Days 131 + 132
Day 131: Mile 1338.5 | Observation Tower @ High Point State Park
By 9am the two of us were packed and out the door. The owners had told us they'd give us a ride at 9am. We showed up to their office by 8:55am. After 20 minutes of waiting they hadn't shown up. I called and they answered. They said they had forgotten and would be down in 5 minutes. 20 minutes later, one of them showed up and drove us back to the trail head in silence. Back on the trail we breathed in the 'fresh' air. We were still within a mile of the road but the air felt so good after a night in a smoky room. Both of us were severely congested. I was coughing, sneezing, and blowing snot rockets for hours. It started out as a grumpy trudge through the damp woods. Miles started pointing little things out: the fresh air, the green light filtering through the tree leaves, the slight reduction of pointy rocks, no salt chafe, new shoes, etc. I started perking up. The weather started brightening and it turned out to be a beautiful summer day.
We hiked up to a cool 'mountain top' pavilion and finished drying out our gear:
Snacks were had and we kept walking. As we walked on trail, a man who carried a shark mascot and small cards with prayers on them stopped us and gave us some frozen Gatorades out of his backpack. In the midsummer heat it was a blessing. The most refreshing thing I'd had in a long time. We thanked him and kept walking. I saved my Gatorade for later. This stretch seemed to have no water and we were running out of the town water we had.
We came upon a small shelter, one of the oldest on trail, and found a few 5 gallon jugs there! An older section hiker was there taking a break from the sun. Miles and I both agreed it was hot and we should wait for the height of the sun to pass. We sat at the shelter drinking water and playing chess. Some of the section hiker's friends came upon the shelter about half way through our game. A ridge runner and local tail maintainer also arrived to bring more water. The five of them stood around, talking.
Their conversation began with a remark on the heat. It continued down a rabbit hole of complaints from all parties. Everyone complained about Carver Gap's motels, the heat, the lack of water, their body pains, etc. It had taken me so long to get into a good mood that morning that I didn't want to ruin it. I tried not to listen to their laments. I tried to focus on the chess game and stay positive. It really irked me. They didn't realize how toxic their complaints (and lit cigarettes) were to themselves and the people around them.
We quickly finished our chess game and packed up. We hiked off into the heat, despite the trail maintainer's suggestion to wait out the height of the sun. Neither of us wanted to be around the negativity. We kept walking through the heat and gnats. Around 4pm, we arrived at High Point State Park Headquarters. Inside, they gave us free sodas! We also ran into Shirt Pants there! He hadn't gotten off trail yet! He told us he'd been yellow blazing and working around his injury. His parents were coming to pick him up that evening to take him on a road trip with his brother, Gene, (his dad and brother were also hiking the trail) for Gene's birthday. The three of us went outside and sat in the shade.
Miles and I got water from the tap there and cooked ourselves dinner. It looked like the next few camp spots had no water, unless we wanted to drink from a lake that was used for swimming. Snow Angel arrived not long after we had finished our dinner. We hadn't seen her in a while! She told us she was leaving for NYC that weekend for a whole week.
On a phone call at the park that evening, I discussed the possibility of meeting up with my parents in Pawling, New York once we got around that area. My mom said she'd see what she could do. I missed them and I was homesick. I, most of all, missed my cat Bonnie. But I knew she wouldn't do well on a 5 hour car ride, 10 hours round trip.
Around 6pm Miles and I set out for camp. We found a lookout tower just a mile from the shelter we had planned on camping at. Up at the top of the lookout platform there were benches and the view was gorgeous. The High Point monument could be seen in the evening light. There were no signs officially saying that camping was not allowed, but it seemed like a bit of a no no. We decided, if no one came up after 7pm we would set up our stuff and hope we didn't get caught. It seemed like the perfect spot to cowboy camp; there were no bugs! We played chess and ate candy while we waited.
Around 7pm a girl named Rocket came up. She said she was definitely going to camp there. I was glad that we weren't the only ones breaking the rules. She seemed nice enough. She told us about the big (26 mile) day she'd just had and made it seem like that was her usual routine. She was mostly hiking alone and had a deadline because of school. A New Jersey Native, she told us the rocks pretty much end after the High Point. That was good news. We talked college and student loan debt while we watched the sun set and got our beds ready. As the sun went down, a couple of her friends arrived: two twenty something boys.
We all watched as the sun went down and bundled up when a little evening chill set in. As soon as the sun went down, mosquitoes came out. Our perfect, bugless haven became a bit annoying. The boys put bug nets over their heads, Rocket didn't care, and Miles used his tent as a bug shield. I put on some Picardin bug spray and laid down. Everyone sleeping up there said they were planning on getting up early. Miles and I decided it would be good to get up and make some big miles.
At 9pm I tried to go to bed but the other campers were still up talking. At 10pm I was on the verge of falling asleep when laughs erupted from the group on the other side of the tower. By 11pm I was annoyed and couldn't fall asleep, the other campers were still up. Miles, apparently sweated all night in his tent and still got bug bites through the mesh. Neither of us slept much.
Day 132: Mile 1358.3 | Stealth Camp Near Stairway to Heaven
I watched the sun rise through the bars on the railing around the observation deck. 5:30am rolled around and I started to slowly get up. Miles was pissed. He wouldn't talk to me. I ate my breakfast and packed my pack. Rocket and her crew slowly rolled out, without saying a word to us. Miles left, angry, and I waited ten minutes so that there would be a buffer between us. I was tired but I wasn't grumpy. It was a beautiful day and the terrain looked easy.
Miles walked ahead of me for most of the day. I listened to Radiolab, chatted with my parents for a bit, and enjoyed some quit time. I passed Miles while he was at a shelter and kept walking. Alone I would walk for longer periods without breaks, eat less often, and generally just walk faster. I ran into Rocket at a water source (a.k.a. the side of a suburban house owned by ATC). We talked about broken REI poles, we both had them, and discussed where we'd be camping that night. She was planning on going further than me.
I moved on by myself, leaving Rocket behind at the water source. Up and over a hill and through a field and I listened to this insane episode of Radiolab about LGBTQ couples in Israel hiring surrogate mothers. I zoomed on the trail and walked on a road for a while until I came to a wildlife preserve. In the 80+ degree heat I sat on a shady bench. I had to spray myself completely with bug spray to take my break but I needed to eat.
Miles eventually passed me during my break. He was talking to his friend on the phone. I let him get by me and figured I catch him later. In the heat of mid-day I hiked. It felt like I was going faster than usual and I felt pretty good. I was dripping in sweat, my shirt was soaked, but I didn't necessarily feel 'hot'. My skin wasn't burning, my face felt cool; my body had finally adapted to the heat and I felt like a machine. I arrived at the famous New Jersey board walk around 3pm, height of the sun. Mile was there waiting for me, laying on his sleeping pad. He apologized for his mood. I said it was okay. We sat on his sleeping pad and had a snack.
Some trail maintainers were working on the boardwalk. They were all volunteers and I think all of them were over the age of fifty. I thought about it and realized: I've never noticed that most trail crews are older people. I rarely, if ever, saw young people maintaining trails. But I primarily saw younger people using the trails. The Trek just posted an article about this recently, actually, and it is so important. That board walk in New Jersey that is so popular would certainly not still be functional without volunteer work. It wouldn't even exist without volunteers. We'd be fording a swamp or road walking through here if it wasn't for them.
One of the maintainers told us that it was amazing we'd hiked so far today. When we asked him why, he explained that it was almost 100 degrees out if you factor in humidity! Combine those conditions with the few water sources (basically none) that exist in New Jersey and we finally understood why we were sweating so much. I felt more tired than usual and thirsty but I barely felt the heat on my skin.
We waited for the sun to get lower in the sky and eventually got up and started across the boardwalk. It was beautiful and very well built. We even saw some turtles covered in algae and sunbathing! At the end of the boardwalk we crossed the bridge and headed across the cow field after it. There was a farm that sold ice cream and we stopped there to treat ourselves and make our dinner. We had planned on making it up and over 'Stairway to Heaven', a climb just before the New York border but once we ate we lost a lot of motivation.
In the evening light, we left the farm (two hours after we had arrived there) and walked toward 'Stairway to Heaven'. In the mosquito filled evening we found a stealth spot near the base of the climb and decided to just stop there. Both tired and extra hot we set up Miles' tent and tried to go to sleep immediately. It was HOT. Too hot to sleep. My legs were radiating heat. Having them touch each other was the most uncomfortable feeling. I tried putting my water bag between my legs to keep them separate. It changed the game. I finally felt okay enough to fall asleep. As soon as I was about to fall asleep I heard some sticks cracking outside...
I got out my headlamp and looked around but didn't see anything. After my deer stalking incident I was a bit more paranoid at camp. I kept hearing noises outside. I asked Miles to check, I didn't have my glasses on and they were packed away outside the tent. He said he didn't see anything. More noises ensued. I started thinking: What if it's a bear? We didn't hang our food bags tonight! Is it deer? Why are animals always stalking me?! I asked Miles to check outside again. With a great, big huff he opened the screen to see outside better. Mosquitoes started flying in, Miles' worst nightmare.
Once he assured me there were no predators outside he went to work trying to kill all the mosquitoes that got in. He was pretty mad. I laid down and finally fell asleep after that. Miles, apparently, did not fall asleep.