On the Finger Lakes Trail

End-to-end hikers Karen Sabonich and Barbara Nussbaum with Michael Nussbaum

Whether you’re the hardiest of through-hikers or a weekend warrior, hiking the 585 miles of the Finger Lakes Trail end-to-end is an achievable goal. 

Some hikers like to take the FLT fast and sometimes all at once, like “Java” Joe Dates, who wrote of his fourth through-hike that he would never again do the trail at a 24.4-mile per day pace. Dates, who’s since completed the trail several more times, wrote, “Hiking up to 13 hours a day with a 28-pound backpack is not fun late in the day.” 

That experience, Dates wrote, had him in awe of Frank Blanco, a Lisle resident, who at 73 years old and legally blind, hiked the FLT end-to-end in 24 days. 

Barbara Nussbaum said that when she and her husband Michael moved to Ithaca from Berlin, with so many trails nearby they “were convinced that it would make absolutely no sense to hike the whole Finger Lakes Trail from end to end.” 

That changed when Nussbaum became involved with a county-by-county cross-country hiking series, organized in Cortland and Tompkins counties by Karen Serbonich. 

“Karen kept pushing me and hiked with me when I had missed some of the organized cross-country hikes in summer while I was away with my family in Europe,” Nussbaum said. “I thought I would hate these crowds at the cross-country hikes and sometimes I did, but after a couple of years most of the hikers in my speed group and some others became like a family to me.” 

Nussbaum “crossed the finish line” with Serbonich at her side on Sept. 19, 2015. During that season, Nussbaum took on the organization of Cayuga Trails Club camp outs in the Catskills and Allegheny State Park so hikers didn’t have to commute to finish the trail. What she didn’t tell anyone was that she hadn’t camped in 40 years. 

Anna Keeton started the cross-country hikes in 2010 and her husband Michael “Bodhi” Rogers decided to join her as an “aspiring end-to-ender” in 2013 after he completed work in Bronze Age archaeology in Cyprus. The couple did about 240 miles of the trail that year, completing four counties. In 2014 they finished Steuben and Cortland counties, and in 2015 finished their end-to-end journey with the cross-country hike series in Allegheny County and hiked Cattaraugus County with the help of a rental car for spotting and “trail angels” (people who help hikers). 

Rogers mapped most of the trail using his Garmin GPS, despite a few glitches, taking readings every second of his hikes. The couple started their own pace group in Schuyler County, when they decided the kind of “fast hiking” that includes running wasn’t for them.

“We found it challenging to name our group,” Rogers wrote. “There was already Fast, Medium Fast, Medium, Medium Slow … so were we the Fast Medium group? The Fast Slow group?  … We settled on the Spicy Fast group as a play on the level of spiciness for Buffalo chicken wings.” 

In a write-up of her experiences, Keeton offered some helpful advice for aspiring hikers. A hydration bladder, like her three-liter Camelback, was “essential for staying hydrated while hiking at a brisk pace.” Adding a bit of fresh-squeezed citrus on a hot day makes water more refreshing. Before going out for a day or six, check the weather and trail conditions on the FLT website, and adjust gear accordingly. Maps and GPS data are available on the FLT website, and Keeton recommends the DeLorme Atlas & Gazetteer for navigating the roads of upstate New York. 

Resources include the Finger Lakes Trail car spotter list; hikers can drop off their car at the end of a hike and catch a ride with a volunteer to the starting point. 

End-to-end hikers find themselves with a fresh perspective on the landscapes, flora, and fauna, of Upstate New York, along with some new friends. 

At the Blue Hill Lodge in Claryville, Rogers and Keeton met the owner’s Russian mother, who was visiting and cooked them up some “amazing home-cooked Russian dishes.” Keeton spotted a pileated woodpecker in Delaware County and several black bears in Ulster County. Both Keeton and Nussbaum cite Little Rock City as a highlight of the trail. 

In Chenango County, Rogers said the “rolling pastureland helped me understand why this is the yogurt heartland of New York.” He says Solon Pond Road to Stoney Brook Road in Cortland County was one of his favorite stretches of the FLT. 

Dates saw lots of porcupines in Allegheny State Park and in the Catskills. Another highlight for Dates, he said, are those people who ask, ‘You’re doing this alone?’ and ask why he’s not afraid of bears, coyotes, or rabid raccoons. 

“The only aggressive animals I saw were dogs while walking on roads,” Dates wrote. “I had to bop a couple on the head with my trekking pole in order to keep them from biting me.” 

The Finger Lakes Trail system includes 29 loop trails and spur trails that extend from the main FLT, making for another 412 miles of trail. The FLT is the on the official route of the North Country National Scenic Trail, which will cover 4,600 miles from New York to North Dakota when it’s complete. §

Visit fltconference.org for maps and information, and email fltinfo@fingerlakestrail.org  

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