Monday, August 06, 2001
Delaware Water Gap, PA to Mohican Outdoor Center
Today’s Miles: 10.5
Trip Miles: 1275.3
I’m out of Pennsylvania at last, and northbound to Katahdin. The trail crossed the Delaware River on an I-80 bridge, and I could feel the concrete literally wobble and sway beneath my feet as the heavier trucks whizzed by – not an altogether comforting feeling.
It was an extremely hot and humid day, but day hikers in Jersey were out in force. The climb up from the river was surprisingly gradual, and not bad at all. Despite its reputation, New Jersey has some beautiful mountains and country out here.
After lolly-gagging around the picturesque, glacial Sunfish Pond all afternoon, I made it to this campground and called it quits for the day. So did Tekman, Skipper, Freebird, and Cyborg. Grasshopper and SpongeBob moved on for some night hiking.
While I was peacefully munching on my nightly bagels, I heard something move in the brush not far from me. It sounded like something big. Like a bear.
I didn’t want to leave my food unguarded, so I stayed while Tekman went to check it out. He came back hurriedly, with an excited look in his eye.
“BIG bear,” he said. “BIG.”
I took his word for it.
It sauntered away, I guess, and hasn’t returned… yet.
You see, bears aren’t hunted here in Jersey, so they don’t have much fear of humans.
Isn’t that just lovely?
By the way, the mosquitoes have no fear of me either, even though I hunt and kill them with an unprecedented, devoted passion. Go figure.
Tuesday, August 07, 2001
Mohican Outdoor Center to Gren Anderson Shelter
Today’s Miles: 21
Trip Miles: 1296.3
I woke up right around dawn, and heard Skipper breaking down his tent not far from me. I rolled over.
A few hours later I woke up for real, and didn’t get going until around ten. Skipper was still hanging around with Cyborg when I started hiking. I admire him for such a relaxed nature. A number of hikers treat the trail as if it’s their job – during daylight hours they must be eating, drinking, getting water, packing camp or setting it up… and mainly walking. Anything else is regarded as a precious waste of time. Go Skipper.
There was a small bulletin at the campground with everything you need to know (and more) about timber rattlesnakes, so naturally I was looking out for them all morning. I want to see one! From a safe distance, of course… but I’d even like to hear one rattle at me – just to know what it’s like and to feel the adrenaline rush of going from dazed-out-plodding-along-in-the-middle-of-the-woods one second, to holy @#$%^&*! the next.
It seems all the hikers have seen a rattlesnake but me. I don’t know whether that’s fortunate or unfortunate.
I passed a stinky-smelling pond and a fire tower. It was a hot, hazy day so I didn’t expect the views from the tower to be anything special. Ronin was having lunch at the base of it.
“How’s the view?” I asked him.
“I don’t know… didn’t go up,” he said, “There’s two lovebugs up there.”
Sure enough, I could hear a young couple giggling near the top.
I continued up the trail, passing “rattlesnake” spring, and making the somewhat considerable ascent up “Rattlesnake” mountain. There weren’t any snakes on the summit, but it was a spectacular rocky bald of sorts, offering a true pointed-mountaintop feeling.
The wind began to get pretty strong and steady, which I usually enjoy as it invigorates me. As I let it blow the sweat and heat off me, I noticed some dark clouds moving in. It looked and felt like a storm.
As the evening progressed, the sky grew dark and the wind became fierce. I decided to hike to Culver’s Gap and hole up in a motel room for the night. It was dusk by the time I made it to the road, and I called a motel listed in the guidebook that offers to pick up hikers from the trailhead. It said they’ll drive right up to the trail crossing for convenience so you can avoid thumbing your way down them.
“Yes,” the lady said, “We would pick you up, but we’re booked for tonight.”
The wind howled.
So now what was I to do? The next shelter was three more miles, and I didn’t want to night hike in this impending storm. I guess I could wait it out under the roof of the pumps of the gas station here? Or possibly just find a stealth spot real quick and set up my tent?
And just then, just as I turned away from the pay phone pondering my choice of action, a car eased up to me from the pumps and flashed its headlights.
“Hey, how’s it going?” the driver said, “You need a ride anywhere?”
I suppose this is what they call trail magic.
I explained my situation, and the driver said he knew of a few other motels nearby that might have a room for me. Ah, excellent. His name was Gates – a local dentist in the area. He hiked from Springer Mountain to here at Culver’s Gap in the 1970’s, where he got off the trail. He was young like me when he did it.
Eventually he told me he still dreams of one day coming back and finishing up from here to Katahdin one day, that he still has his hiking stick in his office, and such things. Just as we got on the road, the rain started pouring down in sheets.
We got to a different motel. No vacancy. There was one more he knew of. No vacancy there, either I asked if I could tent on the lawn of the property. “We don’t do that.” the lady at the front desk said.
I could see not only flashes of lightning, but actual bolts striking the mountaintops. This was one hell of a storm. The lady referred me to one other motel in the area. Gates took me there, no problem. Closed on Tuesdays. Today was Tuesday.
So after all that, this kind guy ended up taking me back to the trailhead well after dark. I thanked him graciously for his help and effort. Stepping out of the car, I couldn’t help but think “what a waste of time and effort,” but instantly realized that it wasn’t raining anymore.
“Yes,” I thought, “I think the storm is over. I doubt there’s more coming, either. And I’m dry.” The ride wasn’t in vain after all, and actually, quite far from it.
Then I saw Q-Tip there at the gas station, soaked to the bone and looking completely frazzled. I couldn’t help but feel a little guilty for my dry-ness. He was at the phone. I informed him all the motels were booked. A sunken look came over his face. He told me he lost his glasses somewhere back on the trail – he took them off as the rain blinded him and hooked them onto his sternum strap. They must have fallen off somewhere. Poor guy.
I helped him scour the area. No glasses. I asked if he wanted to go back south down the trail with me and look. No. He’s nearsighted like me, so I offered him my spare pair of glasses – they’d be better than nothing. He didn’t want them.
He said everything would be cool, so I left him at the phone and embarked on the three-mile night hike to the next shelter.
The area had badly needed some rain, and even in the dark I could sense that renewed feeling in the woods. All the plants and trees seemed to be happy and clean after being washed off, brushing up against me and eventually getting me a little wet.
Steam was rising from everything, as steam rises from hot asphalt on city streets during a summer rain. Everything felt fresh, and I looked down on twinkling city lights – they were suddenly silent and far off again. The stars even came out as the clouds glided away. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
After unfortunately waking up practically everybody at the shelter in search of the bear box, I set up my tent a short distance away from it and went right to bed at about midnight.
Wednesday, August 08, 2001
Gren Anderson Shelter to High Point
Today’s Miles: 11.3
Trip Miles: 1307.6
I ventured forth from my tent, finding the shelter area deserted. Everyone was up and gone, and from the register it looks like even more hikers moved through in the morning, including Q-Tip. Apparently nobody spotted and picked up his glasses yet.
Some guy named Desperado hiked to the shelter with some goodies and sodas. Sweet! Yahtzee and Beer Styk rolled in. They knew where Skipper and Freebird stayed last night, not far behind. Nice. I lounged around with them for a few minutes, and I finally packed up my tent.
It was about noon by the time I was ready to hike, but first I had to use the privy. This was not just any ordinary privy. There were no walls! Just an open air, bare all, do your business in front of the world type throne. I enjoyed my time on that privy, as nobody was around. King of the jungle! Haha. One female hiker wrote in the register “Shitting is NOT a spectator sport!!!” I found that to be quite amusing.
I caught Yahtzee, Beer Styk, and Freebird again on top of Sunrise Mountain. We exchanged pleasantries while indulging in snacks. They moved on, and I eventually followed.
I was walking about a mile south of Mashipacong Shelter where I saw a bear and two cubs! The mama was a big one, too. They didn’t see me. After a few moments of observation, I made some noise to announce my presence. One of the cubs heard me and took off. The other cub and mom soon followed. Cool. That brings my grand total of bears sightings to seven, I believe.
The water pump at the shelter was removed because of the high mineral content. This created a potentially dire situation in the summer heat, but trail maintainers left plastic gallon jugs of water at a nearby road for hikers. Desperado apparently had left a case of sodas with the water jugs, but they were all gone, leaving only the empty cans that hadn’t been collected yet. The trace amounts of soda in the cans had attracted a whole horde of bees – making obtaining this water an adventure all on its own.
As I ever so slowly poured the water into my bottles, the bees swarmed me. They didn’t start stinging, just crawling all over me and my water bottles – apparently feeding off the salt in my sweat.
Yes, suddenly many bees were crawling all over me – more and more by the second. I felt like one of those crazy beekeeper guys on TV. This situation could have turned from just plain uncomfortable to very, VERY bad VERY quickly. I filled up my water and got out of there.
Coincidentally, about half an hour later, there I was walking up a mountain minding my own business (On another hot day by the way), and suddenly I feel a sharp pain in my calf! I look down, and there’s a bee putting all its effort into wiggling its butt into my leg! Bzzzzz Bzzzzz I swatted it away, thinking “What did I ever do to you?!”
Being the bad ass thru-hiker, I simply stopped, reached down, pulled the stinger out with my fingernails, and just kept on walking.
Later I came upon the sign for Rutherford Shelter. Somebody had carved “Tick Town” in the sign. I chose not to explore any further, and continued on to High Point State Park, where the park headquarters building is right on the trail. There was a pay phone outside there, and Beer Styk, Yahtzee, and Freebird and I ordered pizza delivery and Coke! Whoo Hoo!
Ronin and Blazenheart caught us there too, and the latter three and I got permission to stay overnight in the park pavilion. It was much like the pavilions in the local parks at home – a roof and a number of picnic tables.
So I’m sleeping on a picnic table tonight! That’s a first. It was dark when I went in to lay out my sleeping pad. Freebird was already bedded down, and I spotted a raccoon right in front of me! It was a bold one too, and hesitant to be chased away. We hung up our food as a precaution – we’ll see if our food is still there in the morning!
The encounter with the swarm of bees is still one of my favorite anecdotes from the Appalachian Trail. I moved very slowly and steadily, pouring water into my bottles as more and more bees landed all over my body. Once my bottles were full, I gradually made slow-motion steps to take me away from the vicinity of the old soda cans. More bees lifted off my body with every step, and soon I was bee-free. I hadn’t been stung once.
Then I (ironically) was stung about an hour later. I imagine that the swarm had left some sort of trace pheromones or something on me, and the offending bee disagreed with the scent.
Bees can be a legitimate concern on the trail – often I remember seeing random notes in the middle of the path, warning of bees and hornet’s nests.
Desperado was a part of the culture for a long time as a trail angel, earning a sort of legendary status. He sadly passed away in the ensuing years.
Thursday, August 09, 2001
High Point to Unionville, NY
Today’s Miles: 8.8
Trip Miles: 1316.4
The mosquitoes were very, very annoying last night. In fact, they were awful. Biting constantly with no mercy, and buzzing right up in my ears while trying to sleep. Argh, I hate them! Awful.
And so’s the heat – officially a heat wave, I suppose. It’s awful I tell you, awful. Unbearable. I’ll spare the awful details.
Our food was kept safe overnight from Rocky Raccoon, thanks to my marksmanship with stringing the rope!
Haha yeah right. Anyway, um, did I mention it was hot today? I passed near the highest point in New Jersey today, hence the name High Point State Park. Big whoop.
Eventually I made my way to the Secret (Shhh) shelter to get water, actually a small secret (Shhh) structure off the trail on a farmer’s secret (Shhh) property. All I really did there was sit around with the other hikers and complain about how hot it was. That was all we could do. The actual temp was over one hundred, I hear.
Freebird and I were the last to leave the shady secret place, finally hoisting on our packs in late afternoon. We dragged ourselves north up the trail. The plan was to stop off in a town called Unionville to grab a meal, and then to continue on and camp somewhere.
Coming around a bend, suddenly I saw Freebird stopped dead in his tracks. I could hear splashing in a pond up ahead. I was hoping it was a bear swatting for fish, and I think he did too. So we creep up, ever so slowly to this pond…
And it’s a bunch of cattle! Doah!
This was one disgusting pond too, let me tell you – pure stagnant pasture pond water. It had all kinds of green muck growing on the surface, and the cows were wallowing and splashing in it! Just to keep cool on a hellish day like today, I suppose. We adeptly herded them out of the way – cattle herding professionals by now, we are.
Doing the road walk into town, we passed a graveyard with a prominent KEEP OUT sign posted. Haha, get it? You want to keep out of there! Freebird thought it would be better if it read DEAD END. Heheh.
The restaurant in “town” turned out to have a bar, and an inevitably good time was had. Other hikers showed up. Yes, a good time was had. The jukebox played good stuff. We weren’t going anywhere.
When the bar closed, it came time to spend the night in the “hostel” they offered, which in reality is an old storage room with shelf-type structures for hikers to sleep on. Yep, I’m going from a picnic table last night to a storage shelf tonight!
The “secret” shelter was the first of its kind I’d heard of, a place where a former thru-hiker had bought land adjoining the AT. On the land he built a traditional lean-to (And I think there was a spring or water pump) so hikers could stay there. It wasn’t listed in the guidebooks, and a similar “secret shelter” showed up later in Vermont, too.
The bar in Unionville was one of the first places where I ever got served a beer. I wasn’t due to turn 21 years old for a couple more months, but Freebird talked me into trying to order a beer anyway.
The jukebox in the bar played “American Girl” by Tom Petty, but I don’t recall any other songs. Memory can be a funny thing.
Friday, August 10, 2001
Unionville, NY to Vernon, NJ
Today’s Miles: 13.2
Trip Miles: 1329.6
Last night was hell. Tonight is heaven.
The storage-room-hostel last night was an absolute sauna. The so-called “bunks” were actually old storage shelves.
We knew it would be hot and stuffy, and made an effort to avoid sleeping in there. Freebird asked around at the fire station and a few other places about staying overnight or pitching our tents. Zero luck.
It was far too hot inside that room (though I tried sleeping in there at first anyway), so I opted to sleep on the concrete porch, which was far too hot as well, but not as far too hot as the far too hot room. You follow.
Anyway, it was far too hot, as I was saying, so the only way it was possible not to sweat your cajones off was to be practically naked. The trouble is, the mosquitoes were as thick as ever! Augh! This posed quite a problem, as there was no place to get a moment of rest and I was very tired. And the sound of those freakin’ mosquitoes in my ears – I swear if I ever hear that sound again after the trail I’ll go insane like Vietnam flashbacks and start swatting at the air like a crazed madman. “Mosquitoes must die! DIE!”
So yeah, I had an extremely uncomfortable night. It was so frustrating – I felt like beating the crap out of anything within reach and crying at the same time. I eventually moved inside the sauna at two or three in the morning after getting zero sleep, just to get away from the satanic mosquitoes. I somehow managed to get a few hours of sleep in there, despite being baked medium well.
I awoke in the late morning to more oppressive heat. In fact, I think it’s the heat that woke me, or else I could have slept twelve more hours.
I got lunch in town and headed out, and the day’s hike turned out to be great. I went through some low wetlands in the Wallkill River Valley. The weather cooled and clouded over a bit, and it started lightly raining as I climbed to the Pochuck Mountain Shelter. Skipper and Tenderfoot were hanging out there. I spent a few minutes there, cooled off a bit, and continued.
The rain made everything wet (Now there’s a brilliant statement, Duct Tape!), and the trail was overgrown, so all the plants brushing up against me made me soaked.
Then the Deer Flies came – swarming, circling, buzzing, and biting. The humidity and bugs started to get to me again, so every few minutes I had to hold a “Deer Fly Massacre,” where I’d stop, stand still, remove my soaked bandanna, and whip it around like a wet towel, annihilating every last deer fly in the radius. It was quite fun, actually – giving me a few moments of peaceful walking until the next wave of them would come, and I’d repeat the process.
Things went on like that through the humid mass of green wetlands until I came to the beginning of the roadwalk to Vernon, where Tekman and I went in to town together.
The town of Vernon is awesome, thanks to the Episcopal Church, which runs an altogether “holy” hostel. In the basement of the church, it has laundry facilities, a shower, kitchen, computer, and TV with VCR!
Not to mention the Burger King and Dunkin Donuts, both within spitting distance of the church, and everything else within easy walking distance.
And man, they have the air conditioning just pumping in the Burger King! It feels like a freeze box in there!
I read in a newspaper that the area had an energy crisis yesterday when so many people had their air conditioning running in the afternoon. Tekman said they could solve the problem by turning down the thermostat in all the local Burger Kings by two degrees! Ha!
So yeah, tonight at the hostel I’m thoroughly clean and happy. We rented Clerks and a Monty Python movie, so we’re all gathered around, bellies full (Quite an accomplishment in itself), and practically worshiping the electric box. Tonight is heaven.