Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Articles and Upcoming Events

Chicory (Chicorium intybus)
I've had the opportunity to share my experience hiking the Finger Lakes Trail with a couple of excellent journalists since returning home. It's been nice to talk about the trail not only because talking trail is one of my most favorite things to do but because I find I stumble upon new insights about my experience once I've had some distance from it.

This link is to the Times Herald Record based in Orange County, New York - this paper serves my hometown and Port Jervis where I lived while writing my first book. Pauline Liu and I chatted the day after I finished in Claryville.


These next two links are from the Buffalo News' Refresh writer Scott Scanlon. Scott and I chatted for over an hour on the phone, so there's lots to read here! The first link is to the "In the Field" article printed in the Buffalo News Paper (8/22), which shines a nice light on the Conservation Trail, as this is the FLT's branch trail that travels through the Buffalo region.  The second link is to the Refresh Blog and offers an in depth look at my process of planning for a long distance hike, my research along the trail, and a look at some of my personal feelings/thoughts about long distance hiking.



As for upcoming events...I am thrilled to be attending the Finger Lakes Trail Fall Campout and North Country Trail Rendezvous that is being held September 10 - 13 at Hope Lake Lodge near Cortland and Ithaca, New York. There are a slew of incredible group hikes being offered by incredibly knowledgeable folks in the FLT community and there will also be lots of time for swapping trail stories while enjoying meals and drinks with fellow hikers from both the FLT and NCT community. I can't wait to see y'all again! For more info, visit this link:


A second exciting event to mark on your calendar is the Appalachian Long Distance Hikers Association's Gathering held on October 9-11 at Shippensburg University in Shippensburg, PA. I will be giving two presentations over the weekend, one on Saturday (10/10) and one on Sunday (10/11), in which I'll be sharing my experiences hiking both the Finger Lakes Trail and the Mountains to Sea Trail. There will be plenty of time for question and answer and my book, A Guide to the Edible and Medicinal Plants of the Mountains to Sea Trail, will be available for purchase as well throughout the weekend. Below is a link to the ALDHA website with more information. More details to come regarding presentation times and full schedule of events!


I look forward to seeing you there!!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Stumbling along the Sawkill

The Sawkill Stream off of Schocopee Rd - rushing more heavily than usual after a storm the night before

It has now been over two weeks since I stepped off the Finger Lakes Trail and back into the everyday world of eating whatever I please, sleeping in a bed and showering daily. However upon entering a convenience store I still immediately start scanning the countertops for their selection of condiment packages and the walls for possible outlets. There was also the night that I leapt into the center of my bed and swatted my poor cat in the face thinking she was some furry creature coming to get me in a lean-to. Ah... the transition. However, the most difficult transition....trail running just 3 miles a day and then sitting most of the rest of my hours. I miss the physical exertion. That and the literal tug on my heart that I feel on a warm day touched with a cool breeze or the view from my car of the early morning clouds hugging a mountain top or the sound of crickets chirping at night outside my window. I want to be out there...or rather in it...a part of my environment again rather than periodic visitor. I've been trying to ease the transition by getting out as much as possible and so I've been spending hours out under the stars at night and meandering through the woods here and there on some short hikes. However on a recent perfectly beautiful afternoon I finally had the opportunity to revisit my most beloved woods, those on Schocopee Road in Milford, PA, for the entire afternoon...
Bridge over the Sawkill Stream

There's many trails, both cleared by man and trod by deer, that can lead you into these woods, owned partially by Peter Pinchot and the rest designated as the Delaware State Forest. However one of my preferred trails here is that one carved by the waters of the Sawkill Stream. Along Schocopee Rd there are two one-lane bridges that cross over this stream, making for perfect access points. I chose the first of these two and traveled upstream, walking the edges of the water through the ever-so-Pennsylvania rocky woods. Now that I am not thru-hiking I have the luxury of bringing with me as many field guides as I please, so I carried a guide to the ferns of the northeast, a guide to the mosses of the northeast, Newcomb's Wildflower guide, and a guide to the trees of the eastern United States. I was out not to do miles but to take my time with these woodland botanicals.

The peeling bark of Yellow Birch (Betula alleghaniensis)

These woods are largely Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis), Yellow Birch (Betula alleghaniensis), Black Birch (Betula lenta), various Oaks (Quercus spp.) and Maples (Acer spp.). Streamside you are apt to find Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) with its branches bending ever closer to the water as well as Spice Bush (Lindera benzoin) with its fragrant leaves and red berries come fall. Basswood (Tilia spp.) is another likely friend sitting along the Sawkill, most readily identified by its large papery leaves with uneven leaf bases. However it is still the common Yellow Birch that repeatedly catches my eye, especially in northeastern woods. It's bark is silvery and peeling, many times providing a home to various mosses or fungi. Against the matte gray rock faces, it appears yellowish-silver or bronze and will often find a home growing in a shallow bowl of decomposing matter atop a giant boulder, snaking its roots to the forest floor below.

Roots of Yellow Birch (Betula alleghaniensis)

If you snap of a small twig of Yellow Birch and scrape the outer bark you will notice a strong wintergreen scent. Although Black Birch (Betula lenta) is often considered more aromatic, I have at times found just the opposite to be true. This wintergreen quality is due to the methyl salicylates found in its bark which besides tasting good, also offer relief for muscular pains. Simply harvest a small branch and using a sharp knife, peel the bark until reaching the woody core. These peelings can then be used in making a medicinal decoction (a strong tea made of woody parts). Simply add 1 loose handful of bark to 16 oz of water and simmer for 20 minutes, keeping on the pot's lid cracked just enough to allow steam to release.

Leaves of Yellow Birch (Betula alleghaniensis)
 Its leaves are simple, alternate, sharply and many toothed, and often appear to grow in pairs from a mutual spur. These are also medicinal with anti-inflammatory and diuretic properties, however lacking in the strong wintergreen flavor. You can make an infusion (a strong tea made of vegetative parts) of the leaves by adding a handful to 16 oz hot water and allowing to steep for 10 minutes.

Common Polypody (Polypodium vulgare)
 Another boulder inhabitant is Common Polypody (Polypodium vulgare). I repeatedly find this fern in cool dark places whether that be in shaded rocky woods sitting amidst mosses, streamside, or growing from the crevices of glacially deposited boulders. Rock, water, shade. It is a relatively small fern, growing no longer than 12 inches and usually lesser. I think it bears a resemblance to Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) however with a brighter green color and with leaflets that are completely attached to the center stalk rather than stocking shaped. Besides Common Polypody I also found Interrupted Fern (Osmunda calytoniana), Sensitive Fern (Onoclea sensibilis), Hay-Scented Fern (Dennstaedtia punctilobula), New York Fern (Thelypteris noveboracensis), Bracken Fern (Pteridium aquilinum), and Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides), and nearly everyone already bearing spores.

Spores of Common Polypody (Polypodium vulgare)

Growing alongside the Yellow Birch and Common Polypody were three members of the Nettle family (Urticaceae), Clearweed (Pilea pumila), Wood Nettle (Laportea canadensis), and False Nettle (Boehmeria cylindrical), each easily distinguished from one another. It was a treat to have the opportunity to examine each of these plants literally side by side.

Wood Nettle (Laportea canadensis) in flower
Wood Nettle is the only one traditionally deemed edible of the these three Nettles.  Wood Nettle is one of my most frequently used wild edibles and if you've been following this blog for sometime you know that I encountered enormous patches of it along the Finger Lakes Trail. Because I've covered this plant a good amount in other posts ( http://thebotanicalhiker.blogspot.com/2011/06/nettles.html) I'll simply sum it up here by telling you that this is the nettle we all know well thanks to its stinging hairs and mistakenly refer to as the less common and non-native Stinging Nettle. The leaves of Wood Nettle are delicious when sautéed, steamed, baked or boiled. Contact with heat disarms its stinging hairs and leaves you with a tasty green high in Vitamins A and C. I particularly enjoy them in noodle dishes along the trail or pureed in a hummus when working with a full kitchen.
Clearweed (Pilea pumila) in flower - notice translucent stems
Clearweed bears its common name because of its stems that become increasingly translucent with age. Unlike Wood Nettle, but similar to False Nettle, it does not bear any stinging hairs. Its leaves are also overall more rounded in shape with rounded teeth along their margins and bright green in color with 2 veins prominently visible running parallel to the midrib (center vein). This nettle can remain very small growing carpet-like in moist woods or reach 1 foot high, but never the height of Wood Nettle or False Nettle. I have read in numerous sources that this nettle is edible but unpalatable so I have always passed on the same information to my students. However, I decided I'd try it for myself! I chowed an entire mature leaf and found that its taste was not really all that unpleasant. I can't say that it was delicious, but if anything it was merely lacking in flavor. Something to bear in mind when considering wild foods for survival.

Flower clusters of False Nettle (Boehmeria cylindrica)
False Nettle is most easily discerned from these first two nettles by its button shaped clusters of green flowers located in axils and along leaf stalks. Its leaves are nearly identical in all characteristics to those of Wood Nettle except that they are opposite. This entire plant is lacking in stinging hairs. I have done some research on this plant and cannot find any information regarding its edibility except that it is not considered a plant with edible parts. However I also did not find anything stating that it was toxic or poisonous. If any of my readers have any further information about this plant's edibility I'd be thrilled to receive it!

A waterfall along the Sawkill and home to all the aforementioned plants

I followed the Sawkill further, passing numerous waterfalls and plant communities similar to those I've describe above. Further from the water, amongst the damp leaf matter and thick ferns I passed White Snakeroot (Eupatorium maculatum), Cinquefoil (Potentilla spp.), White Wood Aster (Aster divaricatus), and Rough Bedstraw (Galium asprellum) as well as a host of Violet (Viola) leaves.

White Snakeroot (Eupatorium maculatum)
White Wood Aster (Aster divaricatus)

And after sometime the landscape began to change. The understory vegetation became thicker and more difficult to navigate while at the same time the trees thinned. I was reaching the swamp located at a sharp bend in the stream. Beavers, which have now been removed from the area, changed an entire ecosystem, creating a beautiful expanse of marshland but also killing a host of trees and inadvertently encouraging the growth of understory bushes such as Sweet Fern (Comptonia peregrina), Highbush (Vaccinium corymbosum) and Lowbush Blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium), and ferns galore.

Swamp along the Sawkill Stream
Growing in the tall grasses and shrubbery of the swamps edge I came upon the flowers of Rough Stemmed Goldenrod (Solidago rugosa) just beginning, clearly a later flowering species than that of Sweet Goldenrod (Solidago odora) or Grass Leaved Goldenrod (Solidago graminifolia). And near the deepest waters, I spied Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis) peeking its many red faces from the thick tufts of marsh grass.

Rough Stemmed Goldenrod (Solidago rugosa)

Hairy stems of Rough Stemmed Goldenrod (Solidago rugosa)

Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis)
With the sun now at 5:00 in the sky it was time to turn it around. It had taken me 3 hours to walk what was very likely about 1.5 miles. To follow the same route back, although I'd move faster I'd still have to walk its rocky embankments, stepping stones here and there as necessary and climbing its sometimes steep sloping sides. I didn't have the time or the energy for that, so instead I decided to wade across the stream where it zig-zagged through the marsh and it was no more than knee-deep. Once on the other side, I picked up a trail that has been recently cut in the last year and provides for easy terrain. After about another mile through these sun-dappled woods, I reached the road that would lead me back to the bridge where I'd entered the woods earlier in the day. With the breeze now even cooler and the sun quickly turning an early evening golden, I closed my eyes and turned my face to the sky as I walked...filled with a deep down happy to have once again returned home.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Reflections and Looking Forward

Looking out from the Balsam Mountain Firetower
Nearly 900 miles along the main Finger Lakes Trail and its six branch trails gives you some time to think. I have a B.A. in philosophy and so I always joke that I do indeed use my degree as I think deep thoughts while hiking the trail. So here's some of those for ya...

I've had a lot of people ask me what it is that keeps drawing me back into the woods and onto long trails for months at a time. I enjoy sharing these thoughts in particular because I think that there is something in there for others to learn and just may make them curious enough to venture out and do the same.
Trail somewhere between Bossard's Cabin and Hornell along main FLT
I am drawn to the simplicity of hiking a long distance trail. Don't get me wrong, the logistical efforts are many and the act of literally hurling yourself up and over mountains day after day sometimes through less than ideal conditions is not simple...but the fact that being out here doing just this sure is. My focus is pure and my purpose is clear. Each day I wake up and I hike. There is no question what I'll be doing for the day. While I hike I observe the plants, I consider where I'll stop for my next break, where I'll fill my next water bottle, where I'll get shelter if a rainstorm rolls in, and where I'll sleep for the night. I fulfill my goals for the day, more or less, then build camp, compile my notes, spend the evening writing, make sure I'm secure for the night whether that be hanging a food bag or rigging up  a bugnet, and drift off to sleep. Through the repetition of these acts, the trivial begins to drift further and further from the forefront of my mind, until finally it nearly falls away. Those things that really matter become readily apparent and are in stark contrast to those that really do not.

Hiking near Seneca Highlands Road at dusk
To some to desire to experience life in this way may seem unrealistic or even selfish...but to me this is what I call experiencing raw reality. With the trivial at a distance, the smallest of acts such a kind word or someone feeding you a meal or offering you a ride that doesn't know what it is you're doing becomes incredibly significant. The goodness that people are capable of offering is incredible and you feel this through and through. And damn it, that's real.

Star Left, Shepherd, and the trail magic of Mike on Bailey Road
The smallest of luxuries such as a shower, a giant bowl of Chinese takeout, a good book to read, a favorite song that you haven't heard in months, become heaven on earth. I mean there is really nothing better than sitting on the gritty curb of a nowhere gas station and enjoying an ice cream cone on a hot day. Everything feels better, tastes better, sounds better, and again...that's what those things really are. I think in our everyday life these sensations and perceptions simply become muted as we interact with and take in so much sensory experience that we can't possibly process it all.

Now this means that pain is heightened as well. Walking on an open blister for miles or being so tired that you don't want to lift your foot for another step, or so hot that your vision starts to blur or so cold that you think you won't possibly make it through the night seems like the hell on earth. But then guess what? You keep hiking until your feet go numb or stumble upon a cold stream or the sun warms your bones the next morning and you realize that for as intense as that all was...you made it through and you always do. Pain is passing and really so is the elation of hearing a beautiful song. But that's part of the wonder and excitement of not only the trail but of life, you never know what is next. I thrive on this unknown. Not a whole lotta point in running from it, may as well embrace it.

Standing on trail, yes that's right, on trail, through the Catskill Forest Preserve
The one continual fountain of support or the greatest luxury I should say you experience on the trail is the beauty. Living life simplified also allows space for the beauty to come into clarity and fill you up. I have mentioned before that the Finger Lakes Trail is not a trail of daily summits and rewarding views...but it is grand in its simple everyday beauty that continues for miles. Hiking through a landscape that changes but is repeated over and over again, gives you the chance to pick up on different aspects of a similar place each time you pass through it. The tenth pond you've seen in the last week suddenly is no longer a pond but a body of water nourishing a host of algae and Pond Lilies and Milkweed and Cat Tail and home to dragon flies, toads, humming cicadas, and that beaver that has built his pile of sticks along its edge. The dead trees standing in the center and green mountainside in its reflection and sun bouncing off its surface is the most beautiful thing you've ever laid your eyes on. Although you aren't aware of it, you stockpile these experiences. After days, weeks, months of this, they fill you with a quiet contentment and deep down happy that although it may not always be at your surface, you may always draw upon it.

A pond along the FLT outside of Ellicotville
I suppose I could say in a nutshell that thru-hiking above all keeps you present and provides you with the resources to deal with the intensity of the present.

This is what keep me hiking. I'd be curious to hear what draws y'all to the trail...keeps you hiking. Comment on this thread either by blogger or facebook and let me know. I'm curious.

And what now?

I'll be continuing to blog for certain. Expect posts particularly about the plant life that I encountered as I start to pour over my notes and begin the process of writing the guide to the edible and medicinal plants of the Finger Lakes Trail. I will also be posting about other local adventures on trails in the northeast and upcoming events in the area. I may very likely be speaking about the Finger Lakes Trail at the upcoming Appalachian Long Distance Hikers Association Gathering and will be the guest speaker at the FLT Spring Campout this coming June.

Depending upon the post, these may or may not be posted to the Finger Lakes Trail or Appalachian Long Distance Hikers Association Facebook pages, so please do take a minute to like my page: https://www.facebook.com/thebotanicalhiker on Facebook and/or become a member of the blog (you can do this by entering your email in the space provided to the right of the present post) so that you will continue to receive regular updates.

I will be remaining in the northeast, primarily in Milford, Pennsylvania for the next couple of months. During this time I would thrilled to offer some plant walks and talks about my experience, so if you have an idea or a group that would be interested, do drop me a line! I will be returning to Asheville, North Carolina for the winter to continue working on the upcoming book and promoting my already published, A Guide to the Edible and Medicinal Plants of the Mountains to Sea Trail, about NC's 1200 mile long distance trail. Come late spring, I will be returning to the northeast and planning to relocate to New York state so that I can offer educational classes, workshops, and plant walks about the flora of the local area and the logistics of long distance backpacking.

Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum)
This trail was primarily a wilderness trail like the Appalachian Trail and a notable shift from the oftentimes civilized aspects of the Mountains to Sea Trail, however even greater than this latter trail in its solitude. I went days without seeing or talking to people, encountering dayhikers only in the Ithaca and Catskill portions of the trail. Above all, I adored it, and am missing it already. My heart aches at the rhythm of crickets chirping outside my bedroom window at night and my legs yearn to hike miles. If you are considering a day, a week, or a full on thru-hike of the Finger Lakes Trail...by all means do it. It is an opportunity of a lifetime!

Thank you to all who supported me along the way. It's true I was a solo hiker and hiking without a support team, however thanks to the FLT community as well as folks who lived along the trail, it hardly felt like a solitary endeavor. I rarely felt lonely given the number of people who reached out to me via Facebook and my blog. Remarkable. All of you made this journey so much more meaningful. Beauty really is greater when shared with others.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

FLT Eastern Terminus: Claryville

Celebrating at the eastern terminus of the Finger Lakes Trail
I made it!!! After hiking nearly 900 miles along the main Finger Lakes Trail and its six branches, exactly 2 months later, I arrived Monday, August 3rd, at the eastern terminus of the FLT in the Catskill Forest Preserve just outside the tiny town of Claryville, New York.

Finger Lakes Trail eastern terminus sign
I could barely believe it as I took my final steps down the wide dirt path that would lead to this humble lil marker. How had two months passed already? For so long the end had seemed so far away and now suddenly I was here and I wanted to make every step, every breath, every swaying tree limb and nearby birdsong count. As I crossed the Neversink River just before town, a river that I knew I could follow all the way into the town of Port Jervis, New York where I had lived for sometime, I knew I was close. I did my best to soak it all in knowing that as much as I had anticipated this moment, part of me would be sad when it had finally come and gone.

Neversink River
I was thrilled to have my parents, Pam and Doug Houskeeper, my father better known as House the Cat, on the trail join me for my last mile. Although there is a 13 mile roadwalk between the Willowemoc Wild Forest and Slide Mountain Wilderness (both part of Catskill Forest Preserve), the hiker is graced with at least the final mile of trail being true woods trail. You must walk one mile from the trailhead parking lot on Denning Road to the terminus and then turn around and walk back to the parking lot. I was grateful for this mile as it gave me time to reflect. These reflections will come in my following blog, for now there is so much to tell you of the days leading up to the end!

Walking the abandoned NY Rt. 10
I headed out of Bainbridge on mostly roads, passing through the even smaller town of Masonville and finally back into the woods. I was grateful to have not started until late in the day, considering although it had been hot to begin it was considerably cooler with the sun beginning to sink behind the mountains and I neared my lean-to for the day at Getter Hill. The following day, I hiked 24 hard but beautiful miles beginning to get a taste of what the eastern part of the trail had to offer. The morning had been cool but the end of the day had been brutally hot, the trail ridden with mosquitos and black flies. I ascended altogether well over 1500 feet of elevation that afternoon up the steepest climbs I had encountered yet, the last one with 3 liters of water on my back as there was no water to be had where I was camping for the evening.

A view of the Rock Rift firetower
In the morning I passed the Rock Rift firetower and then did 8 hard miles over what I had been anticipating would be easy miles given the railroad grade that was shown on my map. Scratch that notion. As many of you know I hike in shorts out here, as normally I'd rather incur the scratches and scrapes than endure the heat of long pants however...when it comes to thigh-high stinging Wood Nettle (Laportea canadensis) that stretches for miles...mmm perhaps some long pants or gators would be more sensible. About halfway through my miles I seriously thought about putting on long pants...you see the Wood Nettle kept alternating with large patches of Jewelweed (Impatiens spp.)conveniently enough, so I kept hoping that perhaps the Jewelweed would persist. When I finally gave up hope I stopped to change but was swarmed so quickly by a whirlwind of buzzing squeeters that I decided I'd rather keep swooshing through nettle at full speed than stop and rifle through my pack. Ah well...at least I got to this smiling face a lil faster...

Anita and I on trail
 Anita came to join me one last time on my thru-hike and lemme tell you...this woman is hardcore. As soon as we met up, she announced that this was a day for record breaking heat in New York state as we both swatted the relentless biting flying critters. Didn't stop her! And I was thankful because now I at least had a partner to take my mind off all the discomfort I was experiencing. We trekked through the woods for some more miles and then thankfully, back out onto the road where the breeze blew the squeeters away. Once back on wide grassy horse trail for our last miles, we even glimpsed a black bear. He moved quickly out of sight...so no pics were taken...but stay tuned for that...

Thank you Anita, for your friendship and support out here on the trail. You were not only a hiking partner but a trail angel! Keep hikin' woman!

Rachel and I on trail
After having dinner with Anita at the DEC horse campground, I compiled my plant notes and wondered if my dear friend, Rachel Horn, who was driving all the way from Asheville that day would be able to find me at my lil picnic table and fire ring in what felt to me like the middle of nowhere. Thank you to Seth, a state park employee who offered me fresh water and a shower up at the main campground while I waited! But sure enough at 9pm...she rolled up without a single hitch in her plans. We caught up about our lives over the last 2 months until the moon was high in the sky and hit the hay. However, we couldn't have all of our fun on this night, as the towns of Downsville and more importantly, Roscoe were in our future the next day.

The mason jars displaying the 5 different herbs used in the making of Prohibition's gin. The last jar is a combination of all of these herbs.
Although we hiked into Downsville, after lunching in town at the Schoolhouse where Rachel had dropped her bike overnight for safe keeping, so that she could hike with me in the morning and bike back to her car, we headed onto the funky lil fishing town of Roscoe. We had our priorities straight and so before checking into our room at the Rockland Motel, we hit the Prohibition Distillery located in the old Roscoe firehouse. Here I found quite the botanical treat. We took a tour through the distillery and learned that their gin is quite literally infused, imagine a giant tea bag full of herbs being dropped into a giant vat of high alcohol content gin, with fresh orris root, coriander, juniper berries, lemon verbena, and bitter orange peel. The young man working here was very excited about their process and his energy was contagious. A great start to the town adventure. By the way, while sampling their fine beverages, their parking lot is also a great place to dry out wet clothes from your nearby hike on the FLT after walking in drenching rain.

Drying clothes atop Rachel's car after our morning of walking in the pouring rain - method works great!
At the Rockland House, we enjoyed an affordable room and nearby Rockland House Restaurant, eating piles of fresh vegetables  off  the salad bar and sampling the also local Trout Town brews served on tap. However, our fun didn't end there as there was still one more local watering hole to visit. At the Courtyard, which was about to close, we didn't sample any drinks but we did entertain ourselves with their creative country décor. Later that night, we also had the fine opportunity of meeting Lonnie and Rod, who were visiting to welcome new pledges into their fraternity, which had originated in Port Jervis. These guys were quality, full of support for my hike, handed over granola bars for the road, and even cooked up a big breakfast the next morning outside the hotel that we made sure to get in on as well. And, man did we luck out given that Lonnie is a hired chef for the New York Jets. He knew how to cook up some grits!

Endless plates of salad from the salad bar at the Rockland House, as well as complimentary cheese and crackers.

Getting up close and personal with a friendly fish at the Courtyard - there were so many creatures on the walls at which to marvel!
Of course, even after eating breakfast with the guys, no trip to Roscoe is complete without a visit to the world famous Roscoe Diner. However, the food didn't last long enough our plates for any pictures to be taken. I love northeastern diners. Needless to say I left Roscoe one happy hiker full of both food and gratitude for a visit from a friend.

Rachel and I in Downsville
Hiking out of Downsville I returned to the Campbell Mountain Lean-to, the first place I had visited on the FLT, a week before beginning my thru-hike. What a feeling to be here once again, now just three days from the end of my journey. It was also here that I glimpsed the note on the final map that read: This is bear country...protect your food! Ah, all of the northeast is bear country. I had encountered plenty on my other hikes and hardly any to speak of on this hike, plus the map had been published in 2013. Even if the men from Lancaster Construction that I passed earlier in the day had warned me of a very large black bear that had lumbered across the woods and down my trail. It was probably a hollow warning.

Campbell Mountain Lean-to
The next three days were some of the most beautiful scenery I have passed through the entire hike. Just as I had said about the Onandaga Trail, this too was what I had envisioned when I dreamed of hiking the trail.

Trail through the Catskill Forest Preserve
The climbing was intense, especially on one day in which I climbed Brock Mountain, Mary Smith Mountain, Middle Mountain, Beech Mountain, and Cabot Mountain all in the course of a mere 15 miles, and was rewarded with an astounding view of green then blue layered mountains in the distance at nearly every summit. Also with few road crossings and heavily wooded trail filled with peeling Yellow Birch (Betula alleghaniensis), Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis), and American Beech (Fagus grandifolia) growing amidst, atop, and between boulders the size of cars and covered in Rock Tripe lichen (Umblicaria). I thrived on beauty and enjoyed being a such a physical being in such a physically substantial environment. At my feet grew entire carpets of various Lycopodium, Catskill specific species such as Large Leaved Goldenrod (Solidago macrophylla), and Mountain Aster (Aster acuminatus) and near the marshy areas I squished by Green Headed Coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata) and bright fushia stands of Bee Balm (Monarda didyma).

Large Leaved Goldenrod (Solidago macrophylla)
Bee Balm (Monarda didyma)

Green-Headed Coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata)

Atop Balsam Mountain, I even surpassed 3500 feet, reaching the FLT's highest point on the entire trail at 3660 feet. This may not sound very high to those who have hiked extensively on the west or even east coast, but here in New York, the environment changes dramatically. Trees were stunted and the trail was nothing more than a narrow corridor. I thought I may have stumbled into Vermont on accident.

These signs were visible approaching from either side of the Balsam Mountain summit
To top it off, I was able to take a .25 mile sidetrip to the Balsam Mountain Fire tower, which is the only one I've had the opportunity to climb this whole hike. Luckily I had just caught Tom and Laurie Rankin, caretakers for this particular weekend, who guided me up the tower and pointed out where I had come from, what mountains I would be heading over and the PA and NJ mountains close to my parents home in Milford. I was also given a history of the area, learning that Laurie's father had been the last full time employee to man the tiny box atop all those flights of stairs and had also built the cabin that visitors may now tour full of historical photos and woods gear. This was a special place for me, but it held an even greater significance for these two. Thank you for sharing it with me Tom and Laurie! Also, thank you to Lou Werner of Bovina who I shared a picnic table with atop that mountain, enjoying lunch and pleasant conversation in the bright midday sun.

View from Balsam Mountain firetower

Laurie and Tom Rankin outside the cabin that Laurie's father built.
I lolly-gagged for quite sometime at this tower, thinking I had lots of time to get my miles done. However I had not anticipated meeting a friend in the marsh nor not being able to find the water source at the much overgrown Fall Brook Lean-to.

Bear in the marsh just west of the Fall Brook Lean-to
Apparently this fella thought this was good place to grab a snack as well. I was just noticing the abundance of wild food here along the marsh and examining a Bedstraw (Galium spp.) when I noticed the tree trunk at my feet had been gnawed through to shape of an hourglass. Just then I heard a rustling in the tall grass and could see it parting in a zig zag heading away from the trail. A beaver! I had thought to myself. I stopped and looked and listened to the huffling of a busily breathing beaver and click clack of teeth on a log, when this fuzzy round-eared head popped up. Not a beaver. I snapped a pic and he soon plopped back on his rear, disturbed in his dinner, to look about. I got a good look at him but was too enthralled and spooked to snap a pic. He then dove head first back into the marsh grasses. I took this as my opportunity to get a move on.

Arriving at the shelter less than a half mile away and reading numerous accounts of not only a black bear in the area and the stream having gone dry, I decided to keep on walking. Where to...I didn't know...but the FLT wasn't gonna let me go easy on my last night!

After stumbling across an unmarked stream, I ended up pitching my tent precariously on the edge of an embankment just inside state land. I made a late dinner, hung my food bag high in a tree a ways down the trail, whooped and hollered some like a crazed woods woman to scare off any nearby 200 pound furry friends and drifted off to sleep. My last night on the trail.

To close this post, allow me to share with you my real eastern terminus photo...

Feeling victorious and donning a traditionally fabulous summit outfit at the eastern end of the Finger LakesTrail
One must be properly attired to hike the Finger Lakes Trail...especially the goggles...these are essential in the monsoon season of June, not to mention that even a hiker needs to pick up the occasional souvenir such as a t-shirt from the Outpost. I told y'all I had another outfit!

Finger Lakes Trail you have been quite the adventure...stay tuned for my next blog in which I'll share my...ahem...more serious reflections on the trail and my future plans!