The hardest part of this is not the sore feet. It’s not getting up early in the morning, or getting to camp at night. It’s not the rain, the heat, the bugs. The hardest part is knowing that you can do it. To be mentally tough enough to stop being scared of your potential and chase your dreams.
One of the things that I have heard most from people when I tell them that I’m thruhiking the Appalachian Trail is, “Oh, I wish I could do that, but I’ve never had the time.” Or, “I’ve always wanted to do that, but I would never be able to.” To all those who really, sincerely want to hike the trail but feel like it is not an achievable goal, it is. You have to work hard at it, make the time for it, but if it’s something you really want, you can do it.
It’s been a good while since my last post, and my apologies for that. I haven’t been able to find a library in a while! But here I am now.
Pineapple and I took the bus, then the train back to Pawling, NY, to get on trail right where I had started. Pineapple wasn’t quite ready to go home yet, so he decided to hike south with me for a little while. Because Pawling is one of the last stops on the train, the conductor gave specific instructions on which cars you had to be in to get off the train. When we reached our stop in Pawling, we went to get off and the door didn’t open! We ran to the next car but that one didn’t open either. The train started moving again and I freaked out.
We got off the train at the next stop and weighed our options. We could buy a train ticket back to Pawling, but we don’t want to spend that money, and the next tain doesn’t leave for an hour and a half. We could also try walking back to the trail, a 5 mile walk, and attempt to hitch hike while we walk. Our last option is to try to hitch from the train station, but stay there in case we need to take the train. We decide to hitch from the train station. Immediately, a van pulls over. A father and son are sitting inside, and we tell there where we need to go. We climb in the back with all the painter’s supplies, and before we know it, we are back at the trail.
The next couple nights, Pineapple and I barely run into any other Southbound thruhikers. We decide he will head home once we reach Fort Montgomery, just south of the Hudson River. The night before we arrive in Fort Montgomery, we meet a couple other southbounders, Peeps and Towelie. Towelie, a 22 year old from Durham, NC, and Peeps, a 31 year old from New York, have been hiking together for almost the entire trail. That night, the four of us stay together at the Greymoore Spiritual Life Center, a little park not too far from the trail owned by a church and open to thruhikers for overnight camping. We arrive and begin cooking and setting up our camp for the night, and a car pulls up. The door opens and cub scouts pour out. The driver, a middle-aged man wearing a uniform, comes over to us and lets us know that the cub scouts are going to be camping there that night. They are willing to share the space, but they need the area we were going to camp in, and they stay up late.
Peeps and Towelie leave, in order to avoid being kept up by screaming kids, but Pineapple and I stick around. I set up my tent in the baseball field. The parents of the cub scouts are friendly and give me some fruit and hot chocolate. One of the dads obviously considers himself an expert on camping, and starts quizzing me on my gear. It was strange. It seemed like the dads there who were really into camping were trying to catch me slipping up, so they could correct me and reassert themselves as “expert campers.”
The next morning, I hike down to Fort Montgomery. Pineapple decided the night before to leave straight from the Greymoore, so I am all alone. Early into the day, however, I run into Peeps and Towelie again. We make plans to potentially share a room in town. I hike into town ahead of them.
Right before reaching Fort Montgomery, the trail goes across a bridge over the Hudson River.
As I was walking across the bridge, I had a sudden memory of my journey to the trail 3 months prior, and driving over that bridge. I saw someone walking with a pack and it was so exciting. I internalized the incredibly long distance I have already hiked, and the feeling was amazing. I passed a man with a camera, who was waiting there for hours to get the perfect shot of a train going by. He asked where I was headed and I replied, “Georgia!”
I stayed at the Stony Point Center with Peeps and Towelie. The room was affordable, and came with a great breakfast. The place was a retreat center, so all around were groups of people in colorful baggy clothing doing crafts with rocks, tai chi, and meditating.
We decided to zero in town, but we didn’t want to pay for another place to stay. I had broken my phone and just gotten a new one, so I needed to stick around and set up the new phone, and Peeps had to wait for a package. We decided to camp somewhere around the town. We walked toward the trail and as we got near it, we found a park that was historically the location of a battle. There were cannons facing the river and a perfect camp spot was just below.
We set up our tents, and as we were doing so, we heard a loud rumbling. The ground vibrated as the sound got louder and louder, and we realized we had set up our tents on top of a train tunnel! We decided to stay and try to sleep through the trains, which came by every three hours. I know that because I woke up every time.
My old phone was acting weird, but as it was still in good condition and fairly new, I considered sending it home or selling it. However, somehow, just 2 hours after getting my new phone, the screen was completely shattered. As the phone was now useless, I was going to throw it away. As Towelie and Peeps and I stood on top of the train tunnel and watched the box cars full of trash rush past, we had an idea. The next train that went by, we went to the edge of the tunnel and I tossed the old phone into the air. It landed perfectly atop a pile of trash on the train.
We hiked over Bear Mountain the next day, and I was bummed out. The trail goes through a zoo at the base of the mountain, but both times I had tried to go through, the zoo had been closed, so I had to go around it.
The water sources along the trail have been getting worse and worse the father south we go. It also doesn’t help that it hasn’t rained in weeks. You often have to walk half a mile round trip off of the trail just to get water, as opposed to in Maine, when we crossed a water source every couple hours.
There’s a section of the trail called the “Lemon Squeezer” where the trail goes between two very tight boulders. However, everyone agrees that the hardest part is the climb down to the Lemon Squeezer. For me, though, the hardest part was just walking up to the whole mess. I tripped and gouged open my shin on a rock! Thankfully, I’m tough, and it looked worse than it was. Battle scars!
Peeps and Towelie and I hiked together into New Jersey. We went into town to resupply, and on our way out of town, a guy flagged us down on the street. He said he had seen us hitch hiking earlier that day into town and was sorry he couldn’t give us a ride, but he’d drive us out of town if we wanted.
We piled into his car, but something about it didn’t feel right to me. The way he was acting and the things he was saying seemed off, and had I been alone I wouldn’t have gotten into his car. I decided that I would just say as little as possible to him and leave quickly at the trail. It was only a mile and a half drive back to the trail, and I sat in the backseat with Peeps, practically hiding behind my pack and staring out the window. He was chatting away and I didn’t pay much attention until I heard, “Does your lady friend speak?” He was addressing Peeps and Towelie, but referring to me. I laughed it off and answered his question. I don’t know if he was trying to lighten the mood when he said this, but he then said, “Don’t worry, I’ll only murder two of you.” Peeps and I made eye contact and I could tell he understood my fear. We arrived at the trailhead and he wouldn’t stop talking. He leered at me and told me I looked like someone he knew. We didn’t want to be rude, but it was already dark and we still had to find a place to camp. He kept telling us all the camp spots around and asking where we were going. We eventually told him we were going north up the trail to find a spot and started hiking away. We went maybe .1 miles north, then waited for a couple minutes. When we felt good, we turned around and hiked half a mile south, and set up our tents there.
I had just been telling Peeps and Towelie about how I don’t camp near roads or towns, especially alone, because of creepy guys, and they hadn’t understood. As soon as that guy left, however, they told me they completely understood, and that night they camped near me.
We hiked into Unionville the next day, and they were getting picked up by Peeps’ friends to take the day off at his house. I was going to meet my grandparents for lunch in Unionville, and then stick around and do a couple of short days to try to stick with the two of them.
I was having bad cramps, so I decided to only hike a mile out of Unionville and stay at the “Secret Shelter.” A privately owned shack, the secret shelter had a shower, outlets to charge phones, and a water pump. The best part, however, was probably the donkeys.
They came up to the porch as I was getting ready for bed and put their snouts right in my face and my pack. I set up my tent in the big field, and that night as I was falling asleep, I got to see some of the best stars I have ever seen.
Because I was taking a short day the next day, I decided to stick around the secret shelter until around noon and do some chores, such as washing out my pot and doing a little rinsing of dirty laundry. As I was there, a truck pulled up and I had the pleasure of meeting the owner of the property. He gave me a tour of the land, showing me all the roads he had built himself, wells he had dug, structures he had built. I would love to live somewhere like that one day.
I hiked to High Point shelter, just north of the New Jersey high point, and stayed there for the night. I went to bed and was almost asleep, where suddenly 4 other thruhikers showed up (Okee, Lemony Snicket, Rip Van Winkle, and MegaCat). This was the largest amount of thruhikers to be at one shelter since I had been in Maine. I got back up and we all chatted, telling each other our stories from the trail until after the sun went down.
The next day we all hiked to Branchville, NJ. We went to a local restaurant/bar, where we ordered food and played pool. When we arrived at the restaurant, there was a man there who we could tell was a hiker as well. Okee knew him, and told me that this was Tailwind. I had heard of him before, and I had never heard good things about him, so I was not excited to see him there. He seemed fine, and that night the 6 of us went off and found a campspot all together.
I hiked with Peeps and Towelie to Rattlesnake Spring campsite the next day, and even though we took our time, none of the others past us. I thought it was strange and figured they must have ended up staying somewhere north of us. However, the next morning, about a half hour into the day, I passed the others. Apparently they had tried to avoid the heat of midafternoon, and ended up hiking until midnight the night before.
We stopped that day at the Mohican Outdoor center, and restocked on water there.
We hiked on to the Delaware Water Gap that day, crossing into Pennsylvania.
I met a guy named Stokes, who had been hiking with Tailwind and another guy named Shoe Wizard for a little while. He and I hiked into the church in town, Church of the Mountain, which had a free hiker hostel in the basement. Stokes, Shoe Wizard, MegaCat, Tailwind, and I all called a shuttle to be taken to Walmart to resupply, and the laundromat. The shuttle was advertised as free, and was provided by Kenny “Ole-Dawg”, an associate of the church. I sat in the front seat with Kenny, who was an elderly, nice-seeming man, and introduced myself with my trail name. “Shiver?” he said, when I told him my name. “I don’t want you to make me shiver! I want you to keep me warm.” I laughed off the uncomfortable comment (do you sense a theme?) and kept the conversation going. He then told me a confusing story about how he ad recently driven his neighbor to jail, then proceeded to tell me “Don’t worry, I won’t take you to jail. I might take you home though!” He continued to make comments to me that were uncomfortable, until we finally pulled into the laundromat.
We got out of the car and the guys immediately started teasing me, saying that Kenny had the hots for me, making jokes about how we would make a great couple. I told them that he was making me feel really uncomfortable, and Stokes and I agreed that he would replace me in the front seat so I didn’t have to keep dealing with this.
We all got back in the car to go to Walmart and I sat behind Kenny. He asked me specifically if I had my seat belt on and I said yes. He said that I should have it on, because even though he wanted me to “climb into his seat with him”, that would be dangerous.
When we got to Walmart, Kenny told us to take our time and that he would wait for us there. We did our shopping, then went back to the laundromat to finish the laundry. As we got back into the car, Kenny said to the guys, “You guys don’t mind if I keep harassing this young lady, do you?” They replied that they did mind. Tailwind said “We’re uncomfortable, and you’re not even harassing us. Imagine how she feels.” I thanked them at the laundromat, and they said they weren’t going to donate to him, because the way he acted was ridiculous.
When we arrived back at the church, Kenny asked us for donations. All the other guys avoided eye contact, and headed inside. I, stupidly, felt guilty that none of the had donated, and I gave him 5 dollars.
The next day, I was doing some chores around the church before hiking out, and Kenny showed back up. He asked me “Are you the girl I gave a ride yesterday?” I said yes, thinking he might apologize for all the things he had said to me. Instead, he got up in my face and said:
“I was very unsatisfied with how yesterday went. I drove you and your friends all over the place and you barely gave me anything for it! I can’t drive after dark so after I dropped you off I had to go to the market down the street and sleep in my car!…” He continued to yell in my face until the hostel owner came and intervened. I started to have a panic attack, feeling really terrible for how everything was happening. I went inside the hostel and hid in one of the back rooms. Stokes came and found me and I told him I wanted to be left alone for a minute and asked him to leave. He left, and I heard shouting outside. Stokes stormed back in and informed me that he had just been kicked out of the church. Apparently, he had gone outside and told Kenny that he needed to either apologize to me or leave. Kenny, furious, had actually reached out and wrapped his hands around Stokes’ neck. There were about 7 or 8 other friends of ours who saw this happen. Stokes didn’t retaliate but did start yelling. He swore a couple times and the church kicked them both out.
I was really upset by this. We had asked over and over if it was really okay for Kenny to wait for us and he told us again and again that he had nowhere else to be and to take our time. I was worried because he was just an old man with no family and maybe his shuttle driving was all he had to sustain himself. I hadn’t wanted him to lose that. I was angry at Stokes for stepping in when I had just been asked to be left alone. I felt guilty that for my sake he had been kicked out of the church.
The pastor saw this happen and told me that Kenny would no longer be allowed to drive shuttles for the church. When Stokes had cooled off, he was told that he would not be kicked out of the church after all.
I had a moment where I wanted to just quit. I wanted to get off trail and come home. I’m tired of men treating me like an object that they can say whatever they want to. I’m tired of men underestimating my independence and ability because I am a young woman.
I am a young woman. I have walked a 1000 miles and I have done it because I am strong. I am smart, I am tough, and I deserve to be treated as such. From now on, I will give respect to those I meet, and I will be respected. I will stand up for myself, not because I have to prove anything, but because I am able to.
The good outcome of that situation is that Kenny is no longer allowed to drive shuttles for hikers. I talked to some other people who said that when they stayed there he exploited them monetarily, or that he made other female hikers uncomfortable. I’m glad that my situation was able to end this.
So, back to the trail.
I hiked out of Delaware Water Gap with Stokes, Shoe Wizard, and Tailwind. We made it 17 miles and camped on top of a ridgeline, where there was a beautiful view. The four of us built a fire and enjoyed the night, but there was some tension between Stokes and Tailwind. Tailwind was starting to get on my nerves, constantly asking for people to pay for him, conveniently “losing” his debit card while we were in town, asking to play music he wanted to listen to aloud on other people’s phones. Stokes and Shoe Wizard had joked that his trail name should be “Can I?”. Stokes and I had talked about how we were getting sick of him, and possibly trying to hike away from him. Over the next couple of days, the tensions grew.
I’ve been getting into night-hiking recently. It’s not that I really want to do it, but I don’t mind it like I have before. A couple nights ago, I hiked into Lehigh Gap. an infamous spot on the trail, known for being steep and rocky. I had the pleasure of doing it in the dark.
The next morning, I got a late start out of the shelter, as did they guys. There were a lot of day hikers around, and one of them was a woman who had thruhiked last year. She was very nice, and I was so happy to talk to another woman I invited her back to the shelter. She came and met the three guys, and Tailwind immediately started hitting on her. I felt a little guilty for putting her in that position but she didn’t seem to mind, so I let it go. I was all packed up and ready to go so I hung out for a few more minutes, then hiked on. As I was hiking, Stokes texted me to let me know that after I left, Tailwind had been bragging about how I had “stormed off because he was paying attention to someone else”. I was furious. How could he assume that I cared at all about his attention? Why did he just see me as some attention-hungry girl, when I was obviously out here working hard to reach a goal?
Stokes and Shoe Wizard told him that he was delusional. I kept hiking, fighting the urge to turn around and give him a piece of my mind. over the last couple days, I’ve been going faster than he can keep up with, so he’s lucky that I haven’t seen him again. Otherwise, I would give him a piece of my mind.
Remember Bruiser, from way back in Vermont at the beginning of my blog? She lives in Pennsylvania, and invited me to stay with her and slack pack for a couple days! It’s been super great! I missed hanging out with her and Blue. I did 20 miles each day that I slack packed. Yesterday, I hit 1000 miles all together that I’ve hiked! Take that, haters!