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!