This morning I headed back up the park road (The one I'm not supposed to drive the RV on. The same one that I drove yesterday and no one said anything to me) to where the AT comes through the park. The parking lot was tight and even though it was empty at 9am on a chilly morning, I had trouble deciding where the best spot was that was out of the way and didn't take up too many spots!
I thought the AT went through the area I was in, but when I saw a sign that said "to AT", I followed it. Then I saw a hiker coming down. He looked like a thru hiker. I assumed he was a thru hiker and that he was hiking north so I followed him, thinking he'd lead me to the AT heading north towards Bear Mountain. When I finally caught up with him to talk to him he told me that the AT was actually way up the hill (about a half mile!) and you has to hike up to it, then go north or south! Ahhhh!!!!! Glad I asked!
Back I went up the trail and soon I found the AT. There were no signs indicating distances to anything so I just hiked north. I pulled up goggle maps and discovered that it's a significant trail distance to Bear Mountain, more than I had time for. I just planned to hike out about 2 miles and back. I had turned on MapMyRide despite the fact that my phone was almost dead, that way I'd know when I hit 2 miles!
The hike out was very quiet! I saw one section hiker heading south, but that was it! The woods were more open than in Massachusetts, drier, less moss and no mud! There were rocks and widely spaced trees! I reminded me of some spots in Shenandoah! It was a lot of up and down, but nothing too steep or long. There were no views, other than of the trees and rocks!
I was almost back to the road and the trail that went down to the parking area when suddenly an alarm or siren started going off. It was reverberating off the trees and rocks! It was loud and continuous and sounded very close. What?!?! I'm in the woods, why is there an alarm? I turned around to see if I could see something that was making the noise and almost on my heels was a Southbound Thru-hiker! He too was wondering what the noise was. We joked that maybe it was a fire alarm and we should evacuate! Where does one evacuate to when you are already outside?
Then I remembered that there is a nuclear power plant just across the Hudson River from where we were. I told the hiker this and he responsed with a sarcastic "well, that's swell!" LOL! I figured they were conducting a siren test or something.
Despite the horrendous noise of the siren, yes, it continued to go off, we struck up a conversation about hiking, where we each lived, etc. The usual "hey we just met in the woods let's chat" stuff. Soon we reached the road and thankfully the siren stopped. He said he was heading to the public beach (and showers) near where I'd parked so I told him I'd show him the way, since I was going that way. We walked together and talked about the trail and hiking and stuff. When we reached the parking area he decided that he'd reconsidered that shower he was thinking about and what he'd really like is a ride up the trail. He and his buddy had done 30 miles the day before and he was really tired, he knew if he could get ahead of his partner he could rest some. I happily agreed to take him since the trail crossing he needed to get to was right on my way.
Now, before anyone freaks out about my agreeing to invite a young man I'd just met into my car, which is also my house, let me explain a bit about thru hikers. Picking up a thru hiker isn't like picking up other hitch hikers. Most hikers are normal people, with normal jobs, who are out hiking right now. Most are very young too! There are many signs that the hitch hiker you are picking up is a hiker, not a scary axe murderer. One is that they are on or very close to a long distance trail. Another is that that have expensive gear that is covered in dirt and grime - if you frequent stores like REI and Eastern Mountain Sports you'll be able to spot this gear instantly. In addition their smell precedes them. Most hikers wear synthetic clothes and they have at most 2 changes of clothes, the synthetic fabric holds the odor no matter how many times it's washed or the hiker showers (which is not very often on both!). I was pretty sure the young man I was talking to was the genuine article and opted to help him out. It's just as much a leap of faith and trust for him to ride with me as it is for me to offer to help him. As the driver of the vehicle I hold a lot of power, I don't have to take him where he's asked me to, I could drive anywhere I want! Heck, I could get him off in dark corner and hurt him! So, it's putting a lot of trust into a stranger on both sides. Maybe if we did more trusting that people are genuinely good rather than bad, the world would be a happier place! Not that I'm gonna start picking up strange men at Wal-Mart and Truck Stops or anything!
Gnarly, that's the hiker's Trail Name, thought my van was the neatest thing ever! He was very excited to ride in it and totally got why I day hike and don't backpack! We chatted the whole way down the mountain to the trail crossing! I think the same thing that drives folks to hike 2,100 miles all at once is similar to what compels me to drive my RV around and look at stuff that looks a lot like other stuff I've seen!
Soon we reached the parking area. I filled Gnarly's water bottle (another act of trust on his part, he was going to get water from the jug someone left at the trailhead but I offered to fill it from my tank so the next guy could have water too! He had to trust that both the water in the jug and my water wasn't contaminated in some way!) and we both went our separate ways. I'll prob never see or hear from Gnarly again, although I'll be asking about him on Whiteblaze, I'd love to know when he makes it to Springer! Even though I only spent about 45 mins with him, it was a great time and I'm glad I was open to talking to him and helping him out. Trail Magic is the term hikers use when something goes your way at exactly the right time, I think Gnarly and I both got trail magic today!
After I left the trailhead I headed out of the park to NY17 toward the interstate. No more scenic routes, it was time to log some serious miles. Only problem was when I'd gotten in the van I was more worried about making room for my new friend than I was about my own post hike needs! I'd tossed my backpack on the bed with my phone in it - the phone was probably dead and I'd failed to turn off MapMyRide which was now recording my drive! Ugh! After passing up serveral good places to stop because I didn't see them in time I ended up on the highway! I got off the first chance I got and had to go about 5 miles into a neighborhood before I could pull over! Ugh!
After that I was on my way! A quick lunch stop, some traffic around Allentown, a fuel stop, some navigational troubles in Harrisonburg and soon I was heading south on US15 heading to Cunningham Falls State Park.
At this point I'm about 80 miles from home. I didn't want to go all the way home tonight because it was already 5:00 which meant that I'd encounter a ton of traffic between here and my house and it would probably be after 8 before I got home. I don't like arriving home late in the day because I have to unpack and get moved back into the house before I can do anything else. Also, the weather right now is wonderful! Cooler, no humidity, perfect for one more night of camping! Tomorrow it's going to be more summer like so I'll be happy to get reacquainted with my air conditioner!
Cunningham Falls is a very nice park! One of, if not the nicest park of the whole trip! Huge, level sites! Gravel surface so no tracking in crap! Paved roads throughout! After dinner I walked the whole campground, it's huge and all the sites are nice!
Oh, when I stopped for lunch I decided I needed to figure out exactly what the siren was that we'd heard out in the woods. I'd pretty much forgotten about it when we got back to the parking area and since everyone was acting normal I figured it probably wasn't a real nuclear emergency. It took some googling but I did learn that they did a test of the emergency siren at Indian Point Nuclear Plant today at 10:30 am and that the alarm was a continuous tone that lasted 4 minutes. Yep! That's what we heard! In process I found a pamphlet about emergency preparedness and it said that in the event of an actual nuclear emergency residents would most likely be asked to shelter in place. How would I do that in my RV? What about hikers? How would we know? I guess if it had been real emergency we would have noticed something amiss at the parking area, but maybe not.