I left before any of the other guys I camped with, hoping to make it into Branchville and get Copper back from Bob. It got muggy and hot really quickly, and the trail mostly went along the top of a ridge, exposed, treeless, continuous views, much like it had through most of Pennsylvania. In fact, it was the same ridge. Somehow, despite the scorching sun, I managed to avoid getting sunburnt. It was a very busy day on the trail, and most of the folk on it were day hikers and short sectioners. Not much happened. I passed Crater Lake, strongly tempted to jump in, but more eager to get my dog back, and climbed straight up a rock wall to the cliff that ran along the lake. I stopped on a rock to eat some bagels while listening to my audiobook, and somehow a snapping, flomping sound caught my attention even through the headphones. I turned to spot a young black bear galloping speedily down the hill through the underbrush. Everyone said I’d see bear in New Jersey, but this one that I could barely make out as it fled was the only one.
At the bottom of a long rocky climb, I stopped for an hour or two at Brink Road Shelter, which would be better named Swamp Shelter. It was set immediately adjacent to an enormous stagnant puddle, and the mosquitoes were a nightmare. I filled the shelter with deet several times while I rested there, but it never lasted long. The nearby spring was cold, though, and there was a reasonably clean privy, so despite the bug problem, I came out ahead.
From there it was only a couple of miles to the Branchville road crossing. I hung a left at the road and walked a half mile down to a little sports bar Renea had recommended poised right on the shore of the lake. I changed into some less sweaty clothes before posting up at the bar for a burger and fries. Meanwhile, I called Bob to let him know I’d made it to Branchville and was ready to get Copper back. He arrived an hour later, and Copper seemed to be ready to go, having had an exciting week playing with Bob’s dogs.
Trail angel that he is, Bob drove us to the State Park, and finding that they don’t appreciate dogs in the campground, to the motel, and finding they don’t have any pet rooms, back to his house, where he let me do a load of laundry and take a shower and sleep in a bed. He said I was the third hiker he’d had over, and I really can’t thank him enough for all he did for me.
The next day, he drove me to the grocery store in Branchville for a small resupply and a breakfast sandwich (at the first of many delis that I would visit in the coming weeks–and my first exposure to the question “ketchup, salt, and pepper?” I wasn’t brave enough yet to get ketchup on my bacon and egg roll.)
He dropped me in the parking lot in the state park, having skipped me past a half-mile of trail that connected the road to the lot, which means I can’t claim a continuous footpath between Georgia and Maine now, but I know I didn’t exactly miss anything. I was repacking and getting ready to head up Sunrise Mtn. when a bus full of kids pulled up. Not wanting to get caught in the middle of them, I set off up the trail. Less than a mile in, I missed a turn on a slab of rock and ending up going back down the hill. Thinking I might be going back the way I came, I checked my GPS and it said I was headed the right way. Soon, I ran into Abe and Two Ducks coming up the hill, having finally caught up after an extra day in DWG. They told me to hurry up as the mob of kids was right on their tail. I turned around and went back up, this time finding my way to the top of the ridge.
Just a mile or so from the top, there was another lookout tower (Culver Fire Tower). I climbed it, then set up a little spot at the top platform to sit and eat snacks and watch the ground below. Soon, the schoolkids arrived, most seeming to be high schoolers. I could easily listen in on their conversations from my spot. When I saw clouds on the horizon and a cool breeze rolling in, I packed up and rolled down. I led Copper right through the mass of children and on down the trail. Two minutes later, I was hurriedly throwing my packa over my pack, getting drenched in a sudden downpour. Two minutes after that, the storm was gone and the air was dripping with humidity.
A mile later, I arrived at Gren Anderson shelter. A couple of guys were there who were hiking together. Can’t recall their names at all, but we chatted for an hour before they hiked on. I lay back in the shelter and napped for another couple of hours before heading out.
Two miles after that, I arrived at the picnic shelter on top of Sunrise Mtn. It was getting close to sunset, and I was starving, so I cooked supper and watched the view. Copper had his as well.
When lots of other people started arriving, I cleared out, hoping to make it to the next shelter before dark. It was 3.5 miles away, but the ground was essentially level and clear. I made it with ease. There were a number of other folks at Mashipacong Shelter, including the two I’d met at the previous shelter, but those two were the only ones brave enough to sleep in the shelter. I hung my hammock, and the other guy and girl pitched a tent. Those two in the shelter built a small brush fire under the eaves to smoke out the shelter, and then draped themselves in bug nets.
In the morning, I restocked my water from the ample supply in the bear box and headed off toward High Point State Park. High Point is the generally recognized border between hellish rocky ridgeline walking land and swampy mosquito-plagued pond-skirting land, though obviously the two continue to mingle nearly to the New York border.
Within a few miles, mainly consisting of a lot of road crossings and swamp skirtings, as is usual in NJ, we arrived at the High Point State Park Visitor Center. Inside, there’s a trash can (for thru-hikers only), power outlets, real bathrooms, and a desk where a thru-hiker can get a soda in exchange for signing the register. Outside is a water fountain with a convenient dog spout/water bag fill faucet on the side. Across the street and over a quick little mountain, there’s a side trail down to a road, and by plunging willy-nilly into the woods beyond that road, one arrives at the park’s beach and concession stand. There’s a smallish lake with a roped-in area that’s never more than four feet deep and packed with hundreds of people. There’s a tree to tie Copper under. There’s a bathroom with (cold) showers (due to equipment malfunction), and a wonderful little monopoly of a food service counter designed and placed perfectly to sap every hiker’s money. Probably the concession stand could fund the maintenance of the rest of the park, given the prices and the business it received. I certainly gave it plenty.
Around the time I arrived there, the lake had been closed due to a passing t-shower, which I weathered by just sitting in it. It was more of rumbly sprinkle than a true rainstorm, and it lasted just long enough to be refreshing on such a hot day. After my meal, the lifeguards came back on duty, and I put in twenty minutes or so of wading, then went and got a shower. Around 4:30, I, along with the two other guys who’d hung around past when all the other thrus had left, decided to head up the hill to the high point monument to see what we could see. Turns out the monument closes at 4:30, and we didn’t make it there until 5, so we couldn’t climb the massive obelisk, but we could see quite a bit from its base, the highest point in the state of New Jersey (and the second such high point I’ve bagged on this trip, if you’ll recall Mt. Rogers).
I was originally just going to go another mile to High Point Shelter and stop for the day, but it looked like I had plenty of daylight left, so I blew right past the shelter and went down to the road. The other two guys, having hiked ahead of me, were stopped there on a rock having a snack, and Copper and I stopped as well. I found a pair of polarized sunglasses on the ground by the rock that were entirely unclaimed and took them with me when I left. There were a few more ponds and swamps to skirt on the way out, but the trail was easy and fast and becoming rapidly residential.
In fact, I had originally planned to stay at the Murray family cabin that night, but someone had informed me that the bar in Unionville allowed hikers to camp behind it, so I blew past it and was at the Unionville road crossing by sunset. I tied up Copper beside the bar and went inside to get a pizza and a beer for supper. There was a dog under the bar when I went in, so within the hour I had brought Copper inside. I chatted with the locals while I ate.
One very interesting character was a retired electrical engineer who liked to make up funny little country songs and sing them for a laugh apropos of nothing. He told a wonderful story about how he’d ignited a garbage bag full of propane on the street opposite the bar that had exploded loud enough to smash the windows in the pickup truck parked on the other side.
It was nigh on to midnight when I walked up the hill to set up my hammock. I had to go way back to what would essentially have been the backyard of the apartment at the top of the hill in order to find suitable trees, but I was too drunk and sleepy to care and the owner of the bar owned all the land on that hill anyway.
The next morning, I rolled out of bed well after the only other camper up there had packed up and left. I desperately had to go to the bathroom, but the bar was closed. The nearest likely place that was open was a grocery deli down the street about a mile. I held myself together, feeling like exploding, long enough to haul myself into the gas station store there, but they said they had no public restrooms. I asked if there was anywhere around, but they just shrugged and said, “Within walking distance? You’re pretty far from everything. This is the country, you know. But there’s woods all around us. That’s your best bet.” This was my second experience talking with New Yorkers. So I grabbed a fistful of napkins from the deli counter and dragged myself back up the street far enough to duck into the woods. Who knows who’s property I was on, but I was surrounded by high weeds and trees and it didn’t look like the area was maintained. I doubt anyone will ever notice.
Relieved, I returned to the deli and order a full length breakfast sandwich that was clearly designed with hikers in mind. Mounds of sausage, cheese, hashed potatoes, and eggs on a hoagie roll. The lady who ran the place said only hikers ever ordered it. I think they called it a Heart Attack.
Not only satisfied, but stuffed to the gills, I walked back to the hammock, and fed Copper while I packed up. I had no intention of leaving until afternoon; I just didn’t want to deal with whoever lived up the hill complaining about the hiker trash in their backyard all day.
I tied up Copper outside the bar again and walked down to the general store to get a bit of resupply, ice cream, drink and put a charge on my phone. After a few minutes, a guy came to tell me that the folks at the bar had taken Copper inside and given him water, so I figured I didn’t have to worry about him for a bit. I went down to the pizzeria next door and finished the post “Until Copper Goes” while I ate a whole pizza. The sun was setting by the time I returned to the bar to fetch Copper. All the locals had fallen in love and were threatening to keep him for themselves. One of the guys was a vet and offered some food and treats for him. I took one small bag of food and thanked them all, then dragged Copper out to head on down the trail.
It was .7mi back to the trail, and from there, 4 miles to the Pochuck Mountain Shelter. It was completely dark by the time I got to the road walk that leads for a solid half-mile down the NY/NJ border, and I got my headlamp out to check my map, confused that the trail should remain on a road for so long. The bugs were as bad there as they had ever been anywhere, so I also took advantage of the stop to drench myself in bug spray. I confirmed I was headed the right way, then packed up and hit the road again.
Not a minute later, I hear Copper suddenly bolting off into someone’s yard, and turn my light up on him to see him swinging something very much like a stuffed chew toy back and forth violently, then just as suddenly drop it and start desperately dragging his face across the grass. I had no idea what had come over him except that it was hilarious to watch him. It was even more hilarious when I walked up into the yard to find a dead and mangled skunk lying there motionless. It was much less hilarious when I got a whiff of Copper.
But there was nothing to do for it but get to the shelter and sort it out later. The trail turned off and skirted a swampy reserve on a gravel road, and the bugs here got so thick and close that I had to turn off my light and walk by starlight to avoid drawing their attention. The trail then turned off into the woods, crossed a road and climbed straight up the side of so-called Pochuck Mountain. I arrived around midnight, and leaving Copper and his pack well outside the shelter, set up my sleeping arrangements between the two tents that had already been pitched inside the shelter, presumably to fend off the mosquitoes. I slept with my headnet on and had no trouble falling asleep.
The next day was supposed to be an at least 11.5 mile day to Waywayanda Shelter, or perhaps further, but I stayed in my bag even as the folks on either side of me packed up their tents and left (Can you blame me? I hadn’t gotten to sleep until well after midnight!), and then I stayed in the shelter for a while more, as some folks I never met again came out to the shelter for a morning break. There was a very strange comic/doodle book left there full of surreal images, and I blew my mind reading that. I probably left around ten.
The climb over Pochuck Mountain was easy. It was more a hill than a mountain, rising to a height of 1154 ft. above sea level at the viewpoint. Four miles from the shelter, I was back in the valley, and crossing the Pochuck Creek into the Waywayanda State Park swamp area, one of the newest boardwalks on the trail, and stretching for well over a mile.
I had met a number of people on this six mile stretch from the shelter, over the hill, through the swamp, to the Vernon road crossing, and all of them had said they were planning on heading to the church hostel in Vernon. Even though it was only 1pm, when I made it to the road crossing, I turned towards town and found a hot dog stand just 50 feet down the road. I got the hot dog, drink, and chips combo, using up the last of my available cash, then, after a few fruitless minutes thumbing on the roadside, wangled a ride with a tree cutter making an appointment at the adjacent home. He dropped me outside the hostel. In the hiker room, there was a TV, a computer, two cots, a number of hiker-related things, and in the next room, a kitchen and shower.
Later that afternoon, a whole mess of people showed up, including Lady, Bottle Cap and Fun Size and Magic Scout. It was quite a party, but I spent a good deal of time away from it, walking to the store, blogging, chatting on the phone while Copper hung out at the AA meeting in the next room, etc. I returned to hiker central for the last 30 minutes of Mulan, when someone put in Total Recall (the older, better one) and everyone promptly went to sleep. I finished out the movie and found, to my surprise, that one of the cots had been left unused, so I threw myself into it and conked out.
The next morning, I stuck around the hostel until long after everyone else left except Patchouli. Due to my slow pace through New York, I would never see any of them again. I needed to do things like repack, repair, and attempt to wash the skunk smell off of Copper’s pack. Also, Patchouli and I had some discussions about blogging and her plans, and I heard that she is as honest in her blog as I am here, even going so far as to describe “exertion farts,” a term I heard for the first time from her, but a concept I well understand.
Around 4pm, I walked out with Patchouli to get a ride with her friend Mary back to the trail. Patchouli insisted that I visit Heaven Hill Farm before hitting the trail, because I absolutely had to try the Bacon Mac ‘n’ Cheese sandwich. So we parked there. In addition to the sandwich, I got a pound of cherries, an ice cream cone (with the most racist available flavor: “The Great White Way”), a Nesquik, and a Virgil’s Cream Soda, as well as a number of free local wine samples.
Full to bursting, I got Copper out of the van and on his feet, and returned to the tree to conquer New York and face the upcoming heat wave. It was just a mile uphill and four miles bobbing along over rocky ridges and through dense forests before I reached Waywayanda Shelter, flagged down by a random girl in the middle of the woods behind the shelter right at sunset. It was starting to get foggy, and it looked like rain, so I slept in the shelter again with Copper underneath the platform.
It rained pretty good that night, which kept down the mosquitos. But with the rain came the heat, and perhaps the most miserable week of the whole summer.