There is a train station in the middle of the southern New York woods that allows Appalachian Trail hikers to travel to New York City. I’m not kidding.
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.