Day mileage: 22.6
AT total mileage: 1,300.3
Time: 7 hours
Welcome to New Jersey.
The silence of the woods last night was incredible. Normally there's a river, road/highway, or airport near enough by to create some kind of ambient noise as we sleep. In rare form, our campsite at mile 1,278 had nothing within 5 miles of it, and as such was completely silent. It was almost eerie to roll over in the middle of the night, patchy areas illuminated by the moon shining through leaves on the trees, and hear nothing at all. Being someone who needs ambient noise to sleep, it was just my luck that my iPod had died and I had no music to put on to break the silence. Regardless, I did manage to fall back asleep and woke up rested around 5:30 AM. Packing up camp shortly thereafter, Pneumo and I began our 'short' hiking day just before 7.
As if wanting to give us a last hoorah, the final 12 miles of Pennsylvania trail were all kinds of rocky. Small and triangulated rocks that twist ankles, larger boulders that required hopping between them and bracing with trekking poles upon descent... There was quite a bit of swearing going on as we hiked, eagerly looking forward to a new state and hopefully some different terrain. Around 5 miles into the hike we make it to the Kirkridge shelter where we had a quick second breakfast and refilled water before setting our sights on the Delaware Water Gap some 7 miles further north. The trail between the shelter and the gap would be mostly level along a mountain ridge, at some points following dirt access roads for old power line companies, then would steeply drop off close to 1,000 feet into the riverbed below. Towards the end of the ridge we hiked past a sign for the summit of Mt. Minsi, which felt like a joke as we had barely hiked any kind of elevation gain to get there. It was about this time that we began encountering weekend hikers out with their dogs and kids, enjoying the humid and sunny weather. We spoke briefly with everyone as we began descending into the valley below. It was quite comical to watch the variety of weekenders hike Mt. Minsi. There were of course the locals with their dogs who frequent the trail, young women power walking in their yoga pants and oversized florescent cotton shirts, families with dads explaining that 'this isn't even the hard part' to their kids, and then a group of Asian tourists in street clothes with 2-way walkie-talkies in case they got separated while executing this challenging summit. People are entertaining.
Reaching the valley floor below, the trail turned onto the slow paced back roads of Delaware Water Gap, PA. We followed along, passing by dilapidated homes that were probably once gorgeous in their grandeur, and bank style barns that I can only assume are now home to dusty items from decades past. As you may not know, when the Trail follows through a town there are white blazes painted on phone poles and buildings to alert hikers where to go. It can oftentimes be quite difficult to find these blazes due to the presence of missing puppy posters, yard sale signs, and other miscellaneous things haphazardly covering the rectangular white paint that a hiker relies on for navigation. Luckily we were able to find the blazes easily, and dropped through a small center of town where an old ice cream shop caught my eye. Pneumo and I decided we had a few minutes to spare, and stopped in for two strawberry milkshakes made with Hershey's ice cream. I also ordered a Coke, which I was shocked to see was made by stirring carbonated water with actual Coca Cola syrup. Meanwhile the two high school girls, dressed in matching ice cream shoppe outfits worked away at our milkshakes as period correct music played throughout a room decorated in the style of a time long since passed. My syrup-stirred Coke wasn't as delicious as I had hoped for, but the chunks of real strawberry in my milkshake absolutely made up for it. We got the shakes to-go, and began the mile trek across the Delaware River bridge and over into New Jersey. Goodbye, Pennsylvania - see ya never.
Hiking the bridge was slightly horrifying. Divided by a concrete barrier with no more than 3 feet of distance between the sidewalk and passing cars, it was nerve wracking to be passed by 18-wheelers going 75 miles an hour down the highway. Despite this scary experience, we trekked across the expansive bridge and eventually were separated from I-80 as we dropped down and into the parking lot of the Kittanytinny Point visitor's center where we were greeted by park rangers who were eager to have us sign their guest book. We were even given Appalachian Trail patches and a childish pin proudly stating 'Junior Park Ranger' in the same way that commercial pilots used to give out plastic Delta and United wings to children who visited the cockpit. With a schedule to keep, we began the long and gradual climb up into the mountains from the riverbed of the Delaware. Again we were presented with many day hikers, not all of whom were friendly or even returned hellos. There were more rocks than I had hoped for, but I think I despised them just a little less due to the fact that they weren't Pennsylvania rocks. New Jersey rocks are apparently excused in my book. Atop the mountain ridge we came across a large, crystal clear lake, the kind that would be absolutely perfect to sit at and enjoy a sunny summer June day. Hiking around it, we trekked on, aiming to meet friends Caren and Mike at an Appalachian Mountain Club outdoors center around 1530hrs. The rocky terrain slowed us a bit, but we arrived a few minutes before them after crossing the Trail's 1,300 mile mark. One more state, and another hundred miles in the books.
Caren and Mike arrived from a tandem bicycle ride they had been on, and for our stuff in their van. We made the drive back (the longest I've spent in a car since April) at highway speeds for a half hour or so before arriving at their gorgeous New Jersey home. After each taking a wonderfully hot shower, Caren drove us to Wal-mart for a resupply while she picked up her mom to join us for dinner. Our resupply was quick, and we were back at the house within an hour. A homemade dinner of lasagna, fresh bread, and salad was served and enjoyed by all. Their daughter Julia was also home from college for the summer and baked us a desert of delicious chocolate chip cookies. What a feast. It's not very often I walk away with a genuinely full stomach, so this was a treat.
Pneumo and I planned out our next few days of trail after dinner, and threw in a load of laundry so we hopefully don't smell as horrible for the next few days. Bed came around 2200hrs, and I'm hoping to sleep well on a comfortable mattress. There's lots of rain in the forecast for the next week, which I'm dreading. I suppose we shall see tomorrow how the next few days will play out.
From a warm bed in a dry house... In state #8, with 6 left to go.