Canopus Creek to Swamp River
Scrabble Letter Camp to Cold Swamp Camp
AT miles: 27.5
Total miles: 1460.1
Elevation change: 5912ft gain, 6237ft loss
Remember those cold, windy days in Virginia? Well, today was kind of like that, only way better and not actually too similar. A blustery chill hung around for most of the day, which naturally dragged my mind back to the relentless gusting that had ground down my patience and mental fortitude to mere nub. However, whenever I tried to expand the similarities beyond the wind, I failed to identify any more profound connections. Broadly speaking, my perception is that the trail and environment have remained similar overall, with several exceptions of course. The deciduous forest in New York looks pretty much the same as it did in Georgia. The hills are a little rockier now, but the viewpoint vistas haven’t changed a whole lot. However, I’ve been watching the grass grow, so to speak. The blades look the same today as they did yesterday, but if you see a picture of the fresh cut from a month ago, the growth is obvious. The Appalachians have been changing, it’s just that by following this consistent and continuous transition by foot, I’ve been changing with it. The differences fade as I grip tightly to the similarities, trying to squeeze every ounce of familiar comfort from my new home each day. Of course the trail in New York is different from the trail in Virginia or Georgia. There are similarities for sure, but focusing soley on those blinds me what has changed. There are more delis, that’s for sure. So yeah, today felt familiar, but it was actually quite unique. It’s just hard for me to recognize that without a concerted effort.
Those thoughts were not yet even in the back of my mind when I woke up this morning. My campsite was totally unique, but I focused on the practiced routine, shoveling granola and trail mix into my mouth, just as I have done each morning on the trail. Nothing new to see here. The sun was high and bright enough to keep me warm without a jacket when I started hiking even though the air was chilled and the wind kicked up swirling gyers of brown leaves. I had to move quickly though, so I did.
A narrow, stone turnpike from the olden days smoothed out the first two miles through the glowing forest, which enabled me to lift and disperse my gaze more liberally than usual. Did I notice anything extra? Nope, but it was nice to swivel my head, to look and hike at the same time. After crossing some pavement, the classic rocky twister trail resumed and I kept my eyes to the tread just a few steps ahead. I stopped to glance at Canopus Lake to my right, but was mostly focused on my mission of reaching the bathrooms on the far shore. I hate to dig a hole when flushers are just ahead.
I made it to the deserted state park facility just in time, and fortunately, the restroom was unlocked. It would have been very difficult indeed to dig a hole in the concrete patio. I filled my bottles from the sink, then kept on moving, kinda bummed that it wasn’t a warm enough day to hang out on the sandy beach.
The wind chill kept up my motivation for movement through the forest, up and over endless waves of lumpy stone. I crossed the top of a particularly tall lump, Shenandoah Mountain, and caught a pretty sweet view of the surrounding area. I was certainly in what felt like the middle of the hills now. The classic sweeping view in two directions from the top of a solitary ridge of weeks gone by was replaced with a sweeping view of a different sort. Endless hills, similar to the one I was standing on, rippled haphazardly in every direction, like a gentle ocean. It wasn’t quite warm enough to hang out, basking on the rocks, so I skedaddled back down into the trough between waves.
A vibrant and glowing world of fresh green welcomed me into a warm valley. I certainly hadn’t seen anything like this in Georgia, although I had fantasized about it quite a lot, still believing that winter was almost finished. Now, two whole months later, spring may have actually caught up with me. I checked out the flower garden at the RPH shelter, then carried on under a big highway, then up and along the next blustery ridge.
The chill was real as I took a face full of wind at an unassuming viewpoint. Again, I was on the edge of the hills, gazing out across a wide valley of pastures and people. The wind howled, unencumbered. A distant ridge, probably the Catskill Mountains, reigned in the far horizon with an epic ridgeline straight from my Colorado photo album. I wondered if they were just eye candy or if I would have the privilege of putting my feet on those summits.
For just the second time ever, I was recognized by a reader of this blog as I hiked with haste down to the next road. Neon was hiking with greater haste in the other direction so our conversation was short, but it still managed to trip me out, not in a bad way. I got to think about it during the following climb and then during lunch on a perfectly crafted rock chair. It was in the sun and out of the wind so putting up with the flies was worth it.
The afternoon push began with another road crossing, then a block’s walk through a neighborhood, and then another large highway crossing on an overpass. After that, my memories of the miles are mostly unanchored. The hills flattened so that there were no landmarks with which I could mark my progress. I just kept my eyes on my feet and followed the twisting trail around stone lumps and through holes in the old drystone walls. The tread was mostly smooth, probably because all of the rocks had been picked for the walls. That was my guess at least.
An afternoon lassitude settled over me as I finally warmed up around the shores of Nuclear Lake. It was big and beautiful, and like Canopus, I longed to visit on a more appropriate day for a swim. Had I gone swimming once on this hike so far? I couldn’t recall.
The occasional blast of wind-scattered leaves sharpened my attention for just long enough to see that there was no large animal responsible for the explosive rustling. I noticed a few trilium flowers and how the deep burgundy petals differed from the snow white version I was familiar with from my time in Oregon. My brother called at random, and I was happy to have him along for the rest of the evening cruise to camp. I filtered water, said hello to the humbling Dover Oak, the largest of the AT, and dodged mud across a pasture.
The sun had set by the time I hung up my phone and pitched my tent near a large swamp of placid water and giant green leaves. Frogs chirped, and trains rumbled. Even though I had never been there before, it all felt familiar. Just like home. The oak leaves and my bowl of beans could have been from Georgia, but the rest of it was all definitely New York. How I could ever come to call New York home was a mystery to me. Step by step, mile by mile, it happened slowly. Like watching the grass grow.