Day 121

Start: Campsite after Mombasha High Point
End: William Brien Memorial Shelter, camping
Miles: 15.8
Total Miles: 1389.3

We got up early and climbed down to the road. There were several gallons of water stashed in a cooler along with a card taped to call the trail angels of you needed a hot meal, hot shower, or place to sleep. Damn! Oh well, we had a wonderful night sleep at our campsite. We took water and a picture of the card.

After the first big climb of the day, we rested. Fig caught up with us then. She had spent the night with the trail angels. Handstand and Apollo had been there and got dropped off further north so she encouraged us to call and see how far their range reached.

Unfortunately, we were hiking too far today. In hindsight, I wish we had done something different today. This is the day my infection started. Maybe a night inside and a shower would have kept it from getting out of control.

But it is what it is.

Today it rained on us. We went through the “Lemon Squeezer”. We had a big descent on wet rocks. We had many ups and downs and I was beginning to feel poorly from the chaffing/abscess. The profile showed a good up/down/up/down to the shelter and the first up seemed to go on forever. I was sure I couldn’t make it.

But for the first time, the profile was wrong in our favor. After some gentle slopes, we saw the shelter in front of us with a beautiful, if dirty (literally- dirt), campsite. Outfitter tried to get me to sit and rest while he gathered water. But the bugs were bad so I pitched the tent. First time I ever did that solo. And Outfitter only repositioned one stake when he got back.

On top of a bandana bath, I also used an acne wipe on my thighs and applied Neosporin liberally. And of course I slept naked. These actions had kept any chaffing or infections just small annoyances in the past.

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Lemon Squeezer

Day 120

Start: Warwick Turnpike/Meadow Lark Farms B & B
End: Campsite after Mombasha High Point
Miles: 15.4
Total Miles: 1373.5 ish. Plus.

There was another hiking couple at the B&B who requested an early breakfast and drop off. Since they were starting at the same location as us, it made sense to lump in with them.

So I wasn’t happy to report for 6:30 breakfast and find them still in bed. I am all for an early start, but felt rushed last night since this was a bounce box stop which requires a little extra work.

(BTW, many people get by without a bounce box. I however really like it. If anything, I’d like to plan a trip with more food mail drops and see if that helped with nutrition and finances.)

Finally we were back on our way. We mapped out a solid 14 mpd (mile per day) plan, knowing southern NY was challenging.

First challenge was to get to NY. (Yes, we stayed in Warwick. But where the trail was we technically hadn’t crossed the border yet.)

The trail immediately got boulder-y. This is the kind of rock I don’t mind so much. Except it is an awful lot of up and down which is tiring and slow.

We had our first ladder today! Propped right against a boulder so you can follow the trail. May I just say while this was fun, when you get to the point you need a LADDER, perhaps you need to re-think your hiking trail.

Lots of little ups and downs with the rocks today. But then three big ups. Only one of then physical.

The first was a text from Handstand about a creamery close to a road crossing. Once again, I was more interested in cold drinks than ice cream. I drank two diet root beers because that was the only flavor they had left.

The second was we got back on to the trail and ran into Fig! She and her crew had zeroed for almost a week and she had headed out in front of them. We caught up a little and leap frogged with her the rest of the day.

Finally, the big physical up to Mombasha High Point. The trail became poorly blazed up here and we three had a hard time figuring out where to go. At one weird point where we were searching for blazes, Outfitter said “there’s a campsite there, but…” to which I immediately turned, surveyed, and asked, “shall we be done?”

Besides no water (which we were prepared for), it was perfect. Still up on the ridge so we had a breeze. Mossy flat spot to camp. Logs to sit on. Good tree to hang food from. And even a little beyond our 14 mile goal.

We went to bed so happy with our day.

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Hiking?

Day 119

Start: NJ 94/Vernon, NJ
End: Warwick Turnpike/Meadow Lark Farms B & B
Miles: 5.5
Total Miles: 1358.1

We got up early and hit Dunkin’ Doughnuts for breakfast, packed up, and once again got a hitch in almost record time.

The climb this morning was called “Stairway to Heaven”. It did have some stairs, but overall I think it’s called such for the “Heaven” view from the top.

We didn’t have far to go, but had several logistics to figure out. When we first chose packages to ship to this B&B, we thought it was right next to a grocery store. The way it was listed first in services at a mileage marker in the guide led us astray. Turned out, it’s really in the boonies. The owner does pay per mile shuttles, but we did not want to ask for multiple shuttles of trail to town to B&B etc.

We found a reasonable solution though. We got a hitch to the grocery store and resupplied. While paying, I saw a bus so Outfitter ran out to get the deal. It’s some sort of by-demand public transit and the driver took us to a laundromat.

This was the busiest laundromat we’ve been to on the trail. I felt very self conscious with how we smelled and looked. (Especially after I ducked in the ladies room to remove my bra and shirt and wear my jacket while washing.). But there was a small strip of grass with shade cover of a few trees. We sat out there to eat lunch and read in between washing and drying.

And everyone there was very nice. If they don’t get many thru hikers, they are at least aware they live close to the AT.

Dorothy picked us up and deposited us at the B&B. It is a very small place and kinda…strange. I can’t quite describe how. Maybe because the downstairs is small and cluttered and obviously her living space.

Our room was fabulous though. It isn’t one she usually puts hikers in, yet she gave us the hiker rate. There is even a towel warmer which we use to help dry hand-washing of the clothes we had to wear to remain decent at the laundromat.

We dug into our bounce box and new shoes with enthusiasm. We especially needed to look at the guidebooks and start deciding where/when we would get off the trail for my mother’s birthday.

We settled on getting off trail later than earlier, trying to push through “The Whites”, some of the hardest and scariest (weather-wise) mountains on the trail. This would put us in Gorham, NH which has Enterprise car rental. It seemed perfect.

Our only snafu today was we did not buy great supplies for dinner. Some Italian shortbread cookies and chips got us through.

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View after Stairway

Day 118

Start: Murray property aka “the secret shelter”
End: NJ 94/Vernon, NJ
Miles: 13.5
Total Miles: 1352.6

Today we got up and moving early because we knew we were near mosquito central and hoped to get going before they did.

Someone set their alarm too. Humph. Although I do think going through the swampy Wakill Reserve was better than the trail before or after. Especially after, as the day heated up unbearably.

I was feeling quite overdone by the time we reached Heaven Hill, an ice cream/garden center that just added in a deli. Even two scoops (blueberry and after dinner mint) didn’t revive me.

Luckily, we got a ride into Vernon within 5 seconds of hitching. Our destination was the St Thomas Episcopal Church in Vernon, NJ. They are known to provide one of the most complete and luxurious hostels on the trail- showers AND laundry! And at some point, they even had cots with real mattresses for all the hikers.

We, however, showed up to a pretty full house. The three cots were already claimed. And worse, hikers had the septic back up yesterday so no showers, no laundry. We’re not even supposed to use the bathroom that much.

Great.

And yet…we were in out of the sun. We were sitting without 25 lbs on our backs. The forecast for the night is rain and the roof isn’t leaking.

It took me a long time to re-acclimate and feel a bit normal. By then, Handstand and Apollo roll in. They were planning to go farther, but the heat and bugs got to them too.

The four of us headed out for drinks and dinner at the Vernon Inn and when we returned, the septic was fixed! Oh, I felt so human after a shower.

Unfortunately, right after Outfitter showered, the drains started to overflow again. The septic tank had been pumped, but I guess no one looked at the possibility of an obstruction.

Everyone else grabbed quick showers with long waits in between to keep the back-up from reoccurring. But no laundry. It’s been about a week now since we’ve been able to clean our clothes. The hiker stink is strong with us.

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Pretty View at Lunch

Day 117

Start: Mashipacong shelter, camping
End: Murray property aka “the secret shelter”
Miles: 12.6
Total Miles: 1339.1

Today is one of our best days and worst days on the trail in a while.

In the “worst” category, there is the heat, the mosquitoes, and our feet. The trail is almost PA rocky in the AM and it is killing us.

In the “best” arena, there is the fact that we hiked through High Point State Park. First stop was the HQ where they stock free sodas for hikers. Then, just a mile or so up trail, is the beach area with a concession stand.

But the absolute best is deciding to camp at the Murray property.

Jim Murray is a former thru-hiker. For years he has let hikers use a small cabin on his property. There is well water, outdoor (warm water) shower, and a privy. The cabin is one huge room with electricity. Even though we walked through hordes of mosquitoes on the trail right before here, it is amazingly bug-free. Since the floor is in good shape, we decide we’ll sleep inside. (A box fan is provided by Jim to keep the indoors cool.)

For hours, we’re the only hikers here and the thing we enjoy the most is sitting on the cabin porch watching the wildlife enjoy a mulberry tree in the gravel drive. The tree shakes with multiple squirrels and dozens of birds. On the ground, there are chipmunks, a young rabbit, and a family of three woodchucks.

Three Germans (Smokes, Smiley Virgin, and Lost) show up. They are fun to get to know and have been following us In the shelter logs. Then even later Handstand and Apollo roll in! I knew they had taken some time off for the 4th so I hoped we’d meet up soon.

All in all, the greatest evening we’ve had on trail in a while.

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Woodchuck

Day 116

Start: Culvers Gap
End: Mashipacong shelter, camping
Miles: 8.8
Total Miles: 1326.5

We woke up to an empty camp. Merry has hiked Sweet’n’Sour down early enough for her to make it to work. I immediately wish we had talked about this last night. We could have all hiked together! Curse our hiker bedtime and lack of planning!

We wanted to take Merry to lunch to say thank you, but none of the places we tried in Branchville were open. So we ended up getting sub sandwiches at Joe-To-Go. It’s a very small shop with only himself behind the register. I wonder if he’s gotten cranky with hikers in the past because a large demanding group could overwhelm his shop? He is nice enough to have a “hiker bench” on the side of the building for “your gear and your rear”.

Outfitter and I hike out in late afternoon, so it is hot and we have decent elevation to contend with. My feet are really bothering me and I realize today I really just mean my right foot. This gives me pause; that the pain is unequal. It’s not like I hop around on one more than the other.

We choose to stop at a shelter that has no water, but nice grassy area for tenting. A contingency of middle school cheer leading girls are here. Yay.

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Way to give an intersecting trail a complex

Day 115

Start: Culvers Gap/Combin Ridge hotel
End: West Mountain shelter, camping
Miles: 0. Not Technically
Total Miles: 1317.7

Another zero! Except not! Since we hiked part of the AT! Which we will hike again in five days! Confused? Me too!

When we hit NJ, I gave Merry a shout. He talked about coming out to see us sometime and immediately had an awesome idea- he’d grab us then we’d hit a shelter on the AT where you can see NYC for a Fourth of July celebration.

Since we figured out we had so little miles to make before our shoes arrive Monday, we were easily swayed.

We first hit up the Yellow Cottage Bakery across the street for breakfast sandwiches. Delicious! From there, we started looking for Dale’s Market. Both the guide and Google were incorrect on its placement. Luckily, I had read someone’s trail journal that they resupplied a few days ago here. So we kept walking and finally found it.

Back in our hotel room, we packed food, showered, and watched TV until 10:59 and 59 seconds. We had to kill time until Merry picked us up at 2.

From there, we headed to the Mexican restaurant. It didn’t open for a half hour, but had some benches outside so we sat and I caught up with Mom.

Lunch was very good. We tried to eat slowly, dragging out our stay in air conditioning.

Finally, we hit the bakery again. We bought drinks and bagels for lunches, then laid out in their lawn under a big tree reading. We even had someone join us he thought we looked so comfy.

Merry picked us up and we headed to Sweet’n’Sour’s place. (For those who didn’t read last year, she and Merry were hiking partners for several hundred miles of the AT, including when we were all together in the Smokies.)

She had to work the next day, so she drove separate and I piled in to keep her company and catch up. She and Merry are actually about to move to Maine in order to pursue new career paths. (I would say “oh to be young again!”, but since Outfitter and I are doing about the same thing I guess I can just appreciate, “oh to be that free!”)

The hike up West Mountain (on a blue blaze path which joins the AT for a bit up top), was fun and has some great views. The shelter is .6 miles off the trail, with no water and no privy. I’m definitely happy we came here today because no way Outfitter and I would choose to stop at it during our hike. And there is awesome camping here. Evidently a favorite of locals for weekend outings.

After water-gathering (from faaar away) and wood-gathering, we had a nice fire and an almost gourmet hiking dinner of hot dogs (Sweet’n’Sour even packed in ketchup!), cheese quesadillas, and beer.

The fireworks were amazing to watch from here. They were pretty far away, but it wasn’t just NYC’s fireworks. I think once things got started, there were at least 20 shows going on at once we could see from the mountain. It was cool to think we were participating in so many Independence Day celebrations.

The only weird thing about the day is that there were 0 thru-hikers here. I guess everyone in the area got off trail? Sweet’n’Sour and Merry had hoped to give out some trail magic and meet some of the thrus on the trail this year.

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Sweet’n’Sour and I rocked the hatchet

Day 114

Start: Rattlesnake Spring campsite
End: Culvers Gap/Combin Ridge hotel
Miles: 14.9
Total Miles: 1317.7

It rained through out the night, but was dry when I finally woke up. Which was 7:20. A ridiculously late time. I took a painkiller last night to help my feet and it definitely worked. It was nice of Outfitter to let me doze, but honestly I don’t think it bothered him.

The first five miles to that water- a real pump no less!- were flat and easy. Outfitter doesn’t even drink all his Gatorade, let alone need to dip into the brown-stained water.

At the pump we meet Violet for the first time. Older, she’s solo but has been bouncing from group to group.

We see her, Obie, and Beetlejuice throughout the day. The other two were at the pizza joint and MOC but now we kinda sorta officially meet. They, and 2pac who is even further back, are dragging behind the rest.

We have a huge bright spot in our day late in the afternoon on a low ridge. Bear! Not just any bear- a double tagged male wolfing down blueberries. The trail was very close to his patch and he was unperturbed by our presence. After we took numerous photos, we attempted the usual “Look Big, Make Loud Noises” advice to scare him off. He was more confused than scared. We finally got him to move about 10 feet and we skeedaddled.

At the turn off for the shelter, Obie and Beetlejuice were resting. We all sat around and Obie mentioned someone told her all the hotels in Branchville are full for the holidays. (All being two hotels plus cabins and tenting at the state park.) We got on the phone and it turns out that’s not exactly true. One goes straight to voicemail, but the other the guy says he has a room. Can we call back in 30 minutes? We give Obie the NewTrent so she can get some juice and make a call. She gets the same shpeal from the hotel. Since they are a large group and the Stokes state park cabins can accommodate them, she called there too and got a reservation. Sometimes it’s a good thing to double check things you hear on the trail.

It was mosquito central for the rest of the hike. We are ready for a soda from the famous-for-hating-hikers “Joe to Go”. But he’s closed. Outfitter and I have a road walk one way and the group is going the other way. But we were all so beat we piled into the Steakhouse for drinks and early dinner. It’s us, Violet, Obie, Beetlejuice, 2pac, and one other guy whose name escapes me. It is good food, good company, and a good music selection playing.

We tried to ask about rides at the bar but no luck. They go their way, we go ours. We walked about half the way before getting a ride. (It is illegal in both NJ and NY to hitch, but our guides only make a big deal about NY. I still pulled in my thumb when two police cars drove by.) It is still nice to get a ride, even for a mile or so. Road walking is hot and very hurtful to bruised feet.

The Combin Ridge motel is the sleaziest place we’ve stayed so far. Four car fresheners decorate the place. No washcloth or face towel or shampoo- just two scrawny towels (one covering a hole in the bathroom wall) and some soap that falls apart when mixed with water.

But so what? It’s supposed to rain and we have a roof over our heads. We also have a Comedy Central on TV, a working fridge, and a liquor store near. Outfitter finds some beer, we shower using shampoo I carried from the last hotel, and feel pretty good.

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Blueberry Standoff

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Beavers have turned this “swamp” into a lake. Next on their agenda: chew all the white blazes down

Day 113

Start: Delaware Water Gap/Pocono Inn
End: Rattlesnake Spring campsite
Miles: 13.5
Total Miles: 1302.8

It’s still rainy, but the hike must go on. We still plan to hit the MOC and perhaps camp/lodge there if the weather is bad. At least it will be some progress.

Although I am happy to get back on the trail, and enter a new state (NJ), I am also feeling very homesick. I missed connections with two friends while in DWG and it added to that.

Also our cat, Spike, has been ill. Everything and everyone we put in place prior to leaving worked exactly as it should. (He has a UTI, something very common for him and any male cat who has had the same urtherea-widening surgery.) But I still wish I was there. It is the first major inconvenience AwesomePetsitter has dealt with and it is a doozy when you consider that he will stop using the litter boxes until he feels better. I hope she hangs in there.

Then, around lunch time we hit Sunfish pond. It is nothing like the lakes in WI except that it is a body of water. Yet it makes me miss the cabin immensely. In the beginning of the hike, Outfitter and I often spent the hours hiking also chatting about all the things we wanted to do to the cabin to make it truly livable. But this trailed off after a few weeks. We had talked ourselves into years of work and forgotten half of it. Any more just made us anxious to be there and get started.

We also get through to the B&B holding our bounce box and double check they are OK receiving more packages (some places have limited space) then request NoNo ship our shoes. This makes the most sense and means getting our shoes ASAP, but due to the holiday the shoes won’t arrive until Monday. This puts us in a position of doing really small mileage in order to not arrive before them. I should be happy considering right this moment I don’t feel up to big miles. But instead I just feel more restricted and pulled out of “hiking mode” and into “logistics mode”.

So, I’m feeling rather down and tired and distracted. And then I’m down literally- my first complete fall in I don’t know how long. It’s a slow-motion fall on a small slippery rock where I can’t get grip with shoes or poles.

We arrive at MOC and see a bunch of the crowd from the pizza joint last night. The first thing I notice is the pricing is not the same as in our guide. Not anyone’s fault; miscommunication happens and the guides have hundreds of establishments they try to include.

Outfitter is jonesing for a shower, but not psyched about the price. I point out that there is a camping site less than 3 miles down the trail and that puts us at easier miles to get to a hotel the next night. If he can just go one day without running water…

He agrees and after a long rest and a soda we head back out. I have no idea why this perks me up but it does.

NJ has strict rules about camping, so we have to find the designated site. It’s a little confusing/frustrating because the supposed spring 50 feet away is not there. But we are at a huge site with a fire ring so it must be the right place.

It hasn’t really rained on us today. Although we get the tent up pronto (always our first chore), we’re lax about getting everything inside. Once a freak 10 second shower douses us and we do our best to shove everything into dry spots. Then Outfitter goes in search of water while I cook. He comes back with some rather brown tinted stuff. Even my filter doesn’t get rid of it all. It’s probably just tannins. We have five miles to go tomorrow before more water so he decides to treat it. We still have some good hotel water and a Gatorade drink from town so we are not hurting, but just in case.

While he waits for the chemicals to mix before treating the water, another shower passes through. I manage to jump into the tent, but Outfitter does not. When the rain stops, he asks for the tent shammy to start drying it off. While he does this, I try taking a shower of my own. In DWG, I kept the lid from a drink and punched holes in it. Now I can screw it on a water bottle and have a shaken shower.

This is less of a success tonight as it starts raining lightly again. It’s too hard to keep my clothes dry and the rest of me wet, so I give up. I point out to Outfitter that he’s still drying a tent that is actively getting rained on but he started so by god he’s going to finish.

Stubborn is as stubborn does.

One last nice thing about tonight’s set-up: since NJ is famous for more aggressive bears, we have hung our food bags for the first time in forever. Usually we just put them at the foot of the tent, pretty confident the smell of humans will keep animals away. But especially when tenting alone, we don’t want to risk it. Having that extra space at our feet goes a long way tonight in keeping things dry. I might suggest we hang more often.

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The trail was a little…wet

Day 112

Start: Delaware Water Gap/Pocono Inn
End: Delaware Water Gap/Pocono Inn
Miles: 0
Total Miles: 1289.3

Today the plan was to hike 11 miles to the Mohican Outdoor Center for tenting. This would be an easy hike day, we’d be “ahead” of our plan since we thought we wouldn’t get to DWG until today, we’d get a shower with our tenting fee, and have access to the camp store for goodies.

But last night the rain finally came. And shows no sign of leaving. The idea of hiking in the rain (assuming no hideously slippery rocks) is appealing these days. It’s cooler and the bugs aren’t out. But the idea of tenting/camping in the rain? So over it. The MOC does have a bunkhouse, but it’s a per person rate. Getting space for both of us would run the same cost as another night at the hotel. Making 10 miles does not seem worth it.

We took advantage of the room and extra time by buying Epsom salts at the gas station/quick mart. Not only should this help our feet, but I’m hoping a soak will help my skin in general. It is not as bad as in the beginning, when I was too cold for bandana bathes, but I have a plethora of red bumps. I can’t distinguish between inflamed hair follicle, bug bite, or small wound.

We ventured out to see what the Edge Of The Woods outfitter had. Outfitter (my husband, not the store) has been without trekking poles for a few days. One of the carbide tips broke off. His poles are not made to replace tips, so they became kinda useless. Fortunately, the store has one pair of rubber tips made to slip over the carbide ones. I prefer to use these because it supposedly helps with Leave No Trace. (You don’t poke holes in the trail, scratch rocks, or make annoying clicking noise. But I say supposedly because I have now had two pairs get ripped off by rocks and not been able to retrieve them. Kinda sucks to know I’ve left rubber out there in the woods. I believe I’ve figured out the issue is a pair of tips will only last about 500 miles.)

ANYWAY, the tips mean Outfitter’s poles are useable again and saves us a bit of money for now.

After, we ate lunch at the Apple Pie Bakery. Great food, although we did not go with the famous Hot-Dog-And-Slice-Of-Pie for 2.49.

We hang out in the hotel for the afternoon, doing a little bed-dance of joy every time it rains hard enough for us to hear. We cannot wait out every rain storm- and I would not want to- but sometimes things align nicely. At least the weather has fallen as forecasted and we are warm and dry.

For dinner, we hit the local pizza joint. Lots of hikers are here- WhyNot, Dip’N’Sip, Newton, and several we haven’t officially met. It’s a cool social moment, although its clear that many of them are trying to stick together and hike as a big family. I think I am a little jealous of these hiking “tribes” when I overhear the concern and interest they have in each other. But on the other hand, I have my tribe. It’s only two opinions to be reconciled. Thank goodness.