Day 96: New Jersey, New Start
It’s Nice to Get Up in the Morning…
I like to hit the trailhead by 6:30 am, or earlier if possible. When I woke at 5:00 am this morning, I heard rain pattering against the windows. I rolled over and checked the forecast. It called for more showers until noon, with rain accumulation of one to two inches possible. Yuck.
The motel couldn’t kick us out until 11:00 am. I still hadn’t caught up on my blogging. I only had 13.7 miles planned for today and no need to hurry. The afternoon forecast predicted sunshine and a breeze. Northstar and Gus looked very comfortable. I let them sleep. We’d get our money’s worth out of this motel stay.
The rain had stopped by 11:00 when I packed up the van, so Gus and I had a chance to play some fetch in the empty parking lot with his favorite ball. He found a lacrosse ball somewhere and will chase that thing until he drops, even though catching it mid-air may someday knock out his teeth. Lately, he’s started catching it off his chest by jumping and crossing his legs. But we have to hide it in between fetch sessions or he’ll chew it apart. Life’s simple pleasures.
Fueled by two DQ cheeseburgers and a chocolate milkshake I set out from the Delaware Gap Visitor Center parking lot and headed for the 1,300-foot climb back up the ridge. I passed a ranger who told me the same thing everyone else has – New Jersey is just as rocky, hot, and humid as Pennsylvania, at least for 40 miles, and the mosquitos are ferocious.
Whatever. I’m ready for it. But these days, I’m also skeptical of any trail information I get. New Jersey is the Garden State, how bad could it be? Plus, New Jersey supposedly has the highest density of bears on the entire AT. I haven’t seen a bear since Daleville, Virginia, more than 700 miles south. I want to see bears. And I’d finally pulled out a new pair of shoes. They’re itching to prove themselves on some rocks.
To New Jersey and Beyond!
However bad New Jersey might be, I only plan to be there for four days. For that matter, three weeks from now I’ll be in Vermont, if all goes according to plan.
Vermont! State #12 of 14. Hard to believe.
Love at First Sight
After crossing under Interstate 80 and taking only a few steps back into the woods, I knew I loved New Jersey. The wide, smooth trail followed an abandoned forest road above a rushing brook. The air, freshly scrubbed clean by the morning rain, had no smoke residue and still had a morning chill at noon.
Without the Canadian smoke and with the break in humidity, I finished the 1,300-foot climb with hardly any effort, stopping only to record passing the 1,300-mile marker. The lack of smoke and humidity also improved the wood’s lighting, making the green ferns blanketing the forest floor stand out against the brown leaves and grey bedrock that shifted tones as puffy white clouds sped across a blue sky above.
I stopped and ate an apple on an open peak, watching the clouds and looking down at the Delaware River and a series of small lakes. Somehow, this felt like hiking the AT again. I don’t know where I’d been for the last two weeks. Purgatory, perhaps. The Meseta, maybe. But this felt like someplace I wanted to be. Someplace I’d driven across the country to see.
Rattlesnakes, Swamps, and Adventure
I walked the edge of Sunfish Pond, a place I’d seen in hundreds of AT videos and read about in twice as many blogs. Was this the first mountain pond we’ve passed on the AT? It felt like it. Before long, I reached the turnoff to the Mohican Trail Center, which offered a store with ice cream cones and cold La Croix.
A quick look at the map revealed a blue blaze that continued from the Mohican Trail Center along a side trail called the “Rattlesnake Swamp Trail.” With a name like that, how could I resist? Especially with ice cream along the way.
Finding the Rattlesnake Swamp Trail turned out to be a challenge as it was neither blue blazed nor signed, and because FarOut’s map base layer wasn’t working, so I couldn’t see where I was. But I pulled out my pre-internet trail finding skills, made an educated guess, and followed the obvious trail until it dead-ended in a swamp. Then I backtracked and made a now slightly more educated guess which turned out to be the right one.
I saw a large turkey, a well-built beaver lodge, and several deliciously stinky swamps along the blue blaze trail, but no rattlesnakes. Trying to find and follow the unmarked, overgrown trail turned out to be nice change from walking the well-trodden, white-blazed AT. Frankly, if felt more like what most of my mountain wilderness hikes are like. I loved it.
Home for the Night
I popped out of the swampy forest and back onto the AT for a short walk before reaching Millbrook-Blairstown Road, where Northstar and Gus were waiting. They’d found several parking and camping options along the road, so we picked the one with the best cell coverage and set up for the night.
Are We Happy?
What a great day. Nice weather, nice trail, good hiking, and some adventure.
New Jersey – the way life should be.
Except for no bears.
- Start: New Jersey (Mile 1297.2)
- End: Millbrook-Blairstown Road (Mile 1310.9)
- Weather: Sunny, warm, less humid, breezy.
- Earworm: I Will Be Wrapped Around Little Finger (Sting)
- Meditation: Mark 14:38
- Plant of the Day: Mushrooms
- Best Thing: Out of PA, views, water
- Worst Thing (besides the humidity): No bears yet
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