Days 64-75 on the Appalachian Trail: New York and New Jersey

SOBO Now!

We are now onto the SOBO leg of our thru-hike! Time is flying by. Getting back to New York was an important milestone in our journey. We spent a couple of days in the city enjoying good food, wine, and company (shout out the Warrens for always taking care of us)! The transition from the immense beauty and solitude of Maine, to the busyness of Brooklyn, to frankly, the less impressive landscape of New York was a big adjustment. Getting back on trail, we felt a pang of boredom for the first time. However, after a couple days of hiking and reflection, we shifted our mindsets and expectations and began enjoying New York and New Jersey much more. We loved seeing greater racial and ethnic diversity on trail, meeting other SOBOs, and taking advantage of the perks of being so close to towns (more food and fun stops at theaters and breweries). Also, as two people who have lived in both states, returning to places we had hiked before and experiencing them differently has been a big plus. 

Big reflections:

  1. In the first few days after the flip, motivation to hike waned a bit. After achieving such a big goal and hiking through such wild terrain in Maine, it was jarring to return to the trail in the mid-Atlantic, where people, towns, and cell reception were plentiful. We realized the importance of readjusting our expectations for the rest of the thru-hike. Instead of expecting expansive mountain views and wilderness, we became excited for farmland, wooded treelines, milder terrain, engaging with locals, town stays, and a glimpse into a region of the country we are quite familiar with, but perhaps haven’t appreciated as much. With this mindset, we were pleasantly surprised by how much we ended up enjoying New York and New Jersey!
  2. We’ve increased our daily mileage to about 15-20 miles a day, with a targeted average of 17 daily miles overall. Some days we’ve gone closer to 21, but on days we resupply, we do a little less. It is incredible to feel this growing strength and capability in our bodies, even when things are hard.
  3. By living outside, we have experienced the magnitude of the negative effects of climate change directly. The drought in NY and NJ has been really bad. Almost every stream is dry, the soil is parched to cracking, and the leaves have shriveled and prematurely fallen from many trees as a result. We’ve had to rely on the goodness of trail angels who’ve stashed water caches in the woods for us to get through long dry stretches and have had to carry more water with us than we would like. Hauling water many miles to a campsite or shelter is not fun and is not an expectation on the AT. But maybe that’s changing. 
  4. We are quickly learning how little we need and feel grateful for what we have and what people are willing to provide us. Specifically, any food, water, words of encouragement, quick hitchhikes, or showers offered to us have been incredible gifts. One motel owner let us camp on the lawn for free and brought us Indian food from a retreat center he volunteers at. One person who gave us a ride also gave us hand sanitizer and plastic bags. Other hikers who’ve passed have given us enthusiastic fist bumps when they learned about what we are doing. We don’t need much more than these necessities, a sense of adventure, and the kindness of others. 
  5. Even in NY and NJ, where the terrain has not been as “difficult” comparatively, it’s still rocky and rugged! We’ve come to the consensus that the Appalachian Trail is just hard.

Hiking the Appalachian Trail Through New York

Days 64-66: 8/20/22-8/22/22: Zeros and travel to New York

After a shuttle and a bus to Bangor, we picked up a rental car and drove three other thru-hikers who had summited Katahdin the same day we did to NYC. The car ride consisted of five thru-hikers eating food found at gas stations, talking about nothing and everything, while Lotus DJ’ed and took song requests from everyone. The thru-hiking community is a special one. 

We dropped John, with his hiking stick in hand, off at LaGuardia Airport as the sun set behind Manhattan. Then, we dropped Dijeridoo and Johnny Cash in Williamsburg before heading to DUMBO, where the Warrens turned their apartment into a Stretch and Lotus style AT Lodge (meaning, they had homemade Chinese food and wine at the ready). We spent two days in NYC doing our favorite things: getting dim sum (where we sat next to Woody Allen), walking the Manhattan Bridge, eating gelato and cheesecake in Little Italy, and spending time with the best of friends. On Monday morning, we met up with Peter and Sweeney for coffee near Grand Central before taking the Metro North back up to where we started near Pawling, NY.

Day 67, 8/23/22: AT Train Stop to RPH Shelter

19.9 mi, 3500 ft elevation gain 

Returning to trail after three days off was a challenge to some degree. After a few days of not hiking, our muscles and joints were achy. More so, it was disorienting and jarring to go from Maine to New York, where the flora and fauna, terrain, degree of wildness, and overall environment is so different. We are so much closer to civilization, roads, and neighborhoods in the mid-Atlantic than we were in all of Maine. Today’s hike showed us that we can do really big miles on the trails here. With switchbacks, gentle climbs, meadows, and well packed trails, we moved at almost a 3 mile an hour pace and had completed 20 miles by 3:30pm. We were tired, but this bodes well for the future because we need to average at least 16 miles per day to finish as planned by Thanksgiving. We also noted that the drought was even more noticeable here. Pretty much every water source was completely dry. There were gallon jugs and other bottles at most road crossings for water caches – most of them empty. Also, most of the leaves on trees and bushes were crinkled and brown with many more covering the ground. It almost made it feel like past prime autumn leaf time because there wasn’t much color other than brown and muted yellow. Except it was way too hot and muggy to be late fall.

Day 68, 8/24/22: RPH Shelter to Greymoor Spiritual Life Center 

18.8 mi, 3600 ft elevation gain

We rose around 6:30am, with Kathy feeling really groggy despite getting 10 hours of sleep! We must be readjusting to trail life. Today we hiked another big day of about 20 miles. Feeling a little underwhelmed with the scenery and perhaps even a little bored of the monotony, we decided to listen to our books and podcasts and spend the day focusing more on our own thoughts rather than our surroundings. Readjusting our mindset and expectations and focusing much more on our physical bodies and our personal growth through these sections where we aren’t blown away by our surroundings was a priority. After five miles, we took a short blue blaze trail to Canopus Lake where we enjoyed a lot of water, chicken tenders and french fries, and charged our devices. This fueled us for the day and as a whole, it was pretty nice. The trail undulated, making the climbs short and reasonable. We ended up camping about 0.4 miles off trail at a Spiritual Life Center where they let hikers camp next to a baseball field with cold showers (exactly what we needed after a hot day) and picnic tables. 

Day 69, 8/25/22: Graymoor Spiritual Life Center to Black Mountain

15.1 mi, 3800 ft elevation gain

Today was hot and eventful! We resupplied at the Appalachian Trail Market gas station where a few locals asked about our hike and were flabbergasted that people do this. Then we crossed Bear Mountain Bridge on foot, which was really cool because we have driven it so many times before! We walked through the Trailside Museum and Zoo, stopping to see the geology exhibit and bears, had lunch at a picnic table by the inn, then continued to climb Bear Mountain. The terrain itself was not hard, with rock stairs perfectly curated. However, it was scorching hot and the sun zapped our energy. Kev bought a cold bevy from every vending machine we passed and added an ice cream on the summit. At the top, we met two lovely women who were in awe of our hike. Their warmth and words of encouragement were exactly what Kathy needed when feeling so low from the heat and challenge of the day. After, we filled up water from a tiny steam trickle (the drought is still so bad – the parched land is shriveling), and ended up camping at a stealth spot earlier than we expected because there was a really nice campsite just below the summit of Black Mountain with shady space and an inviting breeze. We took advantage of the location and went back up to the viewpoint for sunset which left us feeling grateful for this beauty and these experiences in NY.

Day 70, 8/26/22: Black Mountain to Mombasha High Point

17.4 mi, 4000 ft elevation gain

We moved well today. Despite the immense heat, the miles passed by quickly. Harriman State Park is pretty beautiful! There were stretches of rock outcrop trail with what looked like burning bushes lining the way they were so crispy and golden. Thank goodness for the trail angels who left water caches at trailheads. Without those, we would have been very thirsty or would have had to figure out a way to get to town because almost all of the streams are dried up due to the drought. Today we felt a marked shift in perspective regarding our thru-hike expectations for this section: it’s not necessarily about being in the wilderness, but about experiencing the trail and its associated communities. With that, we opted to add a mile of walking to try out a brewery. They had delicious beers and air conditioning on a hot day. 

Day 71, 8/27/22: Mombasha High Point to Warwick Turnpike

15.5 mi, 2300 ft elevation gain

Ice cream, pizza, and movies, oh my! 

Today, we felt like we had a nice “leisurely” day of hiking with a lot of breaks and relatively easy terrain. We slept in and didn’t start hiking until 9am because the creamery and hot dog stand didn’t open until noon! Well, we ended up getting there with an hour to spare, so we sat in the shade and waited as patiently as possible for our ice cream and sorbet, which were really delicious. The biggest disappointment of the day was that the hot dog stand didn’t open at all, which meant we wanted to get to town quickly so we could eat real food. We went over some rocky outcroppings along Greenwood Lake that were really pretty but super hot in the sun. Midway through the afternoon, we crossed into New Jersey. Right after, Kathy took a pretty big spill, but luckily walked away with just some bruises. We got a hitch into Warwick and went straight to a pizza place for a large 4:30pm linner before heading to the grocery store to resupply. Right next to the shopping center was the Warwick drive-in movie theater that allows hikers to camp for free and watch the movies, which is exactly what we did. Thru-hiker date night! 

Hiking the Appalachian Trail Through New Jersey

Day 72, 8/28/22: Warwick Turnpike to Secret Shelter

19.1 mi, 3200 ft elevation gain

Today was bookended by waking up at the drive-in movie theater and sleeping at the “Secret Shelter” with a donkey named Jake. New Jersey is starting off well! We got a hitch from the drive-in to the trailhead and almost immediately started hiking up to a high point then down the rocky “stairway to heaven” as locals call it. And, it was pretty rocky. After that, we passed through a long section of boardwalks where we ran into a ton of day hikers out for a Sunday stroll. We climbed up to a viewpoint to enjoy lunch then back down into a flatter area and went through a wildlife refuge that smelled like salt marsh and was home to beautiful wildflowers and birds. Today, we ran into a lot of hikers who wanted to know more about thru-hiking and were so excited for us. Kat even got a “you go girl” from a woman walking by. Those little moments of positivity can really boost your mood. We stopped at Secret Shelter to stay the night and were immediately greeted by the resident donkey, Jake. He was very curious and friendly right off the bat. He was also smart and nabbed a bag of trail mix from Lotus as soon as he could. A small price to pay! The Secret Shelter is owned by a former thru-hiker who lets hikers stay there for free. It was equipped with an outdoor hot shower, electricity for charging, and a water pump. The hot shower at the end of a long sweaty day felt amazing. So far, NJ has really positively surprised us!

Day 73, 8/29/22: Secret Shelter to Gren Anderson Shelter

18.3 mi, 3000 ft elevation gain

Last night we awoke to the feeling of rain hitting our faces. We had left our tent fly off because it was so hot and there were no calls for rain. The forecast was wrong. Luckily, it only sprinkled, but we had to get up at 2am to quickly cover the tent. In the morning, we had breakfast on the porch with Jake the donkey and then started the very gradual climb to a viewing platform right below the obelisk that marks New Jersey’s high point. Then the trail passed by the High Point State Park headquarters building where we filled up water from a spigot since most natural sources were still dry. Following, we continued along the undulating terrain trying our best to take careful steps. New Jersey has been much rockier than we expected, and probably a good precursor to Pennsylvania (known as rockslyvania). The problem isn’t just that there are rocks. It is that they are jagged and scattered unevenly so they jut out at different angles – you can never get a flat step. And the pointy ends poke into the sore pads of your feet making them ache. Even though there isn’t much elevation gain, the rock navigation definitely makes our feet and ankles hurt! The rest of the day was just hot and dry, as has been characteristic of the mid-Atlantic so far. Thank goodness for those leaving water caches. We were the only hikers at Gren Anderson Shelter. Lotus has been preoccupied by fear of bears in New Jersey because they are so prevalent. Irrational fear and anxiety around bears are things she’s working on and Stretch tries to be understanding about it, but it’s been hard for him to handle! Ah, married life on trail.

Day 74, 8/30/22: Gren Anderson Shelter to Rattlesnake Spring

18 mi, 2400 ft elevation gain

No bears, PHEW! 

We left camp and filled up water from a spigot on the side of a closed deli. It’s been only those and water caches for a while now. The day was a nice walk along lots of wooded ridgeline with a few rocky outcrops and plenty of little viewpoints. Stretch took a swim in crater lake for a rinse off. We had thought of hiking more miles up to the next ridge but with evening storms forecast we decided to make home by Rattlesnake Spring. It was nice to have a natural water source again with the spring flowing. Plus we didn’t have to carry water here like we have for so many prior days.

Day 75, 8/31/22: Rattlesnake Spring to Delaware Water Gap

13.8 mi, 1400 ft elevation gain

Woah, we can move fast when the terrain is gentle. We rose early and started hiking as the sun rose. After a quick climb, we were on the ridge enjoying the warmth and orange glow of the morning sun. Motivated to get to Pennsylvania and Delaware Water Gap where Stretch’s uncle was picking us up, we walked at a 3 mile per hour pace, faster than usual! To cross the border, we walked through an underpass and then parallel to the highway until we reached the bridge. There, the trail runs on a pedestrian sidewalk that was unnerving at best and would  feel dangerous to many. We quickly celebrated at the border sign painted across the walkway and continued to the center of town by 11:30am. For lunch, we were so happy to stop at the Village Farmer, a little restaurant and store for their true love special (apple pie and a hot dog), perogies, and chicken fingers. We spent the rest of the day lounging in the pool at Uncle Tom’s and relaxing. Aunt Joan made sure we were well fed also. It’s nice to have family around to pamper us!

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