Thursday, July 11, 2013

Like Birds on the Wind

7/5: 5.3 miles. Delaware Water Gap to Backpacker Campsite. Why didn't we go farther? Well, Whistle's Aunt Tery dropped us off at DWG, and Grim discovered the tell-tale rash of Lyme disease on his arm. He had to find a ride to an Urgent Care to get a script for Doxycycline. But he's still hiking!! In spite of the awful nausea, lack of appetite and general discomfort from the antibiotics that he'll have to take for 21 days, Grim has been in amazing good spirits, and hasn't complained a whit. What a champ!

7/6: 16.9 miles to campsite

7/7: 11.6 miles to Sunrise Mountain. This day had a Heat Index of 105 degrees! I'm impressed we even made it almost 12 miles. 

7/8: 18.8 miles to Unionville

7/9: 15.7 miles to Wawayanda Shelter

7/10: 14.1 miles to Fitzgerald Falls. We passed the NJ/NY state line!

Current AT mileage: 1,371.7 miles


We sat in the sky, letting the breeze wash over our impossibly hot, sweat-soaked bodies. We were still breathing heavily from a not-so-steep ascent, that nonetheless took our breath away with the stagnant, sticky air through which we had hiked. When we came upon the fire tower, nearly 100 years old, it looked like a gift from some benevolent trail god. The metal structure was 75 feet tall and made of the same warped and impossibly standing metal common to traveling carnival rides. 

"It must be breezy up there," I croaked, slowly raising a finger and pointing it shakily upward, like the ghost of Christmas Future pointing Scrooge to his grave. It was 95 degrees, with close to 90 percent humidity, and we were dragging our bodies through the low-level trails of New Jersey. Don't mistake me; New Jersey has been beautiful, with very well-maintained trails. It's not New Jersey's fault that it was a billion degrees. While we're at it: it's not New Jersey's fault that it's right next to New York and that the city wanted to put all of the factories on the Jersey side of the Hudson River. New Joysey is gouahgeous, a'ight?! No really: aside from Maine, NJ might be my next favorite choice to live on the East Coast. 

Grim stared upward, unbuckling his pack. I too unbuckled mine. Freed, the 30 pound beast fell from my back to the ground with an unceremonious thud. This is the typical manner with which I relieve myself of my pack, and I wonder why my cheez-its are always smashed to smithereens. Unencumbered, we staggered to the foot of the surprisingly sturdy open metal-work stairs and climbed up the 8 levels to the uppermost story. There we sat, basking in the steady wind that had so neglected us on the ground. 

The 4 of us have been trying to get into the habit of getting up at 5am, hiking several hours, resting for the hottest part of the day, and then hiking again as the sun starts its downward trek out of the sky. This works for the most part, as Whistle has been very diligent about setting an alarm and telling us when we need to get up. Unlike New Jersey, what sometimes follows is actually our fault: rolling over and immediately falling back asleep. However, on the days that we can get our butts in gear, the schedule works as well as it can with the heat. However, when it's 95 degrees by 10am, we're pretty much screwed no matter what we do. The sun wants us. It wants us bad. It wants us cooked for dinner and served on a bed of crisp lettuce. Come to think of it, laying in a bed of cold lettuce doesn't sound so bad right now. Look what the heat has done to me! ADDLED! ADDLED I SAY!

Thus it came to pass that the 4 of us took naps on the upper stories of a rickety old fire tower. We eventually had to hike on, which was quite difficult. Climbing back down the steps was like descending the stairs into Hell when the Devil is very miffed with you and he's making it stuffy just to be extra rude. But hike on we did. We've hiked through a day with a heat index of 105 degrees and we've seen a tornado form on the  horizon, lightning crashing onto distant ridgelines. We've been bitten by 100,000 mosquitos and watched literal cascades of sweat pour off of our faces. We laugh like idiots and we hike like champions. Never give up! Never surrender!

On Monday we came to a section of the trail with 2 options for fun side quests. There was a lake with a beach and concession stand 0.3 miles West. There was a 220' stone tower 0.3 miles East. Grim and Whistle decided they wanted to see the tower. Dumptruck and I questioned the very understanding of our souls if we would pass up even the mere possibility of a lake and funnel cake. 

Team A (Grim and Whistle) went East. Team B (Clev and The Dump) went West. But first we put together our elemental rings of power and tried to conjure Captain Planet. We wanted to have a serious talk about all of the humidity business. It didn't work because there's only 4 of us. Also, Captain Planet doesn't like to control the weather because it gives him gas. 

Dumptruck and I set off trying to find the side trail to lead us down to the lake. We eventually found the tiny, extremely steep and utterly overgrown path that went straight down the side of the mountain. We crashed through the underbrush, bushwhacking with our hiking poles like ill-prepared explorers in a New Jersey jungle. We were laughing loudly and sliding down the mountain, chatting about our excitement about the lake. It was barely 10am.

We got to the edge of the forest and strode out of the 6-foot tall brambles directly onto the well-manicured grass next to the beach. 100 feet away sat a pair of lifeguards and a family on their beach towels. All of them were staring at us, their jaws dropped, open-mouthedly gawking. A teenager tilted her head downward and slid her sunglasses down her nose, goggling at us over the brim. I glanced over my shoulder and my suspicions were confirmed: the path was not at all evident. They must have heard us coming down the mountain and thought we were a pair of animated bears. I realized what we were: 2 filthy woods-dwelling people that had ostensibly appeared out of the wildnerness from NOWHERE. 

Here is a photo of the woods where we popped out (on the right, by the picnic tables where Dumptruck is sitting with our packs):

Admittedly, had the roles been reversed, I would have been startled as well.

Dumptruck and I set about our business as though nothing was weird, and went to the bathrooms to change into our "bathing suits." Mine was a pair of underpants and a sports bra. Dumptruck's was a legitimate speedo. Dumptruck's was significantly more astonishing. Evidence:

The water was the most glorious water I've ever experienced. Context is key. Imagine yourself after days of living in the woods, never bathing, sweating constantly, layer after layer of deet smeared over your skin. Now imagine jumping into a lake. This is a good feeling.

At some point Dumptruck got out of the water. It was early in the day, and only a couple of families were there. I was the only one in the water. When I was up to my waist, I suddenly sneezed 3 times very loudly.

"Bless you!" someone called from the shore behind me.

"Thank you!" I hollered back, not wanting to be rude. There was a moment of silence, then the same voice said, with the same emphasis but with more annunciation:


I turned around to see a small child, likely the summoned Matthew, toddling over to his mother. She had not offered me blessings. She had been calling to her son. Mortified, I slowly sank down in the water up to my eyes to hide my burning cheeks.

We each got concession stand food, standing at the window dripping wet in the mid-morning sun. We had no towels, and our only hope was to drip-dry. We waited until we felt marginally closer to dry on the wet-dry spectrum, and then got ourselves ready to hike again. Our skin, which had so recently been slouiced clean with sparkling water, was smeared in a new layer of suffocating deet. We put our backpacks on, and turned one last time to look at the beautiful lake. There were a lot more families at this point, and several of them were watching the gangly man and the red-haired girl put giant packs onto their still-wet backs. We turned and crashed back into the woods, several murmurs of astonishment and confusion echoing across the lake behind us. 

About 5 minutes into the ascent, I tried to step upward onto a large slippery rock and immediately wiped out, landing in a bizarre almost-split, scratching up the skin inside my thighs and my left foot pinned underneath me. I cried out as Kirk Cameron came exploding back into existence, kicking down the door to my house and screaming the "Growing Pains" theme song at the top of his squirrelly little lungs. We wrapped my foot in an ace bandage then I got shakily to my feet and kept climbing. We were able to hike the rest of the day and got to the edge of a town called Unionville. The trail goes straight through this adorable little town. 

We knew that Grim and Whistle were at a pub about half a mile further, but Kirk Cameron was doing a mad Irish dance in my bones. I sat down on a broken old sidewalk in front of a church, taking my pack off and stretching my foot. We had walked 18 miles. Sometimes you just need to sit down. I encouraged Dumptruck to go ahead and find our kin, and that I would be close behind after I rested for a bit. He didn't want to go, but I used my best therapist voice and eventually he caved.

Somewhere nearby, a church bell chimed. An adolescent boy carrying 2 kittens walked by on the other side of the street. Glancing around to make sure no one would see his display of sensitivity, he kissed one of the mewing kittens of the top of its head. I sat with my head resting backward against an old cobblestone wall, my feet stretched out in front of me. Overhead, clouds passed lazily through a perfect blue sky. I blinked back down into reality at the sound of Grim's voice. He leaned down and hugged me gently, then picked up my pack and carried it through the town, walking slowly and kindly talking of other things. Dumptruck had found them at the pub, and as they'd been relaxing for a long time, Grim offered to come and get my pack. When we got to the pub, we found Dumptruck, Whistle, Sunshine and Carpenter. They sang encouragements and support. We iced my foot and I ate pretzels. 

I have continued to hike, and Grim (who is a nurse) showed me how to best wrap my foot. My 3 kindred spirits have been taking it easy in terms of hiking with me, and I've never felt pressured to do more than I'm capable of. It feels better with every day, honestly. Never once have I considered stopping hiking. I want this, and no 90's family sitcom actor turned zealot is going to stop me.

The trail goes through a fair amount of muddy swampland in NJ. The trail maintenance crew for the state deserves a hundred gold stars as there have been countless little wooden boardwalks erected through the mud. These save hikers from getting their shoes sucked into the muck. Though I've only done a few days of trail maintenance, I've done enough to know that it's probably not easy to carry hundreds of 2x6s through the woods and get them to stay afloat in endless, stinky mud. If anyone from the NJ/NY trail crew is reading this: I love you. You are great.

We have gone 6 days without showering or breaking, and the plan is to make it to Bear Mountain by Friday morning. My hair is so greasy that the normally brown sections look black as night. I feel like my skin is saturated 10 layers deep with sweat and deet. Welcome to summer on the AT!

Rock n' roll.

Clever Girl

My new shoes!

Dumptruck's new shoes!

Whistle's new backpack!

Grim's new Bull's Eye!

Grim's giant pills

Whistle found this baby snapping turtle!

On the NY/NJ state line


  1. There is so much to comment on! Grim is a trouper, and so are you! The perseverance of your little band is a thing of beauty. Love, love, love all the cool to find a mini snapping turtle! Whistle is a reptile magnet. The image of you and Dumptruck crashing out of the woods into civilization will stick with us a long time. Laugh out loud funny writing, then painful with the part about re-injuring your foot. Such a bummer! You're a good egg to keep your spirits up so well, and we’re so happy you have Dumptruck and the rest of the gang to get you thru the tough you do for them. Getting to see things like the "tough" adolescent boy not wanting anyone to observe him kiss his kitty probably helps keep you going...the chance to slow down and really observe is something we rarely get to do anymore. We're thinking of you...take another day in Bear Mountain if you need it for recuperation. Love and miss you! Mom and Dad

  2. I loved meeting you at Trail Days in Damascus, Virginia and I'm loving your blog!!! Looking forward to seeing you when you get to Maine and doing some trail magic!

    1. Huzzah!! Thank you! Let us know when you're free and we'll try to find yah!

  3. New shoes, baby turtles, appropriate meds, cool waters, pubs, may the rest of your journey be this cool. Tell Whistle she looks great! Still following, B&B

    1. Thanks you two! Whistle was flattered :D We always do our best to keep it cool. Whether or not we're successful is still up for debate.