AT SOBO Part 18 – New York, Deli Blazing, Zoos and Adventures
New York, New York!! In the words of the late, great Frank Sinatra: if I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere. And I made it; from deli to deli down the trail. I know this sounds like the life of luxury but it really wasn’t. The Deli’s were good but we had to walk extra mileage to find them, nestled off route on side roads and highways. But boy was it worth it; fresh blueberry bagels with cream cheese, egg and bacon on hot rolls, and tasty pastrami on rye. One place called ‘Tony’s Deli’ allowed hikers to camp in a patch of grass by his store. This was next to a very busy highway and the deli itself opened until 2am, and then again at 5am, serving the needs of the local industry workers. We pitched up and lay back in our tents after evening sandwiches, full and happy… until the train into NYC blared past yards from us on the other side of the deli. Oh my goodness. A highway on one side and a train with a blaring horn parping through the night on the other. Hikers however, can sleep through most things. So we did.
And on we hiked. It may seem hard to imagine now that the winter is here (but I have enjoyed telling you this story so much that I’m a little behind) but it was extremely dry and hot, with electric heat storms most nights. We excitedly got to Canopus Lake which was a beautiful expanse of water with a beach and volleyball nets, as well as a large field set aside for thru hikers to camp in. There was a tiny concession stand about to close as we arrived, and we fell upon it like wild animals; decimating the racks of Sprite and Gatorade. My friends played volleyball with some locals who had driven out to swim and bbq, and I watched the world go by; glad of an afternoon off to let my sore legs rest.
The days of hiking turned into a dehydrated blur, covering between 18 to 26 miles a day as standard. One of our most exciting days was coming – the weird Museum, Zoo and Pool combo! We crossed a huge bridge over the Hudson River, freaking out at all the cars and people, then the AT path took us right through the middle of a museum and zoo!! Bonkers! I don’t really like zoos, because I find it hard to see the animals in small enclosures, but these animals were all rescues who wouldn’t survive without being brought in, which made it easier to see. Attached to the zoo and on the AT route out there was a public outdoor swimming pool which was free for hikers. So we all trooped in, got our free passes and jumped right in to the pool in our underwear (hikers definitely don’t carry swimmers).What joy! Diving and racing and splashing, whilst one of our hiking family who was also a veteran sat on the side to try to stop his beautiful service dog from cannonballing in with us all. We still had miles of stairs up Bear Mountain to climb though, so we didn’t linger too long. What a marvellous day of total weirdness.
We continued pushing onward. There was never much time to stop and enjoy anywhere we found ourselves because there were always more miles to crush. I started early morning headlamp hiking in the dark to beat the heat with my friend Wag. One morning before dawn we took a side route that led us past a beautiful lake, where we figured out from our maps that there would be vending machines – we were desperate to get soda. I can’t describe the strange longing for a can of cold soda after 4 or 5 days away from any stores; people or usual conveniences, compounded by 20+ daily miles and blistering heat. To find one feels like such a win! This particular National Park and lake were deserted at 5:30am except for one humming soda machine and another ice cream machine. JACKPOT!
The bears had been busy in the early hours too, as the bins were all toppled over and rifled through as far as the eye could see along the shoreline. Wag and I then tried the Bottle Cap Trail to get back onto the AT from the lake. It was a barely used trail so we had to use our GPS and maps to make it, as the only markers on trail itself were beer bottle caps nailed to trees along the way! It took ages to locate some of them to make sure we were going in the right direction. Happily we were, and joined back on the AT just at the the point of the Lemon Squeezer; rocks so tightly set together that you have to take your pack off and push it along in front of you to get through. It’s a lovely little AT landmark. Our next reward for all these miles in the heat was the very famous Creamery a few days later, where we joined a long line of regular folk who come miles to enjoy this incredible home-made ice cream. As ever, we elicited some sidelong looks in the queue for looking so grubby, happy and tired.
We were soon to pass into New Jersey and the states seemed to be zipping by. It was fun, sweltering and full of endless surprises but it wasn’t as wild and remote as it was, and I kind of missed the hardship and the feeling of being marooned in nature with just a few people. Being closer to civilisation had its own challenges though, both physical and mental. Many people were popping off for a day here and there to see family in NYC or having friends join them to take them out to lunch and get a hotel room to relax in. This made me miss my own family and friends hugely. I didn’t know it then but I’d need them more than ever soon, as my hardest weeks on trail both mentally and emotionally were about to hit me, and I would struggle not to quit.
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