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AT 2017: Day 106, Little Dam Lake to near West Mountain Shelter

I have a friend I've never seen

Hike with Gravity

A long distance hike has a regular routine.

Wake up. Hike. Go to sleep.

Yet in this sameness there always seems to be at least one little surprise during the day.

These moments help to make each day a little different.

Today had a few of those small surprises. It also had a big surprise, which should not have been a surprise at all.

Weather Cloudy and cool with some mist
Trail Conditions Steep, challenging climbs and rock scrambles
Today's Miles 15.9 miles
Trip Miles 1,396.9 miles

The first surprise of the day came first thing in the morning and it was not a pleasant one. I discovered that my backpack was falling apart.

I’ve been carrying a Zpacks Arc Blast since the beginning of my hike, but in the last few weeks I’ve started to have little problems with it. It was becoming less comfortable as the back mesh panel began to tear.

When I had to carry more weight than normal, the shoulder straps began to dig into my shoulders.

The problems I discovered today, though, were more severe. The pack uses two carbon fiber stays, which are bent and held in tension with a cord and webbing. The stays had poked through the webbing. Now it was impossible to keep them in the arc, which provides rigidity and air flow.

I knew I would not be comfortable if I didn’t fix this problem. My first attempt was to try to blunt the end of the stays with some duct tape, but this immediately failed. The force exerted on the stays pushed them through the tape.

The solution required something that would withstand the pressure put on the stays. The only thing I had on hand that I could cut to size was an old plastic water bottle, which I had been using with the top cut off to scoop water from shallow creeks and springs. I was able to cut small pieces and position those between the webbing and the stays.

I had intended to leave camp early, but I wasn’t able to get the pack repaired and repacked until 7:30 a.m. I didn’t have a lot of confidence the pack would remain repaired, but at least for now it was holding together.

After crossing the shallow inlet to Little Dam Lake, the trail followed along the shore for a short distance.

Soon after leaving the lake, I began a steep and rocky climb up Arden Mountain.

There were a couple of viewpoints from the top of the mountain, but the views were mostly obscured by thick, low clouds. At the second viewpoint I met Sunny Hedgehog, a hiker from Germany.

When we arrived at the bottom of the mountain we found a couple more hikers and several plastic jugs of water. The trail angel who provided those jugs was also there, so we had the opportunity to thank him.

He told us his name was Hike Man, and he regularly leaves water here because the other water sources nearby are less than ideal.

Hike Man shared some advice about hiking the next section of the trail, then asked us if we would help him carry some more water jugs from his car. We gladly agreed.

After crossing New York Highway 17, I entered Harriman State Park. For the first three-tenths of a mile the trail went along a park road.

The park is named for railroad tycoon E. H. Harriman and his widow, Mary Averell Harriman, who donated much of the land for the park following his death.

After crossing Interstate 87, the trail began a steep climb of about 700 feet in elevation.

On the other side of the peak, the trail crossed an old sluiceway that flowed from Island Pond. Because of recent rain, and perhaps also because of its poor condition, water was flowing on both sides of the sluiceway’s walls.

From there the trail continued a short descent to a depression where there were a couple of giant boulders lying against each other. A white marker indicated that the trail went between these boulders.

This was the entrance of a spot known as the Lemon Squeezer. Though this passageway was narrow, it wasn’t restricted enough to prevent slipping between the boulders.

The reason the Lemon Squeezer got its name was more evident once I got past those boulders. The trail continued up a fissure in the rock. To get through it I had to contort my body, then pull myself up and through the crack.

Soon after I got through, other hikers began to arrive.

The gap in the rock acted as a funnel that collected and pushed out hikers, most of whom I knew.

Two hikers I didn’t know well, Ansel and Warthog, came through first. They were followed by Jason, Boomer and Mechanic.

The last hiker to squeeze through while I was there was Pippi.

We cheered as each hiker made it though the narrow gap and climbed up on the ledge.

After everyone made it through, they continued on to another obstacle of rocks while I stayed behind. I wanted to stop here for lunch and post pictures to social media.

While I was here I received a text message from Kim, asking where I was. A short time later I got a message from a friend named Felix, asking the same thing.

This should have been a clue to me that something was afoot, but I didn’t see it coming.

After finishing my conversations with Kim and Felix, and finishing my lunch, I continued up the trail. It went through a steep, jagged section of rocks, then rounded over the top of Island Pond Mountain.

RedEye, who was trying to catch up to Jason and Boomer, passed me going over the mountain.

After about three more miles, the trail rounded a curve.

And that’s where the big surprise of the day was revealed.

My friend Felix J McGillicuddy was sitting on the tailgate of his truck. This was the first time I had ever seen him in person, but I recognized him right away.

Felix is his trail name. He did a southbound thru-hike in 1998. Since then he has done a complete section hike and is now working on another.

I’ve known him for nearly 15 years, but as I said, I had never met him before. How can that be, you ask?

I got to know Felix through an email discussion list (back when email lists were still a thing) for Appalachian Trail thru-hikers and those who were interested thru-hiking. He was part of the former group, and of course, I was part of the latter.

The mailing list is mostly inactive now, but thanks to Facebook, Felix and I have been able to continue our online friendship.

I probably should have expected this unexpected surprise. For one thing, it was completely fitting in Felix’s character to drive all the way from Indiana to meet up with me. Secondly, I should have known that Kim was in on the surprise. She had been asking a lot of questions lately about where I was on the trail. I should have realized she was in a plot with Felix to find me.

Felix and I chatted for a long time. We talked about possibly hiking together, but he wasn’t sure he had the time. For now, he thought, he’d hang around and do some trail magic. As far as I was concerned, he’d already done something magical.

Finally, I needed to say goodbye because I thought I’d be able to catch up to Stick today.

The trail continued on an up-and-down path. The ups and downs weren’t too steep, but they began to get wearing.

At one point I passed William Brien Memorial Shelter, one of the oldest shelters on the trail. It was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Though the time was almost 6 p.m. when I passed it, no one had stopped here for the night.

One of the climbs the trail made through Harriman State Park was over Black Mountain. Hikers can sometimes see the Manhattan skyline from here, but it wasn’t clear enough today for that. I was able to see the Hudson River, though.

I received an excited message from Stick. He had reached a campsite near West Mountain Shelter, and as he was setting up camp he saw a bear.

At last.

I asked if he had gotten any photos. "If there are no pictures it didn’t happen," I told him, but he wouldn't let me get away with that claim.

After descending from Black Mountain, the trail crossed Palisades Interstate Parkway. This was a four-lane highway divided by a wide, tree-covered median. Crossing the southbound lanes wasn’t too difficult, but I had to wait at the side of the northbound lanes for several minutes before a gap in traffic opened for me to dash across. Rush hour was probably not the best time to cross that busy highway.

After crossing, I only had about one more mile to go to catch up to Stick, but first, I needed to collect water at a nearby stream.

The trail began a long climb, then followed a ledge on the side of West Mountain. Light quickly faded and I tried to hike without a headlamp. I became concerned about missing the blue-blazed trail to the campsite, though, so I stopped and put on my headlamp.

I finally arrived at the campsite at about 9 p.m. Stick was still up, so I got to hear all of the details about his bear sighting.

What a day.

I have a friend
I've never seen
He hides his head
inside a dream
Someone should call him
and see if he can come out.
Try to lose
the down that he's found.


"Nothing to tell now. Let the words be yours, I'm done with mine." ref.