The Garden State

Back on the AT for a few days. We had originally planned to just jump right back on where we left last year but there had been some super flooding and we were hearing stories of hikers having to wade through flood water up to their necks carrying their packs over their heads. We decided to skip Pennsylvania and move on to the Garden State of New Jersey, just over 70 miles in 6 days, should be a walk in the park!

Day 1

Kittatiny Point to Mohican State Park.

9.5 miles.

Snake Day (you’ll see why)

We have done absolutely no research on hiking in New Jersey, it was such a split second decision to change our plan we had no time to really do anything but have enough food for our hike. My pack is upsettingly heavy, I actually weighed it for the first time ever and it came in at 33lbs, (15kg or 2.5 stone) it’s got a full day’s worth of water and 5 days of food in it and to be honest I was a bit gutted it didn’t weigh more because it feels like so much!!

Really nice gradual uphill, nice wide trail, little bit rocky but what a difference from Corsica!

Lunch time we got a gorgeous spot, apparently one of many lakes we will pass. We dipped our toes in until the fish started to freak me out and this water snake made us both shit ourselves! There are several very poisonous and deadly snakes in this part of the world, one being a water moccasin (cottonmouth pit viper) which we think this one might be.

The rest of the day was pretty nice. That was until I had a close encounter with a very large rattlesnake. It was inches away from me when I heard it rattle and I did a comedy jump in the air and a not so smart thinking run backwards towards Willow. Luckily it moved out of our way pretty quickly but made my legs shake for a while.

I didn’t want to admit to willow how much I was suffering, my feet and knees were killing me still from our Corsica hike, I could barely bend my knees to step down off rocks and finally had to admit it as I sat down on a rock only 0.2 of a mile from our destination for the night, nothing to worry about, Willow was suffering in silence as well, so as soon as we let it out life got better. It was just upsetting how much I was having to beat my feet back into submission, I thought they were already under my control, but they had obviously smelt freedom in the week between my hikes.

As soon as we got settled at our tent spot for the night (evening yoga, leg rubbing and air mattress inflation) we heard some commotion and a hikers dog had just been bitten by a copper head snake, that’s three deadly snakes in one day!! The dog was in a bad way, it’s back legs were already paralysed from the venom, and if you know me you’ll know I like dogs way more than humans so it was all a bit stressful.

Played a not so fun game of ‘would you rather’ before bed which consisted of debating which was better between opening your tent to a bear or a rattlesnake, pretty sure that contributed to a night of very vivid animal attack dreams, not ideal when you are knee deep in wilderness.

DAY 2

Mohican to Brink Road Shelter

13.8 miles.

Today was incredibly green, every green colour you could ever imagine we could see today. We are deep.in the woods, occasionally we pop out onto a ridge or a pond but other than that we are deep in a green tunnel. We did get the opportunity to climb a cool fire tower which gave up our best views yet, we were just about high enough to see the top of the cloud line.

The trail has been unbelievably rich in wildlife, nothing scary today, except that we met a couple of hikers who had unfortunately walked through a hornets nest and had described the moment where she thought she was being attacked by flying snakes, eeeeek!

This is what we have been seeing for 90% of the day, the forest is very young and dense (like the students I used to teach!!)

Tonight we have a not so great camp spot, it’s nice and flat which is nice but the mosquitos are pretty unbearable. We have heard that tomorrow morning we will cross a road with a petrol station, which we confirmed with some southbound hikers so I’m pretty happy to go hard on my snacks tonight and replenish tomorrow!

Day 3

Hey there friendly blog readers! Willow here! Sophie asked me if I wanted to be a “guest writer” about one of the days on our New Jersey section and I must say, I’m quite honored. 😉 I first thought I should choose a day that provides the best opportunity to make fun of her, or defend myself against any potentially embarrassing stories she’s told about me in the past, but I realized A: she’s pretty open and will tell her own embarrassing stories, and B: whatever she has said about me is pretty much spot on! So I decided to write about the day we called “the day we almost got a snack”…which just seems appropriate!

Day 3,

Brink Road to Mashipacong Shelter

12.4 miles

So we were really keen to aim to hit a really interesting place to stay at the end of Day 4, so we decided to go for a shorter mileage day today so that both days would be a sensible length. We woke up and ventured out into Mosquito Town (Brink Shelter – SO bad) and had breakfast with some other hikers before setting off on the trail.

Now, we knew we’d be at a road crossing at a place called Culver’s Gap about three miles into our day, and AWOL and Guthook both mentioned that there was a gas station. (Just a side note, these are the guides nearly every hiker uses at least one of – one is a yearly book, the other is an app that geolocates you and has up to date comments. Both have their pros and cons but together work really well.) We double checked with some southbounders the night before and they confirmed, yep, gas station and some restaurants. Hurrah! we said as we ate way more of our snacks than would normally be allowed! As we hiked down we were both leaning hard into food fantasies about what gas station snacks we’d buy – coffee and juice and salty snacks, oh my! – and came out on the road to discover that…the gas station did NOT SELL SNACKS and both restaurants didn’t open for hours. We were both really upset about this fact, and at least three other hikers passed by, equally annoyed. That gas station is missing such a money making opportunity…at least put out a vending machine, guys!!

The rest of the morning continued pretty uneventfully until lunch. We planned to stay the night at a shelter with no water source, so we stopped to filter and fill up with extra water for cooking later. As we walked down a blue blaze to a shelter and stream, we passed a man who was clearly not a hiker, but we asked him about whether the water source was flowing. He said that he didn’t know about that, but that he was a camp director and in a half hour he’d be bringing fifty kids from his camp for lunch and we’d be welcome to have a drink a snack with them. Well then! Jackpot!

So we filtered our water and they arrived, and were super, super nice – great staff, nice kids, only one problem…they were a diabetic youth services camp, and because they had to spend ages calculating carbs and ketones…we just couldn’t stick around long enough to nick a snack! Foiled again…the day we almost saw a snack.

In more somber news, that afternoon we arrived at a place called Sunrise Mountain, with a covered pavilion on top. Sadly, one of our trail idols, Jennifer Pharr Davis, came up to this shelter on her first thru hike and found a man who had committed suicide. Knowing that made it a bit eerie, but we decided to be conscious about thinking about that person and honouring their life and struggle. It really was a beautiful spot.

Mashipacong was a decently nice shelter in a clearing. Sophie and I arrived quite early that evening but decided to stick around, and after a while we were joined by a nice older gentleman we had met earlier and several other hikers. We popped our tents quickly as rain was brewing, and spent the evening in our usual thrilling rota of activities – sore muscle yoga, Kindle reading, and a last late night* buddy pee trip before bed (*late night = 9PM, FYI). We do lead a glamorous life…

Day 4

Mashipacong to the Secret Shelter

12.5 miles

It was really nice of willow to not only contribute to this blog as she is so very important to our adventures but also to skip over the tantrum I had when I didn’t get the snacks!!

Today started off with rain falling on our tents, I would say we have reached expert level in packing up our belongings completely inside our tents and we can even take down the inside layer of our tents without having to get out!

The worst thing about it raining today was that we are passing the very highest point in New Jersey and we have not had many rewarding view points so far so we had been looking forward to that, but the very best thing was definitely Willow and her comedy horse silhouette with her rain poncho on, cheered me up a treat!

The first 5 miles were pretty terrible, it really rained hard and the terrain was mostly down hill with slick rocks, my feet really took the brunt, there’s nothing you can do to protect the skin on the bottom of your feet once they are wet! The saving grace was a visitor’s center which offered not only a place to dry off and inside flush toilets but a free can of pepsi for hikers!! We stayed here well over an hour, until the rain was definitely passed over and the sun was out!

Only a mile later we hit the highest point in New Jersey, and got some nice views from the observation deck.

The afternoon did not disappoint either, we were out of the green oppressive tunnel and hiking through some pretty glorious meadows.

We headed for a cool little place to stay just off the trail tonight called the secret shelter. It’s on a piece of private land owned by a former hiker who thru hiked in 1989. He has built a shelter and a well water tap, it has an outside warm water shower and privy, we are tenting on some great flat land and really love it here despite some pretty shady characters at the shelter who just gave us an opportunity to roll our eyes frequently and mouth to each other ‘go get a job douche bags!’

Day 5

Secret shelter to Vernon NJ

13.9 miles

Today we are hiking to a town to resupply our food, that means we are allowed to talk about food all day today! We don’t allow ourselves to do this unless it’s a town day. We have invented some new trail games this year which include, which Harry Potter character am I thinking of? And what smell am I smelling? To add to our old faithfuls which zip is this zip? and what’s in my hand? New Jersey has the highest population of black bears but I’m pretty sure our chattering has kept them away!

Today was the day of the bog boards and boardwalks. The trail maintainers in New Jersey are both wonderful and sadistic. Whilst the boards keep my feet dry and out of the bogs, they are really slippery and often crack and creak when you step on them.

We walked a completely flat section around an amazing wildlife preserve which was teaming with birds of all sorts and later in the afternoon through a state park with an elevated boardwalk where we saw deer and turtles frolicking beside us.

We were picked up at a road crossing late afternoon by a really nice family who run a motel near to the trail where will will be staying tonight. First order of business is high calorie beige coloured food followed by showering multiple times with nice smelling things and lying very still on a bed.

Day 6

Vernon to Waywayanda shelter

5 miles

We planned today to be a Nero which means nearly zero miles, a short day. I was kind of worried about the first couple of miles as they appeared to be straight up on a section of trail called Stairway to Heaven, you know when they name a section of trail it’s for a reason and I was very apprehensive about climbing a rock staircase for 2 miles.

It actually turned out to be just fine, sometimes I forget that I’m much fitter and much more seasoned for hiking than I ever have been, it was actually very enjoyable.

The problem came over the next 3 miles. We were caught in a massive storm, the heavens opened and dumped gallons and gallons of rain on us and for a hot second we were dangerously in a thunderstorm, it was so dark in the woods we couldn’t really see a thing but all around us the ground was shaking from thunder and at one point we heard a lightning strike hit a tree, it was so loud, we both screamed, although neither could hear each other over the rain and ran towards each other. Water was rising around us, at one point we were knee deep in water fighting the current of a burst river, we were saturated, packs and everything as we didn’t have time to stop and get our rain gear out, it was too dangerous we needed to find shelter. I think it was one of the most frightening things we have experienced, it just came on so quick and the power of water can be so devastating.

We did get to the shelter and just stood there in shock for quite a long time. We couldn’t even get it together to get our wet stuff off and it was really hard for me to see a time in the future when I wasn’t going to be wet, I was totally disheartened. We did eventually make a plan that included wearing our dry rain ponchos with nothing on underneath for a while to air dry as we didn’t have anything to dry our bodies with, which we just hope the other hiker in the shelter didn’t realise and ate some jelly sweets which helped.

Unconventionally we have decided to put up one of our tents inside the shelter tonight, the thought of sleeping in the shelter with mice running all over you all night is not every appealing but it was an absolute monsoon outside so this is our compromise. Bit of a squeeze for 2 people but a great bug net!

Day 7

Waywayanda to Prospect Rock

7 miles

The storms and rain were relentless all night and way into the morning, there was some loud rolling thunder and cracks of lightning but I have to say the rain was very soothing and I slept really well. We had to wait until mid morning before we could leave but at least we had been into town the night before so we had a fresh set of hiking clothes to put on. We did end up deciding to do a much shorter day than planned, I think willow could have sucked it up and done the 15 mile’s but I was done, 7 was going to be my max, I wanted dry feet to be in my near future because they were in bad shape.

We braved the trail and by trail I mean river, the trail was a foot under water at best, bridges had been washed away, and we just had to wade our way through.

There was seriously one section where I was thigh deep (willow long legs was just knee deep but Sophie short legs suffered a bit) and it turned out to be really fun (until we started thinking about thoes water snakes then we had a pep in our step)

Within a few miles we had reached our goal of crossing the New Jersey New York state line, it was a pretty unimpressive site but we were over the moon to have completed another state.

We actually decided to hike on as just over the next mountain was the highest point in New York state so we trotted on for a scenic lunch on Prospect Rock. We had a great surprise on top as you could see the Manhattan skyline from the trail, we could make out the Empire State building and the downtown skyscrapers, it was so cool to see it from the wilderness.

Later that day we met the most amazing trail angels ever. A person who went to the same university as willow and has worked in Girl Scouting lives right off the trail and offered to pick us up. Janet and her family were so brilliant, they took us to dinner and even drove us miles back to our car, they were such kind people and I’m so glad to have met them, this was the perfect example of how kindness can really make a difference to a person’s day and what a perfect end to our section hike on the Appalachian Trail, until next time!

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