Day 55 – Pennsylvania

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Today we got up at 6 to be on the trail by 6:30. We had made a plan to make it to Delaware Water Gap, 21 miles away, before the post office closed so I could check for a forwarded letter I’d missed in CT. Neither of us had slept well – it was hot and also a big Outward Bound group had followed us into our campsite last night. We were in bed by around 8:15, but the OB group took a few hours to set up camp, eat dinner, hang bear bags, make phone calls, walk around with their headlamps shining brightly…till about 11. Not unreasonable, but way past our bedtime.

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It has been fairly mild terrain lately and today was similar – lots of long ridge walks. Mid-morning we were looking to fill up water at a spring, and came around the corner to a very big black bear. It was pretty slow and completely unconcerned with us (good), but also, right on our trail. We were far enough back we just kind of hung out to see where it went – lumbering very slowly exactly up our trail. Shoot. We filtered water and lingered a bit, then headed up the trail singing The Bear Song quite loudly – we caught up to it in about 5 minutes, though. This bear was not in a hurry! It noticed us this time and gave us a look, then decided to trudge off (s-l-o-w-l-y) into the woods, off the trail. Hurray! We zipped by and carried on. We managed about 11 miles by 11 and stopped for an early lunch. It was another very hot, humid day.

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The afternoon went by fairly quickly – more flat-ish terrain then a long descent beside a nice river lots of locals were playing in (no stopping, must get to the P.O.!). We got down to the interstate and crossed the Delaware River – also the state line between New Jersey and Pennsylvania. It was a long, hot bridge to cross around 3:30pm…

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In Delaware Water Gap (the town), we made a few quick stops. We filled up our water at the church hiker hostel, said hello to infamous trail angel Miss Janet, checked the P.O. (no letter though), decided against eating an entire pie at the Farm Market and Bakery but instead shared a heck of a deal – a hot dog and a piece of pie for $2.95! Not that surprisingly, delicious. We stopped at the ice cream shoppe on the way out for a milkshake and float.

It was a 1000ft climb back up out of the “gap” and still crazy humid – we were both dripping (like faucets, says Ryley) as we climbed up to Mt Minsi. We chatted with a couple NOBOs on the way who had suggested we hike on a bit to a good camp spot. “A bit” turned into pushing on 6 more miles to the shelter, so a very long day for us! 13h and 27 miles. Phew! Our camp is hot again tonight but we’re hoping we’ll both be tired enough to get some sleep. Heading into Wind Gap, PA tomorrow for a day off!

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Day 54

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View from Sunrise

Both of us woke up feeling surprisingly well, so we hopped out of camp pretty early. It was another sweltering day but we had very little climbing to do. We wound through forest all morning before popping out at a cool pavilion atop Sunrise Mountain. Shade and a nice cool breeze made it our lunch stop.

After lunch, more forest walking down to Branchville, where we stopped at another tavern. Today, we wisely stuck with Cokes before heading back out into the sun.  A few more little climbs, including the lovely Rattlesnake Mountain, and we reached camp. A sweaty, hot meal for dinner made me wonder if it was time to switch to cold dinners…

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Day 53

Last night ended with some epic thunderstorms that we watched from bed and felt shaking the whole church.

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We got a ride from Tom, a guy associated with the hostel, around 10am back to the trailhead. Another hot day, the storms had done nothing to break the heat. We walked along some very long boardwalks through open swamps, stopping to admire some cute algae covered turtles. After that we walked around the perimeter of a bird preserve where we saw many interesting but unknown birds, but also Canadian Geese! And more turtles, this time right on the trail!

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Brief dip back into NY

It was still blistering hot, so we decided to take an alternative route through a town so we could get a drink. As we walked through, we passed a bar with some hikers smoking on the porch who convinced us to come in. A few beers later, we stumbled back out into the heat, now certain that more beers from the general store were just what we needed. It was now 3pm and we hadn’t had lunch. We grabbed more beers and got back to the trail, finally sitting down for some much needed food… And beers.

While we ate, 3 southbounders went by!  That has happened so few times on this trip that I became worried we were going the wrong way somehow. After we ate, the next 6 miles passed in a pleasant blur, and we didn’t see the same trail again, so I was somewhat certain we were going the right way.  We got to our destination, a shelter, and saw the same hikers from the bar, who it turns out are southbounding just this section. Tipsy mystery solved.

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Day 52 – New Jersey

Weird, wheezy, snorting deer wandered around our tent last night, keeping us both up. We got up early as a result and we were packing up just as it started to rain. I noticed some lazy bees around us, but didn’t notice the one that flew into the tent as I was packing it up, so got stung on my palm. Not the best beginning to the day.

After that we followed more purple and moss-covered ridges, this time in a hard rain. Eventually, we reached the high point of the trail in NY, the rain broke, and we got a nice break on top with a view of Greenwood Lake. We sat up there and enjoyed a piece of leftover pizza for late breakfast – awesome. Right after that, we crossed into New Jersey and the day heated up to a muggy 30C+. (Mk: Shortly after hitting New Jersey we saw a black bear and her very small cub. So cute! Ryley’s words: “that bear cub is what cute stuffed animals are modelled after!”. The cub was leaping little bushes trying to catch up with mama…. Also, in our opinion, the best kind of bears to see. Cute, far enough away, and moving away from us.)

We climbed the last hill and ran into hordes of day hikers on the way down. Megan sweet talked a guy named Sal into giving us a ride into Vernon and he dropped us off at a church hostel, our home for the night.

The hostel was great, but our company was a bit odd. Everyone just kept to themselves, so we did our usual resupply and made ourselves some sweet sandwiches in the church kitchen. Megan also ate 3 donuts (this would not be noteworthy if it was me). We watched Mean Girls and went to sleep late, a norm these days for town…

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Day 51

While we were packing up today, two ladies wandered up, map in hand, out for a day hike to find blueberries. At 7:15 am, they had left NYC at 5… It’s Saturday, I guess!

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After a forgettably hot morning and lunch, we ran into Paddywaggon (?), a trail angel pulled over on the side of a road in his truck. We almost walked by until he said “don’t you guys want some trail magic”?  We did! We had been conserving water all day and he offered us as much pop as we could drink, on ice. On a hot day, irresistible! Earlier in the morning, a nice dad and his son, Sam, who were out fishing, offered Megan some carefully rationed trail mix, which we also took, gratefully!

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After that, we powered through more hills. One of them had beautiful purple ridged rocks we had to scramble up. We passed through some very rocky trail today, part of which was called Agony Grind. Apt.

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Big lines are a good sign!

The very end of our day, we hit a road with an ice cream shop on it. We walked over the 0.3 miles, and it was amazing! It’s located on a hill above the dairy farm, and it was very busy! Everyone buys their cone then sits on picnic tables watching the sunset. It was a good show today, with a cloud band lit up by the setting sun. We had cones and ordered a pizza from a nearby town. Bliss! We zipped back to the trail in time to setup camp before the sun was fully set.

Bellville Farms Creamery!
Bellvale mud
Coffee (with toffee bits)
Cookie dough
Homemade waffle cones!

Best ice cream and possibly treat on trail so far…

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Day 50

Last night was very restful, so we were up and hiking by 7ish.  The early morning passed in a blur, each hiking at their own pace. We got to our first stop of the day at 10, a deli/gas station between 3 highways. We had breakfast and coffee, then were approached by a photographer for a local newspaper. He wanted to take our photos for a local story on the AT. We chatted for a bit, Megan told him about meeting Clara Hughes, then we headed out to the trail so he could get some action shots. We are not good models, we kept walking too fast for him to get his pictures (ha). Anyways, hopefully we make it into the story, but I’m not holding my breath.

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Next up, we crossed the Hudson on Bear Mt Bridge. It was a long walk! We stopped to enjoy the cool breeze and watch a train go by on the edge of the river.  The trail then passes through a zoo, no I’m not kidding. We saw the saddest two bears I’ve ever seen, along with coyotes, red fox, and many other depressed animals. On the other side is a very busy picnicking area, with restaurants and concessions… Which we took much advantage of.

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The last leg of the day was up Bear Mountain on a well maintained tourist trail – but it was still hard work in the heat. At the top we sipped on Cokes and admired the NYC skyline, 34 miles away.   We finished up the day with a few more miles to get away from civilization.  Megan found an amazing blueberry patch, dropping her pack to really chow down on them :)

DBB
Goose Head Lager – Goose Island Beer Company, Chicago, IL
Mother’s Milk Porter – Keegan Ales, Hudson Valley Brewery – Kingston, NY

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Day 49 – kitten tease

We hit the trail around 8 and already had food on the brain – today’s food choices included:
1) a breakfast deli (0.4 miles off trail)
2) a shelter 9 miles into our day that you can order pizza to
3) a lake 12 miles into our day that you  can swim at and has a concession that serves burgers and fries, etc (0.2 miles off trail)
4) a trail angel who offers coffee, pop, beer, possibly waffles – AND has a kitten! (0.2 miles off trail, but we only vaguely knew where this was and weren’t sure it was coming up today)

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When considering these options the night before, Ryley voted for options 1, 2 and possibly 3. We decided to play it by ear. In the morning we met a hiker at the turnoff to option 1, totally selling us on the deli. The “grand slam” is a breakfast sandwich with 2 eggs, bacon, sausage, fried ham, and double cheese – and comes with a coffee.
“Do they have veggies?”, I asked.
“Veggie burgers?”,  he frowned. “Nah, I don’t think they have any veggie burgers.”
“No, just veggies. Vegetables. To add to your sandwich.”
“VEGETABLES?! Oh, uh, I don’t think so. Maybe, I guess.”

They did, even if they were limited. Good side trip! We checked out option 3 because Ryley agreed a cold beer or Coke would be nice and I really wanted to play with the kitten – but sadly the owner wasn’t home. There was a sign to help ourselves to the drinks on the porch, but the coolers were empty. Also, the kitten was chilling in the window but that made it awfully hard to play with. Sigh. We moved on. :(

We skipped the pizza at the shelter but we did filter water there and hung out for 20 minutes – it was probably the most pristine shelter we’ve seen on trail. Perfectly mowed lawn, raised garden bed in the front, gravel pathway to the privy, and awning off the shelter with 2 picnic tables and several lawn chairs underneath.

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We had a late lunch on trail then another few miles to the lake – we weren’t the only hikers taking advantage of the swim but otherwise we were mostly surrounded by kids playing in a fairly small cordoned – off swimming area. I think parents are probably keeping a close eye on their kids, most of the northbounders at this point are looking like skinny bearded homeless guys. We grabbed an ice cream from the concession, and hung out in the sunshine without being sweaty for a bit while we dried off – that felt pretty good! That was our final side trip off trail so an extra 1.6 miles hiked today, but worth it.

New York so far has been a lot of hiking through big open understory of (we think) big maple and oak forests. We crossed a lot of roads today, too – maybe 10? Including 3 highways and an interstate. So, we have been hearing a lot of traffic while walking through these nice serene forests… We got away from the busy roads at the end of the day and pitched camp in a stealth spot. It’s a bit ridiculous – Connecticut and New York don’t allow camping outside of designated shelters or campgrounds. But where CT had campgrounds every 5 miles or so, NY seems to have missed that part – they don’t want you stealth camping but they haven’t provided any alternatives. Right now we’re in a section 32 miles between shelters… We could have camped at the state Park at the lake but then we would’ve had to end our day around 4pm with only 12 miles hiked. Anyway our spot here is almost bug-less and we had a nice peaceful dinner (mostly peaceful – there are quite a few planes flying overhead though). Ryley thinks it’s the least buggy place we’ve camped since we’ve been on the trail. It certainly makes the top 3!

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Day 48 – New York!

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Today we hiked our longest day of the trail – 26.3 miles! Our feet are now sore but it was a pleasant day of hiking. The weather broke last night and it was much cooler all day. We crossed into New York in the morning, and so far that seems to mean less water and camping opportunities, but smoother trail. New York also has a rule that you can only camp in official sites, which is why we hiked so far today. We stopped in to fill up water and for a cold drink at a “garden centre” at a road crossing – also  railway crossing. From there you can catch a train into New York city for $14 – it takes about 2h. Kind of crazy. We kept our dirty butts walking but have heard of several people who take advantage to go into NYC when they’re so close.

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Giant oak

We met a nice couple at our otherwise deserted campsite, Ladyslippers and Highway 88. I immediately insulted them, unintentionally of course, by saying they don’t look like thruhikers. Turns out they are 500 miles into their hike, but over 70+ days (including 30+ days off trail from other commitments). So I was wrong but not totally :) They didn’t seem too offended, and even offered us one of their mini apple pies they’d carried up to the shelter for us to share.

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The lovely Nuclear Lake

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Day 47

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I was excited today to try out some new gear – my replacement pack arrived, as my old pack from the PCT was dying. I had intended to just let it fall apart on me, but considering how annoying my shoes delaminating was, I decided to just go ahead and get a new one.  We headed out to the trail with Big Lou, owner of Bearded Woods, and she let us know that one of the guys we had shared the hostel with 2 nights ago was causing them some trouble. The guy had been really nice to us, although a little intense, and very germaphobic (managed to shower every day on the trail!). It was just a shame because the owners clearly had done nothing to deserve any ill treatment, and there was nothing to be done by us. So on that slightly sour note we hit the trail.

We actually got lost! We were walking along a dirt road for a few miles and missed the turn off into the woods. My excuse: Connecticut isn’t that well blazed, so not seeing any along the way didn’t worry me immediately. Also, I now suspect that when we passed a bus pulled over beside the road, and a bunch of kids eating lunch, the bus may have been hiding our turn.  After we realized we had overshot our turn, I got out the GPS to confirm and realized we could just keep walking on the road and reach Kent, where we had to resupply. So we did, and it was not amazing because road walks rarely are, but we got to town and were no longer lost.

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Bearcat finds her people

It was very hot in the afternoon.  We got our resupply done quickly and headed to a restaurant with AC to hang out for a bit. Had a few beers and then later an early dinner. Eventually we walked out of town, past a swanky private school, and back to the trail.

We wanted to walk another 3 miles, and as we got started, the clouds were threatening and we started hearing thunder. Our pace picked up and we basically ran into the campsite, but the clouds just blew by.  We were driven in to our tent to escape the savage mosquitos but ended up sweating in our tent for awhile before the evening cooled down enough to sleep.

Mk: the blackflies weren’t as bad as we’d been told in Maine, although they were annoying enough in camp and at lunch sometimes to wear our bugnets for peace of mind. But the last week or so with the warm and humid weather the mosquitos have been out for eats. Enough to drive us a bit crazy in camp and even drive Ryley to hike in pants a couple days. He’s even tripped a few times when his eyes focus on them instead of the trail! It’s definitely kept us moving… Deerflies are doing lazy donuts around us most days and are quick to take a chunk out of you if they do land – they seem to especially like getting tangled up in my hair. There are these red dandy long leg spiders that LOVE to crawl into our backpacks and the tent, often getting rolled up in the tent in the morning. We don’t think they’re harmful but they are definitely weird and creepy. We each picked a tick off us today – from the trail and from sitting in the mown grass outside the grocery store in town. Lowest incidence rate of bugs but definitely the most terrifying! I’ve never been so wary of grass in my life, and we are checking regularly for ticks on us – some are really small though, they can be hard to see.

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Day 46 – slackpack

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Descent into the hiker area

Coffee was on the bar at 6:30 and breakfast bagels and watermelon served at 7. We decided to do a 16 mile slackpack today and for logistical reasons we are again walking northbound for a day – a bit weird for us but we were intrigued by the idea of possibly crossing paths with some southbounders!

We started hiking just after 8am and almost immediately saw a sign on the trail “big rattlesnake ahead” – we had been told that as we get further South there are rattlers, but we thought we were still too far north. On cue, there was a long shake sound that came out of the woods, tapering off at the end. We carried on and kept our eyes peeled, but ultimately decided that at least the sound we heard was just some kind of cricket (we think it sounded like a cicada but I don’t think those live here, we’ve both heard them only in South America). So, who knows about the rattler – we didn’t see one but we counted that as a good thing.

The going was a bit up and down but with only water and snacks on our backs we felt pretty light and fast. We considered stopping for lunch but only had 4 miles left to town so just pushed on and finished around 1:30pm. We did see a couple southbounders but they were kind of grumpy and not that excited to chat… Oh well. We also caught up with 2 northbounders and walked with them for a bit, a novelty for us to walk with anyone going the same way as we are. They were telling us about about a place down the trail in Pennsylvania called Duncannon – we’ve gotten mixed reviews so far. One guy said we shouldn’t go near it with a 39.5 foot pole – it’s very seedy and the bar
rents out rooms by the hour. Someone was grossed out enough by the hotel room they set up their whole tent inside the room to sleep. The woman we were going north with today scoffed at that advice, said she’d gone to the strippers in town with some other hikers and it was a lot of fun, good beer, and you can camp in the backyard of the strip club if needed. Duncannon…

We walked the 1/2 mile into Salisbury and picked up a “grinder” (1/2 for me, full for Ryley) – a huge sub from the deli with all the fixings. Ryley also got another pint of Ben and Jerry’s to take back to the hostel. We were picked up after 2 and had the afternoon at the hostel to chill out in the cool basement again, have a shower (2 days of consecutive showers!!), received snail mail from our friends Christy and Meghan from Victoria – they’d baked almond roca and chocolate cookies and sent them to us!, and ate more ice cream while waiting for dinner.

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Big Lou makes a mean dinner!

Dinner at Bearded Woods was awesome again – BBQ salmon, herb potatoes, bean rice salad, rosemary bread and butter, and a glass of wine or beer on the house. Dessert was upside down ice cream cones. Yum!

DBB – Ryley – Long Trail Pale Ale (Vermont)
Megan – Glass of Cab Sauv with dinner – I know this isn’t beer, but I thought it was important to note that we are beer-ing well considering this is the first glass of wine either of us has had since hitting the trail! Judy & Jimmy – I apologize for the vagueness of this wine entry. I hope we’re still allowed to come visit you in Virginia…

B&J – Boom Chocolatta (R)

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