The tell tale sign that another hiker was stirring, air being let out of a mattress, awakened me after a surprisingly good night’s sleep. I checked my watch to discover that it was 5:00. It was Pfeiffer’s mattress I heard. Pilgrim was already at the picnic table cooking breakfast. Speck sat up on her pad. Bob was also stirring. Medicine Man, Kudo, and Lentil appeared to still be sleeping. Oppressive heat already filled the air along with the pesky bugs. I immediately knew that it was not going to be a comfortable day for a hike. My instincts would prove correct a few hours later.
Having chosen to sleep in my one pair of long hiking pants and only long sleeve shirt, to try to deter the pests from striking, I needed to change clothes. I quickly removed my pants to put on my still wet from perspiration hiking shorts. There is little modesty in shelters. I then pulled my even wetter shirt from the makeshift clothes line and donned it as well. After packing up my sleeping bag, pad, and clothing, I laced up my trail runners over my disgustingly filthy socks. They had been clean yesterday. So with a pack ready to hoist onto my shoulders, I sat down for breakfast. Even though I realized that I needed something nutritious, I could only manage to eat one cereal bar. So after the meager breakfast Speck and I left camp a few minutes before 6:00. Only Pilgrim and Bob preceded us.
I was glad that today’s hike was short. The trail offered absolutely nothing of significance. I took only one picture all day. More rocks, sometimes pointy, covered a portion. At other times the trail was barely visible due to various foliage that had practically overtaken the path. Speck and I climbed a few larger rocks, but those minor sections fell way short of offering anything in the range of exhilaration. I fell twice. Speck showed concern. I laughed; she laughed. I’m beginning to wonder if I have a balance issue. I seem to be tripping when there’s nothing there. Even though I keep hearing my buddies back home saying, “Stay vertical,” it’s hard.
The only noteworthy view occurred at Sunrise Mountain where a pavilion had been erected. The sun had already risen and the bugs had begun their relentless attack, so we didn’t pause for long. The bugs must have had no interest in the view either. They pursued Speck and me ruthlessly as we ambled on up the trail. By the time we got to the Mashipacong Shelter, we both had multiple bites on our arms and legs. The Deet wasn’t working. Neither was the swatting. We did stop briefly for a snack. Pilgrim, who we had passed earlier, and later Lentil, arrived before we moved on. Pilgrim removed his bug head net so that he could apply some bug spray that Speck had given him. The critters were a menace to all.
So on we went, hiking and itching all the way to High Point State park Headquarters at NJ 23. The Spirit/Steady RV was in the parking lot. After talking with Spirit, Speck and I walked into the air-conditioned building to sign in as hikers and receive a complimentary Pepsi. Also outside were section hikers, Jocko and Pepper. Before we moved on Lentil and Pfeiffer hiked up. I remember this park from my section hike with Alton. This is the spot where our Michigan friend Ponder thought he missed a blaze and did a circuitous route to get to the building. I made sure I didn’t make that mistake. It was too hot to have to repeat even ten yards of the AT today.
Since it was early and we had been promised a ride by “just north of Manhattan” Bob, Speck and I relaxed in some shady grass until he arrived. Having covered the rather short 11.3 miles before noon, we were really in no hurry. To make certain that he hadn’t already gotten there via a different route, I walked on up to the parking area for hikers to check. A few minutes later Speck and Bob arrived. Once again a trail angel helped this “poor old can’t keep his balance hiker.” Speck and I were grateful for Bob’s kind act since he still had an hour and a half drive to get home after his section hike.
So now it’s only late afternoon. I’ve had a good meal, some ice cream, two root beers and a Mountain Dew, and I’ve done my laundry. I’ll still have some supper later. Unlike last night, I’m in an air-conditioned room wearing clean clothes. I’ve had a shower and smell good. I’ll sleep in a bed tonight, alone rather than in the company of seven other hikers. My room is larger than last night’s shelter. It’s exponentially more comfortable. Need I say more. Hiking has been and will continue to be my life for hopefully about two more months. Tomorrow, however, I’m taking a bit of a detour. Stay tuned to see what happens when Don’s Brother takes a walk of another kind a little east of the Appalachian Trail.