New Jersey is Flat & Surprisingly Rocky: Days 40–49

I had two side quests in NYC this past week: a dear friend’s wedding and a Jacob Collier concert. I lived in the city for about seven years, and it was important to me to make the time for these experiences and friends. With the help of some true angels, I made it back to New York just in time and hiked the New Jersey portion of the AT in the process.

I’m not sure how to count my trail days and zeros here since there were so many in a row, but I think for the purpose of logging this chapter of my life, I’ll continue counting them all as I have been!

Days 40-44: Zeros in Richmond and NY

A quick summary: I traveled at hyper-speed via modes of transportation other than my own two feet, cooked delicious meals with Shannon, danced the night away at Molly and Patrick’s wedding, soaked up some sunshine in the city, ate my favorite Caesar salad, people watched at the Prospect Park farmers market with Karina and Jenna, and felt beyond ready to hit the trail again after five days off.

Not trail runners

Ceremony views!

Sipping iced mocha outside a favorite Brooklyn coffeeshop. Photo by Karina Stribley.

Day 45: Delaware Water Gap, PA to Tent Site at 1309.4; 11.6 miles

I woke up bright and early in Brooklyn, gathered my belongings, and made my way to the Port Authority Bus Terminal where I caught the Martz bus to Delaware Water Gap, Pennsylvania.

In the days between my friend’s wedding and the Jacob Collier concert, I planned to hike the Appalachian Trail in New Jersey with Neb. He and I hiked the first 100+ miles or so together starting in Georgia. Neb’s an experienced section hiker with such positive, warm energy, and I was honored he wanted to join me on trail again for a few days.

Neb’s mom picked me up from the bus stop in PA (another angel!!) and had clementines for me to eat — my favorite. On the way to town, we stopped at the Apple Pie Bakery to fill up on sweets and pierogis before hitting the trail.

After a few misdirections from our various Maps apps, we started our day in the quaint little town of Delaware Water Gap, Pennsylvania. This will be where a friend picks me up to drive me to New York when I’m back up north again in a few hundred miles.

The day started with about a mile and a half of road walking. We crossed over the state border on a bridge and it was kind of scary! At one point, a semi drove by and the pedestrian walkway buckled under our feet. My life may or may not have flashed before my eyes.

The Dunnfield Creek Trailhead was bustling with day hikers and runners, but I was really happy to be back on trail.

Neb told me that the section of New Jersey before reaching High Point is still rocky, just like “Rocksylvania.” Though the trail was mostly flat, my feet were sore by the time we reached camp after navigating rocks all day — fist-sized, sharp rocks that are sometimes nearly impossible to avoid because they’re hidden under dry leaves. Yay.

Neb cameling up!

Neb and I decided to stop at a ridge line tent site at mile 1309.4. I hung potentially my most perfect and beautiful bear line of the trail so far, then made dinner. I’d sent a resupply box to my friend’s apartment in NYC before I started the trail, but most of the food in there seemed unappetizing by this point. I did, however, send myself some good freeze-dried dinner meals, so I got to eat pasta primavera the first night in New Jersey.

After dinner, I was eager to cozy up in my tent and fall asleep. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so excited about sleeping in my tent, but after a week back in the civilized world, I knew I’d sleep well in my little abode.

I quietly celebrated passing 400 total miles on trail today and drifted off to sleep to the sound of an Eastern Whippoorwill singing at dusk.

Day 46: Tent Site at Mile 1309.4 to Tent Site at 1326.5; 17.1 miles

The sunrise warmed my tent with a peachy glow.

This morning had me thinking about one of my yoga mentors, Yogi Charu. Before moving through our sun salutations in class, he would guide us to consider an experience or memory we’d shared with the sun: How it felt on our skin, in our bodies, our hearts. This is something I’ve decided to carry into my own yoga practice and teaching — a moving gratitude meditation in honor of the sun.

I share all this because I’m going to remember this sunrise. Warm, life-giving, peaceful, right.

Neb and I had ambitions of starting our hike at 7:30am, but I always seem to need an extra 30 minutes. Oh well. I’m in it for the long haul and don’t feel the need to hike ten miles by 10am.

About a mile or two from camp, we passed our first fire tower of the state. It was painted red and white, and contrasted starkly with the clear blue sky.

Since the tower wasn’t open to the public, we kept on walking. The rocky path opened up to a wide dirt and gravel trail. It was a welcome break from the aforementioned rocks and we got to hike side by side. I did slip and fall on my butt on the gravel at one point, though.

We found a Smart Water bottle on the trail and thought someone might’ve dropped it by accident. A man passed by as we were setting up camp last night, and I wondered if it was his. Neb put the bottle in his pack for safekeeping. Earth Day heroes over here.

There’s not as much water in New Jersey as I’d become accustomed to in the south. I almost wished I had one more water bottle, but made do for today.

Even though it was only about 60 degrees, the sun was shining brightly and I felt very warm without any leaf cover from the trees. I’m figuring out what shorts to wear in the summertime, but for now, my long hiking pants will have to do. Fortunately, they’re made of a lightweight fabric. Unfortunately, they’re black and I could feel my thighs sweating here and there throughout the day.

Some light afternoon scrambling

Both Neb and I felt lethargic, so we took a good number of “packs off” breaks whenever we came across a good water source or a spot of shade. He’d been off trail for about a month, and I think my period is coming on. But aside from that, I’m learning that I hike farther and feel stronger when I stop every 2–4 miles throughout the day anyway.

My sister called me before I stopped for lunch. It was good to hear her voice, and we started talking about the possibility of her joining me on trail later this year.

Around dinner time, Neb and I passed a road that led to Mountain Town Tavern and decided to stop there for pizza. The AC felt great, and they even offered to refill the empty water bottles we’d brought inside. I ordered a raspberry Arnold Palmer and a Margherita pizza with hot honey drizzled on top.

Over our meal, Neb and I looked at FarOut to determine where we’d sleep for the night. It’s funny to me that I’m at the point of determining where to set up camp mere miles ahead of time. Pre-trail, I felt most in control and comfortable when I had a plan. Now I feel like I’m getting better at going with the flow (within reason). 

Anyway, we found a tent site secluded in the forest just about a mile from the restaurant. Home for the night.

Day 47: Tent Site at 1326.5 to High Point Shelter; 15.5 miles

I woke up and stumbled half-asleep to a tree far from camp and dug a cat hole. Once I was… squatting, I finally looked up and saw a road through a clearing in the trees. Even though I was a few hundred yards away, I think someone would’ve had a fun show had they happened to drive by in the few minutes I was hovering over my cat hole.

Moving on. I felt speedy this morning. I’m getting used to the rocky terrain of New Jersey and played a game of “how fast can I calculate my footfalls?” My brain felt like this:

But that’s a dangerous game to play, so I slowed down.

We summited Sunrise Mountain this morning — thought it feels funny to say “summited” because it hardly felt like a climb — and ran into the backpacker from our first night at camp. We learned his trail name is Down Shift, and he mentioned he lost a water bottle the other day. Neb made his day when he pulled the bottle out of his backpack!

Once again, we didn’t have the best water sources today, but Mashipacong Shelter had a water cache right on trail.

What is this, the PCT? But for real, thank you to whoever brought all this water out! There’s more in the bear box.

We also passed by a number of signs letting us know we were not on the AT.

Actually needed this sign — oops.

Thankfully we did not go down this trail!

Neb and I were both looking forward to reaching New Jersey’s highest point, mostly in the hopes that the rocks would ease up soon after.

Today was another humid one and the bugs were starting to annoy me. Neb and I both wear glasses and noticed that the flies have a special ability to land on the side of the lenses closest to our eyes. I have bug spray, but think I might get a mesh covering for my head after this week. 

We got to High Point State Park headquarters about 30 minutes before it closed. It had a clean bathroom and basic refreshments. I bought a ginger ale and some post cards. In the summer, there’s also a working water spigot outside, but today the woman working the desk filled up my bottle for me inside.

Never heard of this brand in my life, but this ginger ale was amazing on a hot day.

High Point was… anticlimactic. For me, at least. The trail doesn’t actually go to the High Point, but you can get a nice view of it. There’s a side trail to hike there, but I’m lazy. We kept on. 

I was looking forward to sleeping near a shelter tonight. The New Jersey privies are super clean and have trash cans as well as hand sanitizer. The trash cans are especially exciting: Hikers can’t dump trash in moldering privies and there usually aren’t trash cans near the trail for days at a time, so we’re sometimes stuck carrying our trash until we hit town.

Even though I’m creating way less trash on the trail than I probably did off trail, carrying every piece of waste I produce is eye-opening. When resupplying, I’ve been trying to choose foods that have less packaging when possible.

Anyway, yay for trash cans.

Stretching in my tent before bed!

Day 48: High Point Shelter to Wawayanda Shelter; 23.9 miles

The temperature only got down to about 45 degrees last night, so I slept comfortably.

Neb woke up with a bloody nose and encouraged me to hike on if I was ready to go. I got started and planned to text him when I stopped for lunch.

I got to talk on the phone with my friend Samantha this morning! I loved starting the day hearing her voice and catching up on life. She’s expecting a little one in July and I can’t wait to meet them.

The rocks do indeed peter off after High Point. In exchange, they’re replaced with boardwalks and really flat terrain. One section of boardwalk passed over a swamp that was so flooded today that I had to take a reroute.

I also passed through a number of pastures today.

Neb texted to let me know that he planned to take some shorter days to finish up the state. He wished me well as I continued on. This was a possibility we’d discussed earlier in the week, so while I was sad to say goodbye, I was proud of us both for taking care of our bodies and hiking our own hikes.

Around 10am, I decided I wanted to try to hike all the way to Heaven Hill Farms and get ice cream before they closed. I figured I could find a stealth site nearby after hiking over the Stairway to Heaven.


More boardwalk

Even moooore boardwalk

Ice cream is a fantastic motivator, so I was booking it. Another great motivator is a thunderstorm following close behind you. 

Pochuck Boardwalk was quite lovely. A little girl excitedly told me there were turtles in the water, and we saw two of them sitting on a log below the boardwalk. Her mom’s friend saw the tag on my backpack and asked if I was a thru-hiker. She’d hiked sections of trail and asked about my journey so far. I’d been hauling ass all day, so it felt really lovely to have a conversation and watch the turtles swim around lazily for a few minutes with this group.

This brings me to my animal tally for the state of New Jersey:

1 BIG porcupine
3 deer, including one fawn
1 tiny snake (so small I thought it was a worm at first)
2 turtles
Lots of birds, including a red-headed woodpecker
Lots of flies
Lots of bumblebees
1 stunningly blue butterfly (plus a bunch of other butterflies!)
0 bears

Shortly after the Pochuck Boardwalk, I made it to Heaven Hill Farms with about 45 minutes to spare. I ordered cookies and cream ice cream with hot fudge, and bought myself a Gatorade, chocolate milk, and a burrito. I needed the extra calories today. They filled up my water bottle and wished me well on my journey.

After climbing up the Stairway to Heaven, I called my parents to let them know I’d likely be sleeping alone tonight. It probably wasn’t what they wanted to hear, but I needed someone to know. I was feeling a little anxious about being alone at night, but knew I could do it. I’d slept nearly alone plenty of times on trail so far.

I also told them I’d decided to push onto Wawayanda Shelter so I’d have access to a bear box and wouldn’t need to hike far in the morning. A friend of mine will be picking me up tomorrow to take me back to the city for a concert. We determined that the town of Delaware Water Gap was an easy pickup place for when I reach it later this year, and he’ll help me get back to Wawayanda to continue my journey when the time comes.

I’ll be just a couple miles short of finishing the AT in New Jersey, but there’s not a good pickup/drop off point right on the NJ/NY border.

When I arrived at the Wawayanda Shelter, a man named Mark was finishing up his dinner. He exuded a warm, kind energy, and I immediately felt at ease.

I put my burrito in between my fleece and my puffy while setting up my tent in the hopes it’d thaw enough for me to eat for dinner — it was getting dark and I didn’t feel like cooking. I also ate a bunch of extra snacks out of my food bag.

This was my longest hiking day yet: 23.9 trail miles — 24.6 if you count the short detour to Heaven Hill Farms for ice cream.

My legs and feet feel especially restless sometimes after long days. I’m currently trying to shake and wiggle the restlessness out, but might take a short spin around the shelter before going to sleep.

Saw this near Pochuck Boardwalk ❤️

Day 49: Wawayanda Shelter to Wawayanda State Park HQ; 0.1 trail miles (plus a 0.4 spur to the parking lot)

I got to sleep in today. Moving gently through the morning made me think of ‘The Waking’ by Theodore Roethke, a poem my friend Trevor shared with me before I started my thru-hike.

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.   
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.   

I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?   
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.   
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?   
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,   And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?   The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;  
wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do   
To you and me; so take the lively air,   
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.   
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.   

I learn by going where I have to go.

My friend Bryce showed up at the shelter as I was finishing packing up camp and showered me in clementines. I hadn’t seen him in nearly five months, and it was so good to squeeze him. And then eat all the clementines.

Since I hiked so far yesterday, we didn’t end up hiking much together today aside from the walk to the parking lot. But that worked out just fine, because it gave us extra time to eat a proper breakfast, drive back to the city, do laundry, get some groceries for all the food I wanted to cook together, and make it to a show that he was shooting.

This past week, I’ve felt a sharp contrast between the pace of living on trail versus living in the “real world.” It’s not a negative feeling or judgement, it’s just interesting to notice how being on trail for this long has shifted my experience when I’m off trail. I find myself feeling less rushed, more present, and savoring every moment of in-person conversation. I also tire out rather quickly when I’m not hiking!

Anyway, I felt safe and content and joyful being in the presence of one of my very best friends. I felt this way when Shannon picked me up from trail, too. It feels relaxing to know I don’t have to be so self-reliant for a few days. Instead, I’m choosing to accept the help and tenderness my friends want to offer — to help me take care of me.

Bryce and I sang along to our favorite music in the car and I felt like I was exactly where I needed to be.

Now for a couple days in Brooklyn to see Jacob Collier, then I’ll head back south to continue on my journey!

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