New Jersey: Black water, but Beautiful Sights
The town of Delaware Water Gap is not a good place to plan a resupply. It’s possible, but painful. After eating a lovely, filling and affordable breakfast at the town’s diner, we ventured to the only stores at which we could buy trail food: gas stations. It always frustrates me when the guide book lists the gas stations as “markets,” raising my hope of an actual store in the tiny towns along the trail (There is the option of catching a ride to the next town-where there’s a Walmart- on a bus or with a trail angel, but we attempted to be out of town earlier than those options would have allowed). We spent over thirty dollars on two days worth of food. In my mind, that’s outrageous! We even compared prices at each of the so-called stores in order to get the most calories for our buck. One pack of Ramen noodles cost a whole dollar, and by this point, Ramen was not our meal of choice.
After we were gipped at the gas stations we continued on to the gear store, hoping to find trekking pole tips that would fit the bottom of our rock-worn poles. The man there only had tips for Leki brand poles, which is not what we had, though not because he didn’t try to convince us to leave town with two new pairs of expensive walking sticks. Back at the Church of the Mountain Hostel we looked online to find a good deal on new poles, then we searched for a new pair of trekking pole tips. Ultimately we decided that we didn’t need either–we’d wear these poles down and just get new sets post-thru-hike.
Starting our hiking day at noon was not the plan, but we dealt with it. Immediately upon leaving our beloved Pennsylvania and entering New Jersey we met DangerBird, a flip-flopper who we leap-frogged with the rest of the day. We also came across several students on a sixth-grade overnight camping field trip. They were very excited to talk with us and ask about all the logistics of a thru-hike, from putting food into ourselves to getting it out.
The weather was beautiful and we didn’t really have an end goal in mind. Having left town late we figured we would just hike as far as we hiked this day, but the sun was sinking and we didn’t have any reason to night hike. Knowing there was a designated campsite about a mile north of a tower, we set our sights there, but upon reaching the fire tower, Nate found watching the sunset from the top impossible to resist. We set up our tent at its base and Nate voluntarily trekked 0.6 miles down the opposite side of the hill to get water for us. When he returned he darted up the tower and captured yet another picture-perfect sunset.
We spent over three hours relaxing along the trail today and still hiked over eighteen miles. It was a nice day to hike, but the trail was still rocky.
As we approached Brink Shelter, all I wanted to do was lay on its floor and throw my feet above my head, against the wall. With every step I still felt as though rocks were piercing my feet, and I needed the magic of an Elevation Sensation. On the side trail to the shelter we came across another side trail for water. Nate turned to get us a refreshing beverage and I continued toward the shelter.
I was highly disappointed when I got there. The place was beautiful! Newly built (the former shelter had burnt down) with no trash in sight. But there was a man with a lighter around his neck and lace-less baseball cleats on his feet slumbering along a bench that had been built into the back wall of the shelter. I couldn’t go in there alone and throw my legs up against the wall!
The snoring stopped when I walked onto the porch of the shelter and the newly-awoken man started chatting with me as I flipped the pages of the shelter’s log book. He seemed harmless, claiming he had hiked this section north-bound years ago and was coming back to do it south-bound. He was curious about camping in the laundry room of the Mohican Outdoor Center, but not only did we not stop there, we doubted that he would get there on this night. It was nearly three o’clock in the afternoon and he had fourteen miles ahead of him! After a little while, he packed up his bulging bag and hit the trail. Nate and I relaxed for another hour or so before we did the same.
DangerBird was sitting on a log at the junction of the side trail and the AT, eating a snack. He asked us if we planned to stray off trail at the next town to get a steak. Last we heard, there was an affordable burger place just down the road not too far ahead. We spent the next four miles debating whether we would spend the time and money for a $5 burger or if we would eat our equally expensive Ramen noodles that night. When we got to the road, we still hadn’t reached an agreement, but there was one definitive way to decide: Smokey the Bear.
When we reached fire tower that we had camped at the night before we just missed the caretaker who was an enthusiastic tour-giver, from what we had been told. Though his absence meant we wouldn’t be granted a tour or a souvenir of a Smokey the Bear eraser, it did mean that we wouldn’t be told we couldn’t camp there. And, on one of his treks up the ladder to see the sunset, Nate found a rectangular, neon green eraser in the grass below the tower! The only thing we didn’t get was the guided tour.
Anyway, still debating whether or not to jump off trail for a burger, Nate and I pulled out our Smokey eraser and flipped it. If Smokey’s face appeared we would go for the burger. If the blank side showed, we would continue hiking. It was Smokey up! We emerged from the woods and started walking down the road to Gyp’s Tavern, where hikers are encouraged to enter through the back after removing their packs in their lake-side outdoor seating area. Gyp’s appeared to be popular with the locals but Nate and I found our way through the crowds and ended up at the bar where we were given menus. The bartender took our order of two burgers and a very large order of fries and promised to bring it out to us when it was done.
Nate and I returned to the outdoors. Not only were we accustomed to spending our time outside, we needed to watch our packs, which were not welcome inside the bar (We have since learned that other thru-hikers were nearly thrown out of Gyp’s simply for being thru-hikers. We experienced none of this). A short time later our burgers were placed in front of us. I piled on the ketchup and had mine eaten in under three minutes. The fries didn’t last much longer.
After eating at Gyp’s we continued along the trail for a few more miles before running into DangerBird yet again. He had stopped atop a bald hill where a picnic table was chained to a block of cement, searching for a place to lay his head that night. Concerned that he would roll off the side of the mountain, Nate and I convinced him to come with us to the next shelter. It wasn’t far away. He and Nate chatted the entire way.
The shelter appeared full when we arrived and the sky was threatening to rain. Nate and I scoped out the area’s flat spots and finally settled on one, only to notice that miniscule black-dot-like bugs crawled over any belonging we set on the ground. The creepy crawlies weren’t bothering DangerBird at his tentsite thirty feet away. Worried about these insects, I wondered if we should move, but there was no other big enough flat space and Nate didn’t want to move our tent anyway. We dealt with the mystery bugs, careful not to get any inside of our tent.
For the first time in hundreds of miles we ran. We were coming out of the woods on a not-so-gradual decline and Nate let me out in front. I had my music playing, I wanted to make some miles and nothing stood in my way. I was flying, even pulling away from Nate. Ahead of me, a thick stick sprawled across the width of the trail, posing a tripping hazard. I knew that I could avoid it, but Nate was always watching out for me, using his trekking pole to fling sticks off the path with one smooth flick of his wrist. I figured I’d get rid of this one for him. Whether my velocity or my excitement was the driving force behind this stick flinging does not matter; it was impressive either way. I sent that thing to Mars.
For fear of tumbling down the hill, I decided not to twist my body around and see Nate’s reaction to the fling. Once we had safely reached level ground, he stopped me, his eyebrows raised in approval as he praised me for my first (and only) truly effective clearing of the path.
That night we were going to tent in the city park of Unionville, New York and we could not wait to arrive. The guidebook leading up to the road to town was non-specific. It mentioned one pond and a few dirt roads. We passed at least two algae-topped, stagnant ponds and more backwoods roads than we could count. When we thought that we were within a mile of town we approached a hiker who was moving at a snail’s pace, crawling up a short, steep hill. “It must be a local senior citizen, out for a stroll through his own backyard,” I imagined. Surely he would be able to tell us how far we were from town. I was wrong. It was a middle-aged man with a shaved head wearing paper clips through his ears and a jean jacket. He had a satchel hanging off of one shoulder. Still, I asked him if he knew where we were in relation to town, but he did not. He, too, was not from the area, but had taken a train down from New York City for a 7-mile day hike. Mysteriously picking up his pace and sticking with us, he shared stories of his government job, for which he taught anti-government. Nate and I picked up our pace. “Where are you staying in town?” the man asked us, “We should eat dinner together. I’ll buy!” We sped up even more. It took us nearly a mile to lose the wackadoo.
Much further down the trail than we thought, we finally arrived in the town of Unionville, New York. At their grocer, a three day resupply cost us forty dollars, and we would be eating cookies for breakfast. We wouldn’t be eating well on the trail, so we went to a pizzeria and devoured a baked ziti pizza (pizza topped with ziti) and an order of fries smothered in cheese. We were full but content.
It was getting late and we needed to head across the street to set up our tent in the town’s park. Nate had long ago decided that he would sleep with his knife in his hand in case the crazy man sought us out. Before leaving the indoors we each limped to the restroom. Back at the table waiting for Nate to emerge, I was approached by a local lady and her daughter.
“I just watched the movie Wild!” she announced. Never having seen the movie, I didn’t know what to say. She told me what she thought of the movie and hikers. By the time Nate reappeared she was inviting us over to her house for a shower. Hesitant, because all we really wanted to do was sleep, we finally accepted when she threw in that we could camp in her backyard. We would’ve done anything to not be an easy target in the middle of a lonely park.
Back at the Hogan household, we met the family’s dogs and took our showers. When I was in the shower it started pouring outside, so our host offered to allow us to sleep on her living room floor. It was much appreciated!
Today was a mixed bag. It started off well, but quickly went downhill. Atop our first ascent a father-son pair warned us of an ice cream place just off the trail a few miles ahead. We knew we had to go on this hot and humid day. It was all we thought about as we climbed more mountains and crossed bridges over barely-moving water sources, turned black by the tannins from the trees (at least we hoped this was why they were so dark). We got to a “boardwalk,” a trail made of boards, raised above a marshland. One section was crowded by tourists gawking at turtles. We continued walking through a farmer’s pasture before reaching the road to Heaven Hill Farms, our ice cream destination.
We should have skipped out. Hoping for a quaint little farm, what we got was a crowded garden store that sold expensive homemade goods. There were picnic tables under a tent in the back where hikers were invited to relax. Apparently they did not want us on their front porch where they had lots of empty little tables. Their hose water was clearer than the local streams, though.
Just beyond the road to the disappointing ice cream place was the “Stairway to Heaven.” It was claimed to be a steep ascent, the type we hadn’t seen since the south. Instead, it was a tourist-infested staircase built from rocks winding up the side of a mountain. We weren’t upset; along with tourists comes trail magic! Today’s trail magic wasn’t only in the form of food, although we got a lot of that, too. Most of the day-hikers climbing up the Stairway were curious about our packs, amazed at what we were doing and not shy about asking one million questions. At one point we were surrounded by a crowd of tourists from Asia that desperately wanted their picture with us. We had to oblige. Though it slowed us down, the attention did lift our spirits. We were in the middle of a journey that very few ever get the opportunity to embark upon!
By 5:30 we had only walked seventeen miles and had planned to trek three more. We were tired. We were hungry. We were thirsty. Our feet were screaming. There was no reason to move on from the shelter at which we had stopped to snack. But we did. With two streams on the map, one mile and three miles up the trail, we figured we’d make a tentsite somewhere near a water source. We got to the first one pretty quickly, but it was black and barely moving. Every bit of me wanted to stop, but we had to keep going. This water was not consumable. Two miles later, the stream was still black, though it was moving this time. Nate and I walked a bit further, headed off trail to clear out a spot for our tent and set up camp. I prepared the inside of the tent while he ventured down and collected our black water. Before consuming any of it we filtered and boiled every ounce. It wasn’t exactly refreshing.
Check out the video we made about our trek through the Gahden State:
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