“Life is raw material. We are artisans. We can sculpt our existence into something beautiful, or debase it into ugliness. It’s in our hands.” – Cathy Better
“This is the urgency: Live! and have your blooming in the noise of the whirlwind.” – Gwendolyn Brooks
After a pancake breakfast at the Water Gap Diner, I said farewell to Delaware Water Gap and crossed a long bridge over the Delaware River as traffic zoomed by. Halfway across the bridge I saw a painted sign on the walkway marking my departure from Pennsylvania and entrance into New Jersey. It felt good to check off another state and be back in the state from which I graduated from high school. I have fond memories from my years at Northern Burlington High School and truly appreciate the high school friends who are following my journey and offering their encouragement. It was also kind of interesting to be returning to New Jersey at the same weight as when I left.
Just over the bridge I stopped at the Kittatinny Visitor Center to top off my tank from their water fountain and purchase a Gatorade for later. As I walked around looking at their displays and talking to the Park Rangers, I was sort of dreading going back out into the heat and humidity. Just then a wheelchair-bound man came in with a friend to re-charge his wheelchair battery behind a bench. It was a quick and necessary reminder that some folks would give anything to be able to stand and hike even a few feet, so I should appreciate the ability and opportunity I have to hike this magnificent trail.
My first real task of the day was a five mile, 1100 foot climb with a few dozen mostly day hikers up to Sunfish Pond. This section of trail, up to the Kittatinny Mountain summit, will likely find a home in my Top 10 sections of the AT, and the glacial pond was easily the prettiest to date. Sunfish Pond is a 44-acre glacial lake and a U.S. National Natural Landmark. Just standing there on its banks felt very special. The AT in New Jersey was off to an impressive start!
After descending the mountain, I stopped at the Mohican Outdoor Center for a Reuben sandwich, chips, Coke, and rest. I talked to Arrow and Mountain Goat, my piano playing Aussie friend. Mountain Goat was preparing to spend a week in New York City to allow an earlier hiking companion to catch up with her. As I ate my Reuben, she emerged from the restroom and in her adorable Aussie voice said, “Fob, I’m kind of weak and have the worst diarrhea…do you think it’s Giardia?” I had no clue how to respond, but wanted to continue the conversation about her diarrhea because I love her accent. I told her to rest, drink fluids, see an NYC doc if the trots continue, and try not to have an accident in Times Square.
At mile 1305.9 I passed the Catfish Lookout Tower and spoke to a group of teens and Foxfire, who was tenting there for the night. I continued on despite an approaching storm. About out of water, I stopped at a pond which is described in my guidebooks as a “swamp” and beaver pond. The water was unusually warm and I just hoped that my water filter would filter out the bad stuff. After a 14.9 mile day, I stealth camped at mile 1307.9. Thirty minutes after crawling into my tent, the rain started to fall and would continue throughout the night.
By morning the rain had stopped but I ended up wet anyway from sweat and brushing up against wet vegetation. It was another hot and humid day. The New Jersey gnats, black flies, horse flies, and sweat bees formed a federation and aggressively swarmed my head. I once again had to don my head net for much of the day, which frustrates them to no end.
At mile 1321.4 I descended into Culvers Gap near Branchfield, NJ. The guidebook map showed three eating establishments just off the trail. The first, Sunrise AT Diner, was closed. The second, Stokes Steakhouse, had gone out of business and is up for sale. Facing my final strike, I nervously approached Gyp’s Tavern and it was open! The first thing I noticed inside was a t-shirt on the wall featuring a deer squatting on a plant and the title…”Hey Vegetarians… My Food Poops on Your Food.” I laughed harder and longer than the joke warranted. Inspired, I ate a pizza, hot dog, and onion rings while talking to fellow hikers Scott, Jersey, and Boston.
I hiked a few more miles to the Gren Anderson Shelter, and called it a day after 16.5 miles. It was a beautiful night with no rain in the forecast so, for the first time, I tented without a rain fly. It was neat to feel a slight breeze in the tent and be able to look up and see the stars above.
In case you’re wondering, the rocks don’t end at the Pennsylvania border. They continue into New Jersey for awhile, and that included my hike on Day 117. The motivational goal today was reaching High Point State Park, the summit of which is the highest point in New Jersey. Even more important to me was the existence of a concession stand at the park’s popular beach and swimming area.
Based on a tip from a southbounder, I visited High Point SP headquarters, where signing their hiker logbook earns you a free Coke. Nice touch, Jersey. I then hiked over to the beach and swimming area and located the concession stand. The prices were high, but I was extremely hungry and in desperate need of calories. Over the next hour, while drying out my clothes and gear, I ate an ice cream appetizer, cheeseburger, hot dog, French fries, two Gatorades, two Cokes, and another ice cream. The total came to $400. I then hopped in the bathroom shower to rinse off the salt formations that had formed on my beard, earlobes, and elsewhere. If I were rich and it were allowed, I would have spent the rest of my summer at this park, eating, swimming, and showering.
After an 18.4 mile day, I reached the Murray property, also known as the Secret Shelter. For the past nearly twenty years, Mr. Murray, an AT thru-hiker, has graciously let hikers camp on his beautiful grassy farm. It’s not an official shelter, but has a cabin, tenting area, privy, outdoor shower, and well water. After setting up my tent in the soft grass and visiting with several other hikers, two donkeys came up. At first I thought I was hallucinating from the heat. My mind was racing with questions. Are there wild donkeys? Does Mr. Murray own these? Can you eat them? If so, how would you go about killing them? Are they friendly? Will they make waffles in the morning? Does Mountain Goat have Giardia?
They turned out to be very friendly. In fact, while I ate dinner on the porch, one came over and put his head on my shoulder and then began scratching his neck against my shoulder. This was the most affection I’d experienced since the bed and breakfast in Pennsylvania. I captured the bizarre moment on video. I also realized that the AT had basically reduced me to nothing more than a fence post.
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