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City Lights

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Well, this is a first. I’m writing this standing up (computer mounted on a podium) in the Fortress of Solitude at N2, having already uploaded the pictures at home. No classes today as they’re having some kind of career information day. They’ve got some once-famous comedian from Seoul speaking to the whole school in the gym about “dreams”; periodic bursts of grunting, barking and yelping followed by Beatlemania-esque screaming and cheering rock the building.

In here I’ve got Bob Dylan, a litre of water, four ceiling fans doing fruitless battle with the thunderstormy humidity and two coffees dancing along my veins. As I just told a co-teacher, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life at those kids’ age. I still don’t know. Suggestions always welcome.

I do have some cool dreams of my own percolating away, though — will let you in on them pretty soon. Now let’s give this standing-up-at-work blogging business a shot.

APPALACHIAN TRAIL, EARLY JUNE, 2006

I was hiking with a young couple from Minnesota trail-named, to their chagrin, The Newlyweds. As they would point out sometimes, they’d long passed the “new” stage, but it was one of those names that stick — their real names are Ric and Sharon but, years later, they’re still The Newlyweds to me and probably everyone else from that transitory little group.

I think I met them at the so-called “Secret Shelter” built on private land by a former thru-hiker who lived near the A.T. It was one of the worst-kept secrets of the Trail but one of the very best shelters. I remember the evening I arrived we got some free entertainment watching a randy gay donkey chasing another around the paddock, braying its undying love in plaintive and heart-wrenching squawks that echoed off the beautifully forested hills.

Perhaps it was the next day — I don’t have my paper notes with me in Korea — that we left New Jersey behind…

..and entered New York.

Security was lax and we slipped across the border without incident.

I liked this surprisingly rugged part of the Trail. The woods were thick and green and crawling with bears, despite their proximity to some of the biggest, baddest metropoli on the east coast.

This one was Wildcat Shelter; we just stopped for lunch and a rain break:

The shelters here were interesting too: most were constructed of stone, many with fireplaces. Problem was, that accessibility for city folk meant that these beautiful old huts were often graffitied, leaky-roofed and rundown. Fireplaces would be choked with rubbish — I remember a snake lived in one.

The weather was still humid and dismal when we got to beautiful Fingerboard Shelter.

We settled in gratefully. I remember lying in a lower bunk and reading, inscribed on the bottom of the bunk above me, I finally made it with Misty here, and a date. I don’t remember that date but with a name like Misty, it must’ve been the seventies. Talk about history. Talk about disgusting.

Unfortunately our stay here was curtailed when a trail weirdo, plainly not a hiker per se, strolled into camp talking to himself and making bizarre pronouncements. The Newlyweds and I conferred quietly. He was either A) an amiable and harmless lunatic or B) a potentially violent psychopath. We elected to move on to the next shelter.

There were some steep, sweaty climbs but the Hudson River views, the wild woods and the sense of history made any hard work endurable. It was hard to believe that New York City was only 30 miles or so distant.

The shelter that night (I believe it must have been West Mountain Shelter, dating from 1928) was a welcome reward after a steep and muddy climb, but unfortunately any views were buried in the fog and cloud. “Shelter” was a misnomer — luckily there were only the three of us, since we filled the space with our wet gear and a series of abandoned pots and pans laid out to catch the water dripping through the roof.

Funny, though, when you’re wet and tired, how the dingiest of huts can seem like a palatial mansion. It was cozy and homey in there as we talked and laughed in the dark, rain pattering on the roof, stoves purring, the smell of Lipton’s instant dinners hanging from clouds of steam.

Honestly, I pine for the good old A.T. thinking about it.

We slept. Then, sometime after midnight, Ric’s soft, repeated “Mountaingoat…Mountaingoat” woke me.

“Huh?”

“New York City.”

I sat up at once in my sleeping bag and gazed out into the dark. The cloud had cleared, and there she was. I was using a cheap point-and-shoot, but on full magnification I just about got it.

That shuddery shot doesn’t capture the thrill, of course. Ric and I sat there a while taking it in, talking softly. Here we were in the quiet woods, high on an Appalachian hill, looking out on the twinkling lights of the most famous city in the world.

Sharon slept on.

I didn’t sleep much after that. I was too excited — and a resident whippoorwill commenced whippoorwill-ing from what sounded like a few paces away.

Dawn. Just visible on high magnification, and lingering long enough for Sharon to enjoy it, the Manhattan skyline:

But we couldn’t afford to sit around too long taking in the views. We were still 800 miles from Trail’s end; it was time to start packing…

~ And that’s all the Goat wrote

10 Comments Post a comment
  1. I didn’t know you could see NYC from the AT. Come to think of it, I didn’t know you could see gay donkeys either!

    As you look back in nostalgia, you look forward at the same time to your new dreams. A good way to survive in a challenging present…

    July 14, 2012
    • Great comment as always, SW. Yes, I’ve had better “presents” than I’m having right now. Very excited about a little walk I have planned for a few weeks from now. I doubt there’ll be any donkeys, gay or otherwise, but I’m hoping for a surprise or two along the way. As for the AT, it’s always there and hopefully always will be there, and I’ll be going back at least twice more.

      July 14, 2012
  2. I wonder if the weirdo was from NYC.
    A very enjoyable post. You seem to be able to re-evoke and convey the feel of being there even though much time has passed.

    July 14, 2012
    • Thanks, Rachael. Almost certainly, but it’s good to see urban weirdos get out and enjoy nature and spread the weirdness!

      I think about that night, and many others like it, a lot. I don’t think you’ve hiked any of the AT but I hope you get a chance one day to hike at least a section with the family. The shelters make the Trail for me. I missed the shelter scene when I hiked the PCT — weirdos or otherwise.

      July 14, 2012
  3. Having spent time in NYC and walked sections of the AT around the Hudson, your photos are a great reminder, in winter the air is clearer and NYC is more visible. I had the secret shelter to myself a luxurious retreat if ever there was one.

    July 14, 2012
    • Lucky man! That part of the Trail is interesting as there’s even the tiny Appalachian Trail Station that it literally crosses, and some thru-hikers elect to go into town for a day or two. I thought about it but suspected it would be too jarring. I did have an amazing adventure in NYC for a few days after retiring injured from the AT in 2004.

      I am hoping to SOBO the AT in a couple of years and then do at least one more NOBO, and I think timing it for a cooler season would have its pleasures (though one friend was thwarted by snow when he started early form Springer a couple of years back.

      You were lucky to have the Secret Shelter to yourself. Lovely spot — from dubious memory it even had a shower?!

      July 14, 2012
  4. 70s? I knew a Misty in the 90s. He was white, had long ears and lived in a hutch in our back garden.

    July 16, 2012
    • I’ll just bet he was a randy bugger too, Dominic.

      July 16, 2012

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