The Land of Bugs
A thick fog descended on the forest during the night. A buck is grazing nearby as we pack up our gear and hike out. The mosquitoes are relentless this morning, buzzing around our ears. We hike a few miles in the climbing humidity before stopping for breakfast at the Mohican Outdoor Center-a fantastic spot to chill, get a meal, and charge your electronics.
After eating a big breakfast, we hike on. New Jersey is beautiful. The hillsides are largely devoid of human habitation, allowing for nice views. We break for lunch, and two section hikers come over to chat: Little Bear and Bird. We spend the rest of the day hiking with them. Little Bear knows this area well, being a native to New Jersey. He points out numerous interesting sights along the way. It’s nice to have this detailed look at the landscape. As thru-hikers, we’re often too obsessed with the big picture-never knowing what’s around us. It’s good to stop and smell the roses sometimes.
We part ways with Little Bear and Bird at a shelter. We have to say goodbye quickly because the bugs are eating us alive. They are stopping for the day, and we have miles to make yet. We hike to the next highway intersection and road walk to a restaurant for dinner. As we make our way inside, we can tell this place is not very hiker friendly. People are giving us the evil eye.
We are getting used to people staring. It’s just part of being hiker trash. If people don’t know about the trail or hikers, they usually think we are homeless. Some people are just curious. You can start up a conversation with them, and they are all in on hearing about our adventure, once they have figured out we are not dangerous. Other people just plain avoid us, they won’t make eye contact, even though we are smiling at them.
Some More Jersey, Please
Soon we’re back on the trail, climbing a mountain to the Gren Anderson Shelter. It starts pouring rain. The shelter is packed with boys scouts and outward bounders. Our buddy Mittens is here. The mosquitoes buzz all around us, and there is nothing to do but hurry into our shelter for some solace.
In the morning, we’re in a hurry to escape the noisy shelter. Hiking fast through the dark, humid, buggy woods to High Point State Park– the highest point in New Jersey (1,803 ft), we spot a bear on a ridge. It sprints away within seconds. We stop at the visitor’s center, and the state park employees give us free Pepsi. Just beyond, there is a platform from which we can view the war memorial.
The miles fall away, and we soon find ourselves at the “secret shelter”. This is a beautiful piece of land owned and maintained by a former thru-hiker, Jim Murray. We chill in the shade with Battlelion, Oats, and Dirt Devil before continuing onward to Unionville, NY. This small town is welcoming to hikers, allowing them to set up tents in the city park. We enjoy the deli and pizza immensely. The park provides a peaceful, bug-free sanctuary for a good night’s sleep.
Bogs and Bugs
The next day, our hike is filled with wetlands. We skirt marshes, viewing red-winged blackbirds, muskrats, and grebes to name a few. The sun is intense on the exposed boardwalks and relief comes only when we return to the shade of the forest. The bugs are after us. There are bloodsuckers and tiny gnats floating around our eyes and ears. The bug nets make us look like morbid brides, but they allow us to keep our sanity.
Soon we find ourselves on a boardwalk park filled with day hikers. Where there are day hikers there is food! We take the first road intersection to a hot dog stand and load up on the special before getting a large dose of Italian ice. We run into our buddy Tennessee. He is distraught after nearly being arrested for trying to hitch into town for resupply. It’s illegal to hitchhike in New Jersey.
We drag ourselves away from the shade of the hot dog stand and hike straight up a steep mountain before setting up camp at the Wawayundah Shelter. This shelter is nearby the state park’s bathroom, and we indulge in a hiker bath and do some much-needed hiker laundry. We attempt a dinner with Flash, Tennessee, and Gregory back at the shelter, but the bugs are intruding on our party, forcing an early retreat.
The Big Apple
Today we pass into New York. Almost instantly the terrain changes to include some hairy rock climbs. Nothing that requires special equipment, but it does demand finding some tricky hand and footholds. The hiking feels more challenging, and the humidity makes it even more arduous. You can’t beat the views though.
When we come to the road leading to the Bellvale Farms Creamery, there is a trail angel named Tentman waiting for us. He gifts us Darn Tough socks and sodas. While we’re chilling with him, a support crew for runner Harvey Lewis rolls up. They’re waiting for him to come through for a break. They busy themselves preparing food and drink to fuel him as he attempts the Supported Fastest Known Time on the A.T.
Up ahead we see a hot dog stand, so we road walk and order the special. We visit with some locals who confirm that the Bellvalle Farms Creamery is the place for hungry hikers. Of course, we have to go, so we road walk some more and purchase the best ice cream known to man there. We decide to live dangerously and stick out our thumbs. Fortunately, we get picked up almost right away (not by the fuzz!). Whisked away into Warwick, NY, we get a room at the motel where we run into our pal Savage Beast.
More Creamery, Please
After a comfortable night’s rest, a shower, and laundry, we’re at the diner across the street enjoying breakfast with Savage Beast. Our friend Eager Beaver, who had to get off the trail for a while to heal a stress fracture, has offered to host us for an evening at his house in Poughkeepsie. Oh, boy! But first, we have decided to go to NYC tomorrow and are excitedly discussing plans.
We hitch out of Warwick straight back to the Creamery. Round two! Back on the trail, we struggle with the tough, rocky terrain, the bugs, and the intense heat and humidity. The sweat is pouring off our skin. Many trail angels have put out water caches for thru-hikers, and we try to hydrate despite the impossible odds. We stealth camp near Elk Park adjacent to the interstate. A jackhammer sings us to sleep.
We’re out of our camp by 6 a.m. to flag down the commuter bus to NYC. Right away the bus pulls over, and we invade the space with our pervasive stench. No one seems to mind though. I guess New Yorkers have seen weirder things than three trashy thru-hikers.
What a Day
On the streets of NYC, we begin our rush to see as much cool stuff and eat as much street food as possible. The crush of people is intimidating. It’s rush hour, and we are being those tourists who clog up the sidewalk. In short, we have a great day: eating bagels, stopping by Times Square, visiting Central Park, carb loading in Little Italy, receiving foot massages in Chinatown, floating around on the Staten Island Ferry, chowing down on Halal, gawking at the public library where they filmed Ghostbusters, and finally riding the subway from Grand Central to Brooklyn to visit our PCT buds Birdie and Possum.
We’re exhausted and happy. Birdie and Possum drive us back to Elk Park as we nod off dead tired from our “zero day”. We camp and fall asleep after midnight.
The next day, we’re dead on our feet. We hike regardless but jump at the chance to stop at Harriman State Park. It’s the weekend and trail angel hopes are high. Sure enough, the moment we sit down at the picnic tables some lovely people offer to cook us food. Oddly enough a man named Angel prepares burgers, dogs, steaks, rice, beans, and chorizo for us. It’s way more than we can eat, so we pack up the leftovers and head over to the lake beach for a swim. It turns out that New York is getting a mad heat wave. The lake grants us a brief escape.
Too soon, we’ve packed up and are doing intervals again on the A.T. We climb multiple mountains and end our day at the top of Bear Mountain, looking down at the Hudson River as the sun sets, surrounded by tourists snapping photos as we devour our leftovers. We’re going to get a 5 a.m. start tomorrow to beat the heat. We have a plan.
Hot as Hades
The next morning we descend Bear Mountain, cross the Hudson River, and scramble up and down another whopper of a mountain all before 10 a.m. It is already amazingly hot when we reach and retreat into the Appalachian Market-a deli and a convenience store right on the trail. Phase one of our plan is complete. Phase two is to get a hitch into town for a matinee. This way we can wait out the hottest part of the day in a cold, dark theater while eating junk food. We walk out to the road to hitch, and before we even get to put our sign up, a local woman and her son offer to take us to the movie theater. We watch Solo and cool off. After the movie, we head to Walmart for some resupply then over to Panera Bread to eat, charge our electronics, and wait out the afternoon heat.
We arrange an Uber back to the market to continue the hike. We start off into the woods only to hike another .5 miles to a baseball field. It is owned by a church that allows hikers to camp and shower there. The shower is just a stall outside, and the water is freezing. It is shocking how cold it is at first, but then it feels amazing. We spend an hour there relaxing, showering, and doing hiker laundry. Basically, it’s rinsing out the salt in our sweaty clothes.
We walk out of the field as the sun sets. We pull our flashlights out as the forest begins to get dark. This is the first time we have hiked at night on the A.T. As we move down the trail, we chat about everything to make the time pass. Every now and then, we spot some eyes staring back at us in the dark. Most of the time, it is just deer, but we always stop just to make sure it is not something more dangerous. We see some small eyes right on the trail, and these are not running. Upon investigation, we find that it is a Long-tailed Weasel. After another 10 miles, we decide that it is time to get some sleep.
We hike to Canopus Beach State Park the next morning. It is still oppressively hot, but today our friend, Eager Beaver, is picking us up for some much-needed rest from the oppressive heat. Beaver meets us at the park wearing an awesome pirate hat and a huge smile. Off we go to his house where we are greeted by Beaver’s hound and his sister’s fluffy rabbit. Beaver is a great host, he drives us all over town shopping, doing laundry, and eating. We watch TV and chat. We all bed down in the living room on our sleep pads. This was the best night of sleep we had in a while. By that I mean, we actually slept rather than just lay in a hot and sticky tent. Beaver cooks us French toast in the morning and back to the trail we go.
We are bummed we have to leave Beaver, but the trail isn’t going to hike itself. It is hot! Climbing mountains and pouring sweat for hours, we’re almost unbearably hot. When we reach a sign on trail announcing a fourth of July party just down the street ahead, it doesn’t take much for us to agree that a break is in order.
Arriving at Amy and Bill’s place, it was like stepping into a cave of wonder. They welcome us with open arms into their home, giving us each a pint of ice cream, a shower, laundry, food, and a place to sleep. We sit in their basement, enjoying the A.C., as hikers show up one by one to escape the heat. That night Amy cooks us a giant dinner while we sit in a big circle on her back porch, visiting and laughing.
Tomorrow is the fourth of July, and Amy and Bill are throwing a huge party. It is going to be epic, and we can’t resist the pull to zero here. It is an opportunity we can’t miss.
In the Spring of 2018, we set out to thru-hike the A.T. To hear our full story, click here.
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