Sunday, July 26, 2015

Almost There!

Cheesin' with my pal, the FLT

I am both sad and incredibly thrilled to say...I am almost there! I am presently in the tiny town of Bainbridge on Map 26 with just a little over 100 miles left to travel. When I began I had a stack of maps - 54 to be exact - over half of which I had sent ahead to Irene Szabo because they were too heavy to carry. Now I am down to a mere six. I can hardly believe it.
View of New York hills

Whenever I start a trek of this magnitude I don't spend too much time looking ahead to the end while hiking. This makes the task seem insurmountable. I learned this on my first AT hike, my 1000 mile attempt I should say, when at 2 weeks in with swollen knees and blistered feet, thought, I have to do this for another 5 month and a half months? Best to take it one day at a time, focusing on stepping atop the next rock, dodging the next mud puddle, eating the next granola bar, and maybe so far as to where  you will sleep that evening. This lil lesson from the trail is one that I have transferred to the rest of my life. One step at a time. And now...holy ?@*! I'm here! Well almost.

One of the many stonewalls along the FLT and throughout the woods of NY

As you can see from my blog posts and those who have been trying to keep in touch with me via phone...wifi and cell service have been next to none. Since leaving Ithaca I have virtually hiked from one state forest to state park to stretch of wild private land to the next. Especially since finishing the Onondaga trail, the last of my 6 branch trails to hike along the FLT, the trail has become more unruly. It is evident that not too many venture out this way. But it's a shame. Because this portion of trail has been breath-taking and with all this quiet time to myself, I've had all the more ability to soak it in while I can.
Seen lots of these lil snails along the way - luckily I move faster than they do

Daily I stroll along rock walls that come and go for miles, weaving throughout the woods. I startle turkey and grouse and little tweeters of all kinds of which I don't know their names. I sidestep salamanders bathing in the wet of the trail and frogs the size of my thumbnail that hop as fast as their warty legs will take them. I gain momentum only to do a double take, then stop in my tracks and crouch down to eye level to examine yet another plant, wondering exactly which species of Agrimony I have, or Thistle, or Bedstraw. I look to the sky and wonder, how many more days of sun will I be graced with? or maybe hours or minutes? And I have moments in which I wish this simple hiking would never have to end and moments when I curse the very trail I walk upon and wish I had 100 miles less to do and best of all, long stretches where I think nothing at all. This trail has been a gift.

Indian Cucumber (Medeola virginiana) - the root is crisp and edible like a small potato or cucumber, however only harvest these where you have identified there to be an abundant population as they are endangered in some states (not classified as endangered in NY)

Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) - the above-ground-parts can be made into a tea or tincture helpful in raising the body temperature and breaking a fever. 

Bee Balm (Monarda didyma) - the leaves may be steeped for a flavorful lemony mint tea aiding in digestion or warming the body, and the individual red florets, which also have a minty flavor, may be eaten raw, in baked goods, or used to adorn a variety of dishes

Queen Anne's Lace aka Wild Carrot (Daucus carota) - all parts of this plant are edible from the flowers to the roots. It is actually related to our domestic carrot, the biggest difference being that this plant's root does not contain any beta carotene and is therefore whitish instead of orange. However, be CERTAIN you have this plant as fatally poisonous Water Hemlock (Cicuta maculata) and Poison Hemlock (Conium maculatum) can both resemble this flower. Look for the purple floret near the center of the flowering top. Not for beginning foragers.

Agrimony (Agrimonia gryposepala) - the above-ground-parts may be steeped and made into a tea that is both astringent and diuretic, excellent for treating UTI's and inflammation in general.

However...with all this serene solitude one has to at times shake things up at bit. Enter the OutPost. I hit the Outpost, a lil biker bar on the edge of McDonaugh, on day in which I had a mere 13 miles to do. This has now become an easy day. So when I arrived at 2:30, I ordered a Coke and a big tossed salad and settled in, doing some writing and mileage planning for the next 2 hours. That was until Lynae and Carol strolled in. With my maps strewn all about we got to chatting about what I was doing out here but we hadn't gotten to the part about the plants yet. Then out of the blue Lynae exclaimed, "Do you know you can eat Day Lilies?!" I knew I had some friends-to-be here then and there.

Carol and Lynae
After some more chatting and wishing I could do nothing more than sit down and share a couple rounds with these ladies, Lynae and Carol said, "Too bad you aren't hiking back toward Bowman Lake, we'd have you over for the night!" To which I responded, "If you want to pick me up 5 miles down the road, I'll come over for the night!" I still had some miles to do before I could call it quits for the day as the next day I had a whopping 20 miles in store for me. Then I added, "Well and I would need to be dropped off at the same point about 8 am." They looked at each other, "Well sure, we could do that. But after we're done with you, you may not want to hike 20 miles tomorrow!" These ladies were so much fun, I decided it was worth the risk.

Carol and Lynae - can you tell these ladies are fun?
Many drinks and stories and even herbal recipes were swapped on this night as we tuned into the oldies station on a wind up radio and ate piles of veggies steamed over the fire. It was all I hoped it would be. The next day...I did indeed wake up at 8am and not much feel like hiking...but I did...20 miles to be exact and hiked off with wildflowers in my hair bestowed upon me by these two wild women. Thank you for the spontaneous trailside fun Lynae and Carol!

Lynae, Me, and Carol at Bowman Lake

I will have just one more stop in a town, maybe two, these being Downsville and Roscoe and so I hope to get a blog post out to y'all from there. I wish I could keep you up to date and have you virtually hike along with me all the way up to the eastern terminus...but alas I suppose this is a wilderness experience. If you don't hear from me before that lil country road in Claryville...I'll see you at the end!

Onondaga and Onward

Me at the southern terminus of the Onondaga Trail - excited to start my final branch trail along the FLT
And now, the Onondaga Branch Trail. I absolutely adored this trail. This branch trail was everything that I envisioned the Finger Lakes Trail to be when I had been conjuring images in my mind, and all packed into a mere 40 miles. I hiked for miles on pristine trail that wound through pure pine woods and rich mixed hardwood forests. I climbed up and down, over and over and over again, atop rolling hills and through shallow valleys. The woods were healthy, abundant with Lycopodium, Mitchella, Eastern Hemlock, Pale and Spotted Jewelweed, flowering Wood Nettle and Bee Balm, golden Agrimony stalks, and even Goldenrod with beginning buds. Oh and Christmas fern, New York Fern, Interrupted Fern, Bracken Fern, and the list goes on. I passed ponds with burping frogs and tall Cat Tails and meadows filled with electric hum of cicadas. Magical.

View from Labrador Unique Area jump-off point (I can only assume for hang gliders? Yikes!)

Looking across one of the Onondaga many ponds
One of the many falls inside Hoxie Gorge State Park

In my travels, I had the incredible fate of meeting up with Tessa Careaga. She was a trail angel in every sense of the word. Despite all this beauty, I was suffering from two days of intense heat. My calves ached, my stomach turned, my feet raw, and every article of clothing I owned drenched in sweat and covered in dirt. Hell, I was covered in sweat and dirt…and exhausted. When I called her from the Skyline Visitor’s Center, where a wedding was in full swing and I had been reduced to such hiker desperation to start scheming by the glow of a nearby soda machine how to score a plate of food from the reception area, she suggested instead of just a shuttle from the Onondaga terminus, I come home with her for the night. She lived just a couple of miles away and on DeRuyter Lake. I threw back the rest of my soda, vanquished my hungry hiker plot, and got to hiking toward Tessa.

Me and Tessa Careaga, a trail angel indeed!
That night we enjoyed our own banquet of fresh grilled vegetables, giant bowls of salad, corn on the cob and Lake Saranac microbrews, all with a view of the lake. I was in hiker heaven. Not to mention a shower, laundry and all that good, good stuff. The next day, Tessa slackpacked me my last 10 miles and then we headed into Cazenovia for lunch and resupply. We zipped around town doing this and that and managed to get it all done in one afternoon and me back to the main FLT junction outside of Cuyler by 5pm with just 5 miles to hike to the Paradise Lean-to. Incredible.

Thank you Tessa, your generosity was such a gift and kept this hiker hiking!

The next day I planned to trek 20 miles to the Perkins Pond Lean-to. However…some more interesting things came up. In the morning I had the pleasure of chatting with Yahoo’s GrindTV reporter, Rob Pursell all the way out in California. He was full of good questions and it was fun to fill him in on the journey while on trail. Here’s a link to that article:

I had also received an email from a blog reader, Char Revette who lives on Paradise Hill. She had invited me over for tea given that I was just a couple miles away. Well tea with a fellow FLT fan sounded better than pounding out the miles on this already late morning. So to Char’s house I went and arrived just in time for more than tea, but lunch! We dined on quinoa and veggie stew, fresh veggies and dip, fresh fruit and chips and black bean salsa. What a treat. I also had the pleasure of meeting Char’s daughter-in-law, Tracy, and 2 grandchildren, Oliver and Reagan. Char is a lifetime member of the FLT and regularly walks the trail, as well as a forager. Thank you for the pleasant stop along the trail – you and your family were wonderful company and your home is beautiful.

Me and Char Revette outside her home on Paradise Hill
Leaving Char’s home I was soon in the Bull Thistle Club’s neighborhood. The trail through here is beautifully maintained and a dream to hike given that from what I’ve seen so far it’s climbs are easy and its woods are filled with miles of rock walls, pines of every kind, and a number of old growth trees that the farmers spared. In the last two days I have met a number of these hard-workin’ maintainers, evident by the register entries I saw at nearly every register stop.

John Carhart hard at work along the main FLT
The first was John Carhart. The moment I stepped on this trail I knew I was on someone’s beloved section of trail. I followed the fat laid stones, cut logs and twigs, and even bark shavings that had been laid atop the muddy shallow spots in the trail until I rounded the bend and met John carrying a 5-gallon bucket of tools. We chatted and I told him I was headed for the Pharsalia Shelter. Although I had already been in communication with Donna Coon, head of the Bull Thistle Hiking Club, John helped to pass the word along that I was officially on their section of trail and where I’d be for the night.

Thank you, John for all that you do….now if we could just get you to lay those logs and rocks the length of the trail that would be splendid! And Donna, although we never had a chance to meet we certainly got to know each other through our multiple phonecalls back and forth. Thank you for being there!

Sharon, Art, and dog Ted at the Pharsalia Woods Lean-to
I spent the night at this lovely newly built shelter, enjoying the handmade rocking chair and small tables inside on which to place my odds and ends rather than in a pile on the floor, and fell asleep to the thwat! and thud! of freshly shaved pine cones that the squirrels dropped from the tree-tops high above once done with their evening snack. And in the morning, I awoke to Art, Sharon, and dog, Ted bearing their own snacks for me and a greeting. Gatorade, honey roasted peanuts and granola bars were on the menu this morning without my having to even pull my food-bag out of the tree. Art constructed the furniture and benches found at this lean-to and both of them regularly maintain this lovely open space. It was pristine. Thank you Art and Sharon for your welcoming and dedicating your care to this shelter and nearby miles of trail!
The sitting area outside the Parsalia Woods Lean-to
Art's handmade rocking chair and nightstand

Please stay tuned for the next most current blog post full of plant pics and yet more faces of the Finger Lakes Trail!

Friends from Here to There

What a trail this has been since I left Ithaca!  I have experienced heavy rain (surprise, surprise!), crystal clear blue skies, temps so cold I could see my breath and I huddled with a hand warmer in my sleeping bag to so hot that I began to suffer the effects of dehydration and thought I might just melt into the trail somewhere never to be found again, views of rolling hills and dark pine woods full of such incredible beauty I simply didn’t want to stop hiking for the day, and trail magic from both new found friends and old. A lot can happen in 150 miles! And speaking of miles, at the time of writing (7/22/15) this I am just 180 miles from the end of my trek.

I can hardly believe it. Can I start back at the beginning and do it all over again? Well, yes, I could I suppose, but I’m not that crazy, not in the same hiking season at least.

Saba Alemayehu and me at Silk Jones in the Ithaca Commons
Allow me start with leaving Ithaca. Above is a pic of my good friend from college whom I had not seen in ten years. Saba is a grad student at Cornell studying International Development with just one semester left to go. Plus she is a ton of fun. I enjoyed two luxurious nights at her downtown apartment and we hit the town on the second night. We enjoyed dinner at the Bandwagon – an incredible selection of veggie burger and french fry toppings and the best dark beer I do believe I have ever had – and then drinks at Silky Jones.

At this bar, where trivia night was in full swing – who ever knew trivia could be so rowdy – Saba and I met up with Marina and Marietta. These two women are graduates of SevenSong’s School of Northeast Herbal Medicine located in Ithaca. SevenSong was a guest teacher of mine when I attended the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine. He is a wealth of information and sarcastic humor, both of which I appreciate and the latter so rare and much needed in the herbal world. I managed to meet up with these two herbal ladies through the one and only other distance hiker I met while hiking the Mountains to Sea Trail last summer. I had remembered Sprout telling me she had lived for some time in Ithaca so when I knew I was coming through, had looked her up. She in turn contacted some like-minded folks for me to meet up with. 

Thank you Sprout for arranging, and Marina and Marietta for attending a blind date with this hiker! Again, thank you Saba!

Before hiking out of Ithaca, I also had a chance to chat with Lee Rayburn of  WHCU 870 AM and 95.9 FM about my journey thus far. Here is the link to the short radio segment:

A creek crossing along the FLT - one of the benefits of all this rain, plenty to drink and beautiful streams 
Once out of the city I was welcomed back to the trail with a good flash and boom of a thunderstorm, complete with winds and dropping tree limbs. Soaked and all-too-late taking cover in the Chestnut Lean-to I received a message from Robin Carlisle Peck, she said that she and her husband Paul Warrender (who supported me my first day in Ithaca) thought it a good idea that I come back to their house for the night given the weather. Done.

And so I spent yet another comfortable night in the Ithaca area, able to once again do laundry and dry out all my gear (that I had just finished drying out the day before) as well as a giant burrito for dinner and a cold beer in the evening lounging about with now good friends, Robin and Paul. I considered just staying in town for the Grassroots fest which I attended several years in a row in my late teens but then decided I might never leave town if I did that!

Joe McMahon by the Shindagin Lean-to. This lean-to is perched above a rushing waterfall and is complete with log benches and a large handmade round wooden table.
Paul drove me back to the trail the next day and on the way picked up Joe McMahon. Joe is an Ithaca resident, an active member of the Cayuga Trails Club and Chairperson of the National Areas Commission. We had made plans to link up so that he could not only hike with me awhile but show me a more scenic route through a new detour that had me on roads for several miles. On this morning it was misty and so cold we could barely stand about with catching a chill, thus we knocked out the miles. We took a nice lunch at the Shindagin Lean-to once it had finally warmed up in the afternoon and then took off on the miles of trail that Joe, his wife Gail and another friend maintain. Little did I know what laid just around the bend.

The first of Joe's stone scultpures I saw - not far east of the Shindagin lean-to
More of Joe's Piles of Rocks

Here Joe and his friends got creative, building a stone wall around this Ash tree that may not be here forever, but perhaps the stones will remain standing.
Joe McMahon has been building these for years. He began on friends', Andy and Connie's, property, then his own, and then on the trail. I cannot tell you exact coordinates except where they can be found but I can tell you to begin your exploration at the Shindagin Lean-to and hike east for about 2 miles keeping your eyes open. They are pretty hard to miss. I asked him what he calls these sculptures to which he responded, “Piles o’ Rocks.” The truth is these sculptures begin as piles of rocks, usually the piles left by farmers from last century who cleared the land to plant crops, but once Joe is done with them they are art installations. Thank you for sharing your masterpieces with me Joe!

Connie and Andy
In our travels, Joe and I crossed the property of Andy and Connie. Here we enjoyed a lengthy break with good company and fresh carrots picked straight from the garden alongside a tub of homemade hummus. Thank you for your hospitality, Andy and Connie, and your home is beautiful!

One of the amazing views seen daily with Wild Parsnip (Pastinaca sativa) in the foreground - remember this is a plant that is pretty to look at but dangerous to touch as it contains chemicals that can cause burns to the skin when the affected skin is exposed to sunlight. I have rubbed up against truckloads of this stuff out here and had no ill effect but I imagine I have just been lucky or maybe it's thanks to all those rainclouds.
Back on the trail I hiked for several days  headed for Cortland. The weather was beautiful. However here’s another surprise for you….the “new” shoes bit the dust.

Brooks, I am sad to say that we are done. Back to the drawing board on lightweight but durable kicks to wear when distance hiking.
Enter Roger Hopkins. Oh, the trail really does have a way of bringing factors, whether these be people, plants, events, together serendipitously. The day my right foot decided to bust through the inner seam of my shoe and I thought I might just chuck them over the side of the mountain like Cheryl Strayed but then had more sense than that, Roger Hopkins was due to pick me up and shuttle me into Cortland for a resupply. When Roger arrived he not only came early, taking my pack for the last two miles but had all the deets about a shoestore just outside of town that could provide me with what I needed. So we did shoes, resupply, and dinner all in the matter of 2 hours and then back to the trail before dark. I never got so much accomplished in such a short period of time and had fun while doing it. Thank you so much, Roger!!

So far those $55 Sauconys out-performing the $120 Brooks. Go figure.

Kit and Coy
Earlier that day I had hiked full speed through a backyard and into the woods, from which it was just a short jaunt down to a trail register and a lovely lil overlook  of waterfalls and a gorge below. I no sooner had stopped to sign in when I heard,

“Heather!” I had hiked miles since Ithaca…who could this be?

I was soon greeted by an adorable pup named Coy and his owner Kit. Kit had found my blog online and had been following along for sometime. She knew that I was in the area and would be passing through, quite literally, her backyard soon, and so when she happened to see me breeze by her window, she dashed out to say hello. We had fun chatting and I was grateful for the human (and canine) interaction to take my mind off my crumbling shoes. It was so nice to have met you, Kit! I’ll have to stop by again when I have more time and less miles to do!

And I leave you with one more we didn't actually make friends, in fact I nearly stepped on him, but we are sharing the same woods and like the same things like lean-tos, although he likes to eat them whereas I like to sleep in them.

Porcupine on his way to scurry up a tree - I got to watch him amble nearly to the top when I lost sight of him

Monday, July 13, 2015

The FLT is Gorges

View of one of the many falls inside Watkins Glen State Park

The last few days here on the Finger Lakes Trail have been simply spectacular. I have said numerous times along this trek that this trail displays the subtle beauty of New York, easily seen if one takes the time to move slowly and quietly through it. You have to allow your senses to soak it in, and then the beauty comes into vivid clarity, apparent in so many seemingly mundane hills and ponds and mossy dark woods. However, as of late, the beauty has been shockingly evident. I mean can't-miss-it kind of beautiful. Walking into Watkins Glen with its numerous waterfalls and cascades that only nature could create and then the masterpiece of stone steps, railings, bridges and corridors created by man to make this spectacle more accessible. The work that the Civilian Conservation Corps must have put in to create these parks and the staff and trail volunteers that continue to create pathways to lead us into these places is beyond remarkable.

Wakins Glen State Park
In Watkins Glen, as many of you have already seen on my Facebook page (, I was greeted by two television stations, WENY and WETM, eager to learn about my adventure. I had the pleasure of answering lots of questions not only from the media but from visitors as I paraded around the park doing my best hiker strut and showing off some of the plants that I have encountered. And being that I enjoyed a relaxing day in town at the Villager Motel, I was able to actually catch myself on the 6:00 news - what fun. You can check the interviews out at these links:

I'd like to give a big thank you to Dave DeGoyler and Peggy Coleman of the Steuben Visitors Bureau for spreading the word and to Dave for being there on the scene when I arrived with water bottle in hand and a list of local inns where I could get a room for the night. Not to mention ferrying me around town after the interviews - so helpful! Also, thank you to Brittany Gibbs of the Watkins Glen Chamber of Commerce for me welcoming me to town and compiling a list of resources for me while there. By the time I hiked out of town the next day, I felt like a local as people I passed on the sidewalk and local shops people having seen the TV clips, wished me well on my hike. Thank you, Heather of Watkins Glen Wine and Spirits for treating a hiker to a drink - it was much appreciated at the end of a hard day of hiking in the rain!

Anita Friday Swett Edgemon at the southern terminus of the Interloken Trail
The day after Watkins Glen I again had the company of Anita Friday Swett Edgemon along my fifth branch trail, the 12 mile Interloken. The draw of the Interloken Trail is the fact that it travels through New York state's one and only National Forest, the Finger Lakes National Forest. As soon as I stepped foot on the trail here, I knew I was in pristine woods. The green stretched on for miles with few roads to cross with vistas of the farm fields in the valley and the mountains in the distance. Puncheons had been laid through numerous stretches along the trail however with the 2 inches of rain the area got the night before...let's say it was a little muddy...
Hikin' through the mud along the Interloken Trail, sometimes ankle deep!
However with Anita's company I had fun sloshing through the muck, at times almost losing our shoes to the sucking slop, and checking out the plants along the way. Here on the Interloken I spied my first Spotted Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) flowers of the season as well as Bee Balm (Monarda didyma).

Spotted Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis)

Thank you Anita for contributing to my journey along the FLT, I hope I have added to your continuing journey along the FLT as well! After finishing the Interloken, I was not yet done with my day having another 8 miles to the Roger HIll Lean-to. This is the first I have completed a whole branch trail in one day and continued to hike on. I can't say I was raring to go, but when I entered the town of Catherine atop this country hill with the sun casting its rays from the west, I was restored.

View of approaching valley in town of Catherine, near Seneca Highlands Road
The next day I hiked through one of my most favorite sections yet along the main FLT. The woods were rich with healthy native plants such as Club Mosses (Lycopodium spp.), Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense), and Wood Lilies (Lilium philadelphicum).
Wood Lily (Lilium philadelphicum) - DO NOT conufuse with Day Lily (Hemerocallis fulva) which does not bear spotted petals and has lance-shaped basal leaves, whereas Wood Lily has whorled leaves traveling up the length of its stem

I hiked alongside the Cayuta Creek for several miles in the morning, at one point crossing a sturdy bridge made with thick wood and chunky screws and bolts crafted by the Cayuga Trails Club (CTC). Shortly thereafter, I was witness to the devastation caused by all the rain this region has seen. Another bridge, even longer than the first, was simply washed away by the force of the waters and very possibly now lays beneath a four foot high mound of gravel that the rushing waters deposited as the creek widened and rounded the bend. For now hikers may cross this pile of rocks but how long this will last is unknown. The CTC is asking any and all who have a love for the trail to donate time, labor, or money for needed materials to repair this bridge and other severe areas of damage along the trail.

The first bridge over Cayuta Creek - still in excellent condition

The remains of the second bridge over Cayuta Creek
After  leaving the creek, I climbed up and down, and then up and down and up, up, up to Connecticut Hill, a sunny mountaintop at about 2100 feet and then down into the Stevenson Forest Preserve, a woods filled with regal hemlocks standing tall and healthy. Before I knew it, I was winding my way through dark cool woods in Reiman Woods and into the Bock Harvey Preserve. It was here that I met Roger Hopkins, FLT board member, and not only an integral member of the Cayuga Trails Club (CTC) but past President. Roger was there to lead me to the new Bock Harvey Lean-to built by the CTC and FLT Alley-Cat Crew just weeks ago. 

ANdy Sciarabba and Roger Hopkins in front of the new Bock Harvey Shelter inside the Bock Harvey Preserve
Once there we took a seat in the Aldo Leopald style benches that overlook the meadow below and ridgeline in the distance and talked trail for a spell. And then the evening only got better. Andy Sciarabba appeared with a knapsack full of food from the Ithaca Bakery. Turns out he had brought a vegetarian feast for the three of us to share! Portabella pizzas, potato salad, chickpea and roasted root salad, fresh fruit, and dessert including chocolate torte, goat milk cheesecake, and a cannoli topped with powdered sugar. No, cartainly not my ordinary close to a day! Andy is a dedicated member of the CTC as well and helped to craft the Bock Harvey Lean-to. He had also brought along a copy of the CTC newsletter for me to peruse. I'd like to tell you, Andy, that I particularly enjoyed your article titled "Restoring Faith." It is about the challenges of hiking long distance and the generosity of strangers. He and Roger and all the folks I have met along this trail thus far are evidence of his statement, " --despite all the really, really, really bad news we are exposed to every day there are really, really, really good people out there. We just need to get out there. Create our own diversions. Take a walk. It may just restore our faith in humanity."

Thank you Roger, Andy, and crews that built this shelter! 

One of the several sitting areas located around the Bock Harvey Lean-to
From the comfort of this freshly built lean-to, so fresh it still sat atop a bed of sawdust, I sat and watched the fireflies that night and anticpated my arrival in Ithaca the next day. I have been looking forward to visiting this city since I started this trail but even long before. For those who are familiar with Asheville, I have been told that it is a northern version of our beloved city. In fact I had been so focused on simply getting to this point, it dawned on me I didn't even know what cities lied along the trail route after this one.

I awoke early to birdsong and hit the trail. Because of more trail devastation caused by wet weather, I was soon detoured through Treman Park. What a gem this place was! All along I'd heard of Watkins Glen, but little did I know, Ithaca had its own waterfall filled gorge...
The most breath-taking of the falls in Treman State Park
Treman State Park, located just a couple miles outside of the city is the FLT's pathway into Inthaca. Now, normally I would follow the Rim Trail which from what I understand is a beautiful footpath as well, but hikers have at this one while its considered an official reroute! This gorge is also adorned with elaborate stone stairways and waist-high corridors, thanks to the Civilian Conservation Corps. There is nothing mundane about Treman State Park.

A cold soda in hand, about to exit the park, I was greeted by CTC Trails Chairman Paul Warrender and his wife Robin Carlisle Peck whom is also a member of the CTC. Both are also members of the Alley-Cat Trail Crew. Both Paul and Robin do regular maintenance on the trail, and Robin has the additional responsibility of feeding these hard working folks, such as during the Bock Harvey Lean-to project. 

Paul Warrender, myself, and Robin Carlisle Peck

These two fabulous FLT folks, picked me up, shuttled me into town and took me out to eat at the Ithaca Bakery - my second meal from here in 24 hours! - and from what Paul has told me a "religion" here in Ithaca. Once inside its doors, I understood why. They had an abundance of options for the vegetarian - so many that I was honestly overwhelmed and went with the intriguing sounding special I'd seen when I first walked in: A beet burger with goat cheese, jalapenos, and arugala served on a poppyseed roll with a spread of mayo. Holy veggie goodness. This place was indeed amazing. I finished that off with two cookies the size of my head. Paul is also retail manager for Ithaca Bakery so if you stop in at one of their locations, you may just see him, so say hi! After this, it was a shower at their house, laundry and cheese and crackers with fresh fruit, all locally sourced, followed by more incredible food at the mexican restaurant, Viva in downtown. I had my first taste of Ithaca Brewery as well, ordering an Apricot Wheat Ale. Wowee. So when am I relocating to Ithaca you ask? 

I told Robin that she knew how to take care of a hiker: lots of food....hourly.

Here in Ithaca I have also had the good fortune of reconnecting with my friend and fellow Warren Wilson alum, Saba Alemayehu. We have not seen each other in 10 years but have stayed in contact through Facebook. And so when she saw my posts getting closer to the city, she shot me a message, "Come see me in Ithaca!" Done. Saba joined us for dinner last night and I am staying with her in downtown Ithaca until I head out of town tomorrow. It has been so great to visit with a girlfriend out here and sleeping on her couch with her cat, Mr. Meowgi (spelling, Saba?), I couldn't feel more at home. I have no pictures yet to share, but there is still tonight, so surely there will be some to come. Thank you so much, Saba!

Lastly, I had a lil chat with the Ithaca Voice this please do check out the article here about my visit thus far here in this awesome city! 

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Hills of the FLT

Mike from Zimbabwe hiking the FLT over the holiday weekend, and Star Left and Shepherd at the beginning of the Great Eastern Trail at the Moss Hill Lean-to
I am thrilled to announce that I am officially halfway through my trail, having hiked over 450 miles of the Finger Lakes Trail and its branches. Since I left Hornell, I have hiked both the Bristol Hills Branch Trail (54 miles) and the Crystal Hills Branch Trail (47 miles). I have also been graced with the company and help of numerous people along the way.

Kim and Terry Meacham
Just before I left Hornell two Saturdays ago on a cold and rainy day I had the pleasure of joining Terry and Kim Meacham for lunch. Terry is on the board for the FLT and maintains an 8 mile stretch of trail as well as the Burt Hill Lean-to. Both he and his wife take groups of hikers out on the trail for both Hikers 101 which acquaints beginner hikers with the trail and the Cross County Series in Steuben County which is basically an on-going hiker fest in which busloads (literally) of hikers are dropped at one point on the trail to cross the county in sections, one county a year, helping hikers to become official End-to-Enders. If you're interested in this last one - worry not, hikers are split into several groups according to what you wish to get from the experience such as a speed hike versus appreciating nature and dropped along different portions of the trail at different times to stagger the group. Both Kim and Terry are also End-to-Enders themselves, having chipped away at the trail for some years with Kim's father who first fell in love with the trail.

On this especially rainy day, the Meachams tried to persuade me to take a zero at the Burt Hill Lean-to and enticed me with a slackpack the following day. However, I had already taken a short day into town the day before and was well rested from my night at the motel. Seemed unnecessary. They drove me about and helped me with some resupply after lunch and by the time I had exited the Wal-Mart they had devised a plan. They would take my pack for the day and drop it at the lean-to which was close to the road for me at the end of the day. At least this way I could hike quickly. That sounded like a splendid plan to me.

The day only grew colder and windier as it progressed and with all my gear at the Meachams, I certainly hiked faster, not only because I was lighter but as I hiked against the pelting rain on the exposed dirt farm roads, to keep warm. I arrived at the lean-to, 11 miles and a few hours later and gave the Meachams a call, only to hear that they had devised yet another plan....Terry said he would not bring my pack to me but rather, pick me up at the road crossing, take me home, his wife would make me dinner, I could do laundry, have a hot shower, sleep in a bed, and then they would slack pack me the following day to Hickory Hill Lean-to another 17 miles down the trail. I thought that was a brilliant idea! Oh, and turned out Kim is vegetarian - what a meal, best on the trail. I not only had an amazing dinner of tempeh marinara at their house but two homemade grilled portabella sandwiches for the lean-to that next night.
The old shoes - I have never gone through trail runners so fast - FLT you're brutal on the sneaks!

This was just the beginning really.  Terry ended up shuttling me the following day to the northern end of the Bristol Hills Trail and the following day delivering to me my new pair of shoes that his wife had suggested she pick up for me at the local running store in Rochester. Of course when he brought the shoes, he not only arrived with shoes, but a 12 inch veggie sub, a breakfast sandwich and a ziplock full of cookies. It felt odd to not make plans with Terry for the next day - I told him if he wanted to, I'd be happy to have him the entire length of the trail, but he didn't bite at that one.

Thank you, Terry and Kim Meacham, you made those days of rain and hard miles acutally pleasant and now I don't have to hike with my feet falling out of my shoes!

View along Bristol Hills Trail approaching Evangeline Shelter

Beginning my trek on the Bristol Hills trek I had the company of FLT member, Anita Friday Swett Edgemon, who is not only in the process of completing all of the branch trails of the FLT but also regularly hikes with a group of fellow FLT members once a month and works to maintain the trail upon which she treads.

Anita Friday Swett Edgemon

What a treat it was to have a hiking partner for the day! We talked and taste-tested plants, and shared tales from not only the trail but from life off the trail as well. It was a long mileage day for both of us starting at noon. I had 16 miles to complete going up and down many a Bristol Hill and Anita totalled just as many as she hiked two sections with me, but then had to turn around and hoof it back to her car to catch me at the next. I, too, was nervous with a mighty 1000 foot ascent up the mountain into Hi Tor at the end of the day to my lean-to for the night....but in the end we both made it! Thank you Anita for your company!

Sunset view from atop Hi Tor at the DEC lean-to
While hiking along the Bristol Hills Trail, I also had the good fortune of getting lost. There I was happily following the orange blazes, so in my groove that I had not a thought in mind and at some point stopped looking for the blazes and just followed the trail. I continued to see orange ribbons which soon turned to pink, and I thought that was strange but perhaps this was a lil reroute and the maintainers had run out of orange tape. I also saw spray-painted arrows along the grass and thought to myself that this was a rather impermanent way to mark trail, but alas I supposed it worked....that was until I came to pond that was not on my map....and then climbed an embankment into this man's backyard.

Bob Kahabka outside of his cabin, the "Top 40" 

Bob Kahabka's wife Carol happened to be gardening when I meekly announced myself and stated, "I think I've lost my trail." Carol gave a yelp and then quickly rose to her feet and said, "Why yes you did! Come, come! I have a map inside and you can get some fresh water too!"

Well, ok!

Bob and Carol happened to be up visiting this lovely handcrafted cabin, built by Bob and his father John "Jack" Kahabka, who was a well-known Steuben County conservationist and earth sculpter, laying the design for all of the man-made ponds in the county. I was pleased to hear from Bob and Carol that there was a tractor path that would easily take me back to my trail. Turns out they had hung the ribbon and laid the orange arrows I had been following for a 5K that had happened just days previous to my passing through. "Oh, we need to take those down!" Carol exclaimed upon realizing what had happened. I thanked them and was just about to leave when Carol took a look at my legs and gasped, "Look at your legs!" I looked down at my freshly sliced up legs, still bleeding from the blackberry brambles, caked in mud and speckled with grass seed, and answered, "'s been a little while since I showered."

Next thing I knew I was in the Kahabkas' shower washing off my 5 days worth of trail grime. To follow, was a cup of coffee overlooking the pond that I had walked by down below and the mountains in the distance. Now that's hospitality! Best day I ever had getting lost. Bob even escorted me back to the trail to be sure I didn't get myself turned around again. Thank you Bob and Carol Kahabka!
Hand-painted map inside the trail register box at the entrance to the Huckleberry Bog Loop Trail

Inside the Urbana State Forest along the Bristol Hills Trail lays the Huckleberry Bog Loop Trail. This 2.9 mile trail is the creation of Irene Szabo along with the hard work of a crew of trail builders. It is an ecologically unique area considering the bog is, to quote Irene, the result of "a leftover blob of glacial ice" and drains both north and south. Irene explains in an article on the FLT website that the north drainage heads to the Cohocton River then heads south to the Chesapeake Bay, while the south drainage goes to Hammondsport to Keuka Lake and then heads north going to Lake Ontario and the Gulf of St. Lawrence. All of this incredible glacial history makes for an unusal dynamic in the plant life found here, with Black Spruces which are typically found in northern climes such as Canada practically alongside Tupelo trees which are a common tree dotting the trails I've hiked down in North Carolina. 
Black Spruce (Picea mariana)

Inspired by this diverse plant life, Irene and fellow trail crafters, Steph Spittal and Bob Mueller, decided to further research and document the flora, and along with the expertise of Letchworth State Park's naturalist and the imagination of Wayland-Cohocton Highschool teacher, Tom Hughes and his class, created a means for the hiker to enjoy a self-guided tour of this loop.  There are 46 numbered points along the trail identifying mostly plants along the way, as well as unique glacial formations and sites of historical significance as this area at one time provided land for homes and farms, and was quite the place to go pick huckleberries into the 1950's. To accompany you through these points is a laminated booklet that can be found at either end of the loop, complete with botanical descriptions and sketches. 

I had so much fun here and so enjoyed learning about the ferns and lycopodium I've been passing and questioning along my trek thus far. Also the stout and healthy Eastern Hemlock Trees found along this route made my heart smile as so often I find this tree losing limbs and scraggley from damage done by the wooly adelgid. 

To read more about this special place and download a copy of the booklet, you can visit:

Thank you Irene for suggesting that I take this loop trail and for all your work in creating this special experience to be had along the trail!

View from along the Crystal Hills Trail
From the junction with the Bristol Hills it was but a short jog to the intersection with the Crystal Hills Trail at the Moss Hill Lean-to (featured in the photo at the top of this blog). This trail is not only a branch of the FLT but the beginning of the Great Eastern Trail which travels from its northern terminus here on the FLT all the way down to Alabama. Both of these trails are youngin's in the trail world, being just about 8-9 years old, but you would never know it hiking along the route as it is already well established.

Great Eastern Trail marker at the junction of main FLT and Crystal Hills Trail 
This is a trail of the most lovely grade imaginable. The new standard amongst state park trail is no more than a 10% grade. For those of you who don't know how to conceptualize this, as I didn't either until I hiked it, it is the most comfortably uphill climb  you can't imagine. There is still a challenging incline but without any of the huff and puff. The roadwalks connecting the segments of trail are still a doozy but luckily these are becoming lesser.

Me and FLT President, Pat Monahan
Along this trail I had the assistance of Pat Monahan. Pat is not only President of the Finger Lakes Trail, but Project Coordinator for the Crystal Hills Trail and head of the New York Chapter for the Great Eastern Trail. Pat was able to lead Shepherd, Star Left, and myself along the new reroute-to-be on the Crystal Hills Trail eliminating 8 miles of roadwalk. This new trail cuts through the Erwin Hills Wildlife Management Area and although it shares trail with mountain bikers, all those that I encountered were pleasant as could be. So.....I may have gotten a lil turned around and off trail once Pat left my side and I got ahead of Star Left and Shephard, but I got to see a good chunk of it nonetheless and it was pleasant rolling trail through mixed woods for miles. Much better than the hot road I unfortunately had to resort to when I lost my way, that went up....up....up! Pat assured me that my mistakes would pave the way for improvements along this route so that future hikers will have an easier time of it!

Creek along a short reroute along the Crystal Hills Trail

Pat then took his assistance a step further. He picked me up at the southern terminus at the junction with the Mid-State Trail on the PA border, and then he and his wife, Mary-Ellen and son, Issac, invited me into their home for the night. I received a tour of the Heritage Village of the Southern Finger Lakes by Pat himself who is a guide there and then enjoyed dinner in downtown Corning. Plus a bed and a shower and all that good, good stuff.

Thank you, Pat for giving me the full tour of the Crystal Hills Trail and to you and your family for your graciousness!

Me, Shepherd, and Star Left along the Crystal Hills Trail
Lastly, on the Crystal Hills Trail I was saddened to say goodbye to Shepherd and Star Left but also incredibly excited for them as they are now embarking upon the next and longest leg of their journey along the Great Eastern Trail. To continue following their journey from Falls to the Sea, visit: and . Best of luck you two! Make it your journey and have a helluva awesome time!

Thank you to Steve and Vicky Rossetti, whom I was introduced to thanks to Shepherd and Star Left, for taking in a third stinky hiker for the night with your already full house on the 4th of July. You made me feel right at home in no time at all and you have a lovely family!

Along the main trail I have also had the pleasure of crossing paths with several day and section hikers, interestingly enough - all women. Among them, April and Val who are working on their End-to-End completion and offered some nice insight into what I would see up ahead on the trail and Kristin who was out for her very first solo trek along the trail. Keep on hikin' ladies! Who says this is a male dominated recreation? Uhh-uh.

I am presently in Watkins Glen and have had a full day of not only touring the gorge but visiting with the local media here thanks to the efforts of Dave DeGolyer and Peggy Coleman at the Steuben Visitor's Bureau. Be sure to check out the next post as it will be full of photos from this incredible gorge and complete with links to the television clips filmed on trail and in the park. Interloken Trail and I come!