Location: Fahnestock State Park
Ernest didn’t deposit as much rain as many forecasts predicted, but it delivered on promises of high wind. For most of last night, the wind swirled loudly through the trees. It never blew from one direction for too long before blowing from another. Acorns and branches pelted the tin roof of the solid oak shelter all night as the wind blew the drizzling rain through the entrance and wet the feet of our sleeping bag. Bears slept in his hammock behind the lean-to because the shelter was full when he arrived. He said that the wind rocked him to sleep but that some of the gusts jolted him awake when the trees between which he had strung his hammock swayed apart and stretched his hammock.
The storm passed in the night. We woke this morning to a calm forest, disheveled but calm. We all moved slowly this gray morning. Bears and I finally left the lean-to around 9:15am. The high winds kept most of us awake last night so we took advantage of the peaceful morning to catch an extra hour of sleep. I left the shelter just before Bears left. He and I have been hiking together for a while now, but we are spending less time in tandem on the trail. Early in our hiking, he shadowed ever step I took, staying right on my heels while climbing up and down mountains. Now generally he stays behind a quarter mile or so and we meet for breaks and lunch and then that night at the shelter. Even when hiking with someone, a person can still find solitude.
When I left the shelter this morning, the aftermath of Ernesto revealed how serious the storm actually was. I think that we took the situation too lightly, for the damage to the forest was significant. Tall fat oaks had been twisted and snapped and strewn across the trail. The ancient trees lay dying on the floor of the forest with green leaves, acorns, and pink wood scattered about them. Leaves of all kinds had been blown from the treetops singly or in clusters and littered the ground. The green leaves carpeted the trail, making the path difficult to follow and disguising the treacherous roots and rocks. A new foe appeared on the trail today: acorns. The gusts shook acorns from the limbs prematurely. The acorns were mint green with brown caps. Hundreds of thousands filled the trail. They seemed to collect in the trail which is often depressed in the dirt from erosion. The acorns provided an interesting challenge to my balance. With the slick mud, the acorns made climbing the hills difficult. Often one or two steps forward meant that I’d slide half a step backward. My calves burned most of the day.
The obstacles left in Ernesto’s wake made today particularly tiring. By lunchtime, I was ready for a break. I followed NY 52 to Mountain Top Deli for a couple bacon, egg, and cheese biscuits. Well, not biscuits since we are in New York, but breakfast sandwiches. They put ketchup on the sandwich without my asking. It took a moment to figure out what it was that I tasted.
I had lunch with Bonefish, Bears, and Caveman. Caveman was at the lean-to the night that the drunk local ran all of the thru-hikers out of the shelter between 1:00am and 4:00am. Caveman was tenting well above the shelter and wasn’t bothered. He actually had been at the shelter for two weeks letting his knee heel. Every couple of days he went into Kent, CT to get food or shop or just hang out at the library. When Caveman came to the shelter in the early morning to have breakfast with the thru-hikers, he discovered only the man and no hikers. The man was raving that someone had clubbed him in the head that night and stolen his pack. Caveman says that the more the man told and retold his story, the more the story changed.
Caveman immediately thought something was askew with the whole ordeal, but he didn’t know about the previous night’s events. After the drunken man, though not drunk anymore, claimed that one of the two NOBOs at the shelter had taken the pack, Caveman suggested that they summon the sheriff and confront the northbounders because they weren’t going far on foot anytime soon and they’d be easy to find. Upon this suggestion the man quickly backed down, saying, ‘Well I don’t know for sure who did it.’
Initially, Caveman took a liking to the man. Anyone offering beer at a shelter, Caveman says, will quickly earn his friendship. Caveman drank a few beers with the stranger. The more beers the man drank the more he expanded and probably exaggerated his stories. The man claimed to have a Master’s Degree but he didn’t have a job or a car. Caveman indulged the man and his stories and decided to go to sleep when the man hiked back into town for more beer. It wasn’t until two days later that Caveman learned of the events to follow, that the man returned with more beer and a box of wine and got smashed and then belligerent and then paranoid.
Flashback. The first thing that struck me when I met the man who claimed to have been assaulted and robbed outside of Kent was that he looked like several of my professors in college. With a graying beard and peppered hair, he wore glasses, jeans, and a knit sweater jacket. I didn’t get a good vibe from the guy immediately when I met him. It didn’t dawn on me that he fit the description of the drunken man as described by the two northbounders I met and the descriptions written in the shelter registers. I accepted a ride from him, but at the gas station I got anxious and wanted to get out of the car. I’m glad that my instincts were correct. Of course, I did get into the car.
The general consensus among the hikers is that the man was not robbed in the woods, nor was he assaulted. Although the facts I have are hearsay and I may be biased to believe a hiker, it seems that the man blacked out. He drank himself stupid and can’t remember anything that happened that night. I saw the scab on his head where he had been struck, but everyone but he believes that he fell while stumbling around the woods. As for the pack, most think that he probably wandered somewhere with the pack, left it, and can’t remember what he did with it. Whatever the fate of the pack, I’m glad to hear that two of the stories of unpleasant experiences on the trail are in fact the same story and that one may not, and probably is not, true at all.
Bears and I hiked 16 miles today to Fahnestock State Park. We had planned to go further, but we were both tired. We wanted hot showers and an electrical plug so Bears could charge his lifeline, his Blackberry. We have been given a free stay on the campgrounds. The grounds are nearly full with people enjoying their Labor Day weekend. We haven’t tried our ‘yogi-ing’ skills, but today a woman in an Audi TT stopped on the road and gave us four bottles of water and a store-bought salad. I decided not to shower tonight because the air is cold and I don’t have a towel to dry my body.
Tomorrow we will hike 20 miles to Ft. Montgomery where Cold Feet has a motel room. Bears and I need a real break and a good night’s sleep in a bed. Bears, though, needs it the most. I am feeling well physically and mentally. I’m handling the stress of trying to make Delaware Water Gap with some ease. Bears is not. He has mentioned quitting several times today. Physically he looks terrible. His eyes are baggy and he is as skinny as a rail. Before he started his hike he was 30 lbs underweight for his height. He’s 6’3’ and weighed only 161 lbs at Katahdin. He weighs 140 lbs now. He has no meat on his bones. His pack chaffs his hips badly. They are purple, bloody, and shiny with pus. His pack also sags and rests on his butt which he says hurts badly when he walks. He may be at the end. I will try as hard as I can to encourage him to stay on the trail. He has dreamed of a thru-hike all his life. Now physical pain, emotional exhaustion, and the pressure of trying to maintain a long-distance relationship with his girlfriend are eating away at his will to continue. The girl, Manda, most of all hurts his drive. She tells him that he abandoned her. She talks about how hard it is that she has no one at home and everyone else has someone. She transfers the stress in her life to him, and she presented him with a threat to see his reaction. She said she wants him home or she won’t marry him. The deadline of her ultimatum passed and I heard nothing more about it. She hurts his dream more than she helps it. She misreads the articles he writes for the paper and turns them against him when they talk. Bears hangs up the phone sad and moping at the end of every conversation with her. Manda expects him to solve her problems from a distance and if not then to return home and make things right. Manda seems like a real bitch.
I’ll go with Bears to the motel tomorrow and help boost his spirits. I think that I’d be really sad if he left the trail. I think it would push me closer to bailing out, although I’m not close at all now. After enough things pile up, eventually a person might decide, ‘No more.’ Perhaps Bears leaving will be one of the many things that could force me off the trail. However, a night of football, a bed, and relaxation should help him and me. I will try my best to keep him on the trail, but Bears told me tonight not to try to force him to stay on the trail or even be overly pushy, because he said that then he’d have a lifelong enemy and not a lifelong friend.