White Blaze, Baby!

White blazes mark the path of the Appalachian Trail. You can find them on trees, rocks, telephone poles, the road, guard rails, on buildings and more. When I see a white blaze my heart skips a beat and my mood instantly improves. I couldn’t get to the Appalachian Trail white blaze this year so I found another trail with a white blaze. The Finger Lakes Trail.

I’ll take any white blaze I can get!

Most of this next paragraph is shamelessly stolen from the FLTC webpage. The Finger Lakes Trail System includes the main Finger Lakes Trail (FLT) that is routed from the Pennsylvania-New York border in Allegany State Park to the Long Path in the Catskill Forest Preserve. The main FLT is 580 miles long. There are six branch trails (I just completed the Letchworth State Park Branch Trail on August 22) and 29 loop trails and spur trails that extend from the main FLT. All of the branch, loop and spur trails currently total 412 miles. So that means all together the Finger Lakes Trail System offers 1,000 miles of hiking. I better get my boots on!

So I did! Well, I wear Altra trail runners not boots, but I put them on last week and packed my backpack for a 55ish mile week long journey on the Finger Lakes Trail. My good friend, Jim (who was also supposed to complete the Appalachian Trail this year, but couldn’t) and I took separate cars and we met at the east end of Robert Treman State Park at a trail head where the FLT meets a parking lot. We left my car there and took his truck to the FLT trail head near Todd Road. This is where Jim calculated we would be by mid-week and would need a food (and whiskey) re-supply. We hiked in about a half mile near a bivouac site and hung the bear bag. We both prayed that it wouldn’t be messed with by people or animals. At this point we drove the rest of the way past Watkins Glen State Park to Sugar Hill State Forest for our first night on trail. My nerves were rattling.

First night accommodations. Sugar Hill State Forest.

The next couple of days we walked through the town of Watkins Glen and Watkins Glen State Park. We enjoyed a fabulous apple donut at Tobey’s Donut Shop as the FLT passes right by the front door!

This section had some insane uphill road walks. We kept at it though and Jim fed me Jolly Ranchers to motivate me. I sang him songs to motivate him but I think that just made him hike faster to get away from me. So many road walks….

The trail was beautiful no matter where we were. Even the road walks took us past pastures of cows, hay fields, and views of the mountains around us. I highly recommend purchasing the FLT maps. There were times we didn’t think it provided enough information about water sources and bivouac sites, but they were helpful with some descriptions so we knew what to look forward to. Jim and I referred to the map a lot! Sometimes as a distraction from being out of breath or sometimes because we couldn’t find a turn. One section of trail would have blazes on every other tree and another section would be lacking blazes at crucial turns. Luckily we were never lost, just not exactly on the trail, haha!

We made it to the resupply bear hang we left and were relieved that it was exactly as we left it. At this bivouac site there was a ravine that had a beautiful creek running through it. We took time here to wash up. I couldn’t remember the last time I went swimming in the creek, but now I can. The water was cold but so refreshing and it felt so good to be sort of clean! Unfortunately, the feeling of clean didn’t last long.

We were glad to meet some super nice people on trail. One stand out is, Asha. She is 27 years old and is hiking 40 days on the FLT with no particular agenda. Her pack was bigger than she was! We spent a couple nights at the same campsites together, but she was faster than us. She said that her mentor was bringing her a resupply from Watkins Glen and we told her about the amazing donut we had. A day later as Jim and I were trudging on a snowmobile path (instead of the correct FLT path) we heard our names being called. We bushwhacked to the actual trail and found Asha walking toward us with a paper bag. Yes, she asked her mentor to bring us apple donuts and Asha had waited for us to pass by so she could give them to us. It was a definite highlight of our trip!

After a couple really long days, Jim and I revamped our mileage for the last few days of our trip. Jim had factored in a “zero day” mid week. A zero day is when you don’t hike at all that day. We were just going to stay at the camp and rest, but we took that day and hiked six miles to the next shelter in order to have smaller mileage days until we finished. It is so important to be flexible with your plans. I am so glad we did it this way and I think Jim was too. We had less stress and we were able to get to our campsites earlier in the afternoon each day so we could take a nap, get cleaned up, do laundry, filter water and relax.

One of favorite days on trail was our last full day. We hiked up to the Locust Lean To which is just before Robert Treman State Park. This shelter is new and has a solar charger for your devices. It also has incredible views! We met some other campers here and enjoyed the company. We were able to set up our tents to overlook the view so we could see the sun rise from our tents. It was amazing.

Our last day was about six miles through Robert Treman State Park. It was mostly down hill. As we got closer to the park we saw more and more people. We made it to the Sierra Shelter and had a little snack here then walked the one mile left to my car. We then had to drive to the beginning at Sugar Hill State Forest to get Jim’s truck.

If I could do anything over again, I would bring a notebook to write memories down. I don’t like using my phone to keep notes. I would also take more baby wipes and whiskey. You know, the important things…

Bonus pictures of random things on the trail.

All Done.

For Now.

Conservation Trail – Mammot Rd to Sumner Rd

I put on my favorite Darn Tough socks.

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I ate a good breakfast.  (My husband made it for me.)

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I laced up my boots and threw my pack into the car.

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I had packed my big backpack the night before with all the essentials.  You know, everything you need on a short day hike.  Stove, pots, 2 liters of water, rain gear, head lamp, emergency blanket, extra clothes, gloves, food for two days.  I just wanted to be prepared – I am in training after all.

I asked my nephew to hike with me and was happy he agreed.  Matthew hikes fast and doesn’t complain when I can’t keep up.

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My husband drove us to the trail head on Getman Road and I discovered a very fast moving stream about shin deep right across the trail.  I wasn’t familiar with this trail head, but I looked up and down the creek and couldn’t find a way across that wouldn’t mean hiking in wet boots the rest of the way, so we moved to Plan B.

Plan B was entering the trail at Mammot Road.  We would have had to hike .7 miles on this road anyway, now we will avoid the road walk.  I peeked down the trail before making the commitment to the hike.  It seemed wet, but not impassable.  I sent my husband on his way back home and Matthew and I took off down the trail.

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We encountered many, many “puddles” aka swampy areas.  Matt has LONG legs and moves like a gazelle.  I have short stubby legs and I lacked any finesse hopping over these areas, especially carrying my full pack.  I prayed my boots stayed dry and the prayer worked.  And I really sloshed through the water. As long as it wasn’t over my ankle I was good. (I love my Keen boots!)

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This was a small puddle, I kept my camera put away while hiking through the deep stuff!

Matt and I stuck close together while the ground was a giant puddle but once the trail dried out, Matt was off like a flash.  The trail was very easy to follow.  The bright orange blazes were close together and I knew Matt would be able to follow it no problem.

Matt backtracked a little to find me and told me saw a railroad track ahead.  Sure enough we came upon the track and glanced in both directions.  No trains in sight.  Drat.  That would have been a treat to see a train so close.  We didn’t want to wait around not knowing the schedule at all.

We spotted the orange flag in a tree branch indicating the trail entrance and Matt took off again.  I stopped a few times to take some pictures, look at the sky, admire the forest and listen to the birds.  We didn’t see any deer, only their footprints and some scat.

We saw some gorgeous waterfalls, including one that I drive by everyday and didn’t even know that it was there! It was spectacular especially with all the snow melt and rain we had recently.

We crossed Broadway into Darien Lake State Park.  We found the log book and signed in.

It started to really warm up so I stopped to take off my jacket and we had an impromptu snack time.  After a few cheese puffs, beef jerky and red fish we were fortified.

I put a few red fish in my pocket and we continued our journey.  It didn’t take long to come across the blue trail to the lean to.

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I gave Matt the option to hike it and he declined so we continued on following the orange blazes towards Sumner Road.

We actually heard a tree fall somewhere nearby and we both stopped in our tracks.  We looked at each other relieved that it wasn’t a bear crashing through the woods to eat us.  Then I found a ninja tree stump!  Tell me it doesn’t look like ninja??

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The trail ends at a parking lot on Sumner Road, so when I started hearing traffic I called my husband to pick us up.  Timed right we wouldn’t wait long for him.  We exited the trail and found a picnic bench, snacked again and had a drink.  I picked up trash I found in the lot.

It was a beautiful day of nearly 60 degrees in January.  It took us about two hours to hike about 4 miles.  Matt said he’d be up to hiking this trail again when it was dry!

I have a few other trails up my sleeve for us, too!  I just ordered and received a bunch of maps from the Finger Lakes Trail Conference.  My goal this summer is to hike the Letchworth State Park branch trail of the FLT.