18.5 miles, 1355.9 overall (Wawayanda shelter)
I need to get out early. It is going to be insanely hot and I refuse to hike in insane heat. I don’t set an alarm. I have found I don’t need one out here. I simply figure out when I want to get up and I tend to wake up by then. Today I get up just before 5. I want to be on the trail by 6. I’m going to steal Mouse’s plan of 10 miles before 10:00. I try to be quiet as I pack up but I end up waking the Mules. I can’t tell if they mind, but if they do they hide it well. They get up as well and start packing. By 5:45 I head out into the heat.
It is already about as warm as yesterday. I leave the Murray property and cross several roads within the first few miles. This seems to be a residential area and several times I look around and find myself practically in someone’s backyard. I pass a hiker who tented mere feet off the trail, if he is actually off it at all. He is just starting to get ready for the day. Eventually the trail leads to a road walk for almost a mile. The purpose of the road walk, it seems, is to lead hikers around to the Wallkill Reserve, a swampy protected area just off the road. I turn into it and am met with the familiar smell of an estuary. Almost immediately I notice a change in the wildlife as I see a heron standing in the middle of the water. A cool breeze blows across the water as I hike. On the other side of the reserve I spot an egret before the trail u-turns and heads back toward the road. A bird spots me and tries to fly away but flies into the wind which turns out to be too strong. Instead of getting away it simply flies in place. I chuckle as it lands only a few feet down the road from where it took off. As I walk forward it takes off again, only this time for some reason it continues to fly into the wind but also ends up right above me! Unfortunately I don’t have my camera ready and I miss the opportunity for a picture before it flies off into a tree slightly downwind.
As I head back toward the road I enjoy the sights. To the right I notice a young buck, it’s antlers still fuzzy. Rabbits and chipmunks scurry about on the trail trying to get away from me. But when I reach the road I can’t find the next blaze. After a minute I realize I haven’t seen a blaze for some time. I get a sinking feeling as I realize the trail must have turned onto a side trail about a half mile back. I will have to backtrack and will have added a mile to my distance today.
The correct side trail leads me along boardwalks to the next mountain I have to climb. It isn’t tall and so the view at the top is not very spectacular. I put on another Sherlock Holmes adventure to listen to. On the other side as I come down the mountain I reach the Pochuck Creek suspension bridge over another swampy area. It is sunny and I apply some sunscreen as I proceed. It seems to be a popular place and I pass several families, runners, and people walking their dogs.
At the end I reach what I’m really aiming for today: NJ 94. Only 0.1 miles up the road is the Heaven Hill Farm which has produce and ice cream. This seems like a delightful combination and, considering the oppressiveness that the heat of the day has attained, it seems like a great place to wait for a few hours. I’m happy when I walk in to find it entirely welcoming and the woman working there suggests I sit outside in back where there is shade. I have to wonder if the back is the “hiker area,” but it doesn’t matter much to me. After browsing everything I settle on a peach, a plum, and a golden delicious apple with a Dr Pepper. I head to the back and make myself comfortable.
After about an hour I’m joined by another hiker named Scholar. I find out she is not a thru-hiker but rather an undergraduate working on an honors thesis about thru-hikers. She asks if she can interview me and I happily oblige, although we eat ice cream, take naps, and generally lounge some more before we get around to the actual interview. Woot, Resource, and Uncle Spider (the hiker in the tent this morning) all arrive while we’re talking. When we finally leave it is 4:00. I have spent over 4 hours here and added a Vitamin Water and ice cream to my original purchase and yet my total bill is still under $10. In addition I am invited to fill up my water out front. What a great place!
The last 6 miles go by quickly and I’m soon at the shelter for the night. I grab a tent site and cook up some dinner. Scholar is here as well as a ridge runner and a section hiker named Porkroll. I turn in early, still exhausted from the heat despite only hiking 18 miles. Tomorrow is going to be another hot day so I’ll need a good night’s sleep to get an early start again tomorrow on the Appalachian Trail.