Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Trying out the Appalachian Trail

Many years ago, I had a secret ambition to walk the full 2175 miles of the Appalachian Trail. It was back when I was hiking a bit more than I have in the past few years, and I'd seen a PBS series on the trail. The producers had given three or four hikers each a camera to record their experiences as they made their way up from Springer Mountain, Georgia up to the northern terminus, Mt. Katahdin in Maine.

My brief enthusiasm for a through-hike went away a bit ago for several reasons, including the fact that my cat would probably resist the prospect of living in a backpack for six months. I always meant, though, to try out the relatively brief portion that jogs across the northernmost corner of New Jersey. At least I could say I was ON it.

This is not the part of the A Trail
that runs along Interstate 80.
I didn't know until recently that Ivan has also felt the tug of the trail. He mentioned it earlier this summer, when we did a short jaunt on the trail off of Route 94 in Sussex County to see some bobolinks. Leaving the car at a marked lot, we traversed a farm field (the only place where the trail actually crosses farmland) and went a few hundred feet into a very rocky portion of the woods. I was surprised at the narrowness of the trail across the field -- really only wide enough to accommodate single-file trekking. Then again, doing the through-hike is largely a solitary experience, each hiker facing his or her own challenges, both physical and mental.

Since then, we've had the chance to taste the trail in three other states and visited the Appalachian Trail Conservancy headquarters in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. Thus, it didn't completely surprise me when, as we were driving along Route 80 recently, Ivan suggested we stop and check out the trail near the Delaware Water Gap National Recreational Area's Kittatinny Ridge Visitor Center. If you're familiar with Route 80, it's the last exit before you get to Pennsylvania, and it circles under the highway to the banks of the Delaware. Actually, if you want, you can grab the trail on the westbound side of 80, but we chose to get a little information from the rangers before heading out. As I guided the car to a parking spot, Ivan noted that it was a novelty to just about be driving on the trail.

Kittatinny Ridge Visitor Center is open seasonally and appears to be a newish building; I recall stopping at another building at or near the same location. In any case, Ivan had the chance to chat with a ranger about the trail in New Jersey and possible camping spots for a trial excursion over a weekend. While he was doing that, I scanned through the displays of flora and fauna of the Water Gap. It's been a long time since I've done any ground-level camping (well, any camping of any stripe, to be honest), and it was interesting to hear that many hikers eschew the ground for a hammock.

With information in hand, we headed outside to look for the A Trail's characteristic rectangular white blazes. Ivan finally found them through his binoculars, and they led... right along the access road we'd driven on just a few minutes before. Apparently his earlier comments were truer than either of us expected they would be. We set off on the paved surface and followed the blazes along the guard rail, observing that this had to be one of the most level portions of the entire trail. No doubt it's even a bit disconcerting to the average through-hiker, considering the number of cars speeding by just yards away.

It was pretty much a certainty that we wouldn't cross the path of any bears during our brief jaunt, but we did have two unexpected encounters. Two large-ish gray snakes slithered away and into some roadside riprap just before we passed one spot, both on our walk out and our return trip a few minutes later. From what we could tell, they weren't the poisonous kind, but nonetheless, it's a bit disquieting to think of them snuggling up to you in your backpack. All of a sudden, that hammock sounds like a good idea.


  1. This is a beautiful blog Sue. I went all the way back to day 1 and I have been catching up!

  2. Thanks! I'm glad you're catching up... especially on the post about hiking (how apropos!).


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