I’ve been delinquent again in my writing as I pounded out the days north through New York. On post #3, the “mileage post,” I wrote to you from near Prospect Rock at the NJ/NY state line. A flag, erected on a slim tree trunk, flies in tribute to those lives lost on 9/11. It was an awesome place to view NYC at sunset, only 30-40 miles away. I camped that night in what I call a “bears den”, surrounded by dark caves at dusk. I have not ever been afraid in the woods at dark before but that evening I felt fear, knowing the aggressiveness of the local mountain black bears. It’s both humbling and a cold dose of reality to be afraid when fear is not an emotion that you commonly experience. I learned a lot about myself that night. PS: I saw no bears. Many fears may be reasonable but our worst fears are often not realized in the end.
My walk the next day started like a stroll along the bellies of stone whales. The 350M year old stone, smoothed over by the last ice age, rolled on for miles as I strode a bedrock road scarred with deep gouges that looked so much like the belly of a sperm whale. Greenwood lake lay to the east and in the cool clear October morning I could see the hills stretching out for miles.
The beauty of being atop a solid rock ridge also means that there is no water nearby. When I pulled into Wildcat shelter I had only a few mouthfuls of water left from my 3-liter supply. A lunch of peanut butter and jelly tortillas rounded out the stop and I began the long descent into the valley and Sterling Forest State park. A man about my age whom I passed earlier had turned around, and passed me when I was getting water. I found him wandering in the woods some time later desperately searching for a white blaze denoting the trail. I guided him back to the path. We laughed about the situation, since I’d also gotten lost before, and we walked together for a mile or two. He was hiking 7 mile segments one way, then another 7 miles back to his car. That’s a slow way to finish the 2,189 mile trail. He was thrilled to learn about “trail shuttles” and the ability to hike “one way” with a guaranteed pickup. I was glad to have some fellowship. His name was Greg and we had much in common.
It’s lonely out here this year. Virtually everyone is southbound. Mark and Deb Rifka got off at Lake Greenwood for a well deserved day of rest. I met six gentlemen, all in their 70’s, on a stroll and we spoke for a few minutes about the trail. But mostly it was lonely. I am a classic introvert, or so the personality tests tell me, because I like to recharge my emotional and spiritual batteries in private. But to say the last few days have been private is an understatement. I craved someone to talk to. My batteries are all charged up. Bring on the hikers!
So, I railed at the designer again. I know. I just told you how important it is to suffer trials and persecutions. Well, I hit a doozy… known locally as the “Agony Grind.” I estimated the rock climb pitch at 70% but my rock climbing daughter would laugh and say it was less. I do know this… climbing sticks were of no use. It was all hands and elbow grease to summit that very tall and very scary bouldering climb. I kept reminding myself “you have conquered worse.” I was lying to myself and I knew it.
On the other side of the “Agony Grind” I found a Thoreau-perfect respite at the shore of Little Dam Lake. I was giddy. From a real fear of local bruins at last night’s stop to the exact opposite tonight… a calm lake with ready access to water. In truth, the bear problem was no less. But it felt good. How we feel about a situation has more to do with some of our fears than reality does, I suspect.
I am not a fan of public nakedness. Nevertheless, after five days without a bath, I caved and took a cold but much-appreciated bath in the dark. I slept like a baby and woke up to fall colors and ducks and a clear morning. I was in my “Walden Pond” moment.
Lesson learned: When faced with an “Agony Grind” in your life, do your best to grin and bear it with your best energy. You can’t see it coming, but often there’s a Little Dam Lake (Walden Pond) over the next hill or two. Trust in the long term and don’t focus too much on the pain of the moment.