The internet promised that the New Jersey AT had rocks, mosquitos, and bears. And Sopranos, Real Housewives, Gravy Sauce, and Springsteen. I’d seen none of it. Well, some of it, but not what I’d been promised.
We did see a bear in the woods on the drive to our campground last night, but road bears don’t count. And some day hikers at Sunrise Mountain Overlook said they’d met a guy who told them he’d just seen a bear, but third-hand bears don’t count either, even if the day hikers were pretty freaked out.
I pulled up to the Sunrise Mountain Overlook parking area not long after sunrise hoping that Day 3 in New Jersey would be THE day.
I’d been promised 40 miles of Pennsylvania style rocks. I passed the 40-mile mark today totally disappointed. Jersey has a few wannabee PA rocks, but they are deficient in number, pointiness, duration, and overall cruelty, so I had to settle for my feet still being sore from PA rocks. The trail did get a little rocky near High Point State Park, just enough to slow me down from yesterday’s blistering (literally) pace, but then they all but disappeared. Sadly, Jersey only has normal AT-level rocks.
I started seeing more head nets today, many with the weird shorts-sleeveless or no shirt combination. Overall, I’ve swatted at and accidentally eaten more gnats than mosquitos so far. I did find one mosquito swarm lurking on a steep descent when both my hands were occupied. But the bug count isn’t high enough for me to bother with putting on my head net yet.
I can live with New Jersey’s failure to live up to its rock and mosquito reputations, but I’ve been really disappointed about the lack of bears. Purple Pilgrim told me that the park rangers in the Shenandoahs had told her that the bear population had declined in Virginia. Maybe the same thing is happening in New Jersey.
Then, 30 minutes after setting out, a full-grown black bear lumbered across the trail 100 feet in front of me. It pretended not to see me but was obviously carefully choreographing its movement to keep just enough trees between us so I couldn’t get a decent video. I’d upload the video to prove my point, but it looks like a video of the woods. Use your imagination and I’ll save my monthly Verizon data allotment.
Still, it was a bear, the first I’d seen since Daleville, Virginia. Thank you, New Jersey.
FarOut shows a blue blaze trail south of High Point State Park called the Iris Trail that has about the same mileage as the official trail. The comments describe it as less rocky, wider, grassy, and lonelier. Sold. As if to reward my insolent disrespect of the official trail, no sooner than I started blue blazing, I saw a large sow and two small cubs scamper across the trail.
I’d have gotten some great video of the bear family if I hadn’t been narrating a video when they appeared. Instead, I have a video of my face and a recording of me saying things like, “Oh wow, they’re right in front of me…those cubs are so cute…the mom is looking right at me…etc.” Trust me, that made five bears (if you count the road bear) in less than 24 hours.
So far today, I’d learned two important lessons: (1) Always believe some of the things you read on the internet about New Jersey, (2) the trail rewards you for blue blazing.
High Point State Park
Giddy with bear ecstasy, I stopped in at the High Point State Park headquarters to celebrate with a somewhat cold ginger ale and a non-hiker-sized bag of Cheezits. Thriller, Espresso, Spa, and Pony sat at the picnic tables taking a break, so I sat down and swapped bear stories. They’re all heading to Unionville for beer and a deli stop, a hiking style known as deli-blazing.
Having shaved 0.3 miles off my hike on my blue blaze, I added it right back on, taking the steep blue blaze up to the High Point monument, a slightly smaller, grayer version of DC’s Washington Monument. I poked my head inside the door and saw a circular stairway spirally up out of the lobby.
That didn’t look too bad, so I climbed up 20 feet or so and arrived at a landing from which the real stairs began. Well, I’d come this far, so I clomped up 291 stairs to the top, still wearing my backpack. Unfortunately, the top is built for safety, not views. Four small, glassed over, slightly smudgy windows, one in each direction, provide the only lookouts. Alas.
I came down to find a woman playing bagpipes on the deck outside, which made my Scottish heritage stand up with pride that I’m mostly Dutch. And motivated me to get back to the trail.
The blue blaze junction to the monument wasn’t particularly well marked, but I found it and headed off toward NJ 284. Twenty minutes later, I saw Bells hiking towards me. I’d last seen her in Pennsylvania hiking with Mystery Otter’s crew. I immediately thought, “Oh crap, I made the wrong turn and have been hiking south.” But she was slacking south for the day. Whew.
She assured me that the rocks were about to end and warned me not to miss a swamp bypass trail ahead. “What rocks?” I thought and thanked her for the heads up about the swamp.
I didn’t see Thriller or Espresso at the tower, which meant they were out in front. I love having a rabbit to chase, so I set out to catch them. When I passed, I mentioned taking the blue blaze trail, to which Thriller responded, “At this point in my hike, the thought of a blue blaze crushes my soul.” That could mean any number of things, but all I could think was, “Blue blazes lift my soul.” Hike your own hike.
A 30-Mile Day
I finished 20 miles yesterday with plenty of time and energy to spare. So, this morning, I started wondering if I could have gone on to High Point State Park and made it a 30-miler. And that maybe I should start doing 20-25 miles per day in these “easy” states. I spent the morning doing the trail math, thinking about distances, finishing dates, who I’d catch, and the like.
By early afternoon, the heat and humidity had ramped up, and my feet were getting sore. Who was I kidding? I had no shot, and more importantly, no desire for a 30-mile day. I didn’t even want to do another two miles to the next road crossing after NJ 284. I’m too old to sustain that kind of mileage on a daily basis. But it was nice to dream for a bit. But nicer to climb into an air-conditioned van and put my feet up.
When I got to NJ 284, Northstar had already arrived. Splat was there looking overheated and a little discombobulated. We offered her a ride to Unionville, where she met up with One Love, a hiker I hadn’t seen since Tennessee. I’ve been getting a lot of that lately. I may be catching up to a bubble I’d left behind before my hike went flippity-flop in June.
We dropped Splat at the deli in Unionville, where Northstar strong-armed me into eating a giant turkey sub (excellent, by the way) and a quart of orange juice. She said I looked a little insane and probably needed calories. Who am I to argue?
Next, we pulled across the street and hung out at the public park where they let thru-hikers tent for free, but we had the place to ourselves. We sat on the benches under the pavilion and stared across the street at the Pizza Parlor until we couldn’t resist any longer and hobbled back across the street for dinner. The pizza was just so-so (though much better cold the next day) and the dining area was sweltering, so we headed back to the woods.
All in all, New Jersey gave us another bluebird day. Bears, towers, blue blazes, delis, and an end to the rocks. Supposedly.
- Start: Sunrise Mountain Overlook (Mile 1,331.2)
- End: NJ 284 (Mile 1,349.7)
- Weather: Sunny, chilly early then warm, less humid.
- Earworm: Sting – Wrapped Around Your Finger (The Police)
- Meditation: Lk 4:31-44; 5:12-26
- Plant of the Day: Obedient Plant
- Best Thing: Bear cubs
- Worst Thing (besides the humidity): Mosquito swarms