NJ

The one with free ice cream

June 21

16 miles, 1371.9 overall (Stealth camp, Mombasha High Point)
I get up reluctantly at 5 but fall back asleep. At 5:30 I wake again and this time I have to get up. I pack up and by the time I’m eating my breakfast the ridge runner is also up and Scholar is making noises like she’ll be up soon. I get out of the shelter at 6:10 but I’m low on water so I stop off at a state park only 0.2 miles off the trail. The detour is successful but takes almost 20 minutes.

The trail this morning is quiet but it is starting to have annoying PUD’s (pointless ups and downs) which had been largely nonexistent since Virginia. New York will have more of them, so I’m told. I am only a few miles from the border and will reach it shortly. As I hike I think primarily about 2 things. First, it is the 3 month anniversary of the day I started in Georgia. It seems like so much longer ago that I started, which makes the end, being another 2 months away, seem all the more distant. Luckily I have several border crossings and a few visits with friends to look forward to on the way. Second, it is the summer solstice, which means it is Hike Naked Day. I contemplate whether I should hike in the buff for a little while. It is tempting, but eventually I decide that I am too afraid of ticks getting someplace unpleasant to actually hike naked.

Around the time I come to this decision I climb up a large rock wall and find the NJ/NY state line. There are actually 2 markings, one marked SL (presumably State Line) and the other marked with the state abbreviations. They aren’t too far apart so I focus on the one with the state abbreviations because it makes for better pictures. There is also a register there and I get a kick out of reading some of the entries from the hikers ahead of me. Rook was sad she didn’t see Snooki in NJ and in the column “how many days have you been hiking?” a common response is infinity.

Once I take care of pictures and logging myself in (I put pi for the number of days) I hike on and soon pass the highest point on the AT in NY. It’s all downhill from here! Just beyond it the trail runs through a sort of canyon in the rocks and in that space I find a doe and fawn on the trail. They see me and start walking away but they don’t run and they stay on the trail. I follow them, trying to remain slow and quiet, and am able to get within about 15 feet and get a crisp picture of them both before they decide they would like some more space and walk away.

A few miles later I reach the 10 mile mark for the day at a road crossing where the data book informs me there is ice cream to be had 0.3 miles up the road. The distance is worth it, especially for the possibility of a place to hang out for several hours. It has gotten hot and it is time to hunker down and wait for the afternoon. On the way to the ice cream shop (Bellvale Farm Creamery) I see a hot dog stand. It isn’t open but there is a man inside who seems to be prepping to open. I take note as this would make for a perfect combination.

When I arrive at the creamery I find out I doesn’t open until 12. It is 10:30. It seems like a long time to wait. I go to the back of the building to contemplate my options and as I’m settling down a woman who I assume is the owner pops out. She asks if I am there for ice cream and I explain that I had seen the sign and was just about to decide if I wanted to wait. She ushers me inside and instead of waiting I end up with a waffle cone and a root beer which she says are on the house! Amazing! The wonderful woman has to go pick up her son from school so I have to eat outside. No problem. I assume the seat in the shade on the pavement that I was previously about to secure and I spend the next 30 minutes eating ice cream and relaxing.

Once I’m done I decide to stick around. The shade isn’t so bad and I don’t need to hike a ton more today. Around 11:30 a girl arrives and starts opening the shop and at noon customers start arriving. I decide to get out of the way by heading to the hot dog stand where I procure the “special,” 2 hot dogs with 1 topping each (I pick cooked onions), chips, and a soda. When I finish I head back to the creamery. I go in and buy another waffle cone, partly because I can eat more, partly to support their business since the woman was so nice, and partly so I don’t feel bad about sitting in their air conditioned building for the next 3 hours. Around 1:30 I’m joined by a flush-faced Scholar who took too long getting out of camp this morning and has been walking in the heat. She gets a milkshake and joins me in squatting at a table.

I find ways to kill time playing on my phone until 3:30 (they even let me charge the phone, what a hiker-friendly place! Go buy stuff from them!) when I decide it is time to head out. On the way I see Porkroll on his way in. He also slept in too long and paid the price, but he is about to feel better.

I start hiking again but take my time. Anything I hike at this point just takes miles away from what I have to hike tomorrow. I plan to stop for a break at the shelter 2 miles away but I miss it. Apparently the podcasts I downloaded for learning Chinese while I was at the creamery are incredibly engrossing! I cross a road and shortly arrive at a waterfall where I fill my water. I would think about stopping but a group is already camped there. I continue, hoping for a campsite at the top of the next ridge where there is supposed to be a view. The view is not what it is cracked up to be and there are no campsites, so I continue on again. It is getting past 6:00 and I’m starting to get anxious when on the way down the ridge I find a little clearing where obviously people have camped before. It will do perfectly and I set up camp, even finding an old tent stake in the ground that somebody forgot. I fix dinner, give Christy a call, and I’m in my tent earlier than usual at 7:30. The campsite is a full 6 miles past the creamery, leaving me with about 19 miles to do tomorrow to reach the shelter and set myself up for picking up my mail drop 2 days from now. For now I will fall asleep to the hum of mosquitoes outside my tent while I am safely ensconced inside on the Appalachian Trail.

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Categories: NJ, NY | 6 Comments

The one where I avoid the heat

June 20

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.

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Categories: NJ, NY | 1 Comment

The maildrop conundrum

June 19

18.4 miles, 1337.4 overall (Murray property)
Kitfox and Mancub are up before I am. I can hear them packing up their tents as I am still packing up the stuff inside mine. When I emerge they are ready to leave. I move my stuff to the shelter to finish packing. Inside the shelter is a tent and just outside is a hammock. Two people arrived last night as I was falling asleep and these must be them. They made lots of noise when they arrived so I don’t feel too bad making some noise this morning. I eat my breakfast and finish packing. I’m out by 7:15.

I quickly pass the Mules who started only a minute ahead of me. I’m planning to hike about 25 miles today in case I need to get to Bear Mountain by Saturday. I reach Sunrise Mountain which has a pavilion on top with benches oriented toward what appears to be where the sun would rise. I’m slightly disappointed I’m not here for the sunrise but I quickly get over it as I realize how hazy it is today and how poor the sunrise would have been. I get to the first shelter in good time and catch Mancub and Kitfox there. I also meet Danny, the ridge runner for this area. I eat a quick snack, sign the register, and move on.

Soon I pass Kitfox and Mancub but I stop to have another snack and they pass me again. It seems we will play leapfrog today, but not for long since they plan to go to town at the next road crossing. During my snack I plot out various possibilities for the next few days. I figure I need to plan to hike 20+ each day to get to town on Friday morning. In the meantime I can call the post office tomorrow (it is already closed today) and see if they can forward my box. If they will then I can slow down. If they won’t I’ll have to keep going. If I decide on Thursday or Friday that I won’t make it in time then I’ll have to zero on Sunday.

All morning my mind is occupied with figuring out all of the contingencies and brainstorming other alternatives. Eventually I decide I need to get my mind off of the situation and just hike so I put on my audiobook again. I continue with Sherlock Holmes and am pleasantly surprised to find that each adventure has a different narrator. I listen to a few while I hike and they are all far superior to the first. I enjoy the stories and find it easy to pay attention to them. I try to predict the outcome and take pleasure in noting details that I preliminarily think are important and that actually do become important later.

Pretty soon I reach a wooden tower with a view to the High Point monument atop the highest point in NJ. I climb the tower and find a couple of benches. This seems like a great place to take a break so I stop and call Christy. We discuss the mail drop situation and come up with a plan of attack. She will plan to send a new mail drop tomorrow to the hotel I plan to stay at. In the morning she will call the post office that currently has my box to see if they will forward it. If not then she’ll send the new one and the old one will be returned home in about 2 weeks when I don’t pick it up. I like this plan. The best part about it is that either way I don’t have to get to town until Saturday. This takes a huge amount of stress off of me because I won’t have to do 20 mile days in heat indexes of over 100 anymore. After talking to Christy I take some time to eat my lunch and lounge around before continuing, knowing that now I can take my time.

Once I’m done with lunch I get moving again. I cross several roads and cover several miles before I reach my destination. Hikers call it the secret shelter. It is the Murray property and it is only 100 yards from the trail. Jim Murray has a single-room cabin that he allows hikers to stay in for free. There is also a water spigot and an outdoor shower. I’m not sure what to expect when I arrive. I half expect the place to be a bit run down, but it is quite to the contrary. The cabin seems well-built and well-maintained and the rest of the property is quite beautiful, located at the bottom of a hill with fields of grass surrounded by forest. I am the first one here so I claim a spot in the cabin and make myself at home. I grab a quick shower before anyone else arrives and add “showered outside” to the list of things I’ve done on the AT. Although I used an outdoor shower at Woods Hole, that one at least had walls.

Before long the Myakka Mules catch up. We start cooking dinner and it is almost ready when Jim shows up. He is an incredibly nice man and talks with us for a while. He mentions that he is always looking for ways to make the cabin better but I can’t think of any except air conditioning and terry cloth robes, neither of which are at all necessary for his clientele. He also mentions that we have crossed into NY, his property being just barely on the NY side. We’ll reach the formal border crossing in a couple days where we’ll say goodbye to NJ, but it is nice to know we’ve made it to another state.

As I’m heading to bed a thru-hiker named Frenchy shows up and tents outside along with two other hikers I haven’t met yet. It is only myself and the Mules in the cabin tonight. Now that the mail drop situation will be resolved I plan a somewhat easy day tomorrow. I will get up early, hike 12 miles to a farmer’s market just 0.1 mile off the trail, and hang out there eating fruit and ice cream for several hours while the heat of the day passes. Then I’ll hike the remaining 6 miles to a shelter for the night. It is supposed to hit 95 tomorrow on the Appalachian Trail.

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Categories: NJ, NY | 3 Comments

The one on the slow train

June 18

17.9 miles. 1319 overall (Gren Anderson shelter)
Since I plan to slow down I’m not in a hurry to get up in the morning. The weather seems like it will be beautiful – cloudy and cool – all day and I only plan to do 18 miles. Eventually I get up and get packing. By the time I’m ready to get moving I hear voices coming down the trail. I move to where I can see who is coming and I see Kitfox and Mancub. They must have stayed back at the MOC. They say hi and we talk for a minute before they continue and I get the last of my stuff prepared to go. When I do leave another couple is coming down the trail. This time it is the Myakka Mules who also stayed at the MOC. Another exchange of pleasantries commences before we all start hiking.

We don’t get very far. There is a road crossing just up ahead and when we get there we find Mancub and Kitfox stopped enjoying some sandwiches. Trail magic! Pebbles thru-hiked last year. Bewildered thru-hiked the AT in 2005 and the PCT in 2008. He was supposed to do the CDT this year but Pebbles says he “wimped out.” Actually I think the logistics simply fell through. They’ve come out today with snacks, sandwiches, juices, potato chips, beer, and even whiskey! It is a little early to partake of the alcohol but I definitely down my share of juice, a sandwich, and some miscellaneous snacks. Bewildered is pushing the whiskey and he makes me remember that I bought a small platypus meant for wine last time I was home thinking it could be a nice addition to some shelter nights. I take it out and fill it for the first time with a few shots’ worth of Evan Williams.

When we resume hiking I decide it would be a good time for an audiobook. I put on Thoreau’s On Civil Disobedience and find it easier to pay attention to than I thought it would be. Several miles pass including a few views and a bit of wildlife while I listen. One particular deer is peculiar in that it stays right next to the trail until I’m only a few feet away before bounding off. Another stands in the trail and watches me as I approach and, although it also jumps out of the way, it doesn’t go far and watches as I pass.

The trail in NJ is much better than Pennsylvania already. It is interesting that although the geology shouldn’t change that much as we cross an arbitrary state line the trails are vastly different. The rocks have already abated so that no longer do we have to walk through boulder fields. We have already had in 20 miles more views than we saw in 100 miles of PA trail. And although I’ve been told this before I’m still surprised by there being more wildlife in NJ as well.

I fill up my water at a pump located at a road crossing, taking advantage of the easy water to follow doctor’s orders and down almost a liter on the spot. The rest of the trail is uneventful as I hike past a few side trails. I switch from Thoreau to Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes but I’m so put off by the narrator of the first adventure who seems to mispronounces a word every 2 minutes that I turn off the audiobooks and hike without them for the rest of the day.

My big goal for the day is to get dinner at one of the restaurants strategically located at a road crossing. By doing this I not only save myself from having to cook for the night but I also save a meal. I am trying to make 5 days of food last for 6 days so I can take my time getting to my next mail drop. The road crossing is only 3 miles from the shelter I plan to stay at so the timing is perfect. On the way to the road crossing I catch a great view of a lake below and stop to figure out what it is. Luckily I have cell service and I can determine that it is Culver Lake. Armed with this knowledge which will in no way prove useful for me I proceed the last half mile to the road.

At the road there are 3 restaurants, however 2 of them are closed. I’m stuck with the third which is also the furthest. Gyp’s Tavern sounds quite cool but when I arrive I am somewhat let down. This is totally a side-of-the-road dive bar for locals. Several men are inside drinking beers and the barmaid knows them all by name. I take a seat and ask for a menu. I order a cheeseburger and cheese fries with a beer. There aren’t any great beers on tap (this isn’t the kind of place that serves craft beers) so I simply order one of the lagers. I can tell I’m not the first hiker to have come through here. The barkeep brings me extra napkins with my order. The burger turns out to be quite good but the cheese fries are a huge let down. They are boring fries covered with the nacho cheese that is used at county fairs and hardens a minute after it is poured on. The beer, although not the tastiest, does hit the spot while I watch some CNBC (perhaps the last thing I’d have expected to be on in here), a Euro Cup soccer match (also unexpected), and the weather channel. When I settle up I have to pay in cash – they don’t take credit cards. All told I am in the tavern for about 45 minutes, meaning I’ll get to the shelter early tonight.

The last 3 miles go by quickly, perhaps partly because of the food and partly because of the beer. When I arrive the Mules are there as well as Kitfox and Mancub. All of us are tenters and the shelter goes empty. Kitfox and Mancub turn in early for the night, leaving me to chat with the Mules as they cook dinner and I eat a quick snack to further lighten my food bag. I also pull out the Evan Williams and have a few sips. I offer some to the Mules but they politely decline.

Pretty soon I am in my tent getting ready for bed. Before I go to sleep I take a few minutes to make a tentative plan for the next several days to get me to my next mail drop. As I’m doing this I realize that the mail drop is heading to a post office that isn’t open on Saturdays or Sundays. I plan to arrive on a Saturday. To further complicate the matter, the post office is only open from 8-10 on M-F. If I arrive as planned I would have to take a zero in order to pick up my box. If I speed up to get there on Friday, that would mean 22-25 mile days for the next 3 days. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem but two of these days are supposed to be over 95 degrees, making for a miserable slog. I’m not sure what I’ll do. Perhaps I can call the post office and have them forward the box to either the post office 2 miles away with better hours or to a hotel where I plan to stay. I’ll have to figure it out tomorrow as I continue north through New Jersey on the Appalachian Trail.

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Categories: NJ | 2 Comments

The animal abundance

June 17

12.2 miles, 1301.1 overall (Rattlesnake Spring campsite)
I get a great night’s sleep and soon after I wake up I hear Natalie upstairs asking her parents if she can come downstairs to see me. I start packing up my things to make sure I am ready to go when it is time to leave. Soon everyone is downstairs and Rich is cooking pancakes in the kitchen.

We head back to the trail and by 11:30 I’m saying goodbye. This time I remember to snap a picture although I don’t remember until the last second so I am not in it and Rich, who stayed home, is absent. So although only Annie is pictured, thanks to the whole family for the night off the trail!

I spend some time at the visitor’s center before getting moving. The NJ side of the gap seems to be much more frequented than the Pennsylvania side. There are boat and tubing launches and several trails in the area. I follow the trail across the interstate and through a heavily
travelled area of pools along a stream before it climbs high enough that some day hikers wouldn’t bother. The trail keeps climbing until it reaches a large glacially formed pond called Sunfish Pond. As I walk around the pond I run into a ridge runner. We chat for a minute about where I’m allowed to camp and as I say goodbye to him I pass by a snake in the bushes. I don’t get a good look to see what kind it is before it slithers away.

Further on around the lake is a section where visitors have created piles of rocks, piling them in towers to see how high they can go. Some day hikers are actively engaged in the activity as I go by.

As I leave the pond I hike up toward a summit and as I’m hiking I notice a giant snake in the middle of the trail. I check his tail and sure enough he is a rattlesnake! He’s bigger than the first one I saw and much more scary, especially since he doesn’t bother rattling. I get a picture and then wait a minute trying to figure out what to do. He is positioned such that it would be hard to get around him. Luckily enough he seems to sense I’m there and slithers off of the path. I walk by, keeping an eye on him to make sure he doesn’t change direction.

At the summit I run into what appears to be a family from Jamaica. One of them recognizes me as a thru-hiker and kindly offers me some food. The others begin peppering me with the normal questions. I spend some time answering them before I move on and as I’m leaving one woman tells me I’m going to be her inspiration for getting outside more often.

On the way down I pass a backpacker I don’t know. He is mostly clean-shaven and appears to be perhaps a more experienced weekend hiker. However over the next couple miles he does a good job of keeping close to my pace. I start to wonder if he is a new thru-hiker I haven’t met yet. As I’m considering the possibility I notice a screaming coming above me. It sounds like an eagle and I stop to look up and see if I can find it. As I stop I hear a large flapping in front of me and when I look I see a bald eagle taking off from a tree not 50 yards away! It glides off the ridge and banks to the right so that it goes right by me – definitely one of the coolest animal sightings I’ve had yet. Perhaps the other one I heard in the sky was its mate.

I see a few deer and some day hikers along the rest of the trail (each is about as common as the other). When I reach a road crossing for the Mohican Outdoor Center I pause a minute and while I’m stopped the mystery backpacker catches up. I find out he is Daddy-O and he got back on the trail at Harper’s Ferry after taking a pre-arranged month off. That explains the clean-shaven look as well as his pace. He heads toward the MOC to see if he wants to stay the night. I push on, aiming for a campsite a bit further along.

A few miles and a fire tower view later I arrive at the spring and campsite I wanted. I grab some water from the spring and hike to the campsite. It is a nice one tucked away just off the trail. It seems to be used often but tonight I’m the only one here. I set up camp and cook dinner, getting to bed a bit earlier than usual. I’m hoping to get a lot of sleep tonight on the Appalachian Trail!

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Categories: NJ | 6 Comments

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