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Weeks 16-17: New Jersey to Fort Montgomery, NY
I have officially walked to my home state (New Jersey). Therefore I found it a perfect time for reflection.
I’ve been reflecting on the hike. The beginning felt new and exciting. We were on an adventure and making new friends just like freshman year. It seemed easy to get excited about the milestones no matter how small. But now it feels different. My tramily feels like old friends. It feels more like sophomore or junior year where the challenges are getting harder. We are hiking more miles in less time, the bugs are worse and so is the heat. The words ‘endure’ and ‘persistence’ comes to mind. You try to go longer stretches with shorter breaks so you can make the miles 20+. It is also a bit nerve wracking. As a junior in college I wondered if I ever really would cross that stage and if I actually would ‘make it.’ I see us moving up the map faster, I cannot believe we are in New Jersey! At Neel’s Gap we were but a centimeter on the map from Springer but now we are past halfway. You look at the map and are in awe of how far you have come. You wonder, I’m in the race, but will I ever complete it? Will I ever succeed?
My feet still hurt, I’m still sore, and my backpack still feels too heavy. These are all the sensations I felt in the beginning but I feel them in different ways now. I have learnt so much but yet still have so much to learn.
It is difficult to explain but things are different now. The hike feels different. Not in a better or worse way but different. I used to wake up early and pack up in a hurry. I ate breakfast on the trail. Now I sleep in later and totally pull the “mom just 5 more minutes!” card. I absolutely cannot skip meals anymore, I’m thinner and burning more and more calories. If you don’t hydrate and eat, it makes for a very hard day. Even when you do replenish, your body has a more difficult time recovering.
The heat is killing my hiker hunger, I currently don’t have one. I haven’t had my true hiker hunger since Virginia. I’m starting to worry about my weight. Whenever I’m in the shower I think to myself, “I’m so skinny!” I’m very bony. I can do the miles and my energy level has been about the same (though I find it difficult to have energy in 90+ heat). Whenever we take a break do matter how short, I pop food into my mouth. I still have plenty of miles to cover and I do not need to be anemic.
My friends and I had a fantastic but challenging first day in New Jersey. The first trail you take is up to Sunfish Pond- as a “muggle” hiker I completed this section many times with my family. The trail takes you past waterfalls, streams, ponds and vistas. It was so cool to be able to continue down the trail where my family usually stops and turns around. It was hot today but luckily there was plenty of shade. The rocks continued and I struggled to get into a hiking groove. For lunch we stopped at the Mohican Center. By this point I knew that we would be passing Crater Lake, a wonderful little swimming area I had gone with my sister years before. I messaged her and set up trail magic for the tramily. We really struggled in the heat and humidity. But we finally made it to the lake. Awww the lake, the shallow end was warmed by the sun and the deeper you swam the colder it became. The water could not be more perfect. I dipped my entire body in the water and felt like the liquid was healing my tired body. My sister really came through with the trail magic. Ice cream, icees, cheese, sausage, Oreos, Twizzlers. Again, she really came through. I can always count on my sister. We stealth camped that night. I was pressed up against an old chimney. To be honest we weren’t sure if our stop was legal or not. Not all states and not all state parks allow stealth camping but we hadn’t seen a sign saying differently. We made sure not to leave a trace that next morning.
The New Jersey section of the AT is beautiful. The terrain is not easy, there are the PA small ankle breaking rocks, large boulders where you have to boulder, and plenty of PUDS (pointless ups and downs)…but you actually get a view! Multiple times in New Jersey I struggled up a steep slope and was met with a beautiful panoramic view of the valley below. Sometimes you could see suburbs but often you just see endless trees! On this particular day we arrived at Mashipacong Shelter and were met with the dilemma, do we continue the 2.6 to the next shelter (Rutherford) or do we stay? Rutherford had water but also mosquitoes, Mashipacong had plenty of camping….our goal was to do straight 20 mile days in NJ so we continued. There was an impending storm that we were certain we would beat…we did not. We got drenched only to be eaten alive by mosquitos at the next shelter. Sometimes it isn’t worth continuing. I slept the whole night with a mosquito net over my head.
July 18My friends and I decided to call it a quits and make the hike a short one. We had had it with mosquitoes. I got to see High Point, another section I frequented with my family. Last year I parked at the Ranger headquarters to use the bathroom and saw the staff handing out free sodas to the Thru-hikers. This year I approached the staff cautiously, afraid that the tradition did not continue. But the trail provides, and the staff provided us each with a free Pepsi. Mmmm soda. I have only ever seen the High Point Monument in good weather but on this day it was raining. I couldn’t see more than 50 feet in front of me. As I approached the monument, it slowly appeared. A flag pole line was banging against the metal. It was so eery and so cool. You couldn’t see the top of the monument because it was covered in cloud but I knew what it looked like up there.
Water had been scarce recently and we have had to get water from spigots at houses, shops, and headquarters along the way. The most interesting water source ever was the vacant house below Pochuck MTN Shelter. The AWOL guide told us about this source and there even was a trail leading to the house but it was just all over weird. A blue blaze to an abandoned house? Uhhhh so many questions. I quickly got water and continued to the shelter. We decided to camp outside the shelter and we set up just in time before another rain storm. I didn’t sleep well this night, too much screen use before bed.
I gave up and used DEET- I’ve heard horror stories of DEET ruining gear but I was near insanity with the mosquitoes. My favorite hike in New Jersey was always Pochuck Valley to Stairway to Heaven and today on a very hot day, I was able to hike my favorite section. Luckily it was overcast during the board walk section so it was pleasant (no blaring sun). We then went to Heaven Hill Farm and got a poppyseed danish and dried out our belongings. They were playing Led Zepplin’s Stairway to Heaven when we arrived. We successfully hitched into and out of town, it went fine but took longer to get a hitch than in the south. Towards the end of the day we met a Trail Angel TMT (Two Mile Tim). He gave us water and a ride to and from Warwick Drive-in Movie Theater. They let hikers camp for free! Free radio, water and we got lots of Trail Magic food. It was an incredibly hot day. We hung out in Shop Rite in the frozen section before the movies started. About two dozen hikers were present to watch the new live action Lion King.
July 20, also day 111
Though we were up way past hiker midnight watching movies, we woke up at 5 am to beat the heat. I loved it, we managed 10 miles in the morning. Our goal was to get through New Jersey doing only 20 mile days as a challenge. It took us 96 hours to get through NJ. After we walked into New York, we made a beeline down the highway and hit up Bellvale Farms Creamery for sorbet and Vanilla Cream Soda. Six of us hikers then aggressively loitered outside the premises for five hours. We all fell asleep in the shaded porch section. I went into deep sleep but I could still hear the kids asking their parents what we were doing there, “they are hiking the trail and trying to get out of the heat.” I started napping comfortably and then woke up sweating heavily. The heat we were trying to avoid kicked in hard. After a second round of ice cream we decided that 3 pm was late enough and we continued down the trail. New York is rough. There is a lot of rugged boulder climbing. A fellow hiker I met at the drive in said he broke his wrist in this section. New York is difficult for shorter hikers, some of the obstacles are legit bouldering. I find bouldering on the AT to be fun and a nice break from the ankle twisting rocks of PA however I have no idea how anyone could go through New York in the rain without injury. I cannot possibly imagine these rocks slick and wet.
I went to bed dying of heat. I would have loved to open up my rain fly but the weather called for rain. Nights like this is when you wear as little as possible to bed, there is no AC. I survived a 3 day heat wave of real feels over 100 degrees. It wasn’t easy at all but we found a method that worked. You wake up before dawn and start hiking. As the sun comes up you adjust to the heat and at noon we would take a 4 hour break. We were able to get in 10 miles before 11 today. Luckily we were able to take our break at a lake this day. We swam and swam and swam, it was wonderful. While there we met a gentleman who asked us about our hike and said, “wow you must be going slow.” Ugh how rude. He simply said that because he met a bubble of hikers in June and here we are in July in New York. For the record we need to only do 9 miles a day to make it to Katahdin by Oct 15th. We are fine! I have really been enjoying New York’s terrain. It is tough. When the trail goes up you climb right up sometimes vertically boulder climbing (no joke). And when it goes down…it goes down. Sometimes I wonder, “the AT can’t possible go this way…” and then I double check the white blazes and I am amazed, “yes it really does go this way!” I was familiar with the terrain from Shenandoah to New Jersey. Almost too familiar with New Jersey, it tended to hurt me a bit. Every time we went over a section that I hiked before, I could not help but think about how I used to jump in a car and go back home. I was so close to my hometown. I know people there, I know the comforts that are there. New York is all new to me, it is like a giant adventure again like when I started in Georgia and I like it. New York is tough don’t get me wrong but I really like it. It is different and challenging. We went through the Lemon Squeezer today, a section that is very narrow. I have no idea how people with external frames managed this section. The Lemon Squeezer wasn’t the tough part, it was the next element; the vertical climb up the cliff wall that was crazy hard. At camp that night we met up with a fellow hiker we’ve known since Damascus. He wasn’t his normal chippy self. He has told us that he gets depressed so we began to worry when he went off for water and didn’t come back at dusk. “Shouldn’t he be back by now, he didn’t have his head lamp with him…” we questioned when an hour went by. Me and another hiker started calling for him and were about to walk in the direction that he left in when he came into view. Some people purposely hike at different seasons to escape the bubble but I rather enjoy it. By this point in the game only serious hikers are left, good people. We look out for each other.
July 22Bear Mountain has to be the easiest ascent and decline of the whole trail. There are literally stone stairs leading up and down the mountain. The steepness is there however it is maintained for tourists so how hard can it actually be? On top of Bear Mountain there are great views of NYC and the Hudson. After the mountain the trail hits its lowest point on the entire trail…the bear exhibit in the zoo! Yes you read that correctly, the trail actually runs directly through a zoo! In Fort Montgomery we booked a room at the Bear Mountain Resort Motel, it was the best motel with the sweetest people that I have come across by far. The owner came and picked us up, gave us hiker clothes and checked on us periodically to make sure we were okay. His new grandson was coming home the best day and he couldn’t stop talking about it he was so excited. He and his family really made us feel loved (and this was coming from a New Yorker!).
July 23I wasn’t planning going into New York City…in fact I was trying to avoid it. But a fellow hiker wanted to celebrate his birthday in NYC so we hopped on a bus and two hours later we arrived in NYC ready to take on the city (but very nauseous from the ride). It was lots of fun! Not too bad of a sensory over load. As I was walking the streets, I noticed the homeless more than I usually do. I felt bad for them because people run to my aide but here they are hungry, needing a shower, and wearing the same dirty clothes that have dirt, grime and piss on them (I’ve been there). People run to my aide so I can shower and have my dignity back. But I chose this life. I chose to quit my job and live in the woods. Here they are on the streets, many not choosing this life and people don’t even look at them. Interesting isn’t it?
July 24I find it funny how I can run into a hiker friendly deli and meet 6 new hikers who I have NEVER met before. The trail keeps bringing new people into your life. I am definitely intimidated by New England but I just take it step by step and magically the miles go by. I get sporadic pain on the bottom of my left foot between the heel and the arch. I’m afraid of the dreaded plantar fasciitis. I try massage and stretching. I have plenty left to hike. The trail is calming down in New York but the fun continues. Happy Trails!