Day 128- Wednesday, 7/18- Delaware Water Gap- (0) (1294.7 total) I was able to get out and do my errands today. A local guy uses his car to shuttle hikers to the grocery store, etc here and only charges $10 which is a nice price. I have seen a lot of shuttle services around that would easily charge $30 or more to “help” hikers. This guy just likes the hiking crowd and wants to help out. So he took me to Walmart in the next town so I could get my groceries, and then to a local hunting outfitter that carries my shoes. It’s been 550 miles since I last changed them so it is time for a new pair. Like last time, they look fine on the outside- lots of tread left and in overall good shape. But it is the inner sole that compresses and wears out, leaving our feet to take more abuse, so that’s why we need to change them. I also got to the outfitter near my motel and bought the chemical we need to spray on our clothes to repel the ticks. Need to reapply that stuff every 6 weeks. My appetite also came back a bit today and was able to eat normal food again which is good for my strength. But I did still feel weak and tired at times running around part of the day like this, so have decided to rest 1 more day tomorrow and then hopefully head out on Friday. Day 129- Thursday, 7/19- Delaware Water Gap- (0) (1294.7 total) Just a quiet rest day today and should be back on the trail tomorrow. My only goal today was to eat 3 square meals to get my strength back, and I was able to accomplish that, so hopefully it helps. Feeling better- my stomach is totally fine. Again, just some fatigue and weakness, but it’s fading. It sure is hard to sit around like this though. I mean, I do enjoy the relaxing, just watching Netflix all day. It’s a nice treat after all the hiking. But mentally it is killing me. I’m just feeling like I’m falling so far behind. I see other people I have been hiking with on Facebook getting so far ahead of me, and it really causes me some anxiety. It’s this constant stress of being able to finish by October 15th when they close the park for the final summit, and the winter weather sets in up in Maine. I just really want to get there and finish by then. I am still on track to do that if all goes well, but it’s getting tighter and tighter the longer I sit around like this. And I still will get off trail for 4-5 days at the end of this month for the fundraiser in Maine. So it just stresses me out a lot to keep losing these days. But I just keep reminding myself that there is still time and that these setbacks with health are just part of the process. People get injured or sick out here and that’s just part of the challenge. All I can do is just keep pushing forward when I’m ready. I also know that life works in mysterious ways sometimes, and that often what seems like a setback or a negative, really turns out to be a positive. You end up meeting just the right people, finding just the right situation, or avoiding some kind of a negative situation that otherwise would not have happened if it weren’t for your “setback.” Blessings in disguise sometimes. So just trying to keep those more positive mindsets as I wait. Both sides of my mind argue with each other as I lay here. “Shit! I’m falling behind. I’m not going to make it in time!” “No, relax. It’s all working out fine. You still have time. Let things flow.” The old mental hamster in the wheel. Lol! Day 130- Friday, 7/20- Mohican Outdoor Center, NJ- (10.5 miles) (1305.2 total) Finally got back out on the trail again today. Felt really good to get out of that motel room and back on the road. I certainly do look forward to town stops since I spend so much time in the woods. They refresh me physically and mentally. But after spending too much unplanned time in town like I just did, the woods suddenly felt really good again. Back moving forward. Back where I belong, doing what I came out here to do. I crossed over into New Jersey just 0.3 miles into the hike today. The border crossing was half way across a highway bridge over a river, with semi trucks flying by all the time. Feels great to be in New Jersey finally. In my mind, New Jersey is the beginning of the northern section of the trail. Pennsylvania felt like part of the long middle section, but now finally I get to start on those final 7 northern states. 5 miles into the day, I also crossed the 1300 mile mark. I limited myself to just 10.5 miles today, just to take it a bit easy on my first day back. The section of trail I did today was surprisingly scenic and beautiful. I guess I had always heard bad things about New Jersey, but today we were hiking along a ridge with great views on either side of rivers and forested areas. A guy I met told me that a certain number of miles to the east was the ugly part, but up here is quite nice. Unfortunately, the rocks did not end in Rocksylvania. Rumor has it that these heavy rock sections extend just 25 miles into New Jersey. We will see. A lot of rumors pass up and down this trail. I know there will be rocky sections all the way along the entire trail, just like we have had rocky areas since the beginning. Just looking forward to getting out of this infamous heavy rock part. Hopefully after tomorrow we will be through the worst of it. I’m camping tonight at a place called the Mohican Outdoor Center. It’s a camp area on a lake with cabins and tent sites. There are hot showers, a store, a restaurant, and bathrooms. Just $10 to stay here in a tent, so a pretty good deal. They first wanted to give me a wooden tent platform to camp on but when I checked it out, there was going to be no way to stake out my rainfly. So they put me in a nice overflow tent area under some pine trees. Nice little area right next to the facilities. Got here early and got some lunch at the restaurant, and then was able to set up my tent and take a nap. They do also have bear boxes at every camp site here, as New Jersey is supposed to have a lot of bears. Day 131- Saturday, July 21- Brink Road Shelter, NJ- (14.4 miles) (1319.5 total) Wow, New Jersey so far is turning out to be probably the most beautiful state yet. Really nice views from the ridge I was walking along today. Surprising. I guess the lesson here is never believe the stereotypes and rumors. Come check it out for yourself. Pretty up here. Saw a poisonous snake for just my second time on the trip today along the trail. Have seen lots of other types, but it’s the rattlesnakes and copperheads that we want to watch out for. This one was small and quickly slithered away from me into the bushes. Didn’t notice a rattle, so maybe a copperhead. I don’t know the markings well enough to tell the difference yet. Haven’t seen one of those types since the unpleasant experience with the rattler and the crazy redneck guy back in Virginia. Had planned to leave by 6am this morning to start hiking, but got delayed to 6:30. Usually that delay, if I wake up on time, is due to having internet signal and goofing around on my phone for too long. “I’ll just check real quick for 5 minutes and then get up.” Then 30 minutes later...you know how it goes. This morning there was no signal, but they did have hot showers, which I stood in for waaaaay too long. It felt so wonderful tho, and I just couldn’t leave. The simple pleasures. Met a guy at the camp last night named Kato. He was curious about my charity hike and I was telling him about it. Turns out he is half Thai himself and had been visiting recently and traveling around. He wants to go do his MA at a Thai university in Bangkok or Chiang Mai, and is interested in teaching English as a way to make ends meet over there. Good guy. He’s at my same campsite tonight again. It’s cool how you connect so quickly with people out here. I’ve lost friends who are now ahead of me, but you meet someone once or twice out here and suddenly you’ve found new people to hang with. One of the best parts of the trail when it happens. The weather forecast is showing rain for the next several days. Gotta take that with a grain of salt as it always changes. But tonight it is right on schedule. As long as I get all my chores done before the rain comes, I love lying in my tent when it’s raining, all cozy and dry. It’s awesome. If the rumors can be believed, the good news is that we are supposedly just about done with the heavy rock section of Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The guy at the outfitter in the last town said they extend 25 miles into NJ, which is exactly where I am now. So hopefully they start to chill out tomorrow, so I don’t have to face them in the rain. Day 132- Sunday, 7/22- Rutherford Shelter- (15.0 miles) (1334.5 total) Rain, rain, rain all night last night. Thank goodness my tent keeps me nice and dry. It stopped just as I needed to get out of my tent to get going and didn’t rain much all day while I was hiking. But tonight it is raining again. And the rocks still haven’t stopped. I have no idea when they are going to end, but it’s getting old. There are probably less sections of them now, but still many areas where it’s just a field of rocks. Not so easy on the feet. I was hiking along the trail today, when I suddenly came upon a huge tree that had fallen across the trail. I made my way around it, but there was really no trail to speak of which was strange. With this many people hiking the trail, there is usually a well-worn trail around obstacles like that. That’s when I started wondering if I wasn’t on the wrong trail. I checked my GPS app and sure enough, I was off on some side trail. The trail must have branched and I missed the branch. From my GPS, I could see that if I just headed down the hillside, I would intersect with the trail as it cut along, rather than backtracking. So I started down, but it ended up being steeper and further than I had expected. I guess the trail had branched at quite a steep downhill angle. It took quite a bit of bushwacking down this hill but I eventually did find the AT again. Thank goodness for the GPS sometimes. It’s so amazing to just be able to follow its direction and find the trail again. I heard up in Maine the the bush can be so thick that people just walk a few yards off trail to go use the bathroom and get disoriented and can’t find their way back. Apparently a lady died like that a few years ago and she was only a few yards off trail. This GPS is priceless out here. We crossed a highway on the trail today, and just down from the trail were what looked like several restaurants or stores. I had been hiking a couple of hours, so thought it would be nice to get a cup of coffee on a cool, rainy day. Headed down the road to the first place, but it was out of business. Walked along to the second place but it was 9am and they weren’t open until lunch time. Next was a gas station, but it turned out that they didn’t have a convenience store there. Then the next place didn’t open until lunch. The last place was a fishing and hunting store, and they served no food. I just had to give up and trudge back into the woods. Before I started hiking again tho, I met Kado again and he had found a bagel restaurant on his phone that was 0.6 miles down the road. I wasn’t up for walking that far so I kept hiking and he went to get breakfast. Saw him later in the day and he told me that the bagel shop had moved. No dice. What a tease that town was. The trail made up for it tho. At the top of one mountain there were 2 different groups doing trail magic. I had already eaten my lunch, but I made room for a cheeseburger and some fresh fruit. So I ate well after all today. Stopped at a shelter about 6 miles into the day to eat lunch and rest the legs a bit. Fortunately, I had cell phone signal there and was able to call my Dad for his 75th birthday today. Was good to talk to him and catch up a bit. Hard to believe he is 75 already. Wishing him a happy and healthy year ahead. Gets a bit weird seeing your parents age tho. Makes you wonder how many birthdays they have left. I have started playing with an idea again about this hike. Popped into my head again yesterday. I’m considering doing a “flip-flop.” Since I’m headed to Maine soon for the fundraiser, I’m now considering just hiking south from Maine when I get there and finishing the hike on the Connecticut/New York border. There are a few reasons to do this. 1) I’m already going all the way up to Maine anyways. 2) it removes the deadline of October 15th when the final mountain in Maine closes. If I’m heading south, I have no deadline. I can just take my time and relax. No stress. 3) The weather. It should be a bit warmer for a bit longer as I head south, as opposed to Maine in late September or early October. 4) The Broncos. My Broncos play the NY Jets on October 4th and my friend Jack and I have been talking about going. But if I head north, there is a good chance that I won’t be done in time to get all the way down to New York in time. But if I’m heading south, I’ll either be done in time for the game or very nearly done. And I’ll be close to NYC where I’ll finish the trail. So even if I’m not done, I could still get off the trail and get a ride into NYC, see the game, and then get back on trail for the last few days. Yes, that’s correct. I do plan my life around the Broncos. 5) All the people I have hiked with who are now ahead of me and who I probably will not catch up to, I will see all of them one more time as I pass them going south. 6) I think this will just be a nice change of pace for the hike. Start over in a totally new state with totally different scenery. Change things up. Reset and reenergize a bit after walking in a straight continuous line for so long. There are a couple drawbacks to doing the flip-flop as well tho. 1) I don’t get to finish the hike on the top of Mt. Katahdin, which is the iconic place to finish with everyone. There is this sign up there and everyone stands on it for their victory picture. I’ve been dreaming about that moment forever and it would be a bummer not to end there. 2) Most hikers are heading north, and I meet them along the trail and at night in the shelters for dinner and stuff. Then I see them on the trail for the next several days and they become part of my community and world, even tho we are not hiking together per se. But if I’m hiking in the opposite direction, those people I meet at the shelters and stuff will just be people to meet once and then say goodbye to and not see again. It’s a tough decision. I guess I’m leaning towards doing it but haven’t fully decided yet. If I do it I will have to tell my cousin very soon to send back my winter clothes for the mountains in Maine and the Whites of New Hampshire. So gotta make up my mind soon. We will see. It bothers me about not finishing on Mt. Kahtadin, but I guess Met Life Stadium and seeing my Broncos play would be my Katahdin instead. I’d take that. Day 133- Monday, 7/23- Pochuck Mountain Shelter- (17 miles) (1351.5 total) Wow, some of the heaviest rain so far last night while I was in my tent. Really, really heavy. I was worried that it might flood or something. Still awesome to be cozy and dry in the tent during that kind of downpour. Usually when it rains at night, the rain will stop in the early morning when I’m getting ready, allowing me to break everything down while it’s dry. Not this morning tho. It rained nearly the whole time, forcing me into the shelter to pack my bag. Then it poured rain all morning while was hiking. Good fun going over all those rocks, some of which had turned into small streams. The rain did let up at some points throughout the day, but came back quite a few times. Water sources were good all day today. Rivers were higher from the rain, but there was also a former thru hiker who has a well on his property and allows us to fill up there and also stay there if we want. And just before the shelter I’m staying at tonight, there was an abandoned house where the owner leaves the water on so that hikers can refill from the outside spigot. That was an important one, since there is no water source here. Carrying 5 liters up the final big hill for half a mile wasn’t so fun. One thing I’ve been noticing as we move north, is the lack of outfitters in many towns where we can resupply our hiking supplies. It worries me sometimes as I need things like fuel, Body Glide, and ideally my Mountain House freeze dried meals. The big one is the fuel so that I can cook and get a hot meal at the end of the day. I’m running low right now, and was hoping to get more in the next town tomorrow, but unsure if I can get any in that town. Well, as I was hiking today, I approached a road and I see this red truck turning around there. He stops and says hi. He actually works as a trail maintainer and is actively involved with hikers and the AT. I tell him about my fuel dilemma, and he says that he bought some recently for another hiker, but bought a couple extra as well. He pulls one from his truck and sells it to me. So awesome how that worked out. So unexpected on a random roadside along the trail. That’s that good old trail magic for you. They say the trail provides. Pretty crowded shelter tonight. It’s funny listening to the 20 somethings talk. One guy has a trail bucket list item to chamber a bear box. For those who don’t know what that means, this guy wants to climb inside a bear box, close it up, and smoke weed in there. Lol! Right now, as I’m about to go to sleep, another guy had pulled out a copy of The Hobbit and is reading it to the others, doing all the different voices and everything and at some points breaking into song. Never a dull moment out here. Day 134- Tuesday, 7/24- Vernon, NJ- (6.5 miles) (1358.0 total) Made my final decision today. Doing the flip-flop. The pros just outweigh the cons too much. I’m excited about the reset. New scenery, new state. Just something different to inject some new excitement into this hike. Nice short day hiking today as I neroed into town. Today we hiked through a marsh preserve area, so they built a long boardwalk all the way through it for us to hike on. It was amazingly beautiful and a nice easy stroll along it. Today did nothing to change my perception of New Jersey being the most beautiful state so far, despite the rain and more rocks. Had to weave around a big herd cows at the end of the day today to get out to the road. They didn’t seem to realize they were blocking the trail. As I got up to the road, there was a sign for a bakery with ice cream and such. But then just across the road there was a guy doing trail magic. Floyd and Butcher were there getting some food. Hadn’t seen them in forever- it was nice to see some familiar faces and catch up a bit. The guy doing the trail magic said he comes out everyday from 9am to 3pm and just hangs out. He feeds hikers fruit and cookies and if anyone needs a ride anywhere he takes them for free. I walked down to the bakery and had lunch with some other hikers. Talked to Aladdin over lunch- I met him for the first time 2 days ago or so. But turns out he and I started in Georgia on the same day. We know tons of the same people, but somehow we never met all this time. Weird. Anyway, after lunch I called The trail magic guy and he came and picked me up and drove me to my motel. He gave me his number and told me to call him tomorrow and he’ll take me to the supermarket to resupply. All for free. The kindness of strangers. The motel is quite nice. Most of the motels are run by Indians as I have mentioned before, as is this one, and most of them are a bit shabby. Not much effort put into keeping them nice. This place is the exception. Everything looks recently renovated. Very nice rooms, bathrooms, showers. They’ve done a great job. The only thing is that it’s a bit expensive. In addition to the room, they charge $10 for laundry, and if you want to go anywhere they charge you $10 for the shuttle. They seem to be trying to nickel and dime us to death here. When 4 of us wanted to get driven the 1.3 miles into town for dinner, she charged us $5 a head. Had an awesome dinner once we got into town tho. We went to a Japanese restaurant (run by Chinese of course. lol) that was really good. I got miso soup, tempura, and maki sushi. We were commenting that most of the way on the trail, the only food options have been pizza, burgers, and maybe Mexican. Now that we are a bit further north, we are starting to see a bit more diversity in food options. What a wonderful change. This was the first time all trail that I got rice with my meal rather than potatoes.