Ukelady and Possum Get Spoiled by New Jersey
We are back on the trail! Here’s the account of our New Jersey adventurings, straight from the Ukelady’s mouth.
August 15 – 5 miles
After a long and wonderful week of traveling through PA and NY to see our friends and family, we woke up at the Church of the Mountain ready to get hiking. We weren’t sure how hard it might be to transition back to trail life, so Possum sagely suggested doing a short 5 mile day to ease back into things. Wise man. We only made it 0.1 before we took our first break, but it’s not our fault. Creamsicle milkshakes were required to help us get back in the swing of things.
The hike started with an annoyingly long highway stretch, but we got to cross officially into New Jersey. We decided to skip Maryland and Pennsylvania for a variety of reasons (time, rocks, weather, interest) and jumped ahead to the great state of New Jersey. Feels like a good choice so far.
Once we got back into the woods proper, things got beautiful again. It was relaxing, and a welcome change from the noise and chaos of the last week. It was nice to hike past all the ferns waving gently in the breeze and feel like I had hardly missed a step. Our campsite was gorgeous, with room for an extremely large number of tents. Possum set up his new hammock, an ENO Doublenest Deluxe, and we watched pink streaks of sunset peek past the clouds and eventually be replaced by stars. A lovely welcome back from the world.
August 16 – ? miles
Today had a plan that was bigger than we could realize, mostly because we didn’t leave camp until afternoon. The trail was all rocks – a pleasant surprise for people who had skipped Pennsylvania because of its rockier tendencies. The views were nice, though, and nearly constant for a while. Plus we started the day walking along the edge of a pond, so I really can’t complain.
Our book only warns us when really tricky terrain is coming up (and sometimes not even then), so I was nervous when it told us the Mt. Kitatinny summit was rocky. Luckily, that turned out to be a hilarious joke.
We took a long afternoon break where Possum set up his hammock. Two days in and I am already in love with that thing. Tents are over; hammocks are in.
I’m pretty sure there was a bear in camp at dusk, but I guess it got spooked really quick when it realized we were watching Office Space. Bears have no taste.
August 17 – 9 miles
I am slowly but surely getting my trail legs back under me. Today we had planned on going about 12 miles, but I called it quits early. My feet are still getting used to working this hard again. Luckily, today had half the rocks of yesterday and twice the views. We started the day at a fire tower, then passed an awesome swamp full of frogs. New Jersey has been really pretty so far.
It’s also been pretty hot. It’s hard to put the experience of hiking in extreme heat with a 35 pound pack on into words, but the closest I can come is this: today, Possum went to shoo a bug off of my forehead, but the bug had already drowned in my sweat. So. Pretty hot.
We settled into camp early, so we had time to relax before cooking dinner. Possum used this time to improve the nearby water source for the betterment of humanity. I laid in the hammock and read a book. Our true natures reveal themselves yet again!
August 18 – 9.1 miles
Holy moly, we left camp at 8:00 am! This was a compromise suggested by Possum when I wanted to camp early last night. You might think we would use that extra time to make up some lost miles, but if so you don’t know us very well. We of course used this extra time to hit up a pizza buffet and a Dairy Queen in the very happening town of Branchville, NJ.
It is still hot as hell and we’ve been warned about water shortages for the next 13 miles. It’s times like these we wonder why we are still hiking… and yet, here we are.
August 19 – 9 miles
While we got up nice and early this morning, I made the executive decision that we should lie in the hammock and read for a while. Pro hiker, right here. We did eventually get going and crushed our miles pretty quickly, with a lucky stop for trail magic water on the way (thanks, Alf!).
When it came time to stop for the day, we had the choice to go .4 off trail to a shelter or go the same distance on the A.T. in search of a stealth spot that another hiker had told us was near a view. We opted for the stealth spot, but as we hiked past various viewpoints we kept coming up empty. Luckily I was in a determined mood, and kept running ahead just to make sure something good wasn’t lurking just around the corner. All my running around paid off, and we ended up right where we wanted to be.
August 20 – 10 miles
When we were visiting people during our week off, my friend Jenn commented that we look like we’re glamping. That’s basically when you do a fancy version of camping, flush with as many of the amenities of home as you can manage. So… she’s pretty much right on the money. We each have a tablet, and we watch TV shows every now and again, or more rarely movies. We have a portable speaker (thanks, Dad!) and we blast tunes whenever nobody’s around. So while we do spend our day out in nature, we also like to pull out our screens to begin and end the day. We know how spoiled we are, and we love it.
I mention all this because today we went to High Point State Park. They have a beach there! With concessions! And the cool people here give sodas to thru-hikers! Suffice it to say, we definitely were glamping today. But a hike with cheese fries and a lake is way better than one without, and I have nearly 130 days of research to prove it.
But hiking is still hiking, no matter how fancy your tech, and it rained for most of the afternoon. We stayed in good spirits, glad to see red efts running around the trail again, and ended up at the Murray Cabin by the early evening. It’s a cute property that the owner Jim graciously lets long-term hikers crash in – thanks, man. I sat on the porch watching the deer, bats and fireflies; Possum worked on making a walking stick for his nephew. It’s a good life and I wouldn’t change a single choice that’s brought us here. I mean, except the rain.
August 21 – 7 miles
There was a fierce storm last night – torrential rain, thunder, lightning, the works. I’ve never been so glad to have a roof over my head. By the time we started our hike, though, the sky was clear and it was a beautiful day. The rain cooled everything down, so we got a break from the heat as well.
Both Possum and I were running low on breakfast supplies, so we decided to hit up the next town, a quaint little village called Unionville. And then of course once we were in town, we figured we might as well stop for calzones… and ice cream. We’re hitting this new kind of town vortex, where there is an easy chance for hot food at least once a day. Very hard to pass up.
The rest of our hike was a nice quiet walk past a nature reserve. Egrets, herons and hummingbirds aplenty. Sunset arrived just as we got settled at the shelter. We miss those long summer nights… autumn is sneaking up on us.
August 22 – 11.5 miles
Look at us, hiking real miles again! We’re steadily averaging two miles an hour, which is a good workout for us (me in particular – Possum can move at a faster clip if left to his own devices). Plus it leaves plenty of time for off-trail shenanigans, like today’s hot dog and donut stop.
The real star for most of the day was this gorgeous section of trail. They’ve built a cool Boardwalk that stretches for about a mile and surrounds you with beautiful wildflowers. I loved it; Possum was cynical that so many people come out to day hike there. Of course they do, Possum. It’s awesome.
The whole walk leading up to it was gorgeous, too. It wasn’t until evening that things turned fiendishly rocky again. We crushed a climb apparently named the “stairway to heaven,” but I missed the sign for the view at the top so we’ll never know. Arrived to camp just before the last rays of sun disappeared, and my feet are ready for a rest. Too bad we have another 12-miler tomorrow!
August 23 – 9 miles
We woke up in a great mood and had a lovely morning, especially with the exciting realization that we could spend the night in a town with a drive-in movie theater! We hiked through the last bit of New Jersey while listening to Monsters, Inc. Another state down!
Then we started New York. The Big Apple! The Empire State! It is, unequivocally, the worst state I’ve hiked in so far. It’s like being punched in the face repeatedly by way of welcome. Everything is rocks, and not small almost-gravel rocks. Giant boulders of doom to scale and climb and cling to.
I hated every minute of it. I have handled some other rock scrambles this week with ease, grace, and a practiced determination; to be shown how much I still suck at bouldering was a major blow to both my confidence and my joy. Packs had to be removed. Knees were scraped open. Tears were shed. And I’m pretty sure I set the record for the number of times a human has said “help me” in one minute. But, at the least, I survived and am still here hiking.
Possum, of course, loved every minute of the trail. He bounded from rock to rock with all the speed and panache of a seasoned mountain goat. This is his element, for sure.
We didn’t make it to town. The rough terrain slowed us down and we took some long healing breaks that, while keeping us alive, also kept us from reaching the movies in time. It was a bummer way to end what I thought would be a triumphant day, but sometimes that’s how it goes. Hopefully NY will bring us some joy soon – and if not, we’ll just have to find our own.
August 24 – 1 mile
Remember when I said we might just have to find our own joy? Well, we had to work really, really hard at it. We were mapping our miles for the day this morning when Possum said, “Where the hell are all these ants coming from?” They were all over our tent. The inside of it. And they got there, dear friends, because they were coming from my food bag. The inside of it. Where all of my food lives.
Not a pleasant way to start a morning.
So we decided the universe was telling us not to hike, and decided to go to the nearby town of Warwick for a nice zero day of movies and beds and bowlings. Only the car that stopped when we were hitchhiking told us we were going to be arrested if we kept that up, and also the only motel in Warwick was sold to Jehovah’s Witnesses two years ago. And every hotel we called in the area is full or expensive. Cut to: me crying indiscreetly in a parking lot as our hopes are dashed. There is no fun here. There is only hiking, and ants and eventually death. All hope is lost. It is Pearisburg all over again.
But ah: we have learned from our mistakes! We will not hike foolishly onward this time. We instead pay for a taxi into a town of no promises, where a kindly old woman gives us the key to the very last room at the Linden Motel. It is a lakefront suite. There is a pool. And a pedal boat. Everything is better than perfect. Our luck, born today out of Possum’s determination to have a good day, continues to astound and amaze us.
I just have to remember: If you’re having trouble seeing the joy in life, look harder. It’s there.
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