Days 132-137 New Jersey, baby! – The Trek

Days 132-137 New Jersey, baby!  The Trek

After we took our border photos, we high tailed it across the bridge. I’m not usually afraid of bridges but I was scared on that one. Yikes ! It was a huge relief when we made it to the other side.

From the bridge the trail goes through a highway-side park with some picnic tables and pit toilets. Then it goes under the highway to a trailhead parking lot. We needed to get water since the campsite we were heading to had none. By the time we finished filtering it was about 7pm. We put our headlamps on standby and began the remaining 3.5 miles.

First, we passed some day hikers who told us they had just seen a bear!!! I got very excited. Thru hikers always say they see tons of bears in NJ and I wanted to see some myself!! We kept our eyes extra peeled for any signs of bears.

Next, we passed Prosecco, Phoenix, and Biscuits. They had also been at the sake brewery. The rest of their group was stuck in town because their clothes had gotten locked in the laundromat! They were strategizing a Plan B. They had not seen any bears.

Shortly after seeing the girls, we hit 1300 miles!!! We took turns taking each other’s photos.

From there, it was only about a mile to the campground. The last half mile or so was ROCKY! Just like in PA! Allegedly those would end soon, but I realized I should stop holding out much hope.

The toe stubbing kind, my least favorite

We made it just as it was getting dusky. We poked around looking for a campsite and found our way to the ridge runners site! He had a great view and I was jealous. We chatted for a bit then I asked where the second best site was. He told us to go to the privy then take the trail past it and we’d find a site even better than his!! Hell yeah!

He was not wrong! We found a campsite tucked away with a lovely view down to the valley. We shared the site with a very brave deer and no humans. We got the tent up in the almost dark and gratefully climbed into bed.

In the morning, our deer neighbor grazed by and we had a beautiful sunrise.

We got up early, we were determined to actually hike 20 miles. Only one other hiker was up when we got our food out of the bear box. But another mama deer and a little baby deer were munching nearby!

The magic continued when we made it to Sunfish Pond about a mile later. Sunfish Pond is a glacial pond! It has an acidic pH, so it’s not good to drink from and only a few kinds of fish can live in it.

The froggies loved it. We could hear tons of them and saw a few jump in the water when we approached. We sat on a bench for a few minutes to listen and enjoy watching the last of the mist come off the water in the sun.

You’d think walking around the edge of a pond would be really chill hiking. It was actually really technical and rock scrambly for most of it.

I almost did fall in the pond once, but it wasn’t the rocks fault.. It was mine for trying to get blueberries on the edge of a bank and looking at blueberries instead of my feet. Oops!

Around 8 we made it to the next water source and took a break to eat second breakfast. The water was yellow, even after filtering, and this sketched Pinky out. I put a Gatorade packet in and drank up… We didn’t keep track of time very well and started hiking again around 9. We’d only done about 2 miles… so much for our early start.

The trail took us up over an exposed ridge with incredible 360 views of the surrounding mountains and the Delaware river. It was the most beautiful and expansive view we’d seen in a long long time. We soaked it in.

Once we were back in the woods we spotted someone packing up a campsite…. It was Hot Sauce! We told him about seeing Pie in DWG and he told us the whole story about them getting separated during the thunderstorm. They had since connected and all was well.

We stopped again at a better water source another 2 or 3 miles later.. and stayed a little longer than we should have. By the time we made it up to the fire tower, it was 12:30 and very hot.

Also a way cuter paint job than any of the southern fire towers

Unlike the fire towers in NC and TN, the towers in NJ are in use and have people working in them!! So cool! I really wanted to talk to the watcher but I didn’t want to climb the stairs and knock on the door sooo we just chatted with the section hikers at the picnic table and moved on.

A few miles later we went around a big beaver pond.

Once again, no beavers! So sad. BUT this time I did see much beaver evidence! We passed many trees with chew marks at beaver height. That was pretty exciting.

The end of the day had us going over a mini rollercoaster of 3 peaks. We went over the first one around 7 as the sun was starting to get low in the sky.

When we were on the final peak, a long exposed rocky one, it was 7:45 and the sky was getting really good. I walked so slowly. It was an amazing reward at the end of what had already been an incredibly beautiful and rewarding day.

Finishing a 20 mile day, making it to 1300 miles, finishing PA, having these incredible sunsets and sunrises, and feeling like we were back in the wilderness (PA had some pretty views but it was all farms, I missed the tree covered mountains) all combined to make me feel like a new hiker.

We’d had several days that just felt like a grind. The heat and lack of water for the last few days had me feeling extra exhausted. My foot pain had been much improved for a week or two (shout out to the stretchy sock and Suze for strongly recommending it.) The improved foot pain had been making a big difference in my hiking, but the heat and dehydration was counteracting it and making me feel like a weak hiker again. This day was the gift I needed.

We came down off the last peak and had about a half mile to the shelter. It was getting dark under the trees and we were ready to be done. We heard a noise to our left. We stopped and looked- TWO BABY BEARS AND A MAMA BEAR LOOKED BACK AT US!!!

I whisper screamed at Pinky, we held each other’s arms and watched as the babies adorably scurried up a tree and mama took us in. We stood still and she stood still. She looked at her smart babies, then looked at us, then started slowly moving towards them. We started walking. She stopped and looked at us. We stopped and looked at her. This happened a few times until finally she told the babies it was safe. They climbed down from the tree and then all three lumbered off away from us. It was an A+ bear experience and the cream cheese icing on the perfect red velvet cake of a day.

We made it the last bit to the shelter and chose a campsite in the failing light. This time I got water while Pinky set up the tent. The water source was a mosquito nest and I got destroyed. When I got back to the tent it was not better. We realized the tent site we chose was directly under a dead tree that had fallen and was resting on another tree. I was so tired and cranky from the mosquitos that I had a “If we die, we die“ attitude. Pinky was a little less blasé and wanted to move the tent… but we couldn’t easily get it to a similarly flat, non-rooty spot soo…. He took on my attitude.

We had planned to cook dinner but 30 seconds into the endeavor we gave up. We hid inside the tent and ate cheese and sweet bologna instead. It was a miserable, sweaty night. The irony of the most amazing day followed by the most miserable night was not lost on us.

In the morning we were slow to get out of camp. We had a lovely breakfast chat with south bound section hikers Aaron and Dylan, they had great advice on the trail ahead. I shared my blister popping strategies and supplies with Dylan.

Eventually we set out, motivated by the prospect of trail magic at a gap in about 3 miles.

For the past 8 years or so a local trail angel, Moose, has been doing trail magic in the same parking lot every day from 9am-2pm. When we arrived, not only was Moose there but Butt Flap’s parents were also set up and Ms Janet was there in her van. It was a poppin parking lot!

There was a heat advisory that day and it was already incredibly hot. The cold drinks, shade and snacks were so welcome. The food highlights were Moose’s home made sandwiches with salami, cheese and olive spread! He gets up at 5am and makes a cooler full of them, every day! He also had a generator hooked up to a freezer full of various ice cream treats, I ate a Klondike bar. Butt Flap’s parents had incredible homemade chocolate chip cookies.

After at least an hour we tore ourselves away from the trail magic and hiked on. It was definitely a bit of a struggle that day. Just when I was about to be Done we made it to the top of one of New Jersey’s highest peaks, Sunrise Mountain, which is topped with a stone picnic pavilion. We threw our packs down and I laid down on the cold stone floor in the shade. We’d intended on a quick break but it was more like an hour. It’s hard to get moving again when it’s that hot out.

Almost immediately we ran into Butt Flap’s dad at the parking lot. He had moved locations so Butt Flap and his mom could hike together. The cold water and cookies brought me back to life.

With some more energy we made it to the next shelter where another local trail angel leaves multiple gallons of water multiple times a day. This shelter doesn’t have a water source and the trail doesn’t pass any water for many miles. PA, NJ and NY are all incredibly dry in the summer and it would be so much harder in these states without the water angels. The fire tower that day also had a pile of water bottles in the back of a truck. We could not have gotten through the day without all this angel water.

Even with taking every opportunity to drink water and carrying 2-3 L, I had a headache by the end of the day. It’s just so hard to keep up with our hydration needs while hiking 16 miles on a day that feels over 100 degrees with high humidity.

Around 7pm we made it to our planned campsite. We didn’t want to stay at another mosquito heaven so we skipped the shelter. we set up on the edge of a gentle cliff and had some debate about how to orient the tent- was it more important to stake out the vestibule or get a cross breeze? We chose stake out the vestibule since there was a 30% chance of rain.

We made the right choice! Not 20 mins after we got the tent up the wind picked up and a big scary cloud blew over us. We realized we did not have long before we were gonna get wet. We threw everything into the tent and staked out the rain fly as fast as we could! Just as we got settled it started to rain! We had a solid thunderstorm with some mildly scary winds for about an hour. It let up when there was still just enough light for us to get our bear bags hung.

It was a bit of a sweaty night since we kept the rain fly on, but we woke up to a beautiful breezy morning.

The morning stayed breezy but got a little more humid as time went on. The rain brought out all the Red Efts, juvenile Eastern Newts. I’m not even exaggerating when I say I saw about a hundred or more of them on the trail that day. I counted.

We admired the New Jersey High Point Veterans Memorial from a viewing tower.

Then managed to perfectly time getting to the next shelter before a thunderstorm started. Rivers was still there from the night before. We’d seen him the previous morning, he was hiking super fast, trying to do a 30 mile day. He, not surprisingly, got dehydrated and overheated but still made it 26 miles, like a badass. He was taking a slow morning, rehydrating, resting and waiting for his friends to catch up. Prosecco and Biscuits were not far behind us and arrived before the rain got too bad.

None of us wanted to hike in the rain so we were checking weather apps and getting updates from other friends at the state park headquarters. All reports seemed to agree that it would be a big storm and would last until at least noon. It was about 10:30. We weren’t doing a long day, our plan was to go into Unionville- it had been 6 days since our last shower and laundry, we were ready for town. We decided to wait a bit and see what happened.

We snacked, I did sudoku, and the shelter got very quiet. I realized Rivers, Biscuit and Prosecco had fallen asleep. I thought that didn’t seem like such a bad idea. I blew up my air mattress, pulled out my sleeping bag and snuggled down. I woke up at 12:30 when the sun started coming out! Everyone else was still asleep.

We ate lunch then set out for the 7 miles into town. At 5.5 miles we took a side trail to the “Secret Shelter”- a cabin owned by a former thru hiker with a water spigot and an extra friendly donkey named Jake! Jake is trail famous, we had to go see him.

Jake is basically a big poorly behaved dog. He was constantly begging food off everyone! He loved pets, but loved food more. Pinky fed him a fruit snack or two and then Jake was all over him! We were glad we met him.

From there it was 2 miles to town! Unionville is a super tiny town about a mile off trail. It’s got a few restaurants and a convenience store with a deli. According to the Far Out comments there is also a church hostel of some sort but the whole situation seemed vague and confusing. We asked a local where to find the hostel and he didn’t know what we were talking about. We had a phone number but I didn’t have service and Pinky’s phone was dead. I was so tired and so desperate for a shower that these complications were more than I could bear. By the time we got in touch with Pastor Doug/Banzai I was in tears.

We found Pastor Doug’s house just in time. He only has space for 4 hikers in his basement. Weezie was already there. By the time I finished taking a shower, Rivers had arrived. Biscuits and Prosecco were with him, too, but there wasn’t enough space for them. They let him have the bunk since he had hiked so far the day before, good friends.

We had a comfortable, quiet evening with Weezie and Rivers. We got take out pizza and went to bed. In the morning, around 6am, we first heard Pastor Doug’s young children start running around. Then Pastor Doug came downstairs with coffee for us! He sat and chatted with us for a bit before heading out to go on an archaeological hunt for a pre-Civil War church location.

None of us wanted to leave but we had good motivation- the drive in movie theater in Warwick was only 18 miles away! The heatwave had finally broken and it was an actually chill 18 miles! The first 5 included a road walk and a flat loop around a protected wetland!

Then we went up and over one ridge, came down the other side and did the New Jersey board walk through another wetland!

We saw a MASSIVE snapping turtle and a swimming snake.

At the end of the board walk PK and her mom had trail magic set up! We had hotdogs, an incredible salad, and a billion chocolate chip cookies. Nobody wanted to leave this trail magic, especially since we had a 1,000 foot climb ahead of us. We kept seeing day hikers coming in and out of the trail head and were using that as encouragement- if there’s this many day hikers it can’t be that bad!!

It was not that bad. I mean, it was a tough climb but we’ve done worse. And the top had an incredible view!

From there we only had 4 miles to go to the drive in road crossing! We cruised but were still the last ones there. Pie is an absolute sweet heart and told Jackpot, a shuttle driver, to come back and wait for us and anyone behind us! We didn’t know of anyone behind us.. so we hopped into his truck and down we went to the drive in!

Turns out Jackpot is also from Richmond! He was thru hiking but his foot kept getting injured so now he’s following his tramily north  and shuttle driving along the way! He had all the intel on the drive in and the surrounding area. It’s a perfect little trail stop- the drive in theater lets thru hikers camp and watch the movies for free! It’s right next to a shopping center with several restaurants and a grocery store. There’s a cidery/ice cream shop/restaurant across the street.

After we got our tent set up in tent city (there were probably 50 hikers there when we arrived), we popped over to the cidery for a drink and dinner before the movie. We got back just in time! They have little radios for the hikers to tune in to the movies. We sat on the hill and had a view of all 3 screens, but we were listening to Nope.

Pinky and I were among the few who made it all the way through the movie. We loved it! We even got some popcorn and watched part of the next movie too! (All screens had a double feature.) Since we stayed up so late we slept in the next morning. Then we got bagels for breakfast and did a small resupply.

When we got back to the drive in, we found that we weren’t the last ones there. The other loiterers were our pals Pie, Little John, Rivers, Prosecco, Biscuits, Spicy Onion, Trips, Hot Sauce, Phoenix, and Almost. They were making plans to go to an Air BnB for the night since hostels and affordable hotels are slim in this area. They invited us to come along! We were thrilled.

From there, the party split into a few factions. We still wanted to get in some hiking that day- we planned to go into the city on Saturday and wanted to get off trail at Bear Mountain, about 40 miles from our current location. Pie, Little John, and Almost decided to hike, too. 10 miles would get us across the NY border and to a good road crossing. We called Jackpot and off we went! The rest of the group would grocery shop and make their way to the house separately.

Getting to the NY border was pretty easy. The trail was nice and we were energized by all the fun. When we were almost there we saw our friend Buttermeister!! We hadn’t seen him since Pearisburg but have been keeping up with him via his wife, Snowy Owl. We knew we were right on his heels and it was great to finally see him! We chatted and caught up for about 30 mins.

Right before the border the trail got very boulder-y. It pretty much stayed a rock scramble until a mile before our end point! This significantly slowed us down. It was, however, one of the more dramatic and fun border crossings.

When we finally made it to the road crossing we bee-lined for the ice cream shop 0.2 mi down the road. It was one of the best ice cream cones I’ve ever had.

Jackpot picked us up again and took us to the house. We had so much fun hanging out with new friends. Hot Sauce made an amazing dinner. We watched other people suffer in the woods on “Alone.” We slept in a very comfortable bed. In the morning we had a 3 course breakfast! Staying with them reminded me of staying with my friends at New Years and I just loved it. Fingers crossed we get the opportunity to do it again!

New Jersey was a quick state- we did it in about 6 days! But it was a FULL six days! It included some of our favorite experiences so far. We were sad to finish the state. It’s hard to be sad for long since things move so quickly out here, there’s always new adventures right around the corner! Nonetheless, I think I’ll still be missing New Jersey for a while. I did not expect it to be so wonderful, and I wasn’t the only one. We had multiple conversations with other hikers who felt the same way. Thanks, New Jersey, for a memorable 6 days!