I was not looking forward to leaving Gyp’s Tavern because nightfall had already come. I had seen multiple bears during my time in New Jersey, and the idea of stumbling upon one of them in the dark didn’t seem like a memory I wanted to make. But, onward I hiked. After about four miles, I called it quits somewhere near Sunrise Mountain. I set up camp and hoped I would awake to a pretty morning, not a grumpy bear.
Alas! Chirping birds finally awoke me late morning. I hiked with South Pole most of the day, and it was nice having someone to talk to. We discussed everything from traveling to food. Later on, I heard about free showers at High Point State Park. When I reached the side trail, I decided the extra 0.6 miles was worth it for a chance to eat snack bar food and bathe. South Pole and I said our goodbyes and I headed on down to the park. Unfortunately, I was about 30 minutes too late for the snack bar or shower. So, I bathed off and washed my clothes in the bathroom sink instead. Feeling somewhat refreshed, but slightly disappointed, I stirred my Ramen dinner and contemplated my plans for the remainder of the evening. I really wanted to hike 20+ miles that day, but I had only completed just over 10 miles so far and daylight was fading. After dinner, I came across the side trail for New Jersey’s highest point.
I walked up to the tower which was closed, but even from the base there was a beautiful, extensive view of towns below. Unfortunately, I did not capture that view with anything other than my mind.
I experienced a strange feeling standing there at a state’s high point all alone–knowing I was standing higher than anyone else in all of the state, yet with a view so vast, I felt surprisingly small. My mom has said for years that her song to her children is “I Hope You Dance” by Leanne Womack. Although I was standing on a mountain top instead of by the sea, I could hear the following lyrics playing in my mind “I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean…” I get it now, Mom. And boy, do I ever feel small at times when marveling at nature.
As I descended the NJ high point, I wished I had someone to night hike with that evening. Dusk had fallen and the thoughts of bears once again danced through my mind. I wasn’t sure why I had been so spooked of night hiking lately, I had never been afraid of it in Virginia. Sigh.Oh well, onward. I hiked another half mile when I reached the High Point Shelter. It was completely dark by then, so I easily spotted two headlamps coming my way. I stopped and excitedly shouted–“Hey! Are y’all about to go night hiking?” Two fellas by the names of Waldo and Hawk answered simultaneously, “Yep!” I said, “Where are you heading?” They laughed and said, “Another 12 miles to the next shelter.” I was so excited! I joined in and the night hiking bus rolled out. These boys hiked fast. But, I forced myself to keep up. Lucky for me they were smokers, so I got two good breaks out of them along the way. At about 2:30am we finally made it to Pochuck Mountain Shelter. I don’t think it even took a minute for me to fall asleep once my body was horizontal.
Although I fell asleep quickly, I was awoken multiple times throughout the night by a shooting pain in my hips. I had made it over 1300 miles with my baby blue foam pad. For foam pads, it was pretty nice as it was wider than most I had seen on trail. While sleeping, I was disciplined enough sto stay positioned on my stomach (I can’t fall asleep on my back). However, for a week or more I had begun waking up on my side in extreme pain. I’d flip back to my stomach and drift off to sleep. Only to awaken once again in pain on my other side. Flip. Repeat. After a too many nights of this endless routine, I decided it was time to purchase an inflatable sleeping pad. When I visited another town, I would invest in improving my sleep.
I hiked out of Pochuck Mountain Shelter that morning with no particular destination in mind. I just knew I wanted to do as many miles as I could to continue to gain on Rebel Yell and Mountain Goat. Up to this point, my feet had been doing fairly well. I massaged and elevated them often, soaked them in springs and creeks, and took regular breaks. I could tell my hiking pace was slower, but I was still able to push through 20+ mile days.
Hiking alone was common for me during this time, so I had committed myself to the tedious task of learning all of the lyrics and historical meaning to the song “We Didn’t Start the Fire” by Billy Joel. I was in the middle of practicing when I stumbled upon a Boy Scout troop. One of the adults, Papa Bear, recognized me from my YouTube videos. It was nice chatting with him and the boys–they asked a lot of great questions! As we parted ways, they gave me a wonderful assortment of snacks. It couldn’t have come at a better time because I was running low. Thanks again, Papa Bear, to you and the troop. I needed the human interaction and kindness more than you know–I hope your trip was wonderful!
After a few more hours of walking, the day began drawing to a close and I had still not come across anyone to hike with. That old familiar nervousness due to the abundance black bears began to set in. I weighed my options while loudly rehearsing: “Harry Truman, Doris Day, Red China, Johnnie Ray…” I wanted a new sleeping pad, and needed to do laundry and bathe. But, didn’t want to take too much time off and lose ground on my group ahead. I reached Brady Road just before dark and decided I could get a hitch from there…or commit myself to night hike and hitch from a road 8 miles down trail in the morning. While sitting on the roadside contemplating these choices, I heard a loud rustling behind me. I knew immediately there was a bear behind me. At this point I was so aggravated with myself for being afraid, worn out from hiking 20+ mile days, and sore from the terrain, that I just hollered, “Really?! Another bear. There’s a freakin’ bear behind me!” Sure enough, I turned around to see a very large black bear wander past me (no more than 30 ft away) and cross the road. So, I stuck out my thumb and caught a ride.
A nice family of three was heading to get ice cream and pulled over to see if I was okay. I told them I was looking for a ride to any nearby hotel. They said they would be more than happy to take me to a hotel if I didn’t mind riding with them to get ice cream first. We ended up at Bellvale Creamery which is actually in New York. It was absolutely delicious. My favorite part is their cows can be seen in the valley below as you eat your ice cream. Although it seems to be in the middle of nowhere, their customers must become regulars because folks were lined up out of the door!
The next morning, I caught a hitch with a farmer to Rockland Bakery. I had never seen so much bread in my life! You could simply grab it off the conveyor, take it to the register and have them make you a breakfast sandwich–and that’s exactly what I did.
After the bakery, the farmer was nice enough to drop me off at REI where I purchased a new sleeping pad. I went with the Therm-a-rest NeoAir Xlite. I’ve heard nothing but positive reviews on it while hiking the trail. It’s light, compact and comfortable. Sold!
While at REI, I ran into some section hikers who were picking up some odds and ends for an upcoming hike. I answered some of their questions about various items and told them about my gear. After they finished shopping, they offered me a ride back to the trailhead. I gladly accepted! On the way back, they toured me by Westpoint Military Academy. I had no idea it was so close. Seeing such a historical place is an odd feeling. Growing up I’ve learned about many places and events in history knowing they they are real, yet never really envisioning their existence. Then, upon actually seeing them with my own eyes, my initial thought is, “Well. There it is.”
When I was dropped back off at the trailhead around 3pm, I felt exceptionally better than when I was picked up the night before. I was once again ready for the challenges the day might hold. There would be no fear of night hiking tonight, and my prize for hiking big miles would be a wonderful nights sleep on my new air mattress. I waved goodbye and hiked on.
After a few miles, I officially crossed into the next state along my journey–New York! Eight down, six to go. 1365.8 miles completed, 823.4 remaining. I’ve got this!
Thank you for all of the encouragement, y’all! You don’t know how much your comments have encouraged me during the hard times.
Below are several other moments I captured during this stretch of my hike:
Happy Trails 🙂