Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Across Garden and Empire.

For those of us who've only ever seen the industrial hinterland you drive through on the way to Newark airport, Jersey's tag line 'The Garden State', always seemed like a cruel joke. While gardens often need fertilizer, you don't generally put the factory by the roses.

Jersey is beautiful. Walking out of Delaware Water Gap, the path shadows a fresh stream before plunging into the woods, and then climbing to the tree line where a saddle of rock a few hundred feet across leaves you with a view east and west across the woods and pastoral lands. I was lucky enough to come on this as the sun set, gifted with good company. Glinting, shimmering, stunning.

New Jersey and New York are more densely populated than the south with more chances to spend money and higher prices to speed you on your way. I've found myself hiking from town to town, tying my mileage to the spaces between the towns. Some great dinners, story telling sessions in Irish bars, and Motels in infinite variety.

The 'Irish' thing is interesting. In NYC, foreign isn't special, the melting pot gives no stigma and imparts no free rides. In these small towns people are excited by my remote origins, or want to make sure I feel as welcome as the did in Blarney or Killarney on trips they took a decade ago. I've been offered beds, rides into town, all types of help and directions. I'm torn between a feeling of unearned privilege and pride in my home and culture. The connection that ethnic Irish in the US reach for makes more sense the longer I'm here.

Overall the weather's been good for the last few weeks, clear warm days punctuated with the occasional thunder storm and gradually ratcheting temperatures. One day, having pitched my tent late, but just in time to get me out of the rain, I found out that my tent had begun leaking and my air-mattress doubles as a Lilo.

As I closed in on my most recent home I got some welcome company. A friend drove out on his motorcycle to share some pizza and beer, evenings in the company of people who know you well are a rare pleasure out here, and I was glad of it.

As events transpired I ended up with more company than expected. Last Friday I hiked into Pawling, NY. The plan was simple enough, camp in town and the train would bring me some city-folk to hike with on the morrow. Sitting enjoying an espresso and a cocktail in a bar in town, the weather turned. Heavy rain, thunder, the usual summer storm. All of a sudden making my friends hike in that (or having me, in my leaky tent, camp in it), seemed like a bad idea. After a quick exchange of email, I traded my tent for a Brooklyn couch.

Another stealth NY weekend! Less alcohol sodden than the last one, but a nice taster of some of what I miss from the city; Great conversation, brunch, a couple of blues dances, time to peruse a comic store, and even an impulse gaming purchase. (Axis and Allies, for the two nerds that care.)

Like the last one it was too short, but left me off the trail for too long. I'll have to put up some miles in penance to pay for the downtime.

Last night I hiked into Kent, CT. Having eaten and slept well, I woke with a fairly severe pain in my right knee. I don't remember tweaking it yesterday, by there's no doubt that it's not quite right. Now, a couple of hours later, showered, stretched and high on ibuprofen I'm feeling a lot better. Today's plan was to hike the eleven miles to my new shoes, that should be waiting one town over, but as my knee is still shakey I may spend another night in this excruciatingly picturesque town.

Finally, in the week between my motorcycle visitor and the planned visit from NY I moved slower than planned. Heat, dead shoes, and very sore feet really slowed me down. As I had to be in Pawling on Friday night to make the weekend hike work for my new-yorkers, I cheated. I got a 30 mile ride in a cab. They're the first miles I've skipped and I feel fairly guilty about it, but sometimes scheduling forces your hand.

On that confession your diarist signs off. I hope all is well with you.
Talk soon.