Saturday, June 6, 2015

First Days on the Finger Lakes Trail

On the border of PA and NY, 1.1 miles along the Finger Lakes Trail
My father, Douglas Houskeeper, at 1.1 miles along the Finger Lakes Trail
The journey has begun! In fact, I am on day 3 of the hike and it has been an absolute dream thus far. My father and I have been graced with the most beautiful weather for hiking - cool mornings and evenings and no warmer than the high seventies during the day, as well as blue skies - the plants have been PLENTIFUL, so many I seem to stop every few feet to take a photo or examine a new species, the insects have been kept at bay thanks to the cool temps, the trail has been a series of mostly moderate ups and downs, but above all it has been a gift to be hiking in my familiar woods again. Sure, I've never been through this particular part of the state before, but as I walk I am keenly aware of how at home I feel amongst these trees, these flowers, these modest round-top mountains, and treading atop the rocky black dirt of the northeast. I am grateful that I get to spend the next two months at home in these woods.

A portion of the trail through Allegany State Park that followed an old railroad bed - we found just one piece of rusted iron from the track, all other traces were long gone
Wild Geranium - Geranium maculatum
English Plantain (Plantago lanceolata)
Blue Star Grass (Sisyrinchium spp.)
As my father and I made the drive on Tuesday, I was very aware of how after we passed the traffic of Scranton and then nearby Binghampton, the exits for nearby towns seemed to be fewer and further between. Past an exit for Ithaca and then through Elmira, highway 86 then became bumpy and rutted and shared the road with only the occasional Mack Truck. We drove through a narrow valley made up of green rounded ridges on either side and sparkling rivers - the Susquehanna, Cohocton, and Genesee. This landscape was spacious. I recognized town names on the passing signs from my maps, and realized that we were indeed following (at times) the same route that the trail would. Yes this trail would be different from the frequent civilization of the Mountains to Sea Trail, however similar in that there would be few to no hikers.

Thus far, I have been right. We saw just one couple that was hiking together roll into the first shelter we stayed at, Willis Creek, and the next day, a father and son out foraging for Chaga. Oh...and our awesome shuttle person, Gene Cornelius!

I reached out to Gene, a member of the Finger Lakes Trail Conference and FLT trail crew leader, who lives in the area to see if he could help with shuttling us to the beginning of the trail. Well Gene not only helped us out with a ride but made a point to cruise by where the trail would exit the woods near Salamanca, the town we'd be walking into on our third day. As we did, and saw little sign of the trail, he suspected there may be a reroute. Although there was little to no cell service, he said he would try and give us a ring throughout the day with more information. Gene did more than give us a ring...he walked the trail from a road crossing and appeared at the Willis Creek Lean-to later that evening with a sketched map of the reroute and point by point instructions. He was concerned we'd get turned out trying to find our way back to town. Trail people are some of the most thoughtful folks I've ever met. Thank you, Gene!

Part of the reroute that Gene informed us of - we walked this ATV trail along the power lines for 1.5 miles.
As you can see from the photo above, this trail is still expected to have its bits and pieces of civilized turf connecting the wilderness portions and lemme tell was a just a lil strange after being in the silence of the woods with nothing more than owl hoot, birdsong, and snapping of twigs for over 2 days, to walk this path with the hum of I-86 just behind the trees. And then, after literally hopping, splashing, and sinking through a mud swamp at the end of these lines due to construction, to glimpse the golden arches of McDonalds above the treetops and then, the massive structure that is the Seneca Casino here in Salamanca.

Signs such as these have been frequent, regularly reminding me of just how far I'm going
And now I hike on! I figure I should be in Ellicottville within the next 3 days. This will be the first leg of the trek on my own without the security of knowing I have a vehicle and hotel waiting for me once I reach town. A wee daunting. But also so awesome to be on a trail completely unknown to me with the chance of beauty hidden just over each ascent, descent, or around the bend.