Saturday, February 10, 2018

Herbal Love for the Heart

Linden leaf

February....the month of the heart. This is the month for giving heart-shaped boxes of chocolate and passing out love notes, for a candlelit dinners for two and romantic rendezvous, and for not only thinking of those that we love but for turning some love inward, caring for your own heart as well. Let the herbal world be your ally when it comes to both the emotional and physical health of the heart through the use of cardiotonics.

Cardiotonics is a broad term for a class of herbs that have an affinity with the heart and have a positive effect on the heart and larger cardiovascular system. The ways in which these herbs can have a gentle yet powerful effect on the heart are multitude,  from strengthening the veins to dilating the coronary artery to calming anxiety, and many of these effects are believed to stem from their high flavonoid content. Flavonoids are phyto-nutrients or plant nutrients essentially, inherent in all plants to varying degrees. Science is discovering flavonoids can do everything from strengthen the vascular system to boost the immune system to relieve depression. However, despite recent discoveries, science hasn't quite figured it all out yet, that is in just how these herbs have the effect they do. What we do know from experience, is that they do.

Hawthorn fruits

The first herb I would like to highlight is Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.), an herb that has been both valued traditionally as a heart herb for centuries and more recently backed by science and embraced by modern medicine.

Hawthorn, a member of the Rose family, is a small to medium-sized tree and encompasses numerous species. Hawthorn can be found both in cultivation given its beautiful white flowers in the spring and scarlet fruits in the autumn, as well as naturalized in our forests and meadows. Because its leaves can be variable in form, I find it easiest to recognize by its four-seeded fruits and its one to two inch long sharps spines that are found on its branches and twigs.

Thorns of Hawthorn
Most of Hawthorn's medicine is found in its fruit, which can be eaten fresh as a food or dried and steeped in a tea. Hawthorn has the ability to lower cholesterol and blood pressure while also reducing platelet activity and strengthening the blood vessels.  However in addition to these skills it has the superpower to gently increase the force of the contractions of the heart, in turn improving the availability of energy. This unique quality does not happen overnight but rather through consistent ingestion. Studies show that once the heart's pump has strengthened, it remains stronger over time. Additionally Hawthorn will dilate the coronary artery, increasing blood flow and nourishment to the heart. Thus, when we look at Hawthorn on a whole, it not only decreases the risk for coronary heart disease but quite literally is food for the heart, protecting as it strengthens.

Motherwort leaves found near base of plant

This next herb, Motherwort, has a strong affinity for the heart as evidenced even by its scientific name: Leonurus cardiaca. Even its common name suggests that its role is that of caregiver. Recognize it by its lobed leaves, maple shaped near the base of the plant and goosefoot shaped as they travel up the stalk. Leaves will be oppositely arranged and tiny flowers will be irregular shaped, both indicative of its place in the Mint Family. I have also suggested Motherwort for use in revitalization as well as relaxation. Therefore, although often considered a weed, common to old homesites and roadsides, Motherwort has a spectrum of medicinal qualities.

Motherwort flowers

The medicine of Motherwort is largely due to its inherent flavonoids and has been shown to lower blood pressure and reduce platelet activity in turn reducing the likelihood of blood clots, stroke, and heart attack. It is a mild nervine, reducing anxiety and heartache. Given this cardiotonic/nervine combo, it is especially beneficial for those who suffer heart palpitations as a result of high stress. It is also indicated in general weakness of the heart after surgery or infection, having the ability to strengthen the heart without straining. Infuse leaves, stems, and flowers in hot water for 10 minutes, strain and sip.


Linden leaves, flowers (not yet open) and bracts
Lastly, let's take a look at Linden (Tilia spp.), otherwise known as Basswood. Linden possesses a number of species but is generally a tree strong in stature, often reaching tall towards the sky with widely spreading branches. Because of its attractive appearance it is not unusual to find Linden planted on lawns and in parks where it is well-manicured, as well as deep in the forest growing whichever way it pleases. I am most apt to identify Linda by its large hand-sized leaves with a heart-shaped base and uneven lobes. In the spring, it produces fragrant tiny flowers that hang on slender stems attached to bracts  - and therein lies its medicine.

Linden flowers (not yet open) and bracts

 Although here in the States, we may not be as familiar with this tree, it is well-accepted in Europe as a relaxing tea, calming to not only adults but children. A simple cup of tea made from its flowers and attached bracts (small leaf-like appendages) can quickly reduce blood pressure and after a few more sips calm the nerves and lift the spirits. Drink a cup or two daily to fight depression, support the heart, and even prevent hardening of the arteries due to those almighty flavonoids. Similar to Motherwort, this herb is particularly good for anxiety induced palpitations.

These are just a handful of herbs that show a little love to the heart. Drop in on my class at The Lodge at Woodloch titled: Herbs for the Heart, to learn more!

Be certain to consult with your doctor before consuming any herbs that may affect the heart. Some of these herbs may interact with other prescription drugs for the heart. Additionally, these are not safe during pregnancy.

Find my activities such as plant walks, herbal workshops, and hiker Q &A  on the weekly schedule at: https://www.thelodgeatwoodloch.com/outdoor-adventures/. This post will also be available at Woodloch's blog: https://lodgeatwoodloch.wordpress.com





Saturday, November 25, 2017

Winter Foraging at Woodloch


I have been working with the Lodge at Woodloch in Hawley, PA as their Resident Naturalist. The grounds are fantastically beautiful and maintained in reverence to nature. Find my activities such as plant walks, herbal workshops, and hiker Q &A  on the weekly schedule at: https://www.thelodgeatwoodloch.com/outdoor-adventures/. This post will also be available at Woodloch's blog: https://lodgeatwoodloch.wordpress.com


Ferns in snow
Here at the Lodge at Woodloch, the first snowflakes of the season have already begun to fall, blanketing the bare tree limbs in a thin sheet of white and laying a soft white path to walk beneath the pale gray-blue sky. Yes, Winter is just around the bend. The season for skiing and snowshoeing, cozy evenings by the fire, shared meals with friends featuring preserves and cured meats and baked goods. We don’t typically think of Winter as the season for fresh food foraging. The plants have all gone into their long winter slumber, gestating seeds and building energy in their roots for the burgeoning spring. But what if I told you there were still wild edible and medicinal plants that could be found just beneath that chilly blanket of snow?

Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) berry 

Venture through the orchard gate and onto the blue trail that leads you down a corridor of drying ferns and blueberry bushes with towering Oaks overhead, but don’t walk too fast or you might miss the scarlet berries at your feet. These are the berries of the humble looking Wintergreen. Wintergreen, also called Teaberry, is a low-to-the-ground evergreen belonging to the Heath family. It never grows more than 6 inches tall nor puts on more than a handful of paddle-shaped leaves. However, in winter it is as if this plant dresses up for the season, ornamented in perfectly round red fruits, reminiscent of tiny Christmas bulbs.

Kneel down to its height, pinch off a leaf and crack it in half, smelling its minty aroma. Better yet, pop a berry in your mouth and taste its minty flavor just as strong as your stick of wintergreen gum. In fact, this plant used to be used in the flavoring of gums and candies. Ever heard of Teaberry chewing gum? This lil’ plant gave it its name. However, I think the berries are best blended with oatmeal or yogurt or if you manage to collect a number, sprinkled into muffins or cookies. The leaves make a delicious medicinal cordial. That minty smell is evidence of its containing methyl-salicylates – a chemical constituent that has anti-inflammatory and muscular pain relieving effects. Place a few in the bottom of a mug, pour several drops of your preferred liquor overtop, muddle, and add steaming hot water. Place a saucer atop mug and allow to steep for 10 minutes. Remove leaves with a spoon, add honey and sip your way into relaxation.

White Pine (Pinus strobus) cone and bundle of 5 needles

 Walk further down the path and soon meet the green softly spikey sprigs of Pine saplings. Take a moment to notice that the blue-green needles are somewhat twisted and twined and bundled together in groups of five by a papery sheath at their base; this is your best indicator of White Pine. White Pine is our tallest Northeastern conifer and although native, was once planted extensively for its use in lumber because it grew so straight and tall. Consequently, White Pine is well-spread throughout our forests and abundant, common to many a Northeastern woods.

But just as valuable as White Pine’s wood are its sweet-tasting needles. Attend the Wild-crafted Medicinal Infusions class and make a Pine Needle infusion, which provides a Vitamin C rich, virus-fighting, warming tea. One mug will warm your bones, open your lungs, and leave your tastebuds happy. It’s flavor is both lemony and pine with a subtle sweet taste of sap. Look for these same trees when you return home and pluck some bundles of needles. Drop a bundle in hot water and with each sip be reminded of your time at Woodloch.

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) roots with leaves attached

Let’s not forget the those nutrient-filled roots! Follow the wooded trail as it circles back to the garden. Although we may be a bit limited on just what we can grow this time of year in our neck of the woods there are some plants that grow nearly year round and require no attention at all…the weeds. Among these weeds, there is one particularly hardy fellow…the Dandelion. Throughout the year, Dandelion will put on fresh green leaves. During a warm winter spell you may even see a sunny Dandelion flower peering out from the melting snow. Dandelion’s name originates from the French phrase dent de lion, meaning tooth of the lion, referring to it’s sharp lobes that run along the edge of the leaf and the arrowhead-shape of the leaf tip. Its slightly bitter leaves provide a nice accompaniment to a greens salad, but its long taproot can supply its own host of nutrients.

Dandelion root naturally contains a healthy fiber called inulin. Take a look at the back of your yogurt cup and you may very well see it listed in the ingredients. Inulin acts as a prebiotic in the gut, essentially feeding your healthy gut flora or probiotics. Slivered Dandelion root can be steamed, sauteed, or roasted just like any other root vegetable. However it does have a bitter kick, so it is best combined with other sweet vegetables like corn, butternut squash, or sweet potato. If too bitter for your taste, simmer Dandelion root slivers in hot water for 10-15 minutes, remove root and discard, reserving resulting infusion. Sweeten with honey and sip, not only will your digestive tract thank you, but so will your liver which benefits specifically from Dandelion’s bitter quality.

These are just a few of the plants that you can expect to find while at the Lodge at Woodloch. Join in on an Edible and Medicinal Plant Walk, take a virtual plant walk through the Seasonal Foraging presentation, or even sip a cup of wild tea at the Wild-crafted Medicinal Infusions Class. To find these plants at home and prepare them for food and medicine, visit the boutique and take home a copy of my book,  A Guide to the Edible and Medicinal Plants of the Mountains to Sea Trail. Most all of these plants can be found in your own backyard or favorite wild spaces!    

Monday, October 16, 2017

Reflections on the Long Path

John  Boyd Thacher State Park - Old Stage Road northern terminus

Each long distance trail that I have hiked has offered its own unique experience. Admittedly, because I had already hiked a long distance trail through New York State- the Finger Lakes Trail - I thought I had a pretty good idea of what this one would be like. I was wrong. Perhaps I was even a little overly assured too because in its relatively shorter length when compared to other long distance trails I have hiked - the Appalachian Trail is 2175 miles long - again this trail showed me! Throughout my blogs I have come back to the words beautiful, rugged, picturesque, daunting...none of these words ever seeming to really fulfill what impressions I wished to convey to my blog readers and hikers who will walk this trail in the future. Any good trail should leave a writer or a hiker or a photographer or a woods-walker this way...always working to recreate for others the experience the trail provided. The Long Path has done just this...provided a long path to my squeezing its surprises onto a tiny page. Here, I will do my best...

View of Manhattan from cliff-side in Palisades
We were surprised in our first day of hiking when we walked along the cliff's edge in the Palisades. This park actually offered a peek into the natural wonders of this region, allowing us to see this shoreline as more than just a dirtied abuttment to tall buildings, busy roadways, and throngs of people. It was an actual shoreline with sandy soil and towering cliffs filled with rock so valuable that at one time people fought over whether to quarry it or preserve it. Enormous old growth trees that had somehow been spared stood along the trail's edge as if to say, come sit and I'll tell you a tale. At night as we camped on the cliff's edge under a full moon over the Hudson, the wind shook the sides of our tent and the air smelled of damp soil from the river below. We were transported even if we could still hear the blowing of a commuter train's horn in the distance and the whoosh of cars on the parkway. It was evidence that the balm of wilderness doesn't have to be far from civilization.

Sunset on Schunemunk Ridge
In Schunemunk State Park in the Hudson Highlands, we discovered a hidden gem of bare-top mountains home to packs of coyotes and Mountain Ash trees no more than 40 minutes from where we live that we had never even heard of. We got lost here...like really went the wrong way...but this wrong turn graced us with one of the most magical nights that I remember on the trail. We had hiked side by side with the setting sun that early evening and at night laid down to the hoo-hooting from a nearby owl and howling and yipping from you-know-what with one bold coyote even coming up to the tent to check us out.  Guess he was curious. We were stitched in place, completely present and even accepted on that mountain.

Graced with a butterfly
In fact that presence in the moment is one of the greatest reasons why we hike and why I have always sought long trails. Something starts to happen when you are out there long enough, sometimes you can catch brief windows of it even on a day hike. With so little artificial stimulus invading your senses - buzzing of cell phones, images on a screen, surface pleasantries with passing people, visual reminders of things you need to do or haven't done yet - your mind quiets allowing your other senses to enliven. The sound of birdsong in the trees above or the passing of wind by your ears or your own breath in your chest, the sight of leaves turning upward before a storm or tiny salamanders at your feet, or the feel of scratchy blueberry twigs against your dry skin are you impressions. Your mind still can wander and even ruminate, but when it does, you notice.  You have the presence of mind to look at that thing you're turning over and let it go because its not really serving you right now. Hiking is a moving meditation and after a while a shift starts to happen.

Goldenrod (Solidago)

In Orange County we wondered if we would find the beauty, as we had been told there was a good deal of civilization we would pass through and a number of hikers actually opt to hike the Appalachian Trail for these 50 miles instead of the Long Path- it is even an approved alternative route. However, with our new trail eyes and ears we loved letting our vision go long down the paved greenway between Monroe and Goshen canopied with Oak and Maple trees, lined with Goldenrod and Grape vines that wound around whatever they could grasp. Our feet enjoyed it too...a break from having to watch our every step. Having not had much human interaction, we enjoyed chatting with random passerby and had our first conversations with locals along our route. We drank sodas and ate pizza and slept on lumpy hotel beds...all of which suddenly seemed wonderfully luxurious already.

Wintergreen with autumn colors (Gaultheria procumbens)

The Shawangunks were a shift in and of themselves. They were sun and bleached rock and relentless heat. It was as if we had a window into just what those dry fire-scorched mountaintops must feel on many a day. Our photos from these sections are filled with white rock, blue sky, crimson Sassafras and plum-colored Wintergreen leaves. It was as if these plants had soaked up the very sun that shined down upon them everyday. This land felt foreign and we were but humble visitors passing through. It's fitting that the Shawangunks have their own long trail - the Shawangunk Ridge Trail - these mountains have a story all their own to tell.

Scott on the Arizona Plateau approaching Blackhead Mountain

When we entered the Catskills, it was as if we slipped into a botanical wonderland. The miles got harder but at least all that rock scrambling gave us an intimate experience of the plants as we clung to Yellow Birch roots for hand-holds, thrust our faces into Spruce boughs smelling sweet and rich, snacked on the occasional Mountain Ash berry for a lil zing. The darkness of the high-elevation boreal forest was also a welcome reprieve from the relentless sun of the Shawangunks. It seemed as if we were in the Catskills for 3/4 of the trail although it only makes up less than a third. We climbed peak after peak, sometimes several in day, but our legs strengthened, our appetites increased and our connection with this trail deepened. We felt like we had been through something in these mountains, like we had shared in their struggle, their raw experience of reality. Life is not easy in these high peaks and the stunted trees in the thin soil shared in our strife. And when we descended Blackhead Mountain in the darkness of night, it was as if it were allowing us to be in its boughs and amongst its boulders in such stillness.

A boulder climb in the Catskills

Hitting the Capital District it became undeniable that a shift had indeed occurred within us. Not only were the miles coming easier but so was our laughter and the people we met...they approached us differently and to be quite honest the trail magic abounded! Sure, I imagine these townspeople have a different approach to strangers than say the city folk we passed in the Palisades but at the same time I have been in a number of rural towns in New York where the locals don't care who you are or where you're going. I think we partly had the genuine interactions and generosity we did because we were projecting differently as well. We were slowed, aware, intrigued and not hustling to get to our next destination or with faces twisted up in thought or concern. The trail had gotten to us...and now to be quite frank...we didn't want to leave. We took our time most everyday, walking two or three miles and taking a good long break, staying up at night talking and goofing off, getting out of camp later in the morning because we took our time over coffee. Sure, we looked forward to a warm bed as now our temps had dropped into the 30's in the evening and eating whatever thing our hearts desired given that our bellies seemed bottomless...but we were so in the groove out here it seemed just strange that it would abruptly end!

Hanging with Mike Wilsee of Stage Road

We have had a lot of people ask us since returning home, doesn't it feel good to sleep in a bed again? Or to wear clean clothes? Or sit on a toilet? And yes, you're damn right it feels good! But at the same time once you have gone without these luxuries for a good bit, you realize just how unnecessary they are and all the other good stuff that we cut ourselves off from by making these comforts a "necessity" and a priority. So now our work is to take what we learned from the trail and incorporate it into our daily lives. Some days we will succeed at this and others we won't...that's just the way it is...and there will be rough days here in the "real" world just like there were rough days on the trail...but we were gifted with the chance to hike this trail and we are looking forward to sharing what we learned from the trail and its people we met along it with y'all. 

Hickory nut (Carya)
In a really lil' nutshell...I'll wrap this post up in saying that if any of my readers are looking for their next long distance trail or maybe their first, hit the Long Path! In 358 miles, this trail packs in the beauty and the breath-taking, the rugged and the challenging, the sweet trail towns and sweeter people, with very little if any, boring filler. Resupply is easy with some mail drops to fill in where supplies are a little slim and access to the trail for support is easy to find. 

In our business Hike Local, we will certainly be sharing our experience with you through guided walks on the Long Path when our warm weather returns, through presentations about the trail through the colder months, and of course more written word!

Reaching the end of the trail in John Boyd Thacher State Park









Saturday, October 14, 2017

Reaching the Long Path's End


Livin' it up on High Point in John Boyd Thacher State Park
The Capital District of the Long Path was easy on us, gently guiding us toward the end of our long and challenging journey along this rugged trail. It was as if the trail were saying...you've worked hard, take a break now. We hiked along country roads through rolling farm fields dotted with round hay bales and the occasional John Deere. Cross-country ski trails, woods roads, and snowmobile paths were largely our route. Even if these sometimes led us over steep hills or unnamed knobs that seemed more deserving of being called a mountain...the hiking was still free of large boulders or ankle-twisting rocks, instead we tread upon grass and leaves along wide tracts.

Countryside in Scoharie County
However we did still have one good climb up Vroman's Nose, an escarpment with bare cliffs at its summit that looks over the sweet town of Middleburgh. Our climb was short but one of the most vertical we had along the entire trail and as we sweat it out we reminded ourselves that there would be few of these to come in our near future. Once on top, we were rewarded for our efforts with the most stunning pastoral scene on which we had yet laid eyes.

View from Vroman's Nose

Walking the summit of Vroman's Nose
From the top of this ledge, the trail then followed the cliff-side down for a good bit before dropping us back into the woods and eventually back onto the road leading us into Middleburgh. Middleburgh was our last trail town and so we lived it up! We caught the county bus to Cobleskill, after a friendly librarian gave us the run-down, and got a room at the Rodeway Inn, which had perfect placement with Price Chopper, Pizza Hut, a laundromat, and even an auto-parts store (where we could get our camp fuel), within 1/10 of a mile. We thought we had died and gone to hiker heaven as we feasted with a celebratory meal at Pizza Hut and then hit the grocery for some pastries the size of our heads. However in the morning when we cruised back into Middleburgh, we got the real treat...the people of Middleburgh. Twice we found ourselves sitting on a bench in town whiling away the early afternoon and I cannot tell you how many towns people approached us saying things like, "Are you hiking the Long Path? Well I just think that is the most wonderful thing!" and "I wish you all the luck on the rest of your journey!" and "You're almost there, congratulations!" People shared stories of other hikers in their lives who had accomplished incredible feats and of their own time on the trail. And people knew about the Long Path here. We had a lovely and incredibly affordable lunch at Mona's Cafe in town and marveled at how everyone seemed to know and like each other.

An evening at Cotton Hill Lean-to
When we had finally hoofed it out of town, uphill of course, we hiked a short 6.5 miles heading towards into Cotton Hill State Forest...but even on the trail itself the magic of Middleburgh persisted. A hand-pump that we had depended on for water was, when we found it, rusted and broken and obviously good for pumping no more than leaves and dirt. We eyed a nearby pond that had a mansion-sized beaver lodge sitting in its center. We decided to hoof it down the road to hopefully knock on a stranger's door and ask for some water that wouldn't leave us with less-than-pleasant memories of the trail and had walked no more than 500 feet when a man in a jeep went rolling by. He then slammed on his brakes and backed up, just to chat with us. We casually shared our situation with him and asked if he had any suggestions on where to get water to which he replied, "Yea, my spigot. Hop in!" And so back we went to this friendly resident's home - we never did learn his name - where we were able to fill up with clean water for the night. Thanks to this man we were able to enjoy one of our nicest nights on the trail at the Cotton Hill lean-to. As you can see, Scott even built our first fire of the trail here! Thru-hikers don't normally take the time for such pleasantries in the evening.

Apples gone wild
After Cotton Hill, we headed for Partridge Run State Forest following trail and country road. It was along this rural corridor that we began taking advantage of those apple trees left to grow craggy and lonesome but still producing bushels of fruit. Scott plucked first and I followed suit, as we made it the goal of the day to find the juiciest, reddest, most deelish apples we could find...we ate a lotta apples and admittedly even filled our packs with a few, which would make a tasty addition to oatmeal in our last few mornings.

View of pond along trail - there was a lovely Adirondack style bench here in which we luxuriously relaxed
Inside Partridge Run, we walked leaf covered gravel woods roads lined with White and Gray Birch trees, their leaves now a golden yellow. We followed grassy ski trails that were home to many a civilized plant such as Dandelion, Mugwort, Cinquefoil and Strawberry, and walked through groves of Norway Spruce and Red Pine forests... it was like a patchwork of nature, each square altered by human hands and each uniquely beautiful.

Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) - an herb with many medicinal uses but also was considered an amulet of protection for travelers...good for the hikers to know!
Not only did this patchwork persist as we hiked through Gifford Hollow and then Cole Hill State Forest but a surprising thread of beauty was the roads that wound through. Along one road we caught a glimpse of the Blackhead Range before us - this did seem a lil odd as it seemed like it should be behind us! We walked mouths agape, almost stumbling into the path of a car more than once, as we gazed upon this mountain range that we now knew so well having summited all of its peaks.

Roadwalking with a view of the Catskills
On our last evening we hoofed it down to Fox Creek where we thought we might find a good place to put a tent for the night but found nothing but pricker bushes, blackberry brambles, and "no trespassing signs." We knew if we went much further we would be hitting the roadwalk that approaches John Boyd Thacher State Park with even less opportunities for putting up a tent...however we hiked on. In short order we crossed a road and started up a green corridor of trail alongside a restored farm house. Scott and I mumbled to each other...maybe this guy will put us up... and continued to head for Stage Road at the other end of this green tunnel. We popped out in a driveway and saw a man heading for his mailbox. We hesitated for a moment, simply wanting to say hi to this man who was generous enough to allow the trail to go through his property but when he didn't seem to see us, we started to walk on. Suddenly we heard, "Well hello! You two are part of a very small group!"

Chatting with Mike Wilsee along Stage Rd
Meet trail angel and trail creator, Mike Wilsee. He is 92 years old and although he cleared the way for new trail throughout Albany County, did not start hiking until he was 67 years old. He is a Long Path volunteer and advocate in every sense of the word and he knows his neighbors. We witnessed while standing and chatting with him for almost an hour in his driveway that those who ran or biked or drove by all waved hi to Mr. Wilsee. Because of these relationships, he was able to open the minds of local residents to allow the Long Path to travel through these residents' forests, yards, and farmfields. And on this night...he offered to us a campsite in his cornfields...that is after we declined a night's stay in the master bedroom! He said he knew just the place for us to put our tent and was he right! We had a view of the cliffs from which he had come and the fields in the valley surrounding us. That night the moon rose full just as it had the very first night we were on the trail and we felt grateful for the all the forms of grace this trail provides. Thank you Mike Wilsee!

Sunset view from tent-site in Mike Wilsee's farm field
We awoke in the morning to a rooster crowing and sun rising behind us over the cornfields. It was hard to get moving knowing that these would be our last miles on the trail as we were headed for John Boyd Thacher State Park. The day began with easy miles on road and when we walked the snaking trail into the darkness of the woods inside Thacher...it started to rain. We lamented rain on our last day but it was still a wonder to hike. We revelled in watching the raindrops fall heavy off of the crimson colored leaves and walked wide level trail, comfortable in all of our warm clothing that we know longer had to worry about keeping dry for yet another night out on the trail.

Looking towards the Mohawk River from the edge of the Helderberg Escarpment

The Helderberg Escarpment
Nearing the Visitor's Center we were graced with far-reaching views of Mt. Greylock in Massachusetts, Mt. Killington in Vermont, and best of all, the Adirondacks on the horizon. The Helderberg escarpment was like a half moon cupping the valley below. We could tell where the Mohawk River was by the thick strip of fog that hung just above a deep crease in the land. We followed the cliff's edge until we reached the visitor's center that was far more grand than we had anticipated.

At John Boyd Thacher State Park Visitor Center
Here we found two floors with a spacious layout offering information about the park's geology all in the comfort of heat, running water, and I kid you not...leather couches. We considered lunching inside but instead opted for Adirondack style chairs that we had spied outside upon first entering. It just didn't seem right to spend a portion of our last hours on the trail inside. We were each gifted a handful of chocolate candies by the sweet woman working there and ate them giddily with our coffee that we brewed up in our campstove outside in the gravel. We felt like a king and queen in our chairs that were like thrones with actual backs to lean against. Here we studied our first map that gave us a glimpse of the northern terminus of the trail...4 short miles away.

A fissure in John Boyd Thacher State Park

After a good long break the rain had fortunately let up, and so we hit the trail. It wasn't long before we stumbled across a feature this park is known for...its fissures. The ground is made up of porous limestone that due to weather and time has split into fragments divided by deep fissures. We felt like children trying our best not to step off trail and fall into "the lava" below. I eyed the Lycopodium, Cinquefoil, and Partridgeberries that lined these fissures and also encircled seemingly bottomless sinkholes. It was a strange, appropriately otherworldly forest in which to be concluding our trip.

Atop High Point
Just one mile from the end we reached High Point - an open vista along the edge of the escarpment. Here, we each gingerly took a seat and simply sat in silence for a few minutes. This would be our last vista. We were no longer gazing out at the mountains over which we would hike in the coming days...although perhaps sometime in the coming years. The NJ/NY Trail Conference is working on extending the trail into the Adirondacks and about another 50 miles are indeed blazed up to the Saratoga County line...however it is not yet trail. We held each other with eyes welling up at just how far we had come, not only on the trail but as a couple. We had so many people say to us, "If you can make it through 30 days on the trail together, I imagine you can make it through anything!" And that was exactly how we felt. Not every moment was easy but really it wasn't all that hard either. We figured out the trail together every step of the way.

Near the end of the trail at High Point in John Boyd Thacher State Park
Just one mile later...we emerged from the woods of John Boyd Thacher and into a gravel parking lot along Old Stage Road. We hooted and hollered and kissed...we had done it!! We sat and offered up some tobacco to the Trail Gods in thanks. Just five minutes later, my father rolled up in his pick-up truck to greet us...with a lil gift in hand. After learning a couple weeks previous that there was no sign at the end of the trail marking its northern terminus...we decided that just wouldn't do. We considered a number of mediums but then had the brilliant idea to ask the 'rents to bring a wooden board and some paint. Well, they decided that wouldn't do either...and so crafted the sign for us at home, covering it with a coat of shellac and all! Thank you Mom and Dad! My father got out his hammer and with the help of a few long nails, affixed that sign just where it belonged. Before hopping in the truck to head home, I had to take a look down the road where the aqua blazes continued...it felt strangely good to see those blazes...like our journey was not actually coming to an end but would continue on...

Scott and I at the northern terminus of the Long Path in John Boyd Thacher State Park
Thank you to all who followed along with us on our hike, offered kind words, a bite to eat, a fill-up on water, a mail-drop, etc....any assistance big or small is appreciated on the trail. One thing I learned a long time ago about long-distance hiking is that it may be an act of independence and strength but it is by no means a feat accomplished without the help of others and I wouldn't want it to be!

Now that we are home...the processing of the long trek continues...please stay tuned to the blog for a post about our greater reflections on the trail!




Monday, October 2, 2017

Long Path: Goodbye Cats and Hello Caps!

View from Burnt Knob
It has been a rugged week of hiking through the Catskills, filled with epic vistas, mysterious mountaintop boreal forests cool and dark, blazing hot exposed rock ledges, and scrambling up and over every size and shaped boulder you can envision. However...just some days ago we were walked out of the Catskill Park after 94 miles, and made our way across the much more humble northern Catskill range, which has now led us into the Capital District. Over the last week we have experienced temps ranging from 95 degrees to 33 degrees, peaks over 4100 feet tall and lowland valleys lush with farms. Now with the trail covered with a thick blanket of leaves, our hiking shoes swooshing through and a cold breeze blowing...it feels like we have really come a long way. I'll share with you some of the highlights!

Need I say more?

We were a bit apprehensive about this portion of the trail called the Devil's Path...reportedly the most rugged hiking trail in NY state, 9 miles of which the Long Path follows. However luckily we had a Long Path pro drop in and join us for a day...Ken Posner...who we have decided to call The Flash. Ken set the record for running the Long Path in 9 days...count 'em...9 days. That's right. He is an active volunteer with the Long Path and works hard in so many respects to ensure this trail thrives. He has a book that he has written about his experience on this trail titled, Running the Long Path. Be sure to check it out!

Hiking with Ken Posner aka The Flash

Ken hiking barefoot atop the Devil's Path put us as ease, as did his navigational skills. His pooch, Odie, who has earned the trail name Mountain Goat, helped us scope out the easiest routes along the trail as well. We summited Sugar Loaf, Twin, and Indianhead Mountains in one fail swoop of an afternoon and the Devil's Path did put us to the test with its path of boulders!

Devil's Path

When we finished the Devil’s Path we had some more trail magic from our good friend, Star Left! She met us a lean-to with her bright self and two homemade salads chock full of veggies. We had talked about how much we had missed fresh vegetables when we last saw her and this was her gift to us. What a treat! We gobbled them up, caught up on trail talk from the last week and then bid adieu a couple miles down the trail at her car where she loaded us up with water for the night. Thank you Star Left! We missed you this past weekend!

A barred owl spotting while descending into Palenville

While hiking towards Palenville, we stopped and snacked at both Buttermilk Falls and Wildcat Falls taking in the views on the nearly bare waterless rocks and had the most incredible sighting on the steep descent into town. We got a glimpse of this owl in mid flight from the ground up to his perch, where he sat nobly and allowed us to take him in for a good while. Almost every single night we have had an owl of one kind or another hoo-hooting away near our camp. It felt an honor to finally meet one face to face…and mid-day nonetheless…usually they do not come out to hunt until dusk.
Robinson Farmstand in Palenville

Before we had even officially reached downtown Palenville we found this oasis at a road crossing. Upon seeing the chalkboard with the words “ICE COLD DRINKS, ICE CREAM, SNACKS” without speaking we both made a bee-line. This humble lil’ shed housed a fridge stocked full of gatorade and flavored sparkling water and a freezer with every kind of ice cream sandwich and ice pop imaginable. Beside the fridge were baskets of granola bars, crackers and chips, and even hand sanitizer and wet wipes for our grubby hiker hands. Thank you Robinson Family! We almost didn’t make it into town, instead choosing to sit the day out on your nearby bench eating ice cream! But we were glad when we made it to Palenville given the Circle W Market that had to-die-for paninis, gourmet coffee, and a lovely place to sit and charge our devices. Thank you Circle W Market for your hospitality!

View from former site of Catskill Mountain House
The Escarpment Trail proved plenty challenging but nicely graded and lined with picturesque views from Boulder Rock to the former site of the Catskill Mountain House to North Point.

View near summit of Blackhead
However these small climbs were just the beginning of our most epic day yet out here on the trail. We were low on water for the latter part of the day and so were hiking speedily in anticipation of water at Dutcher Notch. To get water here would require a .3 mile hike off trail down a 500 foot descent and of course ascent. Along the way we luckily passed a group of four hikers who we will call the Batavia Clan that told us that the water source was poor down at the Dutcher Notch spring (saving us this off-trail hike) but that water was running at the Batavia Kill which was where we had planned to camp for the night. They also informed us of the beautiful new lean-to where they had left freshly chopped firewood. We reached the notch at about 5:00pm and still had 3.5 miles to go to the lean-to including an 800 foot ascent of the Arizona Plateau and then a 600 foot ascent up Blackhead – the second highest peak along the Long Path and reportedly the steepest descent in the Catskills. It wasn’t the wisest idea but knowing that there was fresh water at the lean-to and desperately wanting to meet our goal for the day…we hiked on with just a ½ liter of water in 90 degree heat.

Approaching the last leg of the climb up Blackhead Mountain

Scott hiking across the Arizona Plateau
We hoofed it up those mountains faster than we thought possible and found ourselves crossing the mile long ridge of the Arizona Plateau in the golden light of the setting sun. It was indescribably beautiful and as we ascended Blackhead with the sun beginning to dip into the valley, casting a golden light over the Yellow and Paper Birch trees, the yellow Goldenrod, and Spruce trees, I swore I could just about touch it from our heights. We reached the summit of Blackhead in twilight and began our descent by the light of our headlamps. We were nervous about shimmying and sliding and climbing down the wildly-angled rocks and over loose scree down vertical drops and tight switchbacks…but with the twinkling lights of the nearby villages in the valley below and the sheer experience of those Spruce-fir woods in their night-time stillness…we were truly present and humbled, grateful for the mercy of Blackhead...okay and a lil excited to have gotten so far!

Atop Blackhead Mountain

We made it to the Batavia Kill lean-to by 8:30 and searched for a half hour for that darn new lean-to…never finding it. We did recognize the old one though and spent a fine night there, dining on dinner at 10 pm. We saw the new one in the morning as we hiked out…it is a beauty!
View of Black Dome range from Acra Point

After our wild night on Blackhead, we still had a few more significant peaks to climb…however these we knew well from our overnight excursions over the last couple years: Acra Point, Burnt Knob, and Windham High Peak. The heat was brutal on this day and we were exhausted from our previous day’s adventure… so last minute we hoofed it 3 miles towards the town of Windham and pulled into a lil haven called the Copper Kettle Inn. Here we met Lisa and Don, the motel owners. Don had two ice cold sodas in our hands within minutes and Lisa was sweet enough to handle our hiker laundry and even gave us a ride back to the trailhead in the morning. Thank you Copper Kettle! While at the motel we also had the grace of meeting to two kind souls, Dave and Cindy. This couple invited us out to dinner with them to the Chicken Run where we enjoyed not only delicious food but much needed laughter and genuine conversation. Dave even surprised us with coffee the next morning. You two made our night! Thank you and we will drop you a line in Sellersville!
With Cindy and Dave of Sellersville PA at the Chicken Run in Windham
Heading out of Windham the next day, we exited the Catskill Park after 94 long miles and summited the smaller Northern Catskill peaks of Pisgah and Richmond Mountains…in temps that had dropped 30 degrees overnight. Pisgah felt old and wise with its evergreen forested summit and strong winds and Richmond afforded us a view of those Catskill High Peaks we had traversed. To say we felt triumphant would be an understatement! And we were certainly no longer suffering from heat exhaustion.

The view from Richmond Mountain of the Catskills through which we hiked
We have since entered the Schoharie Valley and the Capital District. The terrain has changed dramatically from that of fog shrouded boreal forests to bright open woods reforested sometime over the last century and some still logged. The views are not so much from mountaintops but from country roads that curve through the valleys past rolling farmland. Stone walls criss-cross through the woods and old foundations dot the trailsides. Trail angels also abound here in the Caps!

Panther Creek Arts crew in West Fulton

While hiking into West Fulton, we had the good fortune of meeting the crew at the Panther Creek Arts Hall. We had walked a mile down from the state forest on road, all the while torturing each other with all the foodstuff we might find in West Fulton that we knew very well would not be there. We had not even rounded the bend yet onto the main street when we heard laughter emanating from this restored historical Methodist church. When we turned the corner, we heard, “Hey there hikers! Are you hungry? Come join us!” They were having a gathering and an evening potluck. Without question we accepted their invitation! It brightened our day that had been a hard one as we had spent the day hiking still chilled and wet from the day before. Gregory and Cornelia McGuyver have turned this space into community space for music, theatre, and shared meals. Thank you Panther Creek Arts for your generosity in food and spirit!

We are now not far from the end of the trail...it is bittersweet to say the least and although we are of course looking forward to completing our goal, we honestly hate to meet the journey's end!

Last but certainly not least, we would like to give a special shout out to the Phonecia Lodge in Phonecia NY. Brian and Sarah's hospitality was stellar, the space was sweet and clean and thoughtfully decorated, the continental breakfast - yum!, and best of all they provided bikes that we could take into town to run errands! Thank you Phonecia Lodge!