Filthy/Gorgeous (New Jersey and New York)

Stop me if you’ve had this dream before: as a fully grown adult, you have to relive a random year of school. Perhaps because of some technicality you have to retake algebra with all your old classmates, and experience all the same embarrassing moments. Maybe your crush and your bully see you in your underwear. I’m not gonna try to explain it, that’s just how dream logic works.

One night, I was having one of those dreams. In this case, I think I was reliving third grade, which is not a year I look upon fondly (I still remember getting three days’ worth of recess detention for playing rock paper scissors that year). I don’t recall most of the details of the dream, but I do recall one strange thing: my brain knew I wasn’t supposed to be there.

I need to be in New Jersey right now.

Perhaps being on the trail for 270 miles at that point gave my brain a heightened awareness. All it knew was that I needed to be walking. Dreams couldn’t be real, the only thing that was real is New Jersey (is there a Springsteen song about that?). Anyway, let’s talk about the actual trail.

A “New” Start

Like many thru hikers before me, I was ecstatic to see the painted marker over the Delaware River indicating that I had finally left Pennsylvania. Whatever New Jersey had in store for me didn’t matter. Yes, I’ve said before that state borders are arbitrary, but that doesn’t mean I can’t recognize them as checkpoints to cross. It took a couple dozen miles for the ankle-twisting rocks to finally abate, but I had a much better mindset crossing them this time. Besides, the views atop the ridges were much better.

Photo of a view atop a ridge in New Jersey

One of the first views you’ll see going NOBO in NJ

Even the little pleasures starting piling up. On my first day, got to see a porcupine crossing the trail, and I treated myself to one of those pricey backpacking meals (Biscuits and Gravy, for those wondering). I really think I set myself up for a good time in New Jersey, but the state itself sure helped out. Despite some heat and humidity, the state provided varied terrain and lots of little checkpoints to keep me stimulated. There were lots of open ridges like the one above. There was the mile-long boardwalk through the northern swamplands.

Photo of the long boardwalk in NJ

Yes, that is the trail!

There’s Jake the Donkey, the assistant caretaker of an unofficial shelter located near the New York border.

Jake the Donkey

This guy shows up and eats your chocolate bar, wdyd?

And near the end, there’s the Warwick Drive-in, without a doubt one of the coolest free campsites on the AT. Technically it’s across the border in New York, but… whatever.

picture of warwick drive in theater


Overall, I was only in New Jersey for about 4.5 days, but I will remember them fondly. Especially because the next state proved to be more of a challenge.

“You gotta keep your shit together
With your feet on the ground”

Filthy/Gorgeous, Scissor Sisters

The trail actually does cross the NY/NJ border a couple times before it permanently leaves the Garden State near Warwick. A painted rock marks the border, and you are soon welcomed with a steep ladder climb that, unfortunately, is an omen for what’s ahead.

rebar ladder drilled into rocks on the trail

Yep, that’s the trail.

New York was where the first blazes for the AT were painted back in the day, and frankly, it shows. There are a lot of really sudden, steep climbs, some of which felt like genuine hazards. The shelters, particularly in Harriman State Park, can be best described as “rustic.” Oh, and there’s a part where you HAVE TO CROSS A FOUR LANE FREEWAY AT LEVEL WHOSE IDEA WAS THAT?!?!?

All of those inconveniences came early on for me, and as a bonus, I got to do a lot of it in cold, steady rain. I had on all of my warmest layers, including my long pants, which at some point lost their button. This meant that I was constantly pulling my pants up and afraid that I would trip over myself. New York, baby.

But man oh man, once those clouds parted…

I can see clearly now…

I ended up on top of Bear Mountain, one of the busiest peaks in New York, on Memorial Day. The rain had finally stopped, and although my phone camera couldn’t pick it up, the Manhattan skyline was clear and present in the distance. Some thru-hikers don’t like going through crowded parks, but honestly, considering how lonely it got in the rain, I didn’t mind some company. What’s so wrong about sharing the trail with some city folk every now and again?

I reached the AT’s lowest point at the Bear Mountain Zoo, where I got to see the only bears I’ve seen on trail to this day. The Hudson River and a steep climb into the Taconics followed soon after.

Bear Mountain Bridge

Crossing the Hudson on the Bear Mountain Bridge

That same day, I got some good deli food for dinner (both NJ and NY have tons of excellent opportunities for street food on-trail) and camped at a Franciscan retreat center right off trail. That reminds me: Jesus, I am sorry for all of the gross things I have done, please forgive me. But the jewel of New York would be reached the next night: Ralph’s Peak Hiker cabin

Photo of the RPH cabin in New York

Here is where the pizza goes

RPH cabin has a few nice luxuries like padded bunks and a place to dispose of trash, but both of those are irrelevant. What matters is that you can get pizza delivered there.

And folks, that large pepperoni pie I got never stood a chance.

But pizza power
A flying saucer food delight
Pizza power
Oh, that’s what makes us feel all right!

-Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

After pizza night, I don’t remember a lot about the rest New York, other than I pushed hard to make it to Connecticut. Maybe I’ll recall some details by the time the next post comes out. Hope y’all enjoyed this edition of the Trail Mixtape, hope y’all stick with me!

Peace out, y’all.


Coming Soon From the Trail Mixtape

  • Passing by Meryl Streep’s house
  • Déjà vu all over again
  • Hiking 2 miles off trail to get McDonald’s
  • Mud, glorious mud
  • Déjà vu all over again

Photos my own. Trail updates are posted as I’m able to write them. Subscribe to my Trek blog via email and follow me on Instagram at the links below. Stay shiny, friends.

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Comments 3

  • laney cohen : Jun 23rd

    Thank you Austin for keeping us up-to-date and allowing us to live vicariously through you!

  • Christa Willoughby : Jun 23rd

    That trail through the swamp looks really beautiful! Pizza in NY is VERY apropos! Here’s to hoping New England continues to treat you well! Vermont HAS to be amazing!

  • Irene Conley : Jun 25th

    Love reading your trail blog 😁✌


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