Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Southbound on the Appalachian Trail 2015: New Jersey

The hike through New Jersey was unexpectedly very pleasant. New Jersey supposedly has the highest percentage of black bears per acreage along the AT. My first bear encounter occurred during my second day in the state when I saw a mother bear and two cubs. Another highlight was walking around Sunfish Pond in Worthington State Forest. It immediately reminded me of Walden Pond in Massachusetts, a place I used to visit regularly when I studied there for a semester in college. Sunfish Pond is also a glacial lake, the water crystal clear. The lake is also considered one of New Jersey's seven natural wonders. It is a popular spot, but fortunately the large crowds were absent when I walked around it.
While in New Jersey, I also met a few hikers which would leave lasting impacts on my hike. The first was a Marine named H2Camo, who I would hike the rest of the trail with once we reached Pennsylvania. I also met Tennessee Jed and Hobo, who I would see from time to time. I also bumped into Lux once again, who I hadn't seen since Vermont. I hiked in front of him after he had a bought with Lyme disease and had to stop hiking for a few days to recover.
Weather was very pleasant during this time. There were a couple of memorable stops along the AT during this section as well. One was at a Episcopal Church hostel where I stayed for one night with one other northbound hiker. It was just one of those relaxing stops that rejuvenate the hike. Since there was only one other person there, we just lounged around, did the usual trail chores, ate a ton of food, and watched movies all day. The hostel was very clean and spacious, and the folks who monitor the hostel pretty much left us alone.

The other stop was a private cabin owned by a former AT hiker named Jim Murray. It's a simple structure, the only furniture being a small table. Hikers are welcomed to grab some water, take a cold outdoor shower, and spend the night if they choose. Amazingly, no one was there when I stopped by in the evening. I stretched my sleeping bag across the tile floor and slept restfully there, played some guitar and enjoyed the fantastic acoustics. However, there was a hummingbird that somehow got stuck in the cabin and couldn't figure out how to get out. It was fluttering next to a high window that was probably ten feet off the ground, near the ceiling of the cabin. It was acting pretty much like a moth, banging against the window, getting stuck in spider webs, and unable to understand why the window was blocking its escape to the outdoors. It was starting to stress me out, and I couldn't figure out how to help the little guy, as it was too far out of my reach. Once night fell, the moon came out and hummingbird gave up and all was quiet. As soon as the sun came up, the bird was back at it, although seemed to be exhausted. Thankfully, someone had left a head bug net on the table in the cabin. I duct taped my two hiking poles together and attached the head net to the end of the extended poles. Miraculously, I was able to pin the hummingbird next to the window 10 feet above my head and the bird fell into the head net. As soon as I lowered the pole, I walked to the cabin's front door and was able to let the hummingbird out where it immediately flew to the nearest tree to hopefully recuperate. It was a great start to the day!
Sunfish Lake
Black bear in tree.
While hiking through the forest I heard a snap to my left and saw a black bear up in a tree (pictured above). He seemed to be eating something and resting on the branches. I watched him for a minute but he didn't seem to notice me. Emboldened by many of my previous bear encounters, I called out to the bear. He looked over at me for a couple seconds and then went back to eating his snack. Continuing our conversation I said, "You look like a monkey!" Just then the bear let out a loud "Hmmphhhh!" jumped up and starting barreling down the tree. I hightailed out of there, feeling like a little kid who had just insulted his older brother and was about to receive a beating.
Delaware River at Delaware Water Gap.
Overall, New jersey was great. The forest just before the Delaware Water Gap was really nice. Tall,  tall pines, ferns, moss, and waterfalls. Reminded me a little of the redwoods. When I reached the Delaware River, I had one of those moments wondering what this spot must have been like to the Indians who once lived here. probably a very special spot. Now a highway roars next to the river and through the gap, the river showing signs of pollution a direct result of the highway. Nevertheless, several people were in canoes paddling down the river and fishing...