After a long and convoluted game of phone tag, I finally caught my old friend from high school, the intrepid Karrie Kressler, in High Point State Park, NJ, last Sunday. We hiked together for about 46 miles over the course of three days.
We met Sunday in the late afternoon, and made our way about five miles to camp. Karrie had already been hiking since the morning, so this was the end of a full day’s hike for her, and a gentle beginning to the trail for me. Despite having a lean-to available for shelter, we both decided to pitch our tents, in order to fend off the swarms of bloodthirsty mosquitoes.
After dinner, I made Karrie laugh by asking if she’d like to take a short walk (yes, a walk!) near the campsite. During the night, I was certain that I heard a bear roaming through the campsite. I’m positive I heard it breathing just outside my tent at one point.
Monday, we were up early for a long, LONG day, a (literally) blistering 22 miles of hiking. Needless to say, I did not ask Karrie to go for an extra walk when it was done. Throughout the day, we were treated to some spectacular views of the landscape below us, at one point even climbing a fire tower to see a little further. We hiked with Karrie’s trail friends Travis and Rob until lunch—coffee and breakfast sandwiches at a little deli—after which they promptly left us in their dust. I took a tumble on a rock and banged up my knee slightly, but there was no serious harm done. Still, I decided it was a good time for a five-minute break.
We finished the day by walking about 0.6 miles off the trail along a road, to a campground by a lake, where we stayed the night in a pair of screened-in shelters. Sadly, the shower promised by Karrie’s handy guidebook was nowhere to be found. The evening wound down quietly, as we ate dinner and met some northbounders. The highlight of the evening was seeing a shooting star as I sat in camp. Simple but awesome beauty, like so much else on the trail.
Tuesday was a slightly shorter day, only 19 miles. Karrie and I made our way back to the trail (the same 0.6 road miles from the previous night, but uphill this time) and ran along the ridge for a while. The trail took us along both edges of the ridge rather than just keeping us in the center, which meant lots of opportunities to take in the landscape. In the afternoon, we skirted the edge of the beautiful Sunfish Pond, a lake settled much higher than I would have expected, near the top of the mountains, and finally made our way down, down, downhill, home into Pennsylvania and the little town of Delaware Water Gap. We spent the night at a church hostel, and ate some wonderfully delicious pie from a market in town.
I really feel like I got to sample a lot of the through-hiker experience: sleeping in a tent, a shelter, and a hostel (although not doing any “stealth camping” along the side of the trail); slipping into a deli for lunch before heading right back onto the trail; relaxing in town after 45 miles on the trail; those precious moments of silence just after waking up in the morning, as we quietly took down our tents and packed our gear; and the evenings spent planning, reminiscing, sharing stories, and meeting other wanderers in the woods. It was truly an amazing experience, and one that I am grateful to have been a part of. It was with more than a twinge of sadness that I left the trail; I could really see myself enjoying this adventure for a lot longer (once my blister had healed, of course). Karrie and her fellow through-hikers have chosen a wonderful life for themselves!