Location: Bear Mountain Motel
Labor Day. Bears and I were slow to leave the park this morning though we had a hotel room waiting for us at the end of the day. I had stayed awake until midnight last night reading A Clockwork Orange. We left the park around 9:15am. We walked highway 301 for a mile to the trail. Our day began easily and then the climbs began.
Bears handled the trail well at first. The trail wound nicely through the woods and over small hills. We encountered many morning trail runners on the flat terrain. Once the hills started, Bears began to struggle. I pushed hard in the morning to get a large chunk of the 19 miles out of the way by noon. I hiked nonstop from 9:30am to 12:30am and covered just over eight miles. When I reached Canopus Road, I stopped on a rock to wait for Bears. I snacked and ate lunch. Bears still didn’t arrive. So with my rain jacket and a few Ziplocs, I fashioned a padded recliner in the rocks and fell asleep. The last thing I remember before my eyes closed was watching the wind blow through the trees as the sun flashed behind the leaves. When I woke up, I woke to the sounds of footsteps. I tipped my cap from my face and yelled, ‘Bears!’ I turned to finish my thought and ask ‘Where have you been?’ I saw a middle-aged woman in jogging sweats frozen on the road. I apologized and assured her that there were no bears nearby. She continued down the road with a scowl.
Bears finally arrived at 1:50pm. He sat and ate. I offered pretzels, tuna, and Teddy Grahams to supplement his lunch. He took only a few Teddy Grahams. He reached into the bag and pinched a few between his fingers and ate them sheepishly as though he didn’t want to offend me by taking too many. I wanted him to stuff his face with every last one and then ask for more. He said that the uphill has really been taking its toll on him. He thinks he knows why de has no energy and I think he is right on. Bears can’t eat enough food to sustain his body on the trail. He doesn’t eat all of his food at meals. He doesn’t eat lunch but only snacks during the day and he doesn’t drink much water. He takes in probably 3000 calories a day but needs more like 5000.
This afternoon we climbed Denning Hill. I reached the top 30 minutes before Bears, which means he climbed the steep grade of the hill, not a mountain, a hill, at well under two miles per hour. I waited on top at an overlook to make sure he didn’t miss the sight. I thought that a panoramic view of NYC 30 miles away might motivate or excite him or just make him smile. As he neared the summit, I could hear his poles lazily clicking the rocks as he climbed. He wasn’t digging in with his hiking sticks to help him get up the mountain. Instead he dragged them and gently placed them on the dirt.
He struggled all day, even on the slightest hills. I pity him, I really do. It is as though I am watching him die, or watching his dream die. It’s not horrifying to watch as he fades, just sad and pitiful. It’s like watching the decay of a paper doll left in the rain. The colors on his face run, his limbs sag, and his edges fray. He is disintegrating bit by bit, piece by piece. His will to continue, to live on in his dream, falls apart more with each setback. Every time he catches up to me and sits with me on a rock or stump, he barely has the energy to converse. His deteriorated condition seems taboo to speak of. We both know what the future holds, but neither of us will be the first to utter the words so final a crumbling dream.
Bears and I walked into Ft. Montgomery, NY around 7:00pm. I arrived much earlier around 6:15pm, but Bears dragged behind because of a hill. I crossed the Hudson River on the Bear Mountain Bridge and sat to rest on a bench to wait for Bears. I thought about his condition and it saddened me. I thought how he used to always be on my heels but now couldn’t keep pace, not because I’m stronger or faster now, but because he has lost the thing that spurred him, whatever that thing is for him. Everyone on the trail is motivated by something or a combination of things, if not, that person would not last long on the trail. Everyone’s motivation is different, but something compels the thru-hiker to hike through pain, bad weather, hunger, and injury. Something convinces a person to wake up each morning and walk. The walking can be tedious and boring, and remaining motivated to repeatedly wake and walk can be difficult. Even writing about it reminds me how repetitive it is. I hike, rest, eat, and sleep. That is the routine of any thru-hiker, and each hiker requires a motive to continue because home is always a bus ticket away. Bears has lost his motivation to continue the lifestyle of a thru-hiker, and he needs to find it if he wants to reach Springer. I lost mine once and needed a break from hiking to relocate it.
After a long sit on the bridge and enough time looking at the Pepsi machine without a dollar in my pocket, I decided to cross the large suspension bridge again. Traffic was whipping past the sidewalk, but I decided I’d walk back to the center of the bridge and watch the boats pass hundreds of feet below. I saw Bears reach the intersection on the east side of the Hudson and after some confusion, realized how to cross the busy intersection safely and then get onto the bridge. I watched the boats in the murky water below while he walked the long distance to the center of the bridge. Cabin boats, mainly cruisers and speedboats, snaked the channel through the Hudson. No Regulators.
Bears and I took pictures on the bridge and then walked to Ft. Montgomery, just 0.7 mile from the bridge. Cold Feet was at the Bear Mountain Bridge Motel, but we didn’t know where the motel was and no one picked up the phone when we called. Our long day was made longer by several unfortunate difficulties. Bears’ phone ran out of battery. The attendant at the gas station had no idea where anything was in town and couldn’t find a full English sentence with two hands and a flashlight. The owners of the motel were at a party and not answering the phone and the payphone was busted. I did make a call from the payphone though. The earpiece and the mouthpiece had been separated. The wire still connected them, so I dialed Cold Feet’s cell phone and held the speaker in one hand and the microphone in the other. I could hear her but she couldn’t hear me.
Finally a man offered to help us. It was nearly 8:00pm. Bears and I were in New York State, completely lost, and reaching the point of returning to the woods without a hotel stay. The man didn’t know where the motel was located, but he agreed to drive us around until we found it. We found it quickly. It was only about 1/8 of a mile from the gas station. We couldn’t see it because the owners were not there to light the neon sign.
Bears and I joined Cold Feet in her tiny room. The motel was nice, with only five rooms. It was run by a retired couple who treated thru-hikers well. I showered and changed just in time for the kickoff of the Florida State-Miami game. Bears treated Cold Feet and me to pizza because he said we were nice to put up with him. Bears and I shared the bed. Cold Feet used my sleeping pad and slept on the floor.
I’m ending this journal entry quickly. I’m about to fall asleep. I’ve stayed awake until midnight two nights in a row and my body can’t handle it.