Location: Unionville, NY
We lounged around the church hostel most of the day. The homeless families woke up at 6:00am and completed chores assigned by the church and then left for work or school. We were allowed back in the hostel after 7:30am. I went in first, having been woken up by the morning traffic. Everyone else slept in the chapel. The dew had soaked my sleeping bag and tent last night. I dried the bag in the machine. It still hasn’t been washed yet on this trip and it badly needs a wash. It is sour with the smell of sweat and dirt. I stuffed my face with leftover Dunkin’ Donuts doughnuts while I watched the first Sportscenter of the morning. Because we weren’t allowed to stay in the hostel, we didn’t get to watch last night’s football game. We lounged most of the day. None of us were too motivated to move from the recliners in the hostel in front of the television. Cold Feet left early. She had received an upsetting phone call from home and wanted to take her frustration out on the trail. Druid, Bonefish, Not Bad, and I stayed at the hostel, eating and watching television. When Not Bad, Bonefish, and I had gone to the store for resupply late in the afternoon, the homeless families returned to the church and we were kicked out. Druid was first. He was rushed out by the church organizers. When we returned, he was gone. We were run out next, but we were driven back to the trail by one of the church members.
We reached the trailhead around 7:00pm. Still, we were in no hurry. We had planned a night hike under the full moon and we only had seven miles to hike over gentle terrain. We stopped by the Heavenly Hill farmers market. I bought a couple oranges and a plum and drank a cup of coffee for the caffeine. Not Bad and Bonefish ate pints of ice cream. I try to avoid ice cream before hiking because it does more harm than good. We left for the trail around 7:45pm. We passed through pastures full of curious cows that munched on grass. The light at dusk allowed us to avoid the dung. We hiked several miles by the blue light lingering well after the sunset. In the trees, the full moon provided little light. Soon our headlights came out and we climbed into the Pochuck Mountain range, knowing that we were near Pochuck shelter.
We three took a break at a vista that offered views of the lit towns at the foot of the mountain. The white moon shined brightly, but the stars still filled sky. When we left the vista around 10:00pm, we knew that the shelter wasn’t too far away. When 10:30pm passed, we figured that the shelter should be coming up very soon. We checked the map constantly. We couldn’t tell if we were still on this hill or that hill when we looked at the profile map. We kept walking. We came to a white house with a water sign. We filled our bottles and continued, thinking that the shelter was just ahead and, if it was not, then we would not be backtracking.
When 11:00pm rolled around, I knew that we had missed the shelter. Shortly after that, we knew where we were. We came out of the woods and stood on the edge of the wildlife refuge. We had overshot our shelter by a couple miles. The bugs were biting by the swampy refuge so we didn’t talk about our options long. Small bats swarmed around us as the bugs congregated in the beams of our headlamps. The bats would rush at our faces and veer away to miss us by inches. Instead of hiking the AT through the expansive swamp, we decided quickly that we would take the old AT down a road and through Unionville, NY so that we could reach the next shelter on the trail by 2:00am. We would take the road instead of the trail because the next shelter was at least three hours away and every minute we could save would be much appreciated at the end of the long night.
As we walked dirt roads and paved roads, the full moon lit our way. We didn’t burn our headlights. We walked three wide down the road as though it were the afternoon. We cast clear shadows on the pavement and could see the outlines of New York and New Jersey mountains on opposite sides. Not Bad walked in New Jersey, I walked on the border, and Bonefish walked in New York.
After an hour and a half or so, we walked down the Main Street of Unionville, NY. The blue flicker of TVs behind drawn shades made the walk somewhat creepy. Frequently we’d spy a face in a dark window or a full body standing at a doorway watching us walk silently through the streets. The town isn’t big. We walked through most of it that night. We passed a local hangout called The Back Track Inn. Each window had a neon sign. The parking lot was half empty and music from a jukebox filled the street through a screen door. We couldn’t see very well inside the place. We stood in the street and listened and talked. I didn’t particularly want to go inside. I didn’t know what kind of place we might be walking into. Eventually I was convinced and we went in to have a beer and maybe a snack if we could.
The needle didn’t slide off the record when we walked into the bar. The people had seen hikers before us. The bartender, a young girl, told us that we needed to put our packs in the hostel and that we could stay for three dollars each. We thought it sounded like a good deal until we saw the hostel. It was a small storage shed with four shelves just wide enough for a body. We left our bags in the hostel but decided that after drinking a few beers we would camp in the town park, which the town allows.
We started drinking at 12:30am. Even Bonefish, only 17, was served at the bar. The bar didn’t seem to have much regard for the law, probably because there is no police force in the small town. No Smoking signs hung everywhere by NY state law, but everyone, including the bartenders, smoked cigarettes. Not Bad, Bonefish, and I sat at the bar and drank for an hour or so without talking to anyone in the bar but the bartender. Around 1:30am, many young couples began arriving. Most wore formal attire. Some had parents sitting at the bar and they greeted them with a peck on the cheek before moving into a corner behind the pool table. They occupied the only two tables in the small bar.
I thought it was strange that so many people were showing up to the bar a half hour before closing time. At 1:59am, Not Bad and I decided to order another beer. We rushed to tell the bartender before closing time, and then we found out that the bar would be open until 3:30am. By this point, we were already pretty drunk, and now we knew that the night was about to enter a different level.
Bonefish kept feeding himself straight Canadian Club. He preferred whiskey over anything else and he preferred a lot over a little. Bonefish may only be 17, but by talking to him you might believe he’d be in his twenties. I don’t know where he has found the time, but he has accomplished and experienced many things. He has travelled extensively all over the world, raced sailboats in the junior Olympics, speaks three languages, has guided rafts in Alaska, and has deferred enrollment to Brown for one year. He certainly has focus and is driven. He began his hike with his sister. She planned a thru-hike and he planned to hike the 100 mile wilderness with her. She dropped off the trail in Maine and he is still on. Bonefish even drinks like an old man, sipping whiskey glass by glass in his pink cotton shirt, not feeling a drop of alcohol in his blood.
Not Bad has a different story. He’s taking time off from Georgia College to hike the trail. He’s majoring in Environmental Science and Environmental Education, hoping to lead expeditions somewhere someday. He turned 21 a couple of weeks ago on the trial and drinks to get drunk. He fed dollar bills into the jukebox all night at the Back Track Inn while he added Spykes to his beers for extra flavor and kick. He tried all flavors of Spykes, which are flavored supplements that increase the alcohol content of beer. Not Bad played probably 20 songs on the jukebox for the couple hours that we were there. Other people played songs too and sometimes those people paid to have their songs bumped above his on the playlist. He disapproved of most songs that others played. Usually he just told me. But when Elton John came over the speakers for two consecutive songs, Not Bad lost it. Standing on the footrests of his barstool, he said, ‘Crocodile Rock! Are you fucking kidding me?’ If this were Georgia, someone would be getting their ass kicked!’
I didn’t look around to see who had taken offense to his comment. I reached up and grabbed his shoulder to ask him to sit down but he resisted, looking around the bar. Bonefish slapped Not Bad’s locked legs and Not Bad’s knees folded and he sat back on his stool with a laugh. Apparently no patrons cared about the outburst, which led Not bad to announce, ‘This is the sissiest town in America!’
We drank a couple more drinks and cleared out at last call. When we were leaving, the bartender stopped us at the door. She looked different without her trashy boyfriend attached to her face, but she brought a message from him I was sure. She told us that if we called tomorrow after one o’clock that she could get us some pot. The offer was completely out of the blue and caught all of us unexpectedly. Not Bad and Bonefish smiled and said that they would call which let me know that we wouldn’t be getting out of town early tomorrow.
We retrieved our packs form the hostel and walked to the park at the center of town. The park was well lit with security lights, so we hung tarps form the roof of one of gazebos and made our bed inside as the sun threatened to end the night before we had gotten a wink of sleep.