Week 6 (May 6 to May 12) Different Perspectives

“What you see and what you hear depends a great deal on where you are standing. It also depends on what sort of person you are.” C.S. Lewis, The Magician’s Nephew.

May 6th we started at Kirkridge Shelter 1290.5 and hiked to Presbyterian Church of the Mountain’s Hiker Hostel and our last night of the week was spent at the Secret Shelter 1346.8 Total miles = 56.3

I am pleased to announce Mr. Rook and I have been joint trail name: TEAM Ohio

Dessert Queen’s hiking earworm: Colbie Caillat’s “Brighter than the Sun,” Yael Naim’s “New Soul.” and Patti Smith’s “People have the Power.” I’m following the lead of younger hikers by creating a dance party playlist to sing along to during the last mile of the day.  

Mr. Rook’s hiking earworm: Simon & Garfunkel “The Sound of Silence.”


  • Farout App. Again, the Farout App. has come to the rescue. Yes, this hiking duo managed to diverge off the trail: twice this week. 1) The first time was our hike around Sunfish Pond, Worthington State Forest, NJ. This is a beautiful hike up a forest mountainside. And, at the top is a glacier-made pond that is crystal clear. Sad to say, we did not see the pumpkinseed sunfish; we did see black water snakes darting across the water. The AT treks around the lake and somehow we jumped onto a well trodden deer path. We didn’t realize this until the path dead-ended in front of a group of shrubby trees. Mr. Rook pulled up Farout and we began bushwacking our way back to the trail. 2) The second time we walked off the trail was at High Point State Park Forest, Sussex, NJ. What you should know is that the park is identified as the “BEST SPOT” for cross-country skiing in NJ and the ski trails utilize some of the AT. It is also another scenic forested trail (i.e., sunrays coming through the trees, climbing over cliffs, birds singing– you get the picture). We lost the AT when we realized the trail had only blue blazes ahead of us (blue blazes = cross country trail). Once again, Mr. Rook pulled up Farout and I pulled up the High Point State Park ski map; we followed several ski trails to get to Ranger Lane, north of the Park Office. It was an easy walk from there to get back onto the AT.
  • Presbyterian Church of the Mountain. It was great to be around fellow Presbyterians at our first church service on the trail. Hikers – Presbyterian Church of the Mountain. It was the spot where we met Kim and Rob – retired hiking duo from NY. If you see them on the trail, they are great people to share stories with at camp.
  • NJ Bear boxes.
  • Shakedown hikers. The young men (freshman class) from St. Benedict’s Prep, Newark. Mr. Rook and I had climbed up to Culver’s Fire Tower and took in a scenic snack break. When the first team of seven young men arrived at this spot with their adult leaders wearing a 50-year T-shirt. (NOTE: Beyond day hikes, we haven’t seen any high school youth on the trail let alone many black and brown skin people.) Almost immediately, they shrugged off their backpacks and the gear they were carrying; and sank down next to us letting out in unison a loud sigh. We watched several pulled out canned tuna salads and crackers to devour as if they hadn’t had any breakfast. As observers, this group of men looked like hiking newbies, very different from AZ Eagle’s Boy Scout days at Philmont (NOTE: AZ Eagle is our son). Most had empty backpacks and were carrying their tents and sleeping bags like suitcases. We spoke to an alumni adult leader; he told us where the young men were from and how most were from inner-city Newark. Hiking 54 miles on the AT has been a high school graduation requirement since 1974. It was further explained that many of these young men have never stepped foot in the woods until now. Mr. Rook and I were witnessing the overnight shakedown hike that would prepare them for the “big 5 day” hike. As the next seven-man team arrived, I thought about the amount of bravery and courage one needs to do something out of their comfort zone. These young men showed it, I wondered if I exhibited it on my hike? Sometimes I feel like I don’t have it especially when I climb up onto a high ledge…fear of falling sets in. Mr. Rook remembered reading about them in the NYTimes.  See reference below for links to the NYTimes article and The ACT video.  
  • New Jersey Humor. 1) “Rattlesnake” naming obsession. Is this a fixation or a warning? Rattlesnake Mountain, Rattlesnake swamp, Rattlesnake Swamp Trail, Rattlesnake Weed… 2) During the last fifty miles of PA we were led to believe NJ is the Garden State (State Motto) code for no rocks. “Liar…Liar…” said like Carol Kane in Princess Bride. Hate to break it to future hikers, there are rocks in NJ. The state has pointy rock sections, boulder and cliff climbs, concrete like slabs, and dirt trails with smooth rocks. Thumbs up to the beautification of the rocks. I especially like the rocks with flowering plants and ferns growing around them or butterflies who are seeking out the salt. 3) The pink privy at Mashipacong Shelter. This privy has Hiking Barbie’s stamp of approval: electrifying pink interior design. Maybe Mattel should be called in for naming rights. It did make me laugh.
  • Interesting animals. 1) Camera shy porcupines. 2) Evidence of Beavers, 3) Eastern Whip-poor-wills and the Barred Owls: We were platform camped at Mohican Outdoor Center near the lake. As soon as the sun went down, the Whip-poor-wills started an all out lake party with mosquito appetizers. I couldn’t silence their non-stop singing with my hat or pillow. At 3 AM, a reprieve. The Barred Owls show up like police at a college party with their “Who cooks for you?” call. Silence finally. 4) Coyotes at Brink Road Shelter. Their song welcoming the moonrise. 5) Racoon at Harmony Ridge Campground. When I was in elementary school, my aunt gifted my family with a subscription to Ranger Rick (Racoon) Magazine.  Monthly, the magazine came with stories about the environment and wildlife. Ranger Rick had a cousin my father named Ricky, the trash can raider. Mr. Rook and I had an unexpected meet up with Ricky at Harmony Ridge. Ricky boldly stole the bag holding my multi-vitamins, baby aspirin, and anti-cholesterol medication. Yes, he ate all of it. Hopefully, he didn’t die. 6) Red Eft Count this week = 1. Total for the hike = 11. 7) A rabbit on the trail to the Secret Shelter.
  • Trail Angels. 1) The folks who are leaving water caches in the Mashipacong Shelter’s bear box. 2) A shout-out to Pops and Dances with Ticks. These two used the tractor to mow the field at the Secret Shelter. Their tales around the porch told of past years working on a family farm. Their mowing gift to fellow campers told the ticks who was boss at least for that night. Thank you. No ticks were found attached to us or our things.
  • Memorable food. 1) Slice of fruit pie at the Village Farmer and Bakery, Delaware Water Gap. Home. 2) Sandwich and Banana Split shared at Zoe’s Ice Cream Emporium , Delaware Water Gap. 3) Dining by Kittatinny Lake sharing a large salad and a burger at Mountain House Tavern & Grill, Culver’s Gap, NJ   4) a jumbo size Western Omelet, larger than your head pancakes, and muffins (saved for lunch) at 1950’s Jumboland Diner, Branchville, NJ.

malchus stafa, b. Selfie Culver Gap Firetower. May 2023. Author’s personal collection

malchus stafa, b. Rattlesnake Weed found in NJ. May 2023. Author’s personal collection

malchus stafa, b. Rabbit near the Secret Shelter. May 2023. Author’s personal collection


malchus stafa, b. Evidence of beavers. May 2023. Author’s personal collection.

malchus stafa, b. NJ trail without rocks, May 2023. Author’s personal collection.

Thorns or tenderness

  • Crossing the Delaware Bridge. The woods have a way of muting the outside world loudness. In order to get to NJ, the AT uses the I-80 bridge to cross. On
    the right side of the bridge is the beautiful Delaware River. Tall trees hang over the river and herons with their long necks pose majestically. To the left is the loud hum of trucks and cars zooming past. I felt weird being in the center of this scene. Physically, the cars and trucks pulled me towards them. It was strong enough that I grabbed hold of the handrail to steady myself. My heart and eyes looked towards the right. I longed to return to the calmness the woods brought. I wonder how I’ll manage when I go back to the “real world?” How will I keep up with the fast pace and loudness while maintaining a serenity like the herons in the water next to me?
  • NJ Ticks. Up to this point, we have not seen any ticks. Our anti-tick prevention included lathering up with anti-bug lotion and wearing long pants and a long sleeve shirt or a rain jacket. However, another line of defense came into play when we ate lunch near High Point State Park. It was a lovely grassy, shady spot with several nice rocks to sit on. I was getting ready to open my pack when those little critters began hopping off the trees and out of the grass and landing on us. It was like a bad B horror movie, the main characters were preparing their lunch and within a blink of an eye the ticks swarmed and engulfed them. Mr. Rook and I immediately brushed off the ticks and moved to a dirt area to further check for ticks. Lunch was canceled at this spot. Warning to all hikers: BEWARE of lovely grassy, shady spots for lunch. Ticks are waiting for easy prey.
  • Hikers who are injured. We learned that Stealthie Betty was injured and off the trail. Similarly, we heard that Stitch and Cash were also injured. Praying for their speedy recoveries.
  • Jake the missing donkey and Mr. Jim Murray, who’s in poor health. Jake the resident donkey is still missing at the Secret Shelter. This is sad news. Many around the porch speculated what happened to Jake: he was kidnapped (this didn’t sit well – who would be so mean), he didn’t make it through the winter and died falling asleep, or a coyote made Jake a meal. We also heard trail rumors about Mr. Murray, the owner of the Secret Shelter. He is not in good health, Mr. Rook and I find this news equally sad. Prayers go out to Mr. Murray to get well and many thanks for the gift of the Secret Shelter.

malchus stafa, b. A welcomed sight for lost hikers. May 2023. Author’s personal collection.

malchus stafa, b. Butterflies eating the salt from rocks. May 2023. Author’s personal collection.

malchus stafa, b. Sunfish Pond before we got lost. May 2023. Author’s personal collection.

malchus stafa, b. Trees leaning on each other. May 2023. Author’s personal collection

Opportunity and other thoughts

A theme keeps arising on our trip and it revolves around kindness, making others feel welcome and realizing everyone has their own story and oftentimes the person is more complicated than how they appear. This is something that I’ve really observed this week. Kindness towards other hikers seems to be part of the culture. The practice of listening to others stories is also how it is practiced. Most often this happens around the picnic table where food is being eaten. It is through another hiker’s eyes gain a richness of what this means to a larger community.

This week we heard the origin story of the oldest church hostel, Presbyterian Church of the Mountain (1976). Back then, many people living in Delaware Water Gap didn’t think too highly towards the hikers and the hikers felt this. During a monthly church meeting someone suggested that they change how they thought about the hikers by providing a dry place to rest their head and a shower. It would give the small congregation a mission they could rally around. This small change had a ripple effect at Delaware Water Gap. The town welcomes hikers thanks to those change agents from the church.

It made me wonder how this can happen in cubicle land? Is it possible to change how you think about others?

Another story we heard was from a veteran who has been hiking the AT for two years. He was waiting for a package at the Mohican Outdoor Center from the family that included his disability check from the Veteran Affairs. Mr. Rook and I took him to dinner per say: deli sandwich and ice cream bar. I know, in cubicle land our paths probably wouldn’t pass unless he showed up at the food pantry where I volunteer. Yet over this simple meal, he shared that since returning from Afghanistan he didn’t know where he fit in. People seemed to dismiss his feelings and were judgmental. The hiking community is different: they are kind.

Anne Frank wrote in her diary, “In the long run, the sharpest weapon of all is a kind and gentle spirit.” Hikers seem to practice being kind and having a gentle spirit towards others. It is why I like being on the trail.

But I still ponder how we can make it different off the trail.

malchus stafa, b. GOAAAALLLL on the trail. May 2023. Author’s personal collection.

malchus stafa, b. Pond along the trail. May 2023. Author’s personal collection.

Appalachian Trail Conservancy. Stay Together – my AT Story. Horizonline Pictures. 2018. https://youtu.be/kRLqNk0Ml6Q?si=6Ii4vYO6Eap649_-
Armstrong, Kevin. ‘No Shortcuts?’: A 40-mile Rite of Passage for High School Freshmen,” thenytimes.com. 25 June. 2021. ‘No Shortcuts?’: A 40-Mile Rite of Passage for High School Freshmen – The New York Times (nytimes.com)
Caillat, Colbie. “Brighter than the Sun,” All of You. Universal Republic, 6 July, 2011. Watch the official video https://youtu.be/KU5o6M7S5nQ?si=JsWapdKJ6mENRz4j
Frank, Anne. A Diary of a Young Girl. Contract Publishing. 25 June, 1947.
Lewis, C. S. The Magician’s Nephew. The Bodley Head, 2 May, 1955.
Naim, Yael. “New Soul,” Yael Naim. itunes digital, 22 Oct. 2007. Watch the official video https://youtu.be/hhE7QMXRE1g?si=bh64p-nvzhQvbROm
Rainer, Rob. Princess Bride. 20th Century Fox, 25 Sept. 1987. Carol Kane’s “Liar, Liar” link on YouTube: https://youtu.be/pjJJnz2_85w?si=KRsoEa6Cz0QRaJ5E
Simon & Garfunkel (Simon, Paul and Garfunkel, Art) “The Sound of Silence,” Wednesday Morning, 3 AM. Columbia Studios, 19, Oct. 1964. Watch Madison Square Garden, NYC performance Oct 2009. https://youtu.be/L-JQ1q-13Ek?si=pscWHhVgO5PGsA-W
Smith, Patti. “People Have the Power,” Dream of Life. Arista Records. Jun, 1988. Performed with U2 in Paris https://youtu.be/AYOommqcKNQ?si=0h4G-veM4u20jWJb

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