End of the Trail

(This column was first published in the October 16, 2000 Buffalo News.)

    At 10:35 a.m. on Tuesday, October 10, I walked out of the woods at the corner of Ludlow and Tucker Roads about five miles west of the Village of Oxford, New York. My wife was there to give me a hug and a kiss and -- even more amazing -- to take my picture. (If it were ever published, the cut lines for that photo would probably begin: "Snow-covered, wet and bedraggled....")

    Why all the ceremony? I had just completed hiking the Finger Lakes Trail -- end-to-end, as they say. All 550 or so miles of this path that winds across the Southern Tier from the Pennsylvania border in Allegany State Park to the western slope of the Catskills. Not continuously, although some real stalwarts like my friend Jim DeWan of Binghamton have done just that. In fact it took me 72 days over a period of 14 years. I camped out on only about a dozen nights; all the rest of that hiking was accomplished in single day outings with an occasional stay at a motel.

    I mention all that (in addition to taking the opportunity to brag a little) because, quite clearly, completing this unusual challenge affords a real sense of accomplishment and -- most important -- if I can do it, almost anyone can.

    For those who question why you should seek to join the just over a hundred hikers who have accomplished this feat, I submit some reasons. You will learn a great deal about the geography of New York State. For example, your understanding will be strongly reinforced that the glaciers and the following water run-off carved north-south valleys. This east-west path takes you on a roller-coaster ride up and down hills (with few switch-backs) making it much more difficult mile for mile than either the Bruce Trail or the Appalachian Trail.

    In the process you'll see our state quite differently. Unlike my friend whose mother in Utah, when she was told that her son was moving to Syracuse, warned him that New York State is "all city -- all paved," you'll find that there is much wilderness here.

    You'll come to appreciate the landowners who so generously grant you permission to walk across their property and the trail stewards who maintain the path so well.

    You'll find along the trail a rich variety of wildlife: birds (my list was 139 but I missed many species), mammals (my favorite, a screaming wildcat), and a profusion of wildflowers.

    You'll also meet many new people in the villages you'll pass through and among the farmers in the more open sections, but surprisingly few people along the trail. Most of my hiking was alone but on a few of my outings I joined other members of the Finger Lakes Trail Association. (For information about the trail and trail maps, contact them at P.O. Box 18048, Rochester, NY 14618-0048.) Although I didn't keep track, I doubt that I met more than a dozen other hikers.

    But most of all you'll appreciate the remarkable beauty of our state. My final two days of hiking, for example, took me along a path of burnished gold -- gold leaves, that is -- in some places mixed with bright scarlet, in others with green and on that last day with white from that early snowfall. Elsewhere the path led me through pine plantations on a deep mattress of brown needles. And in a few places I emerged from the forest to gain spectacular views of the countryside.

    Try a few miles of this trail. You'll find each day a pleasure and you might even decide to go for broke. -- Gerry Rising