FLT Map: Handcock Rd (M5) west to Stebbins Rd (M5)
23.47 miles, 3.2mph avg moving, 2.5mph avg overall, 7h:26m moving, 1h:52m stopped, 9h:18m total time, max elevation 2130ft, total ascent 2390ft, 101.83ft/mi. FLT M5
Total trail miles completed to-date: 500.6 (84.3%)
This hike started as all of my hikes recently have, a very early wake-up followed by a long drive. My alarm woke me a little before 4 a.m. I had prepared as much as I could the night before to ensure I could get out the door quickly. After completing the last of my preparations, I loaded my gear into my car, backed out of my driveway, and drove off into the early morning darkness.
You may be wondering at the title of this story, “Under 100”. The completion of this hike left me with less than 100 trail miles to complete the main trail. Since I do out-and-back hikes this translates to under 200 total miles, which is approximately eight or nine more hikes. If the weather cooperates I should complete my end-to-end next year.
As I turned onto the highway a nearly full moon hung low in the sky in front of me. I thought about pulling over to take a few pictures, but I had a long drive and wanted to get to the trailhead as early as I could. Clouds obscured the moon several minutes later and I continued on into the darkness.
I was nearing Corning, NY and intently watching the fuel range on my dashboard. There are very few 24-hour gas stations along the route, but I knew there was a Kwik Fill in Bath just off exit 38. I usually stopped at this gas station to fill up on my drives. My fuel range fell to 30 miles; it would be tight, but I thought I could make it to Bath.
I left Corning behind and continued on heading for Bath, my fuel range continuing to drop. The darkness seemed to grow deeper and I plunged into a thick bank of fog. I had no choice but to slow down; it was too thick to continue on at highway speeds. The fuel range hit zero and the warning light blinked on. My nerves were jumping and my mind was racing with what-ifs.
Ahead of me I saw a sign indicating the exit was 3 miles ahead. I was still tense, but I breathed a small sigh of relief. It wasn’t until I saw the exit ahead of me that I relaxed completely. I pulled off the highway, turned onto the main road and into the Kwik Fill, happy to have made it.
The remainder of the drive took me into and out of fog bank after fog bank. As the road climbed the fog would break away and then return as I descended back down. The darkness and fog made the drive stressful; I couldn’t see far in front of me and was tensed up trying to see what I couldn’t see. I finally left the highway and turned north on State Route 19. In the small town of Caneadea I turned west onto Route 243; it was still dark.
I came to the small town of Rushford, about 15 minutes from the trailhead, and the sky finally began to lighten. I continued on through fog and then the road began to climb and I broke free. Ahead of me a lake of fog had settled in the valley and the sky was colored from the rising sun. I quickly pulled into a parking area on my right to take a few pictures.
I hopped back into my car and descended down the road and back into the fog. A few minutes later I arrived at the trailhead and pulled over to the side and parked. I pulled on my socks and boots and hoisted my pack over my shoulders. It was quite cool out, only 41 according to the thermometer in my car. I was wearing my hiking pants and a long-sleeve dri-fit running shirt over top of another short-sleeve dri-fit shirt.
I walked a short distance up the road to the trailhead (mile 0.1 – 7:26 am) and turned off to the right through a small grassy area. Immediately I arrived at what I thought was a trail register, but it one of the FLT/Wegmans Passport Hikes markers. I took a few pictures and then headed on.
A short walk later and I arrived at Swift Hill Road (mile 0.3 – 7:32 am). I had driven up this road just a few minutes before on my way to the start of my hike. At the road I turned right and walked a short distance down the road to the trailhead. The trail crossed over a small foot bridge spanning a small ditch at the edge of the road. Beyond the bridge it continued on into the woods.
Another short hike and I came to a trail register (mile 1.2 – 7:53 am) – this time it was actually a register. I stopped to sign in and read a few of the previous entries. Some of the entries talked about the long road-walk that was in front of me and how difficult it had been; for many of the hikers it was behind them as they were hiking the opposite direction.
After leaving the register behind I arrived at a sign post with mileage for locations both ahead of, and behind, me on the trail. I took a picture of the sign post and then walked a few more yards to the road (mile 1.3 – 8:01 am) – and received a surprise. I was next to the parking area I had stopped at to take pictures of the sunrise and fog. In my focus on the picture I had not seen the FLT signs.
I took another picture, now very much different with the sun fully up, and turned left on Rushford Road walking down the road I had so recently driven on. A short distance down the road a pasture opened on my left. A barn stood in the sun with wisps of fog rising from the trees behind. After taking a few pictures I continued on down the road.
The cool air helped to make it easier to move quickly. I could imagine how difficult the walk would have been in the heat of summer. After walking a short distance I came to Williams Road (mile 2.0 – 8:19 am) and turned right.
Williams Road continue to stretch out in front of me, climbing up a small hill and then descending down the other side. The road continued on and on, heading straight before me. I stopped a few times to take some pictures, but continued moving along quickly. The road changed from new pavement, to patched old pavement, and finally to dirt and gravel.
Williams Road finally came to an end and I turned left onto Fairview Road (mile 4.3 – 9:02 am). A short time later I arrived at the busy Route 243 (mile 5.3 – 9:21 am). I had driven on this road earlier, but had left it further to the south-east. Even though it was still early on a Sunday morning there was traffic. I waited for cars to pass by in both directions before quickly crossing over.
Once on the other side I followed Huyck Road to the right as County Line Road split to the left. Huyck Road, a dirt and gravel road, passed along beside some open fields before descending down into a hollow and a wooded area. On the other side of the hollow the road began to climb and I saw a blue car pulled to the side of the road. A few yards beyond the car I arrived at the trailhead (mile 6.6 – 9:47 am).
I descended down from the road and found another sign post listing mileage to various points. A short distance beyond the sign I found a fallen log by the trail and decided it was time to take a break. I dropped my pack and sat down on the log. I pulled out some homemade granola bars and a thermos of hot coffee. The coffee tasted wonderful and the warmth was perfect for the cool air.
After a brief rest I pulled on my pack and started up the trail again. A short distance later I came to Hess Road, a small dirt road (mile 7.4 – 10:18 am). I took a few pictures and quickly crossed and continued on. The trail continued on through the woods and a short time later I came to a small clearing on my left. A small yellow disc nailed to a tree indicated this was a camping area and an old campfire gave further indication. I thought this would be a good spot to stop for lunch on my return trip.
I descended down along a small dry gully. The trail leveled and passed through some tall weeds before opening out into a parking area. The parking area sat next to West Branch Road. A car was parked in the parking area and a man was just coming around from the side of the car. I stopped to chat with him for a few minutes, he was just doing a small day-hike. I thought he might have been the owner of the blue car I had seen back on Huyck Road, but he said the car in the parking area was his.
He headed up the trail I had just come down and I walked to the edge of the road. To my right the road made a ‘Y’ split with West Branch Road bearing to the right and Bush Hill Road curving up to the left. The blazes continued on up Bush Hill Road. I crossed and began the climb up the road (mile 9.5 – 11:04 am).
Bush Hill Road climbed as it curved around to the left. I continued my walk up along the edge of the road until I finally reached the top and the road leveled out. A short distance later I came to the intersection of Stebbins Road (mile 10.3 – 11:20 am) and turned left onto that road. The pavement on the road only lasted a few yards before turning to dirt and gravel.
I checked my map again and saw that there was a small “jog” off the road and then back on a short distance ahead. The road began to descend and I arrived at the location of the “jog”. An old sign post rested against a tree, all but unreadable (mile 11.0 – 11:34 am). I looked around but could find no path leaving the road. Further down the road I saw some small trees and a blaze panted on the side of one. It appeared that the “jog” off the road no longer existed.
The area to my left where the trail would have gone had no large trees, only some small saplings and lots of brush growing. I suspected that the area had been harvested and when that had happened the small section of trail had been lost and never re-built.
A short distance down the road I came to another small “jog” in the trail (mile 11.3 – 11:43 am). This time there was a marker and a path leaving the road. I made my way through some tall grass and followed the trail along a path. The trail turned to the right following an old trail. It then made a sharp turn to the left around the roots of a fallen tree and through a group of fir trees. A lone metal post with a white-painted top indicated the turn.
I waded around the roots and curled through the close confines of the fir trees before breaking free into the woods. The trail curved back to my right and I arrived back at Stebbins Road a short time later (mile 11.6 – 11:49 am). I climbed down a small bank to the road. Across and to my right I saw a sign for Bush Hill State Forest and another dirt road heading away from Stebbins Road. The blazes indicated that the trail continued on down the road to my left; I made the turn and continued on down the road.
A short distance down the road I found the trailhead on the right as it left the road (mile 11.7 – 11:51 am); I had reached my turn-around. I walked back up the road to the State Forest sign and the other road. It was a DEC truck track. It looked as though there might be good shoulder parking and the FLT map indicated that there should be some parking here as well. Satisfied that I would have a place to park on my next hike I turned back and climbed the small bank back into the woods.
I made the short walk out and back from Stebbins Road. When I arrived back at the road I could just make out the State Forest sign a little further down the road. It seemed a little silly to have made that walk around when it was such a short distance down the road, but it was a nice respite from road-walking.
I continued on up the road and past the old sign post and back to the intersection with Bush Hill Road (mile 13.2 – 12:22 pm). At the intersection I turned to the right and continued along. Just before the road began to descend back down to West Branch Road and the ‘Y’ split a nice view opened up in front of me. I stopped to take a few pictures before descending down to the split and the parking area.
The man’s car was still parked in the parking area. I took a quick picture of a sign post at the edge of the parking area (mile 13.9 – 12:37 pm) and then began my climb up along the gully. A short distance up the trail I encountered the man, he was off the trail looking at something in the gully. I waved and said hello, but continued on, eager to get to the tent area and my lunch break.
Soon I arrived at the tent area and I dropped my pack and got out my lunch (mile 14.3 – 12:46 pm). Normally I would remove my boots and socks to give my feet a break, but I decided to keep them on this time. I planned to switch into sneakers once I got back to Huyck Road for the return road walk. The sun shone down through the leaves as I ate my lunch, warm and bright; it felt nice on my face. After I finished my lunch and rested for a bit, I pulled my pack back on and headed on toward Huyck Road.
I came to Hess Road and quickly crossed and then a short walk later I found myself descending to the sign post just off Huyck Road (mile 16.8 – 2:12 pm). A quick climb brought me to the edge of the road. The blue car was gone now. I sat down at the side of the road and changed out of my boots and into my sneakers. It was warmer now, so I also zipped off my pant legs to convert my pants into shorts.
I set off down the road at a quick pace. The five-mile road walk ahead of me was going to be a long slog. Thankfully it was still relatively cool. I made my way down into the hollow on Huyck Road and then back up the other side and along the fields. Soon after I came to the busy Route 243 (mile 18.1 – 2:43 pm). Once again I had to wait for cars to pass by before I could cross.
On the other side I continued along Fairview Road and then to right onto Williams Road. I took a few pictures along the way, but most of the walk was just moving forward – right-left, right-left, right-left… Minutes ticked by and I continued to slog along the side of the road. Cars occasionally passed me by as I trudged on.
I climbed to the top of a small rise on Williams Road and a view opened out in front of me. After taking a few pictures I continued and soon reached the intersection of Rushford Road. I turned left onto the road and began a climb. My focus was on the top of the climb – I just had to reach the top.
Finally, I was at the top and beginning to descend. I could see the parking area at the trailhead ahead of me on the right. I stopped to take a picture looking down the road as I had done early in the morning. The fog no longer filled the valley and I could see what it had hidden; a valley with fields, a couple farms, and a house or two stretched out below me.
At the trailhead (mile 22.2 – 4:06 pm) I dropped my pack and pulled out a bottle of sports drink and one of water. I downed both bottles quickly trying to quench the thirst that the long walk had built up. Once again I thought about how horrendous the walk would have been at the height of the summer heat. After finishing my drinks I switched from sneakers back into my hiking boots and continued on along the trail; I had a little over a mile to reach my car.
As I walked a terrifying thought popped into my head; I couldn’t remember if I had turned the map light on in my car at the trailhead and if I had left it on. Thoughts of coming back to a dead battery filled my head and what my options might be. My mind continued to worry at the potential problem as I walked on.
A short time later I arrived at Swift Hill Road and turned to the right and walked the short distance up the road before leaving it to the left. A few more minutes and I arrived at the Wegmans Passport marker next to Handcock Road. I took a few more pictures of the post and then stepped out onto the road. My car sat a little further down the road and I was very happy to see it in front of me.
Upon reaching my car (mile 23.47 – 4:43 pm) I opened the door and was happy to find that I had not left the map light on; the battery was not dead. Sometimes solo-hikes leave the mind with too much freedom. I breathed an actual sigh of relief and set about changing out of my boots and into a clean shirt. Once all my gear was stowed and I was changed I started my car and headed back home.
The drive home was much less eventful than the drive out. It was still light for most of the drive and there was no fog. I arrived home around 7:20 pm and ten minutes later I had brought all my gear in and was ready for a nice hot shower.