looked back over the edge and saw it below, but there was no way he was going back down there to retrieve it and then have to do that climb all over again. 180 is a BIG guy and I would have given anything to have seen him negotiating that Lemon Squeezer :-)
I hate to feel that I'm the one that's "kicked him off the trail" because I wanted to hike alone, but this is what I need to do. When I started the trail, I had always planned on hiking the entire thing by myself. It was part of the reason why I was going out there. It's been less than 400 miles that FireBall and I have actually hiked together as true partners, and he's really been a wonderful partner at that, but I'm ready to be on my own again.
For me, hiking alone is a completely different feeling. For some odd reason, I feel like a stronger person when I'm alone. I don't quite understand it, but once there is nobody else around to rely on, this inner strength wells up inside of me. My thoughts during my hike are completely different. There's nobody else to be concerned about but me, and that makes a huge difference for me. I'll miss FireBall's company terribly, but I think that I'm being more true to my original goals for this thru-hike if I complete the rest of it alone.
My first day back on the trail as a solo hiker was a good one. I was very relaxed and feeling good today. I had goodie boxes from Raven and Eddie Grubb waiting for me at the Bear Mountain P.O. as well as letters from John, Phil Atwood, Grandma, and my Dad.
Micah and I lucked into some cheeseburgers and sodas that some office party picnicers were very willing to share with us when we arrived at Bear Mountain Park. I didn't leave the park until 4:30 and had a little bit of technical difficulty getting through the Trailside Museum/Zoo at Bear Mountain. It seems that they don't officially allow dogs to enter the zoo, but the trail goes right through it! The young girls at the front said they were willing to make an exception for a thru-hiking dog provided I waited a little while for one of the more strict zoo keepers to go home and I was not allowed to stop and look at any of the exhibits or animals since Micah's presence might upset the animals.
Crossing Bear Mountain Bridge on foot was a little different. I had some great views over the Hudson and it was a beautiful day. I didn't make it to Graymoor until almost dark. The monastery asks that thru-hikers check in between 3 and 5 and they don't allow dogs, so I decided to just tent in their abandoned ballfield. I was the only hiker there.
I visited the Shrine of the Virgin Mary on my way out of Graymoor. It was on a little side trail and I sat there and read the little guest book that people sign. It was pretty touching some of the stories and sentiments that people had expressed in this journal. There were some polaroids of a Chilean family that had made a pilgrimage to this spot to ask the Virgin Mary's blessings for an ill family member. There were 12 of them in the picture. All holding umbrellas over there heads on what looked like a cold, wet day. The youngest member couldn't have been much older than 7, and the oldest was well past 70.
During the day I met several other thru-hikers that had actually stayed at the monastery. I believe there were about 10 there last night- 3 were southbounders. 180 had been there as well. The others I met were Redwood, Matthew, and SkyGod (who I believe is keeping a web journal on the Appalachian Trailplace Web Page). They told me that Ed Garvey had stopped by the monastery this morning. I think he's out on the trail promoting the new edition of his book. I can't recall the title right this minute, but it's one of the most widely read books about thru-hiking the AT.