I’m currently in Vernon, New Jersey staying at a church hostel for the night. Just got back from a free community supper at another church then a quick resupply at the local A&P. Wow am I tired, but I’m still on the trail! Today I hit New York State for the first time and spent most of the day crossing back and forth on the NJ/NY line. As of today, I have completed 1352.9 miles of the AT. No wonder my feet hurt! 😉
Thursday, July 10 Delaware Water Gap, PA 1289.6 to Mohican Outdoor Center 1300.4
A couple days ago was the hardest, most dangerous day I’ve had on the trail. I climbed more rocks than in the entire state of Virginia and the worst section, Bake Oven Knob, I did alone. And many of the rocks weren’t stable. I can’t believe I didn’t fall and break something important. Like my head. But here’s the kicker. The day before that one was the hardest, most dangerous day I’d spent hiking. AND I felt that way the day previous to that one, too. It’s all on account of the rocks of Pennsylvania. Maybe if I was hiking with a group, maybe if I was a more experienced climber. Maybe…ahem….if I were younger, this would be OK. But it isn’t safe for me. I’d been lucky, but It’s dangerous to continue. It was clear that there were similar (or worse) rocks in the next section, the last of Pennsylvania, especially the climb out of Palmerton, Lehigh Gap. I did not think it was safe for me to hike. So I found a shuttle driver to take me to Delaware Water Gap, the last AT town in PA as you hike north.
Last night I stayed at the Church of the Mountains Hostel. Actually, I was in the shelter out back because the hostel was full. (Future thru hikers: if you can’t get a room inside, set up a tent. There’s too many lights, cars and people coming and going to get any sleep in this tiny shelter.)
It rained for the third night in a row and my lightweight, summer sleeping bag feels wet. Down sucks moisture out of the air and if there were a laundry anywhere I’d put this on in the dryer. But there isn’t.
It finally stopped raining about 8:30a and I hiked out, right down Main Street, then to the Delaware River Bridge. It’s a mile long and sets you down in New Jersey, right at Kittatiny State Park and the Dunnfield Nature Preserve. I stopped in at the Visitors Center and signed in. I did notice that my former hiking partner, Hank, had signed in here. He didn’t write in many shelter logs, so it was nice to see his name.
Then I hiked on. And that’s when the climb began. As usual, it was about 1,200 ft, but was a fairly gradual incline. In fact, it felt like it would go on forever.
At the top is Sunfish Pond, a much photographed AT site. Though it was all quite rocky, it was nothing like Pennsylvania, so I won’t complain. Still, the rocks really slowed me down because you have to be so careful where you place your feet to avoid twisting your ankle. Some days my neck gets sore from looking down at my feet. If I want to see either side of the trail, I have to stop. With my late start and slow pace, I was going to be hiking late today. I pulled out the iPad and finished the book I was listening to, Follow the River. It’s an historical fiction, based on the real life kidnapping and escape of Laura Engels Wilder from Indians in the mid 1700’s in Virginia. She was taken west well past the Ohio River and had to escape and walk back home with no provisions and few clothes. She hiked in the late Fall and it took about 50 days. It’s a miracle she made it.
It was really pleasant hiking, except for my slow pace. A deer let me take several photos. The wildlife is so unafraid in state park lands. There were lots of colorful butterflies and dragonflies. A very tall, dead tree fell over near me, but I wasn’t in any danger from it. The loud crack as it started to fall surprised me. And there were lots of blueberries and a few raspberries to eat.
I checked the forecast because I didn’t like the look of the clouds. It has rained the last three nights but the forecast said clear skies this evening and the next two days.
Despite that, a few raindrops fell. I put my electronics into waterproof bags and put on my pack cover. Within 5 minutes the sky suddenly got dark and I could feel the rain coming. I decided I had enough time to put up my tent before the rain. I was still 2.5 miles away from my preferred destination, but this looked like as good a place to camp as any.
Except I misjudged. I didn’t have enough time to get the tent up! Just as I spread out the ground clothe and unrolled the tent, it came down in buckets. I was soaked and there’s no way to keep the inside of the tent dry while setting it up. The top of the pack was open and I got rain inside, too. This was a mistake, but it was too late to stop now. I continued setting up to get the pack out of the rain. I put up the tent and threw everything inside. By now I was too wet to get in. I stripped down to my underwear, hung my wet clothes on a tree limb and jumped inside the tent, trying to bring in as little water with me as possible. I used my bandana and a sock to dry my body and sop up the floor of the tent. I curse my stupidity. Why didn’t I just keep hiking? This is a summer shower. Sure it’s heavy, but it won’t last long. I keep as much stuff inside the pack’s dry bag (a plastic trash compactor bag) and wait it out. A hiker stops by and wants to chat through my tent wall. I’m practically naked! This is uncomfortable, even though he can’t see inside. Finally, he hikes on. Phew!
When the rain stops, I get out, ring out my wet clothes and put them back on. Then I take down the tent and hike on.
If I was going slow before, I was crawling now in the wet rocks. Just before I get to the road, someone has written 1300 in sticks. Another hundred miles done! It took until 7p to get to the Mohican Outdoor Center, so I arrived after hours and there was no one around to check me in or tell me where to go. Messy, but I showered and set about drying out what I could before exhaustion made me give up and go to bed.
Friday, July 11 Mohican Outdoor Center 1300.4 to Blue Mountain Lakes Road, 1307.4
It’s a very late start because I just can’t get it together to hike out. My clothes and gear are still wet, but I put my hiking clothes on, pack up my still wet tent and do the best I can. It’s 8:30a before I go to the main house. There will be no one on duty until 10a! I leave my phone number and offer to give them a credit card if they call me. No one does.
At 10:30a the sun is out and I’m on top of a mountain at the base of a fire tower. I spread everything out to dry while I eat an early lunch. In an hour most everything is dry and my pack is much lighter.
A few miles later I run into an Outward Bound group also getting water. They ask a lot of questions about hiking the trail and I momentarily feel like a superstar. A sweaty, dehydrated, footsore superstar.
In another mile I hit some spectacular Trail Magic. Three members of an area hiking club are set up with a grill and lots of food. I eat a hamburger, hot dog, potato chips, 2 soft drinks, chocolate covered berries, pickles and walk out with Oreo cookies. It’s shocking how much I can eat if people just keep putting food on my plate. I sit there for an hour and a half when I really should be hiking.
In another couple miles it’s suddenly dark skies, so I set up the tent. Too early to stop for the night, but I’m tired and don’t want to take down the tent and hike on. I’m getting quite run down.
Decided to try toget up earlier to deal with heat and afternoon storms. I set the alarm for 5a and hope to be out by 5:45. That way I can set up early since it seems to rain every night.
Mosquitos are whining outside my tent. The bugs have been bad every day. I wear my head net most afternoons. Surprisingly, just putting on a ball cap will often keep them from darting into my eyes until they are extra thick. The hat is hot and I sweat more, if that’s possible, when wearing it.
Everyone going southbound has reported bear, do I’m redoubling my efforts to hang food each night. Most of the shelters in New Jersey have secure metal bear boxes for food. Everyone uses them too.
Listening to a new book about the South Pole expedition of The Endurance. If you’ve not read about this ill fated adventure, you should. It’s so well told that while walking I forget the heat completely. I found myself afraid to get my feet wet because they might freeze. 😉
Saturday July 12 Blue Mountain Lakes Road, 1307.4 to Gren Anderson Shelter, 1321.0
It’s rained every night for 5 evenings. It’s not been lengthy rain, but it’s wet enough that the salamanders are out. In fact it’s been a good day to observe wildlife. Today 11red salamanders, 6deer, and 1bear.
Twisted my knee a bit today. Not sure what happened. I slipped, but only a few inches and caught myself. And when I took the next step my left knee hurt. I limped until 1p when I took an extended break at the Brinks Road Shelter and rested it.
From there it was a short walk to US206 and the town of Branchville. My plan was to walk past the restaurant, get a shower, then come back to the restaurant for dinner, hop on the AT and continue. So I walked to Stokes State Forest because the guidebook said I could get shower. Which I could, at the lake shower house. Except the lake was over 2 miles away. I started to walk away. The park ranger offered to give me a ride, but I didn’t want to walk the 2 miles back. But she said there was a hiking trail right to the next shelter. I showered, washed out my clothes in the sink, then hit the brown blazed path to the Gren Anderson shelter bit was over a 1.5 mile hike, about the same distance as if is not gotten off the trail. It meant that I missed the restaurant, but enjoyed being clean. BTW, this trail may be an old section of the AT. There were certainly very old white blazes.
Sunday July 13 Gren Anderson Shelter, 1321.0 to stealth camp near Rutherford Shelter 1329
More rain overnight, so more red salamanders,13 this morning.
My left foot hurts, and I have low energy. Hiking slow. It’s a dry section and I’m not impressed with the streams. Even after the water is filtered, it is still tea colored. I stopped in at Mashipacong Shelter and they had a much needed cashe of water hidden in the bear box.
I’d intended to go to the next shelter, but the dark skies had affected my mood and my left foot was hurting with each step. Stopped at 1p and set up camp. Slept most of afternoon listening to book. Began to rain just after dark, but I slept the night.
Monday July 14 stealth camp near Rutherford Shelter 1329 to Murray Cabin 1339.4
Everything is wet and it looks like more rain is on the way. Despite the amount of sleep I’ve had, it’s hard to wake up. My left foot and knee feel better, but they are not completely healed. I need to stay off them for a couple days, but I’ve got to walk out of this first. I only have a half liter of water and was a bit short on fluids last night, so if nothing else I’ve got to get to a spring or stream. I’ve taken 2 ibuprofen with breakfast. The drug upsets my stomach slightly, but does dull the pain in my foot. My knee doesn’t hurt as long as I wear my brace. It’s likely the knee started hurting because I’m favoring the foot, turning the limb slightly inward to protect it.
The humidity is at least 100% and I’m soaked in minutes. The advantage of the wetness is the red efts, red-orange salamanders. I count 62 of them as I hike and their small bodies range in size from slightly larger than a toothpick to the thickness of a thick kindergardener’s crayon. I am watching my feet the entire time to avoid stepping on them and to step between the rocks in the path.
I hike the 3+ miles to the High Point State Park office. They have a bathroom with real flushing toilets, a trash can just for thru hikers (everyone else has to pack out their trash) and fresh water. Water has been tight on this last section and the first thing I do is drink my fill. Then I wash my limbs and face in the sink, comb out my sweat soaked hair and rinse out my bandana. I plug in my electronics to charge and go up to the desk. While I’m talking to the two ladies, Walkabout arrives and we have a good reunion. The ladies give us a free soda!
I last saw Walkabout in Palmerton when I skipped Lehigh Gap. He’s made good time and I’m thrilled to see him. He says he’s tired, slowing down, only did 12 miles the day before. I tell him about my injury and tiredness and we agree I need to get off the trail for a couple days.
With the help of the ladies behind the desk, I evaluate my options. They have a tenting area but there are no facilities there, not even a camp store, and it’s $25. Plus it’s 2.5 miles away. Not gonna happen. The High Point Mountain Motel will pick me up, but it’s $80 a night and I’d have to pay for a resupply shuttle. Too much.
One option in my guidebook looks perfect: The Murray Cabin. It’s open only to long distance hikers and it’s about 7 hiking miles away. My guidebook gives directions from the trail. There’s no address, no phone number and while the park staff knows it exists, they only have a vague idea where it is located. I’ll have to walk 7 miles. It takes me 5+ hours at my slow rate. The rain soaks me and I’m concerned about doing further damage to my foot and/or knee.
After a shower outside and rinsing out my clothes, I sweep out the cabin. Walkabout is here before me and offers to go into town for pizza and bring it back if I’ll buy. Sounds like a deal to me! It was delicious!
Also staying at the cabin: Wiki, Flatlander, Chevy Chaffs, Lieutenant Dan and Legs. These are the same guys who I stayed with at the shelter just before Palmerton.
Tuesday July 15 Murray Cabin 1339.4 zero day
Wow. Half of July is already gone. Time is marching on and I’m not making many miles. I’m staying here to let my foot heal. The knee is pain free and I hope the left foot will feel much better in the morning. My plan is to nap as much as possible as I’ve been so very tired. If I keep the foot elevated, perhaps some of the swelling will go down. I’ll rest, hydrate and generally take care of myself today. The owner dropped by to check on the place and he has no problem with me doing this. By mid morning all my clothes are dry, but it’s clear it will rain more today.
I am actually quite concerned about my health. The foot pain is the only actual injury and obviously nothing is more important that your feet to a hiker. But it’s more than that. I wish I had more energy. I am doing few miles and at this rate won’t be able to hike the 100 miles a week I’ve set for myself. I need to complete before the end of September if I want to avoid the worst of the weather.
Other health related items; I lost a toenail on my left foot this week. It was from an injury several weeks ago and a new nail was growing underneath. There’s another that will go soon on my right foot. That’s 3 toenails lost to the trail so far, which seems better than most.
But it’s clear that my body isn’t well adjusted to hiking. My short legs have increased their stride, but I am passed by every hiker on the trail. I still occasionally retch in the morning, perhaps once a week, but no longer actually throw up. Some mornings I can eat breakfast, but I never fill up my stomach in the morning. I fight diarrhea daily. I find taking iron helps, but about once a week I resort to Imodium. On zero days it usually clears up of its own accord. I have no appreciable muscle aches or pains except for my feet. I’ve constantly got bug bites, the occasional bruise and minor scratches, but nothing major. This continues to be very tough. It is not an activity for the faint of heart.
And now the really great news: my dear friend Kathy has agreed to pick me up at Baxter State Park when I finish the trail! I met Kathy on a tour of Turkey and we traveled together to Egypt as well. She is newly retired, lives in the northeast and says a road trip to Katahdin sounds like fun! Bless her! I had not worked out what to do at the end. I guess I figured after hiking 2,200 miles, arranging public transportation was a cake walk. I have amazing, wonderful friends. But you are constantly reminded on the trail that things work out. I needed a cheap place to zero and here I am at a free cabin. I was running low on food supplies, but Walkabout offered to get pizza last night. I needed a ride at the end and Kathy has asked to pick me up! It’s all working out. The saying is: The Trail Provides. And you have to be part of it as well. I’ve shared food with others and dropped gear and clothing into hiker boxes (almost every hostel or trail friendly hotel had a box of free stuff for hikers. Some people almost resupply their food bags from them.) This morning I gave a foam pad to Walkabout. He’s lost so much weight–38pounds–that the hip belt on his backpack doesn’t fit anymore. There’s no more room to tighten it so all the weight of the pack is carried on his shoulders. Ouch! We rolled up the foam pad and stuck it between him and his belt. I hope it will be comfortable for him.
This is a lovely cabin on an old homestead farm. You can see the rock foundations of a few buildings. There’s a cool breeze from the porch. The owner, Jim Murray dropped by to talk and we watched a fat groundhog eating in the field. Six turkeys strolled along the edge of another field above where his 2 donkeys graze. Brightly colored birds are consuming the last of the mulberries while the black walnuts ripen nearby. This is a lovely spot to take a break. It’s rained off and on all day and I’ve taken a few short naps. I’ve tried to stay off my feet most of the day. No one has come by, even for water.