June 14 – After spending four days with family in New York I was more than ready to get back on the trail today. I was dropped off back at Delaware Water Gap at 6:30 this morning to begin my first day in Jersey. Overnight rain was in the forecast so I planned to head to the first shelter which was a long 25 miles away. The new scenery that always comes along with a new state made the beginning of my day fly by. Within five miles I was at one of New Jerseys seven natural wonders, Sunfish Pond. It’s the first glacial pond I’ve come across on the trail, meaning years ago it was carved into the mountains by a glacier and man what a beautiful sight it was. The water sparkled in the morning sun, making for a great spot to eat breakfast while I appreciated the beauty of the AT once again. The trail circled the shore for a mile or so, but it was hard to look at anything else other than the ground due to the rocks that are still covering every inch of soil. Looks like they don’t end at the PA/NJ border after all. Not so bad when the scenery is actually enjoyable, so I sucked it up and pushed through them.After Sunfish Pond the trail headed up to the ridge line of the Kittatinny Mountains. The forest in this state is much more open than it’s ever been, and once on the ridge I walked through a grassy landscape with few trees, allowing for great views at all times. Rivers and lakes were plentiful in the distance, accompanied by the urban neighborhoods that one would expect to see in Jersey. It was extremely beautiful but due to the openness also extremely hot. The humidity only reaffirmed the prediction of rain to come but luckily it would hold off until I reached the shelter.
After a few miles of the grassy ridge walk I arrived at Catfish Lookout Tower, where I was unpleasantly surprised to see a school group of at least 50 out on a day hike. Once they found out I was hiking the whole trail I suddenly became a celebrity and was bombarded with the usual questions that a thru hiker gets so tired of answering. One lady even shook my hand and took a picture of me for her Facebook page. Not wanting to get stuck here for too long I excused myself and headed on down the trail. At the next water source I sat down for lunch and was a little sketched out at the fact that the water had a yellow tint to it. I guess that’s jersey for you. I crossed my fingers and drank it anyway as I ate my astronaut ice cream, a new favorite of mine. If you’ve never tried it I would definitely recommend giving it a shot, the stuff literally has melting sensation in your mouth just like the real deal.
From here the trail winded through flourishing thickets of mountain laurel, which seems to be abundant in NJ. I walked through a swampy area, something not yet seen up to this point. The rocks still hadn’t let up and in some parts it was much worse than PA ever was, by the time I had gone 15 miles my feet were killing me. They must have softened up due to all the time I spent soaking them in my grandparents hot tub. I pulled off to soak them in a stream for a while, hoping for some relief but not having much luck. I had seven miles to go and due to the pain my mood had completely changed from excitement for the new state to dreading the rocky terrain that lay ahead of me. There wasn’t much of a choice but to press on, and immediately it became rockier than it had been all day. There was a short rock climb which pushed my exhaustion to the next level and I wanted more than anything to just arrive at the shelter, but wishing for it never seems to make the miles go by faster. It was super slow going but eventually I made it and was actually the first one to arrive. After a little a few other hikers showed up, both thru and section. They were all strangers to me as expected but meeting the people who have been behind me is always fun. According to the shelter register most of my crew is only a day or two ahead so I’m sure I’ll catch up pretty quickly. It’s started to rain and I’m testing out my tarp as a rain fly for my hammock for the first time tonight so really hoping that it keeps me dry. Storms are predicted for all day tomorrow but who knows, maybe I’ll get lucky. All in all I’m enjoying New Jersey a lot so far, it’s definitely a nice change of scenery from PA. Mostly I’m just happy to be back on the trail and knocking out miles again.
June 15 – Heavy rain persisted all night. I woke up at 5 and must’ve fallen back asleep because the next thing I was dreaming that the sun had come out as I packed up. Pretty rude awakening when I opened my eyes once again to the realization that I was still in my sleeping bag and it was still pouring. I didn’t start to get my things together until the water stopped falling from the sky and by the time I hit the trail at 7:20 it was looking like my dream may come true after all. The clouds lifted and blue began to surround me as the sun glistened through the morning fog. After a rocky ascent I soon found myself on top of another grassy ridge with a great view of Culver Lake and the town of Branchville where the white blazes were leading to. At the road crossing in town there was a restaurant not even a tenth of a mile off trail but I resisted the urge in order to save some money and because I was just eating like a king for four days.
After Branchville I walked through tightly packed trees and more swampy areas. It was super humid reminding me of the fact that storms were in the forecast for the day despite the beautiful clear sky. Soon enough I made it to another tower that replicated the one from yesterday. Instead of a school group, a crowd of radio broadcasters were there packing up after an annual broadcast last night. They gave me a bottle of waster which was highly appreciated due to the fact that all the sources in NJ seem to be extremely polluted. More swamps and rocks paved the way to the top of Sunrise Mountain where there was an awesome pavilion as well as a near 360 degree view which looked upon PA, NJ and NY. I was happy to see Chat Cat here as well as Micro Gooch, whom I haven’t seen since Georgia where he had suffered a knee injury and had to get off the trail for a while. I had a quick lunch and then headed on, optimistic about beating the rain therefore staying dry for the remainder of the day. The trail was very rocky from this point on, and there was no water except for a slow trickling stream stemming from a swampy pond. When I lifted my bottle from the water, it looked like I had just taken a piss in it. I kept about a third of a liter for an emergency but dumped the rest. As I hiked towards High Point State Park my feet began to ache once again and exhaustion set in. I was so thirsty but nervous to drink the sketchy water I was carrying. Despite the relatively flat profile NJ has been rugged. Boulders turn the trail into an obstacle course which isn’t much fun when the humidity was as bad as it was today. Chat Cat pointed out that we were basically swimming down the trail and he was absolutely right. I wished I could drink the moisture that was in the air more than anything but still refrained from my emergency stash. Eventually I turned a corner and got a great surprise of seeing pippa and mina, two girls doing a flip flop hike that I haven’t seen since Port Clinton, PA. They shared some of their extra water with me as I dumped out the nasty stuff currently contaminating my bottle. For the next mile the trail went steeply down rocky cliffs until I came out into a clearing where the High Point State Park HQ was located. A crowd of thru hikers was congregated here taking advantage of the air conditioning, free lemonade, and power outlets. I hung out for a while catching up with Pippa, Mina, and Chat Cat while also getting to better know some of the other hikers who also stayed at the Brink Shelter with me last night.
Up to this point I had stayed dry throughout the day aside from the sweat that covered my body, but as soon as I reentered the woods rain began to pelt down on me, making my mood do a 180. I slipped on boulders twice, an extremely rare occurrence for me, and even got a nice cut on my hand due to one of the falls. I passed by High Point, the highest point in New Jersey, but was unable to see anything due to the thick fog that covered the area. Luckily it was only a mile to High Point Shelter, where I got on some dry clothes and ate an amazing dehydrated meal of chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy. Here for the night with Wild Thing and Ishmael. Peter Pan is only 5 miles ahead of me so we have plans to meet up tomorrow and continue tracking down Dosu and the rest of the crew. My final words for the day are that this is starting to get really tough.
June 16 – Thick fog covered the forest when I woke up at 5 this morning. I quickly packed up and got started for the day hoping to get as many miles in as possible before the afternoon rain set in. I walked through many swamps and crossed at least a dozen roads in the next ten miles. The trail was level and rock free, making for a very easy and pleasant start to my day. The fog covered swamps and ponds were absolutely beautiful and eventually I made it to a spot listed in my guidebook as the Murray Property. It was an awesome surprise when I walked up and discovered a large homestead filled with tiny cabins, one of which was designated for long distance hikers to take advantage of. I ate my morning snack here and dreamed of the tiny house I one day hope to build as I watched a deer forage in the grass before me. It was such a peaceful little piece of property and I almost considered staying for the day, but once again the trail called for me to press on. I soon walked around the Walkhill Reserve, an awesome and extremely tranquil marsh area. After circling with area, the flat stretch ended all too soon as they always do and I was once again headed up a steep pile of rocks. My plan of having lunch at the top motivated me more than anything else could but at once I made it up Mouse, Typo, and Peter Pan were there taking a break too. Now we just have to catch Dosu and Lifeboy to be fully reunited for the first time since Hot Springs.
After my ramen, we headed on and walked through a marshy on a mile long boardwalk and the sun came out to make it a gorgeous day. At the next road, we stopped to check out a store on the side of the trail selling homemade pies and ice cream. As we sat outside under a big pavilion we saw a storm cloud quickly engulfing the area where the trail was. Before we knew it, the clouds were right on top of us and the cover did us no good as strong wind gusts blew the rain sideways and soaked everything we had just dried out. Probably something that would have ruined my day if I was alone but being with other people made it hilarious and it wasn’t long until the sun came out again.
It was five more miles to the shelter I had planned on for the night but I didn’t leave the restaurant until around seven. The first big climb in a while presented itself as I headed out, known as “the stairway to heaven”. I didn’t make it to the shelter until near nine and it took another hour to cook and set up so I’m sure I’ll be sleeping in a bit tomorrow.
June 17 – My feet were not looking too good this morning when I woke up, probably because I was walking in wet socks all yesterday. I quickly changed my plans and decided to do a short 12 mile day to the wildcat shelter in hopes of giving myself a little rest, the past three days have all been over 20 miles. I carefully put on my very fragile shoes that at this point are held together by a single small strip of fabric. The soles are so worn down I could feel even the tiniest pebbles as I began hiking. The trail had suddenly become more rugged since the stairway to heaven. Multiple spots involved full on rock climbing to continue on the trail. At the tops of mountains huge slabs of rock replace the soil, and abrupt ascents and descents take the energy out of you quick. I soon made it to a painting on the rock that marked the NJ/NY border. I now have less states to go than the amount I’ve already walked through.
I had heard New York was surprisingly tough, and this held true as more rock scrambling led me deeper into the state. At one point the intended path was a ladder was chained to a rock wall. Once atop the mound of boulders, I got great views of Greenwood Lake in the distance. New York is difficult but it certainly is beautiful. Definitely not what you would expect. I soon came to a road where there was a hot dog stand as well as another ice cream place. I have no strength when it comes to these trail side places and quickly walked up to get some lunch. While I was getting out my wallet, a lady came over and told me she wanted to buy me a hot dog. After I thanked her and she drove off, I realized she had given me 15 dollars for one hot dog, which turned it into 3 hot dogs, two yoohoos, and ice cream. I was still stuffed by the time I made it to the shelter two miles later but I cooked dinner anyways and somehow still managed to eat it all in a matter of seconds. It seems like I’ve been getting a whole lot hungrier lately, something I never imagined was possible.
June 18 – Only ended up going ten miles today. The terrain was rugged and was near completely rock scrambling. The trail went straight up, then straight back down, then straight back up again. When I got to the entrance to Harriman State Park my parents old friend came and picked me up to bring me to his house for the night. I got some new shoes there that seem to be comfortable, anything is better than what I was wearing before. Two short days in a row but I’ll be picking it up again tomorrow so I can get through NY and into New England!
June 19th – I had a very relaxing night last night at Billy’s house. Laundry, a shower, a real bed, and a home cooked meal are always heavenly on the trail, and I can’t thank Billy enough for the treat without even knowing me. His son dropped me back off at the trail around 8 after a stop for a New York bagel to get me fueled up for the day. The first half mile of my day was a road walk leading me into Harriman State Park. The terrain was gentle at first but soon became just as rugged as ever as I made my way through the lemon squeezer, a narrow and slanted crack in a rock that the trail travels through. It’s really tight even for someone who is skin and bones like me! Immediately after the trail went straight up and I was soon faced with another obstacle. A giant rock cliff taller than me lay in my way, leaving no choice but to pull yourself up it by gripping a tree trunk that is situated on top. There was an easy trail around it but I was determined not to take the easy way out. It took me at least fifteen minutes but eventually I got myself up and over the wall and headed up some more. Obstacles like this are what make for slow going in New York, the trail is like a huge playground. It’s a lot of fun, but time consuming and draining, forcing me to take many more breaks than usual.
After about nine miles, I caught back up to Peter Pan, Mouse, and Typo, who apparently didn’t go very far yesterday as it was barely any distance from where I had been picked up. I took my lunch break and a girl named five who we’ve been a lot lately joined us. Peter Pan headed out with me afterwards and it felt like old times when it was just the two of us in Georgia and early North Carolina. The miles flew by and soon we were up on the ridge of Black Mountain, where many great views lay before us, including one of Bear Mountain where we were headed. The climb up it was beautifully maintained because it is much closer to the touristy section of Harriman. Stone steps and a gravel path led to an amazing viewpoint and tower on the top of the mountain. We’re cowboy camping here, which means sleeping without a tent or hammock and just laying out in your sleeping bag, with a girl named five here and from my bed I’m overlooking the Hudson River with NYC in the distance. This is what the AT is all about.
July 20 – woke up to perfectly clear skies which revealed an amazing view of the NYC skyline that had been hidden behind clouds last night. Luckily we had no visitors last night and all was well as we packed up and ate breakfast on top of Bear Mountain. The descent down into Fort Montgomery was well maintained as it had been before, the whole way down was basically all stone steps. Easy enough but it definitely takes a toll on your knees after about 100 steps. Once in town, the trail goes through the zoo where it descends to its lowest point of 124 feet at the bear cage. Unfortunately, the zoo was closed when we arrived, so a blue blaze around it was the only option. From here we crossed the Bear Mountain Bridge over the Hudson River. It’s always so beautiful crossing these bigger rivers. It’s pretty amazing to see how the water has cut through the mountains so much over time. Once back in the woods, the terrain calmed down a bit which made for a quick few miles into the Appalachian Market, where I got an awesome bacon cheeseburger combo that fueled me for the rest of the day. The miles went by really quick and even the steeper uphill a didn’t slow me down.
At around noon it started to rain so Peter Pan and I decided to seek shelter at a bench with a roof that we saw on a road crossing. We soon realized that this was a bench from hell as we sat down and the yellow jackets that lived inside of it proceeded to swarm us. Made it out with only two stings but that’s two too many in my book. The rain didn’t seem so bad after that. Before I knew it, I was at Charles Fahnestock State Park, where thru hikers are allowed one night free stay. My main objective was to take advantage of the outlets as it usually is and I’m not even camping at the park. It’s supposed to rain and I scouted out an abandoned building with a screen porch close by the park so I’m going for hobo camp round two. Livin large out here. Only 30 or so miles until Connecticut!