Jolly and Jeff hit the AT at Wildcat Shelter, NY

It was one of the first weekends that was forecast above 45°F and I was jonesing for a hike on the AT and a comfortable overnight in my hammock.  Friday night and rain was forecast, so I went to bed sulking.  It hadn’t rained all week, and here we were looking at rain all weekend.

Saturday morning and I’m bouncing out of bed at 6:00am and check the weather – it’s raining outside and it’s forecast most of the day to remain the same. Decisions, decisions…

I group text the boys around lunchtime (Jeff, Anton, and Matt) asking if anyone would be up for an impromptu hike into Wildcat Shelter that afternoon for a quick overnight.  As always, Jeff answers first and it’s an knee-jerk “YES!”.  Brilliant.  He can’t make it until he finishes work, and I still have some packing/prep to take care of, so we schedule a meetup in a couple of hours.  I headed out at around 3:00pm and arranged to meet at the trail head where the AT crosses Rte 17a just north of Glenwood Lake, NY. (Google map coords)

Arriving at the trail head it had started to pour; this is going to be a wet hike, but I was excited to get onto the trail and nothing — not even some rain — was going to dampen my spirits.  Jeff rolled in about 20 minutes after me and we hoisted our packs and off we went, northbound on the Appalachian Trail.

As Jeff and I got caught up on life, thoughts of my time on the AT in 2013 came flooding in and I found myself grinning like the Cheshire Cat less than a few hundred feet in.  I love just being on he trail – it’s tough to explain to a non-hiker, but my outdoor brethren know exactly what I mean.

Through the rain we hiked and talked up a storm about life, work, and how things were now he’s an engaged man.  Jeff’s a typically happy guy on any given day, but he had an extra spring in his step for sure – ah, young love.  I’m stoked for him and Erin.

It wasn’t long before we came across Cat Rocks and Jeff fancied a scramble up the side to the top of this rocky outcropping which carries the AT up and over it.  The rocks were slippery given the downpour so I took the blue trail to the side and hiked around.

After rounding the rocks and hiking for another 20 minutes we arrived at the signpost nailed to a tree pointing us to go west for the shelter.  As we walked around the rocky part of this blue trail, the shelter started to come into view and our excitement built for sole ownership tonight of Wildcat.  As the shelter came into view, I noticed hiking gear inside.

Bollocks.

Two other guys were already situated comfortably inside the shelter, one warming himself inside his sleeping bag atop his pad.

“Are you gone in the head?!”, the bearded guy on the right bellowed.  “We thought we’d be the only idiots out in this today!”.

Ice breaker, these cats were cool.

wildcat_2Jeff and I threw our pack towards the back of the shelter and started unpacking our gear and changing out of our wet clothes.  After some half-naked one-legged stumbling in and out of clothing, we sat our asses down and hung out with our new friends.

One of the guys had an air of experience about him: epic trail beard, lots of gear, and an actual trail name: Chief Daddy.  Real name Joe Howell, Joe and his wife run an outdoor wilderness guide company called Wilderness Rocks that provides “immersive wilderness excursions”.  He was out with a client, a Ukrainian fellow by the name of Anton (are all Ukrainian men called Anton?).  As we made long introductions into who we were and where we were from, we broke open the libations: I’d brought a bladder from a box of wine (Malbec), Jeff, too, had brought some wine, and Chief and Anton sipped on some kind of whiskey.  Chief is a Double Crowner: he’s thru-hiked the AT and the PCT, and he has that typical “coolness” about him.  He’s calm, learned, enriched by the people he’s met while walking the miles.

The rain was still coming down well into the early evening, and I was undecided: shelter or hammock tonight.  I’d driven all this way and hiked in the rain for an hour; I was putting that bloody hammock up tonight if it was the last thing I did.

I pitched the hammock and tarp right behind the shelter as the lower area of ground to the side of the shelter and beyond was positively swampy.  As soon as I had gotten my gear set up, I went back to the shelter and continued to share stories and jokes with Jeff and our new friends.

I remember saying something about it being “hiker midnight” and I was out like a light.  I woke up in the middle of the night (someone was snoring, and it could have very well been me), and realized that I’d fallen asleep in the shelter.  I was having none of it, so I dragged myself up quietly, turned on the red light on my headlamp, and headed out to my hammock.

My head hit the pillow and I was gone – swaying in the air.

Wildcat Shelter, hammockMorning broke and the rain had stopped.  I love it when that happens.  I hauled myself out of my hammock — very reluctantly — and saw that the other guy’s had woken and started to make coffee.  To our surprise the fire was hot enough from the night before to roar again on this cold morning.

I made Jeff and myself a cup of Joe and I munched on two frosted raspberry Pop Tarts for breakfast – I’d brought oatmeal but I couldn’t be bothered to cook.

At about 8:30am we’d all packed up and said our farewells to Wildcat Shelter.  Chief had Anton continue hiking north to the falls and then to the next road crossing where he’d pick him up.  I’d agreed to drop Chief back at his minivan which was back towards Greenwood Lake.  Jeff and I bade or goodbyes and I drove Chief to pick up his wheels.

I was back on the road by 10:00am and home by 11:00am.  Rested, my AT/hammock desires satiated, and looking forward to the next time I can get on the trail with the lads.

An AT Mosey in New Joisey

Having packed the night before, I was on the road by 6:30am on Saturday; I was driving to an AT section trail head close to High Point State Park on the NJ 23 / CR 443 just south of Port Jervis, NY.  Friends and fellow backpackers/hikers, Jeff and Erin, were joining me for this weekend trip and I was excited for the time on the Appalachian Trail again.

Since returning home in June I think about my time on the trail quite often, sometimes just bringing up my blog on my iPhone while on the train and reading from a random day or two.  Good times indeed.  But what’s really special to me is the actual trail: the blazes, the mountains, the sights and sounds.  Unless you’ve spent [a considerable amount of] time on the AT it’s difficult to appreciate the gravity of how a life on the Appalachian Trail can change you.

As I arrive at the trail head parking lot I notice the temp has dropped to 27°F and the wind has picked up. Spotting Jeff’s car in the corner of the lot I parked up alongside.

Jumping out of my car and into the tundra was enough to send a jolt through my body: my god it’s freezing. After the cold meet and greet, we tied off our packs and slung them over our shoulders. There was a group of day hikers gathering near the start of the approach blue trail and I managed to finagle a group shot from one of them.

As we headed up the blue blazed trail our boots were sinking into the crunchy mud that had frozen during the night before. This made for challenging hiking as it was like we were walking through sand. After a few minutes we t-boned the AT and headed left, and southbound.

The wind had died down and we’d picked up a great starting pace so we warmed up pretty quickly. We were hoping the forecast was accurate and were looking forward to clear blue skies – no dice, cold and gray today.

The terrain became rocky underfoot as the trail headed south. We rounded and summited a section of rocky balds and stopped awhile to admire the view.

A few snaps and we were off again, southbound with a spring in our steps.

I always like hiking with Jeff and Erin, a young couple that I’ve been friends with for a few years. I’d met them for the first time during a Catskills weekender that another hiker friend, Anton, had organized. They’re both heavily into the outdoors, fit, and I enjoy the pace at which they hike – swift. They’re also a riot to hang with, and it’s not long before we’re onto the topic of food; Jeff and I discussed the many ways one could prepare a burger – multiple cheeses and fillings, always good trail banter.

Quickly we’re into our stride and we crossed Deckertown Turnpike — a winding country road that slices through the AT — and after a short climb beyond we hit Mashipacong Shelter and we had the whole place to ourselves.  We dropped our packs and broke out our lunches and discussed what we’d do afterwards.  We decided to continue southbound for at least an hour given we’d made such good time, but the remaining ~5.5 miles to Gren Anderson Shelter may run us into night hiking – which none of us really wanted to do.  Plus, the temps started to drop.  I reached for the trail journal hanging in a box in the far right corner of the shelter to see if I could find any names I’d know; sure enough, I found three:  Acorn, Nimbles, and one of my besties, Rainbow Bright.

So with full bellies and an invigorated spirit we hoisted our packs and headed south.  About a half hour in we came upon a pretty bleak looking stream which trickled from a stagnant pond – the water was orange, and none of us fancied using it to filter water for dinner tonight.

After some umming and ahhing we decided to head back to Mashipacong Shelter where we’d make camp, and hopefully, we’d still have the place to ourselves.  Once we got back we felt a tad bummed as fires aren’t allowed here – damn.  It was getting pretty chilly, too.  The sun had come out but we could feel Jack Frost’s bite rolling in.

I pitched my hammock gear in the woods a ways to the right of the shelter as I was hoping to sell some of it on GearTrade, so I needed photographs.  Once the shots were out of the way, I hoisted the hammock into the awning of the shelter — from left to right — while Jeff and Erin laid out their sleeping pads and bags inside on the platform.

We drank wine and shared stories, and we laughed into dusk.  It was early when the sun hit the horizon, cold blue hues spreading out through the woodland.  It was bedtime, aka “hiker midnight”.  The second my head hit my pillow I was out, and the slight sway of the hammock was enough to rock me to sleep in minutes.  It was 8:00pm.

I woke to the sound of an owl echoing through the frigid night.  To my chagrin, I pressed the backlight button on my watch and found it to only be 11:00pm.  Good lord, it was going to be a long night.

Coyotes are bloody loud, and when they’re in a pack that sounds ominously close, it’s quite disconcerting.  Another glance of my watch and it’s 1:30am.  Come on, man.

I started to feel the cold in my arms and torso a little which was strange as I was wearing literally all of my clothes and covered by my 30°F bag.  Unbeknownst to me, the temps had dropped to a not-so-balmy 23°F.  Without a 2nd thought I hoofed my tired self out of my cocoon and tossed my bag onto my own sleeping pad which I’d laid out on the shelter’s inner platform “just in case”.  I threw down my pillow and climbed into my bag and off I drifted, a little warmer than I was earlier dangling in mid air.  My watch said 3:00am.

It was about 6:30am when I woke, and I’d been tossing and turning all night; I get pressure points on my hips and knees as I’m a side sleeper when I go to ground.  “This is why I sleep in a hammock”, I grumbled to myself.

Jeff and Erin stirred shortly after and we shared morning pleasantries.  We’d all heard the howling and screaming last night.  And some of us (read: me) had heard snoring all night, too (read: Jeff and/or Erin).  Water was quickly on the boil and we enjoyed warm coffee; I enjoyed a couple of frosted raspberry Poptarts with mine – ooh look, it’s in one piece!

Warmed up, fed, and ready to go, we broke down camp and packed our gear.  We were off my 9:00am and heading northbound in the cool wintery air.  About a half hour in we stopped to enjoy the view at a pipeline clearing and snapped a few shots.

The trail seemed more rocky today than it did yesterday, but we still managed to get a good pace going; we hit the side trail for Rutherford Shelter in no time and calculated we’d been hiking at 3mph.

We stopped at a bubbling stream about half way back to the cars and filtered some more water; Erin had a crack at using my new Sawyer Squeeze Mini and I think I have a couple of converts!

Shortly after filling our water bottles we pressed on and it started to drizzle.  Now I don’t normally mind the rain, but when it’s 30°F, it’s bloody uncomfortable.  We double-timed and made it back to the parking lot in no time.  Cold, wet, and shivering we decided to head for the Ranger station up the road to change into drier clothing.

Warm and dry, Jeff suggested we head on over to a local diner for breakfast – amen to that.  We wolfed down an appetite-busting biscuits, gravy, and corned beef hash.  Human food tastes so good after a good hike.

Great hike with great friends, and the weather played nice, well almost.

Hiking in the rain clears the head (551.6m)

Waking up in a bed after two nights in my hammock didn’t feel right; it was like cheating. But, to put it frankly, it beat trying to pitch camp in the pouring rain yesterday. The pizza was bloody amazing, too.

Anyway, up, shower, blah blah – nothing new to tell you.

TD, Specs, and I went across the street to the Barn Restaurant and treated ourselves to a breakfast of eggs, bacon, hash browns, home fries, and a biscuit. Coffee and ice cold water was also enjoyed by all.

It was late when we headed out onto the trail, nearly 10:30am – the latest I’d ever started. It was already raining when we climbed through a very gentle incline through meadows and knee high grass. Passing through a cow pasture we stopped to make “mooing” noises as several of the bulls enjoyed a nice morning shag. Lovely.

Onward and upward we climbed through dense undergrowth, and then the heavens really opened. At one point I said aloud, “are you taking the piss?!” as the downpour turned the trail into a creek. The day went on, and so did the drenching. At one point I thought it was slowing down so I started to sing: “I’m singing in the rain, just singing in the rain! What a glorious feeling, I’m on the trail again!” – then it pissed down so hard, like the man upstairs decided that my singing voice was worth drowning out, literally.

Whatever; I kept singing, and Tie Dye joined me.

We stopped at a couple of places to eat a quick bite – we couldn’t stand still for long because it was just too wet and raining hard, and stopping walking would lead to cold muscles.

The rain did subside at about 2:30pm so we broke for lunch, and I precariously tried to pull apart my stuck-together tortillas – I laid out some cheese singles on one of them, three slices of ham on top of that, and slathered on the Cholula Hot Sauce — utterly delicious — I was about 10 seconds from heaven. My fingers were still wet and puckered, and as I went to put down the bottle, the f*cking thing slipped out of my hand and shattered on the rock I was sitting on. Hot sauce explosion, everywhere. On the rock, all over the forest floor, and all over me and my rain kilt. I looked like a proper tw*t.

The others felt it necessary to point and laugh, then take pictures.

Shit, just goddam shit.

I cleaned myself up and slung my pack over my shoulders and off I went – with my long face.

Tie Dye had called Bubba’s shuttles from the guide book — after her fair share of laughing and pointing — and we had our ride into Bland, VA.

It was about 3:20pm when we got to VA610, and Bubba rolled up at around 4:00pm. We all hopped in the back of his truck and laughed and took pictures the whole way.

I have a cheeseburger with my name on it. My stache is also coming along nicely again. And I realized tonight looking in the motel room mirror that I’ve put back on some of the lbs I’d lost before I left at Hemlock Hollow. I’ll work on that over the next few days/weeks I’m sure.

My ankle feels strong. These shoes are awesome. I ordered some new ones, a half size bigger, and they should arrive at the motel day after tomorrow.

Miles hiked today: 9.420130520-183414.jpg20130520-183420.jpg20130520-183425.jpg20130520-183430.jpg20130520-183436.jpg20130520-183442.jpg20130520-183447.jpg20130520-183453.jpg20130520-183514.jpg

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