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Saturday, September 27, 2008

My first Link Trail goup hike

I've been wanting to join in a group hike since I discovered the Link Trail in May, but each time I was out of town or had other commitments. Today, though, I finally had the opportunity to meet some of the folks from the North Country Trail Association and the Adirondack Mountain Club who helped build - and who hike on - the Link Trail.

I met Jerry, Kathy, Kathy, Dawn, Janet and Amy at the Canastota Thruway exit at 9:00 AM. We drove to the trailhead next to Mount Pleasant Cemetery, left the cars there, and rode in Kathy's van to Cazenovia. We parked at the Cazenovia Highway Department and hit the trail just before 10:00 AM.

The sky was overcast but the rain held off for a while, so our first few miles of hiking along Chittenango Creek were full of pleasant chatting, greeting other hikers and runners, and wondering what the structure near the trail - collapsed except for an arch and the low remnants of its stone walls - might have been. Long before we reached Bingley the rain began falling in earnest and the jackets and ponchos came out. We admired the NCTA-built wooden staircase at Bingley Road, made our way along Emhoff Road, and reentered the woods.

The day seemed close, intimate: our world extended from the wooded slope on our right to the silver curtain of mist one or two hundred yards to our left. The grey sky hung low, and the dull pewter gleam of rain on every surface imparted a bittersweet beauty to the first bursts of fall colors amid the greenery of the overgrown orchards leading down into the valley. Here brilliant red berries nestled within slate-grey bracken, and there a small cluster of sumac leaves exploded with yellow and red. Fallen leaves - some speckled red and yellow, some a brilliant pink - had begun blanketing the trail. The mist-shrouded far side of the valley existed only in our imaginations.

As we passed the filled-in ravine I had the opportunity to show the group the collapsed remnants of the tallest mullein I've ever seen, and an example of the folding that spiders love to do with blackberry leaves in order to shelter their egg sacs. I enjoyed talking with my companions about travel, language, and history as we passed on toward Carrys Hill Road.

Walking over the old railroad bed toward Hodge Road, I noticed a white fuzzy caterpillar of a species that I don't think I've seen before. This may be the best way to describe what a good time I had today: I was so immersed in the hiking and the conversations with these engaging new people that, although I remembered to ask Kathy to take a picture of the caterpillar, I never thought to ask her to take one of us! Ah, well. Just picture a drizzle of rain falling from a grey sky through sparse tree cover and onto the heads of seven soggy people having lunch around a wooden vehicle barrier that separates the trail from the road. That's us.

We finished our lunch at around noon and walked the section of the Link Trail that follows roadsides down into Perryville and northward to the hedgerow at the end of Ingalls Corners Road. By this time the conversation had turned to politics, so I was glad when the trail - and we - plunged back into the trees. Somehow walking single-file through a hedgerow lends itself more to focusing on the hike than on our national three-ring circus.

We wound our way down the stone staircase that the NCTA volunteers worked so hard on this summer, rejoined the old railroad bed, and passed the quarry. By the time we crossed Quarry Road our pace had flagged but, knowing we had only a few miles to go, we soon perked up.

On the thirty mile hike in June my legs felt like they were on fire for a little while after I, wearing shorts, walked through a patch of stinging nettles near Cottons Road. After that hike I looked up the plant so that I could identify and avoid it, and today it paid off: I noticed a patch covering the trail and warned the group about it.

While Jerry and I were waiting in front of the car restoration shop on Cottons Road I noticed a link to Madison County history: a hop vine growing up the tree near the road. That vine was probably a direct descendant of those that formed a significant part of Madison County's economy during the nineteenth century, when itinerant workers picked the hop blossoms that were then dried and sent west to feed the beer industry. I picked some of those little cones to show the group, and spent the next mile or so pleasantly sniffing one of them while thinking of how I've come not only to love hoppy beers, but to have pleasant associations with the smell of raw hops!

We crossed Cottons Road and Nelson Road and then, during the last leg of the journey, Jerry and I decided to kick it up a notch. We maintained a very fast walking pace - well, very fast for me, but pretty normal for Jerry - for the last two miles. Jerry left and I, having gotten the power-walking out of my system, went back to keep the rest of the group company for the last stretch. I didn't get far, though - obviously they'd barely gone any slower than us, because I ran into them within three minutes. I think we were all grateful to reach the cars and rest our feet.

I'm excited to have met such a great group of people, and have already made plans with Jerry and Amy to do Adirondack snowshoeing and more Link Trail hiking. Yeah!

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