We’ll, you know what they say about the best laid plans. I woke up early to some noise that I thought was Hawaii and First Aid packing up for our predawn hike to Black Mountain to see the sunrise over New York City. Instead, the noise turned out to be rain pelting my tent and First Aid hastily putting the rainfly on his tent, so I rolled over and went back to sleep.
When I finally did wake up, the rain had stopped, leaving behind overcast skies to accompany me as I set off down the trail. When I finally reached the top of Black Mountain, I was disappointed to discover how far away NYC actually was (you have to really blow up this picture to see the skyline), but it was still a nice view of the Hudson River Valley.
Coming down from Black Mountain, I approached what is arguably the most dangerous section on the entire A.T. The Palisades Parkway is a busy 4-lane thoroughfare to NYC that is divided by a wide wooded median strip. There is no crosswalk or overpass here, so you wait for a break in the traffic and then run like mad to the safety of the median and then repeat. After making it alive past the first wave of NY drivers, I walked 0.4 miles down the median to a visitor’s center since the spigot there is the last water source for ten miles. After getting water and walking back to the trail crossing, I successfully made my second mad dash to the safety of the woods.
The 500 hundred foot climb up West Mountain seemed like nothing compared to crossing Palisades Parkway. At the summit I was rewarded with another nice view of the Hudson River and a view of my next challenge, Bear Mountain.
After a short descent from West Mountain, I began the gentle 700 foot climb up Bear Mountain. About half of the climb was up a nicely graded road and after the trail left the road it followed a masterfully constructed trail with beautiful stone stairs. Usually I don’t like stairs, but these were so beautifully cut with short rises that they were a joy to climb. The icing on the cake was that near the summit I passed the 1,400 mile mark!
At the top of Bear Mountain is the Perkins Memorial Tower, dedicated in 1934 to George Perkins, the first President of the Palisades Interstate Park. Unfortunately, the tower was closed so I couldn’t climb it for the view. Also at the top were Hawaii, First Aid, and Pumba who had taken advantage of the vending machines and were enjoying some treats for lunch. After visiting with them for a while, and taking in the magnificent views, it was time for me to head down the mountain.
There was some trail renovation going on at the summit which required a short detour, but after a short road walk on Perkins Memorial Drive I was back on the trail. And what a trail it was! Without a doubt, this section of trail was a textbook example of how a trail could be constructed if you had an unlimited budget. There are over 1,000 stone steps on the descent from the summit, and each one of them is placed with unbelievable precision. As I was coming down the mountain, I kept thinking that this section of trail must have cost millions to build. It was indeed a demonstration trail and as you neared the bottom, there were dozens of placards explaining the techniques used in the trail construction, and at the end was a demonstration area showing various types of trail design options.
At the bottom of the mountain, the trail enters Bear Mountain State Park on the shores of the beautiful Hessian Lake. I took a quick break at the Bear Mountain Lodge with another hiker named Oh Yeah before continuing through the park. There were dozens of families along the lake shore who were picnicking and grilling and the smell was about to starve me to death. I tried to look the part of a starving thru-hiker (which was pretty easy to do), but no one offered me a bite.
After passing the picnic area, the trail goes through the Trailside Museum and Zoo and there it finally happened. I saw my first live bear on the A.T.!! The only way I knew for sure that it was alive is that when the vultures surrounding it got too close, the bear swatted them away. The bear cage, at 124 feet, is the lowest point on the A.T., but it was a high point for me.
After exiting the zoo, I entered the parking lot for the Bear Mountain Bridge and called the Bear Mountain Bridge Motel in Fort Montgomery, NY, to pick me up (I had called them earlier to arrange this). In less than 10 minutes, I was riding to town with the owner Doug Johnson. Doug and his wife have owned the motel for over forty years and spend a couple of months in West Palm Beach during the winter. I have really come to enjoy the small mom and pop motels on this trip and this one was a charmer.
After getting situated in my room, I walked a short distance to the Post Office to pick up my resupply package and then set out to appease my ravenous appetite. Fortunately, Barnstormer BBQ was right across the street from the motel and after smelling all the grilling going on at the park, I knew this was what I had to have. When I first arrived, the staff was in a tizzy because Ben Stiler had just eaten there (he was apparently still outside in his car). After they settled down, I enjoyed a couple of local craft beers and ordered a salad and a half and half which consisted of half of a BBQ chicken and half a rack of ribs. To be fair, I must point out the the half chicken was the size of a Thanksgiving turkey and the ribs were spareribs, but I’m ashamed to admit that I was not a member of the clean plate club. I actually cried “uncle” with four ribs left on my plate.
With my hunger fully satisfied (more like a food stupor), I waddled across the street to my motel room. The motel didn’t have any laundry facilities but Mrs. Johnson had graciously offered to take care of my laundry needs, so I gathered up my dirty clothes and delivered them to her. The rest of my evening was spent sorting and repackaging my resupply box, working on my journals, and planning my day for tomorrow. The best laid plans might not come to fruition, but you gotta plan something.