NJ AT Sectional Hike #2 – Mohican Outdoor Center to Culver’s Gap
June 30, 2015 § 1 Comment
June 1, 2015
As is the custom with these sectional day hikes, I don’t exactly get myself fully together until the last moments the night prior, and then I don’t sleep well to boot. Last Saturday night was no different. On the plus side, at least I had managed to get everything together and ready to go, so there was nothing to do in the morning except drag myself out of the sack and get to the car. Negatives? Sleeping, or lack of it. Thoughts of what I was forgetting, or sleeping through the alarm raced through my mind all the while, side thoughts of “I am not asleep yet” percolate occasionally to the head of my consciousness issues queue.
Stupid issues were keeping me awake as well. It’s warmer weather now, so I wasn’t planning on long hiking pants, however, I don’t really own a pair of short hiking pants. I have shorts, but they are all cotton and even though rain was also forecast, no one wants to sweat-wet cotton shorts and wear them all day. So all I had were some pocket-less gym-style shorts which being pocket-less meant that it wouldn’t be easy to access my iPhone for picture taking, and now that I had spent some cash on a Pic Stick, a phone case with a tripod adapter, and a remote shutter release, I had been planning some hiking selfies! Jeopardy! Then I remembered that I had purchased a waterproof pouch, for my backpacking trip in Utah last year which could attach to my shoulder strap, except I didn’t have the slightest idea where it was, and I certainly wasn’t going to find it at 4:30 in the AM. THAT, and whether I should wear compression calf covers during the hike because I was reasonably certain of sore lower legs in the days after the hike if I failed to do something about it. So, little sleep was achieved.
The alarm went off; Surprise hit me because I was actually asleep at the time, and I immediately jumped out of bed. Failure to do so would have been the end of my trip. I jumped right into getting dressed in what I had laid out; Get out of the house without disturbing the dog, get to the Cheesequake Rest Stop on the Parkway, and hope the Starbucks was open so I could ingest some oatmeal before we headed out. I knew Mike would walk in right about 5:30, make his introductions, reference his need for a bathroom break, and then disappear for 10 minutes, so time was really on my side. The sooner I get there though, the better. Andy would be there already, so he and I can chat for awhile until Mike and Jed arrived.
Andy was going to be my lead dog this day. I had to promise my Periodontist that I wouldn’t over exert myself on this trip, so instead of being the lead dog myself, I had to promise to follow, and so I immediately decided that Andy would always be in front of me to keep my pace in check. This was a brilliant plan, but it did ignore one important fact about Andy. He has been going to the Gym consistently now for more than a few months and has been getting in better shape, and he is hiking better as a result of it, so my pace wasn’t as slow as I had thought it might be. Kudos to Andy!
Memphis, our 13 year-old Tennessee mutt was awake as soon as I awoke and was figuring on getting a pity walk out of me, but I was not going to oblige him. I dressed in the clothes I laid out; I packed the rest of my loose after-hike-clothes in a plastic bag, grabbed my day pack, poles, shoes and moved downstairs. There I retrieved a cooler large enough to hold a six-pack and placed in it the cold pack from the freezer and the Long Trail IPA that we would enjoy at the end of the hike. In addition I remembered my lunch package in the refrigerator, and I packed that in my day pack, and I was set to go. The last thing I grabbed was my fleece jacket off the back of a dining room chair and it was out the door with everything at once. No need to torture the dog with having to come back in the house.
At 5 o’clock in the am there shouldn’t be, and there wasn’t, any excitement or impediments getting to the rendezvous point. I took Alyson’s car, as the Tundra was going into the shop the next morning and I didn’t want to put any more miles on it without knowing exactly what was wrong with it. In the Altima I literally flew along the highway and reached my destination at 5:10. Andy, of course was inside, and to my great relief, the Starbucks counter was open for business. I was on a soft food diet as a result of my Chao Pinhole Surgical Technique, so Starbucks instant oatmeal and a Venti Bold with some ice were my menu choices for breakfast. I was really hoping the coffee wouldn’t excite the need to crap in the woods. This was a big chance I took, but I wanted that coffee.
Andy had finished his breakfast already so clearly he had been there at least 10-15 minutes before I arrived, and together we watched CNN’s coverage of Beau Biden’s death. That would be Vice President Joe Biden’s son who died of Brain Cancer. This is a proof that really challenges the existence of a God, or any kind of super natural involvement in the goings on in the world. Here is a decent human being that has been stricken down young, while people like Alex Jones, Ted Cruz, Rush Limbaugh and other ignorant people of their ilk roll along causing pain and suffering in their wake. It’s a tragedy.
We had a big day on the plate today. A healthy serving of a long drive, a somewhat long shuttle, and a really long hike along the AT. To be fair, we expected that this section wouldn’t be too bad as it does spend most of its time at elevation, so there would not be a lot of terrain variance. So to have to knock out a big section, this was a big section to knock out. Including the hike from the parking lots, it would be a nearly 19 mile day on top of the driving, and starved sleep conditions, so we needed to keep everything moving along. No real time to dawdle anywhere. As it was early, there was still no traffic out, so we zipped right up to Culver’s Gap where the AT crosses Route 206 between Branchville and Sandyston NJ. After downloading the Topo Map for that area we found the AT parking facility and transferred to a single vehicle for the shuttle to the AMC Mohican Center outside of Blairstown, NJ. The weather was dry, but the outlook wasn’t for it to stay that way. We all took care of our final preparations, which included putting on our heavy hiking boots, and it seemed we were ready to rock and roll. “This place has a great bathroom! I have more business to take care.” and we waited while Mike voided himself again.
With a clean and empty Mike we finally hit the trail. We had to hike out the AMC access road to get to the trail, however we were there soon enough. It was necessary to gain back some elevation, so the initial section was a climb, but a gradual ascent was in store for us, and the flavor of that didn’t really change the rest of the day. It wasn’t long before we arrived at the Catfish Fire Tower, which was enshrouded in low cloud cover. No point in climbing any steps for a better view! A little refreshment, a giant rabbit observation, a demonstration of defiance by “Trespassing” on the stairs of the Fire Tower, and we set off once again.
With the weather as it was, it wasn’t difficult going, however, all exposed rock surfaces gave the impression of a non-secure footing, and in many cases, non-secure footing it was. All of us slipped more than a few times, and some of us hit the deck. Fortunately there were no injuries from that particular danger. Mike found a different way to hurt himself, later in the hike, by not fully paying attention to what he was lifting himself into. This was the only section of the entire day that required hand holds to ascend a rocky outcrop, and Mike pulled himself into an exposed rock and opened a 3 inch gash in his scalp.
Jed applied seltzer water to the wound as a clean-up and this was later admitted, by all present, as a simply brilliant way to handle it. We cleaned Mike up, and made sure he was okay, and then we continued along our way. As it so happened this occurred in the vicinity of a spot where Mike and I camped in 1997 when we did a 6-7 day backpacking trip, at that time southbound. We camped in an area where because of over-camping the park managers had basically closed the trail section to camping by anyone other than through-hikers. In retrospect, we were hiking through, though technically we weren’t through-hikers, a term reserved for those who hike the entire AT. In any case we had to camp, and camp we did, and I knew I would know it when I saw it, and off the trail was a side trail which when I investigated, I found the spot where we had camped. It doesn’t look like much, but we had a very pleasant time of it there.
Though we didn’t see any Beaver, Beaver activity was apparent. Until we came across it, I hadn’t known that Beaver had returned to New Jersey. Yet the evidence was all around a new (to me) Beaver Pond with two homes out in the middle of it. Crafty little engineers they are!
A field of Irises, and a field of rocks. Both are actually pretty stunning, however my money goes to the Irises for shear beauty.
Where is everyone? In my experience, hiking anywhere on the Kittatinny sections of the AT in NJ you are bound to run into people. Our first hike, we ran into 3 large groups, and a multitude of smaller groups. The AMC parking lot was nearly half full, yet, the trail was empty. It could be argued that the two camps we passed were people, but they didn’t really count, and if they did, they still weren’t much. We didn’t pass another hiker until our 16th mile and we were almost done for the day. I am sure it was the weather.
Admittedly, we were all dragging our feet towards the end. Our first glimpse of Rt 206 came after we emerged from the forest into a large clearing. We took a short break to enjoy the sun that was now shining upon us and we could see the ribbon of road winding away to the Southeast. Soon it wasn’t long before we could hear the traffic, and soon thereafter glimpses of automobiles could be seen streaking through the foliage below us. The trail at this point was a steady descent, and soon we emerged onto the road. The Google Street View at this location is amusing.
Of course, the car is not at Rt 206. The car is at the AT Parking a little further along the trail, so across the street and back into woods we entered, and we proceeded to knock out some more distance. Every 200 yards it felt like we should be there, but an occasional car would visible through the woods, and we knew we just had to keep going.
Eventually, we succeeded in finding the parking area, and as tired as we were there was fresh energy to get out of our heavy boots, change into dryer clothes if we had them, and the most important of all? The Long Trail IPAs had to be opened and consumed. Tasty beverages they were.
I know it seems like a fitting scenario for ending this tale, however, our adventures were not over yet. Retrieving the shuttled car was no problem, but our traffic guidance told us that the Parkway was a parking lot at the 78 intersection, and we were advised to utilize Rt 206 to Bedminster. We all hate that section of 206, but we all love the Waze App, so we put our faith in Waze, and that is how we went. Turns out Waze was right on the money. We breezed on through to Rt 287 South with little to no issues.
It wasn’t long before the real issues began. I was traveling with Jed and we had made it to about Pissthataway when we both looked ahead and thought “What the hell is that?” and soon we entered “it”. It was a storm that about a twenty yard transition zone from dry to complete downpour. It wasn’t long before water failed to drain in locations, and traffic slowed to a standstill. We already had to at a crawl because wipers simply couldn’t keep that much rain off the windshield. Jed kept moving forward as much as he could and eventually the Parkway signs came into view and we were on the Alfred E Driscoll Bridge. The rain was not letting up! We entered Cheesquake, and Jed attempted to drop me off at my car. It is fair to note here that I did not prepare myself well for this transition. As I could recall (wrongly) I had placed Alyson’s keys in my day pack, and since she has the proximity fob I should be able to unlock the trunk. Jed was kind enough to position his car fairly close so all I had to do was bite the bullet and go. It was pouring, but who the hell wants to sit and wait forever? So I jumped out, opened Jed’s trunk and tried to open Alyson’s. Nothing was happening. I tried to be patient, and then ran for the driver’s door. Perhaps I need to unlock the vehicle first and then I could push the manual release inside the driver’s compartment. The door failed to unlock. I felt like the key had to be close enough, but gave up and then started to go through my day pack looking for the key. No luck. I am getting soaked. Finally I gave up and got back in Jed’s car and had him pull around and into parking spot. He was blocking traffic and it seemed better to wait it out.
By this time I was wet, and I was starting to get cold. I was wondering what to do, when I remembered I had brought my fleece jacket and there it was in the back seat and in the pockets was the key fob for Alyson’s car. A good thing the doors did not open, because had they opened, and I transferred all my shit (minus jacket) and sent Jed on his way, I would have been up a creek without a paddle and not been able to start the car. Phew! The rain and hail pelted us for another 20 minutes. I had the fleece on now and I was warming up, but we both wanted to get out of there, so with the keys in hand, I bid Jed farewell and moved all my stuff to Alyson’s car and let Jed go.
My next mistake was stubbornness-based. So much rain had fallen that the return to the Parkway South was flooded with 3-4 feet of water and was closed. I didn’t think going North was the right option however I knew I could get out of Cheesequake via the Academy Commuter lot and shoot over to Rt 35 South. That was a huge mistake from which I was completely without options to correct. I got as far as Sayerville when flooding just simply stopped traffic cold and dead. I spent an hour there trying to get some power into my phone so I could keep track of the weather and let Susan know my predicament. Nothing to do but wait and watch all the knuckleheads try some hair-brained scheme to get out.
Eventually we started to move in single file. I will skip the assholes, and simply state that the next bottle neck was at Lawrence Harbor where I was eventually routed back to the Parkway, however the overpass was under construction so I was routed onto the Parkway North! Back to Cheesequake, which I bypassed, and used the last exit (now open) in South Amboy to get around to the Southbound lanes where I finally was able to continue south and to my home.
The further South I travelled, the dryer the roads. At exit 109, there wasn’t a drop of moisture on the road. Little Silver was dry, and Susan said there hadn’t been a drop of rain all day.