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, "Well...it'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: http://www.fltconference.org/trail/go-hiking/special-places/huckleberry-bog/

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: trailjournals.com/greateasterntrail2015 and facebook.com/shephardadventures . 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 Ithaca...here I come!

9 comments:

  1. I wish you all the best, and I hope you find both love and support from all my fellow Ithacans if you need anything please email me!

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    1. Hi Brad, Thank you for your well wishes! Ithaca certainly did treat me well - will have to go back and visit sometime soon!

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  2. I wish you all the best, and I hope you find both love and support from all my fellow Ithacans if you need anything please email me!

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  6. had the pleasure of meeting you this evening at the campground where I work, Bear Spring Mountain, located in the beautiful foot hills of the Catskill region. I think it is very courageous for you to do what your doing, I envy you to no end. I can only imagine what it must be like to see all of these beautiful things, and meet all of these amazing people. I hope the rest of your awesome journey is filled with endless opportunities to see, do, meet, feel, hear and experience everything the woods has to offer. I only wish there was more I had to offer you during your stay at the park. it was truly a pleasure to meet you.

    Sincerely
    Assistant Caretaker
    Seth W. Sullivan

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    1. Hi Seth, Thank you so much for offering what you did! Had I not been diving into a bowl of noodles and waiting for my friend to arrive, I would have taken you up on the opportunity to shower in a heartbeat! The trail will always be there waiting for you to hike...I'm sure the opportunity will present itself some sweet day. At least you have it in your backyard for dayhiking and sectioning for the time being! Check out my post: Eastern End Claryville, I gave you a lil shout out :)

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