Today would be in serious competition for my most miserable day on the trail. Not due to the terrain. Just as Steady had promised last Sunday, up around the bend, the Pennsylvania rocks finally ended, 45 miles into New Jersey. The reason for my miserable state had little to do with the trail and everything to do with the heat, humidity, and the mosquitoes. If anyone would like to try and simulate what I experienced today, let me suggest the following: Find a place with a 90 degree temperature and 100% humidity where mosquitoes are swarming by the hundreds. Now walk around in that environment for around nine hours. One fifteen minute break in an air conditioned room is permitted.
My day commenced with a final Port Jervis taxi ride back to High Point State Park. It was the first that was more than $5. One mile into the hike I stopped to climb a wooden tower with a platform and view of a tower which sits at the highest point in New Jersey at 1701 feet. From there I hiked steadily, crossing several roads and swatting bugs as the heat increased. After the rocks diminished, the trail became a fairly flat, soft path for most of the morning. It would have been a pleasant hike on a cooler day. Unfortunately the army of mosquitoes had only recently invaded the area, or so I was told by a local.
When I reached Lott Rd. I walked the half mile into Unionville, New York. The trail continues in New Jersey; however, it is so close to the line that some trail towns are in New York. At Horler’s Store I ordered a turkey sandwich on wheat for an early lunch with a Dr. Pepper. I sat in an old red porch chair on the front veranda. Also at the store were Johnny Walker, Sinner, and Banzai. I had not seen my old friend Banzai since before the Shenandoah’s. My break from the heat and bugs was short-lived. When I walked back to the AT I was immediately attacked by a small battalion. I made numerous kills, but many in the army struck me as well.
Sweating profusely and covered in Deet, I tried to outrun the pests unsuccessfully. At one point I put on my head-net, which at least kept the critters out of my face. What made matters worse was that the trail passed near water most of the afternoon, especially around the Wallkill Reserve. After the swampy walk around the Reserve, Pochuck Mountain awaited. Ascending about 700 feet, this was the only challenge of the day. It was here, however, that I again suffered what could have been a serious fall. Due to fatigue, I think, I failed in an attempt to pull myself up on a knee level large slab. As a result I lost my balance and fell backwards on another large rock. This fall evoked no humor. It hurt a lot. My right hand jammed underneath my body as my shoulder hit the rock. And what made matters worse was that I snapped one of my trekking poles. The mosquitoes showed no remorse, sending in reinforcements for multiple strikes as I lay motionless on the ground. Did I say it was miserable?
So with one pole, thoroughly soaked with sweat laden clothes, and triple figure mosquito bites, I painfully proceeded to County Rd. 517 where I took a short break to reaccess the potential injury. From there I first had a boardwalk hike followed by a cow pasture crossing before arriving at NJ 94 and Vernon, NJ. I then walked the hundred yards or so west to Heaven Hill Farm, a combination nursery, farmer’s market, and deli. I ordered a barbecue sandwich and root beer which I enjoyed on their patio. Land Line, a thru hiker who is trying to beat his own thru hike personal record of 74 days, joined me. After the meal, Mike, the deli owner offered a ride to the Episcopal Church Hostel in Vernon.
Several others are at the hostel with me including Banzai, Lentil, Pfeiffer, Lucky, and Fis. All are young folks. After a shower I walked to a grocery store and now am writing this in the only fast food restaurant in town, a Burger King. Darkness has arrived. I’m about to order a burger and then walk the two blocks back to my home for the night. Today was a tough one, but I’ve bought more bug spray so that I’ll be ready for those varmints as I hike out of New Jersey and into New York tomorrow on the Appalachian Trail.