400 mile journal – Trail Angels and Magic

Eighty two miles of this hundred continued in the same manner as the last hundred ended…painfully. Tendinitis in both legs augmented the normal trail trials and tribulations. New Jersey gave way to New York which abruptly greets hikers with challenging hand over hand rock scrambles with appropriate names like The Ladder and The Lemon Squeezer, eyes pointed straight up and thoughts repeating, “How am I supposed to get way up there?” These are fun challenges, and though pain attempts to blind one to the beauty of the present moment, it forced me to slow down and notice it…to savor the taste of thirst-quenching wild blueberries, my favorite distractions; to linger longer soaking my feet in the pool of a picturesque waterfall; to take a zero mile day with my favorite hiking friend for his first 4th of July in America! We started patriotically by ordering the Presidential omelet at a local restaurant and ended being escorted by the city firemen to the town’s grand fireworks display. The following morning was tough as I watched my friends pack up and hit the trail on the day I had to stay behind to rest my swollen legs. Twinges of loneliness ensued, but new friends came along immediately. Part of the journey.

Thanks to the painful curse turned blessing, I stopped to watch the acrobatic antics of squirrels and birds in a mulberry tree, gazed as two graceful swans flew above and skidded into the lake for a morning swim, sat by a breathtaking lake listening to the whispers of the breeze and the splashes of frogs leaping off their lily pads in chase of an unsuspecting insect. In no hurry, I limped along New Jersey’s popular mile long boardwalk in awe of the wetland ecosystems all around with cattails so close I couldn’t resist reaching out and touching one. I withstood the wrath of angry mosquitoes and biting gnats for a nighttime view of the New York city skyline from the top of West Mountain and got stopped in my tracks by a bear cub and his mom ahead of me on the trail. Heartbeat increased a bit at that moment!

New trail angels assisted me along the way. The support these people provide for no other reason than to make someone’s day has helped renew my faith in people. Pat, who offered me a ride to the trail from town also opened her home to me that evening complete with a home cooked meal, a comfy bed, and fun conversation. Hikerboy gave me the gift of a day of slackpacking. In essence, he met me along my hike, providing food and drink so I could hike without my 30-pound pack on my back. Then there was Sean who spent his day off treating a couple of us to lunch and shuttling us to resupply. There were hiker feeds at shelters and coolers of goodies in the woods. Magic!

This was the hardest hundred yet both in terrain challenges and physical ones. Still, life is unfathomably rewarding and exciting on the Appalachian Trail! Everyday is definitely not sunshine and butterflies, but every moment is worth it all. Moving on to Connecticut next week!

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