After the long ridges and mellow climbs of New Jersey, the steep, boulder-jumbled granite mountains of New York hit me like a punch in the feet. I knew to expect the change, but the last time I was here, I had already come 1300 miles and was a hiking machine. This time, the abrupt change in the landscape was just as welcome, but my feet were a little less prepared.
Looking at landscape maps of the Appalachian Trail, the middle states resemble a series of long lines, with their mountainous ridges stretching for miles. That’s what the trail traverses for quite some time– long ridges through northern Virginia and Pennsylvania. But just after passing through the valleys between New Jersey’s high point and the Sterling Forest, the landscape starts to show a lot more contours, peaks, and masses of mountains. The trail turns into piles of boulders, steep climbs, and rough granite slabs. It starts to look a lot more like New England.
Despite the new aches in my feet, there was a lot to love about New York. The AT goes within 40 miles of New York City, yet in most of Harriman Park the trail feels remarkably wild. I walked through miles of deep forest that seemed totally unspoiled, though they were deforested and mined in the 18th century. Between sections of tranquil forest, there were plenty of wild lakes and craggy mountain tops to heighten the sense of wilderness.
I spent the better part of one hiking day chatting with a hiker from The City, who hiked in many of the same places I frequented in college. We reminisced about the Shawangunks, the Catskills, Breakneck Ridge– just a few of the natural gems this state has to offer. I spent most of my time in college heading away from The City, but there are an amazing number of mountain trails within a short trip from NYC. I find myself waxing nostalgic about them sometimes. This hiker had hiked the Long Path a few years ago, which got me thinking of trying that again. I’d tried and failed the year after my first AT hike, and never had the urge again. Maybe that can get put back on the to-do list.
After leaving Harriman and crossing the Hudson River, I needed to relax a bit. The lack of leaves on the trees had led to even more nasty sunburns, and days of foot-pounding had taken more of a toll, so I could barely walk at the end of each day. I started scaling back the daily miles and taking more time to sit for lunch in nice places. I probably should have done that earlier, since Harriman is the best the AT in New York has to offer, but time in the woods is time in the woods. I’ll take it. The woods east of the Hudson were a little less pristine, but there are also fewer people on the trails.
My last day before walking out of New York was another brutally hot one, but at the end of the day I realized I’d seen only two people on the trail. There weren’t any long roadless stretches, but the forest and the few lakes were surprisingly quiet. That’s as much as I can hope for from a trail that is so close to the largest city in the country, and has the reputation of being overwhelmed with crowds. No crowds, and plenty of wildness here. Still, I’m looking forward to getting back to New England this weekend.