Jumping to New York--June 26
Those of you who have followed my reports from the beginning know that I, my wife Laurie, and MacAfee of Knob (The Amazing Appalachian Bouncing Dog) are on a different kind of Appalachian Trail journey.
Most hikers walk the pathway's full 2,174 miles in five to six months. We, however, are going only about 10 miles a day and will take more than nine months.
As we knew from the outset, this slower pace necessitated our jumping from northern Virginia to New York so that we can reach the trail's northern terminus in Maine before the weather becomes too cold. We will then return to New York and hike southward into autumn to finish the section we missed.
It was something of a shock to jump from the easy and gently graded trails of Virginia's Shenandoah National Park to the rugged terrain of New York's Harriman and Bear Mountain State Parks. The mountains rise to just 1,200 feet in elevation, but the last few hundred feet of each ridgeline is a jumble of Volkwagen-sized boulders. We can normally walk about 1.5 miles an hour, but progress slowed considerably as we became more like rock climbers than hikers. Hours were spent using hands as well as feet to go over, around, and sometimes under the huge stone barriers.
One spot was so steep that trail builders had constructed a ladder to help us get up the rock face. MacAfee, with his four-paw drive (and a bit of help from Laurie), masterfully ascended the apparatus. A day later, a defile known as "The Lemon Squeezer" was so narrow that we had to take our packs off to inch our way through.
North of the state parks, we began what I call the civilized stretch. The terrain is more gentle and the trail courses its way through the wooded corridors that exist on narrow ridgelines above the housing developments of suburban New York and Connecticut.
The hum of traffic is almost constantly with us. We often hear children squealing with delight as they splash about in swimming pools, and the sound of lawnmowers fills the weekend daylight hours. Many evenings the aroma of hamburgers and steaks grilling on backyard barbecues drifted up the hillsides. For those of us who have been eating bland trail food for months on end, the smell was both tantalizing and torturous.
Lime Rock Park Race Track near Salisbury, Conn., is a few hundred feet below one of the trail's ridgelines and we watched what appeared to us to be miniature cars go around and around and around the paved course. Paul Newman and other celebrities may have been able to fulfill their need for speed here, but for us, the cacophony of revving engines, grinding gears, and squealing tires interrupted the tranquility of the woods for hours on end.
It seems a bit ironic, but we are seeing more wildlife in this populated area than we were in the isolated mountains of the southern Appalachian's national parks and forests. Every day we admire the skillful abilities of vultures soaring on thermals rising from the valleys below. Mother deer and fawns graze on the underbrush, scores of squirrels and chipmunks scamper about on the forest floor, and striped garter snakes slither underfoot. The staccato sound of woodpeckers hammering out a living greet us as we rise in the morning, and a whole chorus of bird songs serenades us to sleep in the evening.
A most interesting wildlife encounter occurred when we were walking across the Hudson River on the Bear Mountain Bridge. We watched what we thought was a hawk fly back and forth to the top of one of the bridge's tall steel girders, presumably feeding its nest of young. It must have seen us, because it changed course, tucked its wings close to its sides and, like a dive bomber, came rushing down toward us. About 20 feet from us, it let out a piercing scream, opened its claws and spread its wings. It got so close that we were able to see just how sharp the claws were -- just before it soared back up into the sky.
Time and time again, it tucked its wings and dived toward us, once getting so close that we covered our heads with our arms, almost certain those claws were going to dig into our scalps. It eventually left us alone, I presume, because we had walked far enough away that it no longer perceived us as a threat to its young. A look in a bird identification book a few days later convinced us that we had been swooped down upon by a peregrine falcon.
MacAfee of Knob remains in good spirits and is always ready to jump into a stream on a warm day. Being a long-haired dog, he has appreciated the cool temperatures we have experienced the last few days. The thru-hikers we meet along the way have learned to let him have his space when he is tied up and eating dinner at a campsite, but that he is a friendly and happy dog when roaming untethered along the trail.
Connecticut has been a bit of a transition zone, with the terrain and vegetation most often associated with the Southern Appalachians gradually giving way to the topography and plants of the New England states. By the time you read this, we will be in Massachusetts, hiking past glacially created lakes and ponds bordered by spruce and birch trees.