Every day has been an adventure since I returned to the trail after my surgery. I’ve now hiked over 1,000 miles, and the trail continues to surprise me.
New York was much more scenic than I expected as the trail runs through several state parks. I saw another bear in New York but this one wasn’t quite as scary as my first encounter since he was behind bars. The trail runs through a zoo and past the bear cage, and hikers are allowed to walk through the zoo for free.
I also had my first experience with getting lost in the woods. This time I was really lost, not just a wrong turn on a side trail, but I’m talking off trail searching frantically to find it. And I was low on water and it was getting late. I have no idea how I got off trail but I was starting to panic to the point where your mouth gets completely dry and your mind starts playing games. Very scary. Thankfully I found a side trail that led me back to the AT.
New Jersey was also much better than expected, with the trail running through a few state parks. New Jersey also provided some memorable nights.
I stopped one afternoon in Unionville and planned on camping in a pavilion in the middle of town provided for hikers. Of course, this included a visit to the local hiker friendly watering hole called Wits End Tavern. While talking to a local at the bar he mentioned a local secret shelter and offered me a ride. It’s called Jim Murray’s Secret Shelter and it’s on an old farm that the trail runs across just outside town. Jim Murray hiked the trail a few years ago and after his hike decided to invite hikers to stay on his farm and converted an old ice house into a hiker shelter. It’s an enclosed shelter with electricity and a shower in an idyllic setting. Hiker paradise!
The next night we decided to stay at Mosey’s Place, which is a hiker hostel that’s in a house with a bedroom that has been converted into a bunk room. Mosey is also a thru-hiker, and if you stay there she lets you use her entire house. The only catch was that Mosey was out of town. So when we called she told us she would let us stay there on our own. We’re talking letting complete strangers who you’ve never met use your house while you’re out of town. It’s another example of the incredible community surrounding this amazing trail. It’s changed me in so many ways.
The following evening I found myself in Culver’s Gap and as I’m walking into town I started chatting with a local guy named Dean. He was standing outside a deli that was out of business and under construction while being converted into a bakery. When I asked Dean what my options were for camping he invited me to sleep in the attic above the bakery. Of course there was a local tavern next door with great food and Dean even joined me for dinner. Thanks, Dean.
The next day I made it into Pennsylvania and Delaware Water Gap. On my way into town I rolled my ankle so I spent two nights in town to give it a rest. This time I stayed at a church. They have a hostel inside the church, plus a three-sided shelter in the back of the church. Delaware Water Gap is a cool little historic town that dates to the 1700s. I was able to catch the Cubs wild card game and filled up on 45-cent chicken wings.
On my way out of Delaware Water Gap I met a guy at the trailhead called John Stempa. He was shuttling hikers and when he rolled down his window he introduced himself and told me he was famous on the trail. He invited me to stay at his place when I got to Kunkletown. So the following evening I gave him a call and he picked me up at the trailhead. After a shower in his house he drove me into town and joined me for dinner at the Kunkletown Pub. This place was a classic small town pub with great food and John introduced me to all the locals. And it gets better; if you order dinner they let you drink all the beer you want for free. I’m not making this up, and it’s Yuengling beer, which is a local brewery that is the longest continuously running brewery in the country. John volunteered to be designated driver so he drank root beers and encouraged me to drink all I wanted. Thank you, John.
The following day I saw my first legit rattlesnake on trail. In fact he was right in the middle of the trail basking in the sun and if he hadn’t started rattling I would have stepped on him. It totally freaked me out, and I jumped about five feet! I made a wide path around him but curiosity got this cat so I tip-toed back and got a picture from way too close. I tented that night next to Rattle Snake Swamp and tried not to think about what might be crawling around my tent, and of course I kept my tent zipped up tight that night.
The following day started out fine but turned out to be one of my more frustrating days so far on trail. I was planning on hiking into Palmerton, which was about 14 miles, but it turned into about 17 by the time I made it into town. I took the side trail into town but unfortunately I took the wrong trail. My trail took me down into town but it wound its way through a zinc Superfund clean-up site and then led me down to the zinc factory. This factory had been dumping toxic waste into the river and fumes onto the mountain for decades until the 80s when someone finally realized there must be a reason why the mountain next to town was completely barren. What was once a lush green forest covered mountain was completely dead.
So when I got down to the zinc factory there was no way out other than turn around and hike an hour back up the mountain. It was getting late so I tried cutting through the property. When security came out in their truck they told me I needed to get out immediately and would not let me cut through. So I hiked back hal way up the mountain and cut over and back down a mile over. Well, I didn’t go far enough so out came the security guy again. This time it turned to threats of calling the police but he offered me a way out down their service road. I finally made it into town just before dark without getting arrested.
The following morning a friend of mine joined me for four days. I met Crusher up in New Hampshire back in July. He told me to look him up when I got to PA and he would join me for a few days.
Crusher and I made it to Port Clinton, where where he got picked up. Port Clinton is a cool little trail town, and they allow you to camp in town in a big, covered pavilion. The highlight is the barbershop, which is hiker friendly with all sorts of free treats. It has three barber chairs set among a bizarre assortment of antiques and collectibles. The owner also runs a guitar shop out of the same space and locals stop in to jam. If the owner likes a particular song he will put down his scissors in the middle of a haircut and grab his guitar and join in. A very cool place and an iconic stop along the trail.
Thanks again for joining me, Crusher; your positive spirit helped me get through a difficult rocky wet stretch.
I can’t wait to see what’s next!
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