Talk about some serious culture shock. You’re just hiking in the Long Green Tunnel, and then you board a train and disembark in a megalopolis.
By the time I was hiking through New York during my thru-hike, I was short on cash and time and had decided against going to the Big Apple. But, then, I was having a low-morale day and texted Ann-Marie, my friend in NYC, who insisted that I come to visit; a few hours later, I was in the city.
Have you had the opportunity to feel as though all your senses are completely overwhelmed? I have, on several occasions. The first occurred three months after my family moved to rural Kentucky, when I was 14. I suddenly realized one day that, because I had been preoccupied with the move and a bunch of farm projects, I hadn’t left the farm for roughly three months; I decided to go to the store with my mother and found the town’s little Walmart thoroughly overstimulating. It was as though I couldn’t possibly absorb everything going on around me, and I found that I had no ability to focus or make decisions. (Actually, it felt a lot like Lyme Disease.)
Anyway, New York City felt like an assault to my senses.
It didn’t help that it was nigh-hiker-midnight by the time I found my way to Ann-Marie’s apartment. I’d survived Grand Central Station and the bustling subway ride and just wanted to crawl into my sleeping bag in some dark corner, but Ann-Marie soon convinced me that what I really needed was some baklava at a hip, local restaurant. We talked until way past hiker-midnight, and then I fell asleep, sans shower.
Early the next morning, I woke up and did my best to look presentable, which Ann-Marie assured me was not mandatory in the city, and then she helped me be a good tourist. I enjoyed a bagel with vegan cream cheese from the corner bagel shop, after I figured out how to assertively place my order. What’s more, I figured out how to navigate the subway and how to eat while standing up on it.
Ann-Marie took me to Broadway, Central Park, Rockefeller Square, and various other landmarks. I enjoyed visiting food carts and listening to buskers. Everywhere we went, there was so much to look at that I felt as though I sometimes forgot to blink. I felt incredibly out of place and so very small, but I also felt like I was on vacation and experiencing something that was too unique to have missed.
On my second evening in the city, I met up with a trio of thru-hikers who’d found me on the train. (Perhaps we’d followed our noses to find people who smelled like people rather than dryer sheets.) Together, we went to a party that a friend of theirs was hosting. My last night in New York City was spent on a rooftop near the projects, with a beautiful girl who made me promise that I’d drink a toast to her atop Katahdin. I was so sleep deprived and out of my element that I remember it all as though it were a dream.
At 3:00 in the morning, I took the subway to Grand Central, which (contrary to posted schedules) was closed. I slept outside it until it opened (reliving my memories of my time in Union Station), after which I gratefully boarded a train back to the woods, thankful both for the experience I’d had and the opportunity to be in the forest again.