Admit it: If you love to hike, you’ve probably fantasized at one time or another about doing the Appalachian Trail. But you’ve been duly warned by Bill Bryson, in his popular book A Walk in the Woods, of the hazards implicit therein: horrible weather, blisters, broken bones, rattlesnakes, Lyme disease, black bears ransacking your food stash and so on. Most horrible to contemplate, you could end up running into the author himself and being caricatured for all eternity as the Accidental Hiking Buddy from Hell.
Luckily for us in the Northeast, there’s an alternative that’s respectably challenging but doesn’t require six or more months out of your life to complete: the Long Path, which in its present state runs from the New Jersey side of the George Washington Bridge to John Boyd Thatcher State Park in Altamont, near Albany. Marked by distinctive aqua-colored blazes, the Long Path is an ever-evolving work-in-progress – now officially clocked at 347.4 miles in length, but somewhat longer if you opt for any of several detours added in recent years to avoid dreary stretches of walking on road shoulders in developed areas in between state parks.
The longest stretch of exurban trekking in the Long Path, historically, ran through the commuter bedroom communities of western Orange County. But in recent decades, a new connector called the Shawangunk Ridge Trail has been the route of choice for serious through-hikers, even though it adds about 22 miles to the total length of the Long Path. Another “reroute” added just last year runs from the Schunemunk Ridge along the Orange Heritage Trail to the Shawangunk Ridge Trail in Greenville.
Aficionados of the Gunks may already be familiar with some of the Long Path’s choicer stretches, such as the overlook of spectacular Verkeerderkill Falls near Sam’s Point, or the clifftop views and pine barrens of the not-overused Blueberry Run trail in Minnewaska State Park. The Long Path traverses the Catskills as well, reaching its highest elevation at the top of Slide Mountain. There are plans to connect its northern terminus to the Adirondacks at some point in the future.
The first recorded Long Path through-hike using any of the officially recognized routes was accomplished in May of 1998 by Mary Ann Nissley of Chalfont, Pennsylvania. It took her 25 days. But in the ensuing years, other hikers have chipped away at Nissley’s time, eventually bringing it down to 12 days. And just three months ago, a record-breaking pace was set by a hardy trail runner from New York City named Ken Posner: On September 3, 2013, he completed the Long Path, including the longer Schunemunk-to-Shawangunks detour, in a staggering nine days, three hours and six minutes.
Posner’s run was mostly self-supported; he placed food caches at six points along the route. Since the Long Path lacks the Appalachian Trail’s elaborate network of lean-tos, with no legal camping facilities at all for long stretches, he slept on a mat on the ground at places along the trailside. Underfed and short on sleep, he coped with injuries, bad weather and unfriendly wildlife.
But it wasn’t just the distinction of breaking a record that motivated Posner. He was doing it for a cause: to raise funds for the New York Road Runners’ programs for youth, like Running Start, Mighty Milers and Young Runners. “It’s so important for kids to be active,” he said, “and if they don’t even have gym classes, that’s a shame, because they run the risk of the health problems that come with lack of exercise and bad nutrition.” Posner’s grueling Long Path run reportedly raised nearly $10,000, which would make these running programs accessible for free to an estimated 300 more urban kids.
Want to learn more about this awesome feat, and about the wonders of the Long Path itself? You can hear about them from the horse’s mouth this Saturday, November 23 at Rock and Snow, the Mecca for rock climbers, cross-country skiers and trail runners in New Paltz. The New York-New Jersey Trail Conference is bringing in Posner to present a slideshow about his 355-mile marathon. He will talk about how he overcame all the challenges of the through-run, highlight some of his favorite spots along the Long Path and share tips on gear and training for those who might like to emulate his effort (or even set the next record pace).
This special event begins at 8 p.m. Admission is free, but seating is limited; you can preregister by contacting NYNJTC’s Sona Mason at (201) 512-9348, extension 16, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Rock and Snow is located at 44 Main Street in downtown New Paltz. For more information, call the store at (845) 255-1311 or visit its website at www.rockandsnow.com.
Talk/slideshow by Long Path record-holder Ken Posner, Saturday, November 23, 8 p.m., free, Rock and Snow, 44 Main Street, New Paltz; (201) 512-9348 X 16, email@example.com.