New Jersey & New York: A Reason to Keep Going

Crossing State Lines

I left Delaware Water Gap, PA in high spirits. Despite the fact that I knew the rocks didn’t end at the state line, I also knew that the next few states would pass quickly. In a way, the miles dragged (of course,) but the state lines, deli blazing, and the people I hiked with during this time ushered me into New England in much better spirits than I’d had while traversing the rocky path through Pennsylvania.

In the first few days of New Jersey, reconnected with my friends D. and Wyred, and their dog Burrito. I also started hiking with a a group of hikers I’d met a few times before. Clementine Rage, Floridian Jones, and Casserole were the main people I hiked with, but we hiked off and on with a few others as well.

Unfortunately, two days into New Jersey, the new state welcomed us with a van that rear-ended Wyred’s car – and then the van ran, of course. They were okay, along with their passengers, but the car was pretty badly damaged. In the end, Wyred and her partner, D., decided to both get back on trail with their dog and flip. I’m looking forward to seeing them later on trail!


The next few days consisted of late starts, a fast morning hiking, and then a long break in the middle of the afternoon. Casserole, Clementine, Jones and I fell into this habit due to some well-placed deli spots, but as the temps climbed into the mid-90’s, it became an essential part of our hiking routine.

During one of these breaks, sitting at a grocery store while procrastinating the climb up the Stairway to Heaven, I opened my bag and found that my bottle of bug repellant had exploded.

As I slowly picked through my gear, separating things into “trash” and “wash” piles, I noticed that everything made of plastic, or was painted, was literally melting from the deet. As I sorted through my things, I wondered which was worse: contracting Lyme from a tick or the various cancers I was going to get from slathering myself in a chemical that was melting the gear in my bag? After I’d addressed the situation as best I could, I tossed what was left of my bug spray and grabbed a stupidly expensive “natural bug repellant balm” from the grocery store.

During the climb up the Stairway to Heaven and the days after, the mosquitoes and noseeums delighted in my stupidly expensive natural bug repellant balm, as if it in fact made me more appealing to them than less. As I stayed at the Warwick drive-in theater, I stayed inside my tent for most of the night to hide from the bugs.

The balm appeared to attract bears as well. I saw 13 bears during my 7-day stent in New Jersey, and quite a few of them didn’t spook easy. Oddly, neither did I. I was always at a safe distance from them and enjoyed watching them bumble through the woods.

Hiked. Was Hot. In New York Now.

The New York state line is a painted marker on a rocky bald in full sun, where the heat is so intense you feel like an ant being fried under a magnifying glass. My journal entry for that day is the following: “Hiked. Was Hot. In New York now.”

New York took the water scarcity issues that Pennsylvania and New Jersey had, and multiplied them by 1,000. I’d never seen a water source marked as “reliable” in the FarOut app run dry, but they consistently did. Most days, I grimly filled up both bottles and my CNOC bag for a total of 5 liters, and trudged down the trail under its weight. This roughly translated into 11 extra pounds of water. Often, our water sources were hoses behind delis. One water source was more than a mile off-trail, and involved a game of frogger across a busy highway, then a road walk in full sun down to a visitor center in a median. At this visitor center, I threw away my stupidly expensive human marinade/bug “repellant,” and grabbed a Picaridin repellant.

In addition to the heat, lack of water, and bugs that were only slightly dissuaded by my new repellant, I was also dealing with a leaking sleeping pad, and not sleeping well because of it. This all compounded and created a Not Very Fun Time.

Deli blazing and hiking with my new friends saw me through, but there were many times during this section of trail when I would find a quiet corner behind a gas station, call my partner, and cry. I’d never cried that much on the trail, and never felt so close to giving up. I recalculated the mileage every night at camp. Only 780 more miles of this. I can do two more months. I’m more than halfway… I can make it.

I dragged my sleeping pad into public lakes near well-dressed and far-less-feral-looking weekenders, and submerged it over and over again to find and patch holes. Eventually, it sprung a leak that refused to reveal itself, and I resigned myself to waking up every hour, on the hour, to refill it. I hoped that eventually I would get so tired that I would sleep directly on the ground, but every time the air pad emptied, I woke up. I debated switching to a closed-cell foam pad, but knew from experience I wouldn’t sleep any better on it.

During this time, New York gleefully sent us heatwave after heatwave, and high elevation change days that we hadn’t seen since Tennessee. I was thankful for the 4200ft climbs, because I knew that it was preparing me for the Whites, but I was running on fumes.

 It was in this haze of dehydration, exhaustion, and low spirits that I walked right up to the Wind Phone.

A Reason to Keep Going

The Wind Phone, at mile 1425.7 in New York, was installed to provide hikers an opportunity to “speak” to someone they’d lost. It is, of course, not connected to anything – just an old rotary phone nailed to a wooden signpost. I stood staring at it for a minute or two, ignoring the mosquitoes buzzing around my head, then took a few steps toward it, picked up the receiver, and put it to my ear.

I was at my absolute lowest: a hair’s breadth away from quitting my thru-hike. The loneliness of separation from my at-home friends, my family, my partner, combined with the relentless heat and sleeplessness, were trying to win. But when I cradled the phone between my shoulder and ear and tears rolled silently down my face, I found a reason to keep going. Or more accurately, I remembered my reason to keep going.

As I’ve written about before, I decided to hike 5 years ago, during a day hike from Newfound Gap. Since then, I’d survived a divorce that left me alone for the first time in my adult life, which left me unmoored but with more freedom than I’d ever had before. I’d gotten married to my high school sweetheart painfully young, before I’d had a moment to envision a life for myself. Every life goal I’d had then, was shared with him and only partially mine. This thru-hike had been the only dream I’d ever had for myself alone. It was the first thing that I had dared imagine for myself.

A younger me, my self from Newfound Gap who dreamed of a future different from the life she was living, was waiting on the other end of the line.

I knew that I could quit at that very moment, and be happy with the progress I’d made. 1400 miles was already a huge accomplishment. But it wasn’t the goal. The goal was Katahdin. I didn’t give two shits about disappointing friends and family and yes, even internet strangers who wanted to see me finish the trail. But betraying myself? That I could never do. Not again.

I hung the phone back in its cradle and used a precious palmful of water to wash my face. Then I trudged on. Exhausted, heat-zapped, drained, but mind clear for the first time in a long time.

Only 768.6 miles to go.

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Comments 5

  • Joe Leavines : Aug 14th

    Well written, dear one. You are right that you have accomplished more than enough to be proud of, in terms of distance walked. And, more importantly you know to your core that the greatest struggles are those within. I believe you will stand on the peaks at the end of the long walk, both the rocks of Katahdin and the heights in your soul. I am too old and hobbled to be there to meet you but the eternal youth that lives in my heart will rejoice with you. My Spiritual Trail Name has been and ever shall be, Dad.

    • Mary Leavines : Aug 15th

      Love love. See y’all soon ♥️

  • Paul : Aug 15th

    You go-go…


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