After twelve hours of travel by bus, train, and car, I finally arrived in the small town of Blairstown, New Jersey, to start my three-week backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail. The hike’s main purpose is to map out a few more states for my AT app, but it’s also a good way to beat myself into shape for the hiking season, and to clear my mind before the summer and all the uncertainties ahead in life.
I was all ready to begin the hike on Friday morning, but with over an inch of rain in the forecast for the day, I didn’t mind one more day of rest. So on Saturday morning, I hit the trail at Delaware Water Gap, ready for just about anything. Except the beating my feet took. Apparently (as is so often the case) I wasn’t so tough as I’d thought.
The first fifty miles of New Jersey follow the ridge of the Kitatinny Mountains, which was amazingly gentle as far as the climbs, but tough on the feet. The rocks and ridges quickly ate up the bottoms of my feet. By the end of day two, my poor ankles and soles were very unhappy. Add to that some nasty sunburns because the leaves weren’t out to block the sun yet, and there was plenty of pain for a week on the trail.
But there was plenty of joy to go around, too. From day one, when I met “Oboe Hobo” (finishing his 2012 through hike) to later days meeting section hikers, there was no shortage of people who were just happy to be on the trail. That’s something that is often missed in the through-hiker crowd, when months of fatigue start to take their toll. The hikers I met this week were all so relaxed, so joyful. I camped for a few nights with two retirees from Georgia, doing their annual section hike, and it reminded me that the trail community isn’t just limited to the through-hikers. You can meet people on the trail and hike or camp with them for several days, and it gets to be like a traveling family.
Three days of pretty brutal heat were followed by a day of wet and dreary weather, just in time for the second part of the state. After dropping off the state’s high point, the AT hugs the New York border through farmland, low hills, and marshes. A few miles of this aggravated my sore feet, and I was ready to add a day off to the plan for the end of the week. No matter how many trips like this I go on, I always think I can do without a day off in the beginning, and I’m always wrong.
After a day and a half of lowlands walking, I had some more clear views and steep, rocky climbs at Wawayanda Mountain, where I was able to look back on several days worth of hiking. There was a fine view at Pinwheel Vista where I could see back to the New Jersey high point (easily visible from a distance because of the 200 foot obelisk on top), and as far north as the Shawangunks. The AT goes nowhere near the Gunks, but looking at them looming over the New York countryside brought back plenty of memories from college, and thoughts of another eventual backpacking trip. The Long Path runs up to those mountains, then beyond to the Catskills, another of my college haunts. I wonder when I’ll get back there.
Yesterday morning, I moved pretty slowly since my feet were beat up and aching, but I managed a full day of walking. I’m taking a day off at Greenwood Lake, staying with one of my friends from the Appalachian Mountain Club who helped me out back in 2007 when I hiked the AT at a much faster pace. I have to remind myself that I was a bit younger then, and I kept my pace below 15 miles per day for the first month on the trail. That may explain why my feet are getting so torn up on this trip. A little rest and relaxation should help with the healing, and I’m not even a little bit behind schedule yet.
One state down, three to go!