Tough Going on the Finger Lakes Trail


(This 1222nd Buffalo Sunday News column was first published on August 24, 2014.)


David Galvin completed a Finger Lakes Trail through hike last spring. That is a major accomplishment: 375 miles in 33 days, 20 on some days. But last spring? Do you remember the conditions: rain and cold, week after week. Despite those challenging conditions, David made it and has recorded his difficult times in a blog. With his permission I draw the following from that account:


For much of my hiking career, I avoided most technology more complex than a flashlight. Cell phones, smart phones, tablets and GPS did not even exist until, it seems to me, a few minutes ago. Gone are the days when a ranger or a ridge runner might guesstimate distances. We've got GPS and pedometers and measuring wheels all uplinked to computers, satellites and Alpha Centauri. Thus this present effort is an experiment by an old dog to see if he can still learn a trick or two.


Day 1, Sunday, May 18: I tried to count the many white trillium flowers and noted several varieties of violets in white, yellow and blue, also some trout lilies and spring beauties blooming. Saw a Baltimore oriole and pileated woodpecker. Stopped at Stony Brook Lean-to when the shadows got long and the air grew chilly. I was asleep well before 9:00.


Day 3. The trail, which had showed some promise of drying in the morning, now became absolutely sodden. As did my last dry pair of socks. Sigh.


Day 4. I bivouacked in a copse of trees and called it a night. As I slipped off to sleep the next round of thunderstorms flashed and rumbled over me. I have hiked several longer trails over the years, including the Northville-Lake Placid Trail in the Adirondacks, Vermont's Long Trail and all but the northernmost three hundred miles of the Appalachian Trail. But these are old, established routes. The FTL is still a work in progress; I'll have to adjust.


Day 7: Got barked at by 11 dogs, almost bit by one. Had a pleasant lunch near a dozen active honey bee hives at Six Town Creek Campsite.


Day 8: Last evening saw clouds of mayflies. Their adult phase is summed up by their order, Ephemeroptera. Adult life is so brief and fleeting that the insect has no need for mouth parts or a digestive system; they are essentially genitalia with wings. I felt lucky and privileged to witness them.


Day 11: I was surprised to find myself in the midst of a wind turbine farm. Livestock, cattle and hogs, were visible in the pastures below some towers, and a small herd of deer appeared in the field near me. It brought to mind mind the sardonic Richard Brautigan poem, "All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace."


Day 15: There was an almost continuous series of thunderstorms through the night. The rain was torrential. By morning the creeks adjacent to the camping area were high and turbulent. Wading through the deep fast water would be dangerous. I settled on shimmying across a log. The rest of the hike was a splashy slog.


Day 21: Last night I startled a great horned owl from its roost above me. It rose with a frightful flapping of its huge wings, but then flew away through the dense branches with silent grace.


Day 24: Hoxie Gorge was full of fossil rock, the old Devonian Sandstone imprinted with the beach edge of a 350 million year old ocean now long gone. The woods beyond the gorge had been a pine-spruce plantation once, now converting to native hardwoods. It goes without saying that the trail was still wet and muddy.


Day 28: Beyond the creek, the trail descended toward SR 12. A quarter mile short of the highway it disappeared into the gaping maw of an active gravel pit. This unlovely feature was not detailed in either my guide or maps. I pushed on wearily to Basswood State Forest, where I found a good hammock site overlooking yet another pretty creek.


Day 31: Rain was falling hard but my sleeping bag, in three layers of waterproof bags like a Russian matryoshka doll, had stayed dry. I snuggled into it and cooked my Spanish rice dinner as cold rainwater swirled around my little stove in the dark. Occasional flashes of lightening revealed only rain and fog and rattling leaves. I slept fitfully.


Day 35: Upon completing the hike, I was seized with overwhelming fatigue, fever, chills and diarrhea that all gradually subsided over the next three days. It must have been a virus.-- Gerry Rising