NJ AT Hike #5
November 8, 2015 § 1 Comment
It’s funny thing about trail systems. It doesn’t really matter what size the system is. We could be talking about your favorite local trail, for example The Grand Tour in Hartshorne Park here in Monmouth county. At some point in time, the trail requires a re-route. There are reasons for these changes; Some times it is to allow a used section of the trail to recover and regenerate. Where the area is large, say for example Harriman State Park in NY, trails can be moved fairly often so that no one section gets too abused. In the case of the AT there are many sections where private land is involved, and the land owner changes their mind, or the land changes hands and the new owners refuse to allow the right-of-way to continue. When this happens enough, new maps get issued.
I mapped out the route for our fifth hike of the NJ AT. We would start at The Wallkill Wildlife Refuge, and we would end somewhere that was 10-12 miles away. I used Strava to “Create a Route” and it seems the underlying map technology for creating the map is OpenStreet Maps, however, the display map used when viewing is google maps. The tracks I tried to lay down didn’t match where the trail lines were displayed, so I poked around until it took and managed to lay down a track to Barretts Road. 11 miles. That would leave 11 miles for our last leg, which we figured we would extend all the way to NY 17A, just to make a full day of it. The problem came when I shared this route with Jed. His paper issued map had Barretts Road at 13.5 miles compared to my 11. On his map, NJ 94 in Vernon Valley is where 11 miles lay.
I wanted to trust Strava, however because their route builder didn’t lay down tracks where the trail was listed, I decided to trust Jed’s map and we set the destination for Route 94. Jed was on board with this as well, and when we explained it to the rest of the crew, no objections were raised.
We met at the Cheesequake Rest Area of the Garden State Parkway for a 5:30 am departure like we always do. Susie bagged at the last minute, so that left Jed, Mike, Andy and myself. Andy came with me, while Mike passengered in Jed’s car. Parkway to 78 to 24 to 287 to 23 to 515 to 94. A pretty straight forward route and uneventful drive until we descended on 515 in Vernon Valley. I have lived in New Jersey my whole life, and I never once visited Vernon Valley, so this descent into a fairly deep and verdant valley in NJ was new to me. I didn’t know NJ had such roads!
We dropped a vehicle, and piled into the other vehicle for the jaunt over to Wallkill. These little trips between trail heads has taken us on some very scenic back country roads that had me thinking about stitching together some nice bicycle routes. Quiet, beautiful roads in the middle of nowhere are perfect as cycling roads.
We pulled into the parking lot on Oil City Road, just Southwest of Unionville, NY. The day had just begin, the sun was over the distant mountain, there was mist upon the marshland and the air was crisp. We were glad that we would be starting out under full sun. That would keep us warm early, and by the time we made it into the trees, our internal body temperatures would have kicked it up a notch or two. There was one long telephoto equipped photographer in the parking area when we arrived, and after a double take glance at us, she returned to water fowl of the refuge. On a side note, it is with great sadness that I have to report that the cooler I left behind in August was not sitting anywhere within view. I guess it truly is lost to me.
Hiking conditions today were pretty decent except for one minor detail. It has been dry of late, and all the fallen leaves were therefore dry and in full loft upon the ground. In most parts of the woods, the leaves were 8-12 inches deep, hiding almost all rocks beneath them, so care had to be taken when placing your steps. As long as Heel-to-Toe, Heel-to-Toe is adhered to, the chances of turning an ankle are reduced, and I had to concentrate 100% on that. Ever since a serious sprain back in my college days, I have to be wary of turning my left ankle. I turned it 3 times on NJ AT #2, and at least once on the following two hikes.
We were about halfway into the hike, when we started to approach a point on Jed’s map (recall how this began), where the trail started a long diversion section on roadway. I saw that, and suddenly realized why there was a difference in the mileage. Jed’s map was out of date! The trail had been re-routed through the Pochuck Quagmire back in the early oughts, and the copyright date on Jed’s map was 1998. So it seems we were in for a 9 mile day and not an 11 mile day. We were going to finish early. The subject of getting some lunch came up and we would look for something local in Vernon Valley after the hike. That became a point of focus for the rest of the hike.
The reality was that the hike wasn’t going to last much longer. Pochuck Mountain, was really more like Pochuck Hill, but it was the last thing ahead of us before we hit the Pochuck Quagmire. This is a marshy wetlands area in Vernon Valley that is the remains of an old Glacial Lake. There really isn’t any way better to describe this place than to quote a section in the Design and Construction of Pochuck Quagmire Bridge which itself quotes another reference that the quagmire “sea of dark, oozing, quivering, leg-sucking black muck with rank weeds and lush, slimy water plants.
Most of the missing link is an elevated boardwalk supported by a metal structure that seems like each leg rests on broad flat feet. There were many visitors this day, as it was really quite a beautifully warm and sunny Sunday, and you could feel the structure vibrate as people walked along it. I am sure that it is anchored in many places, but it looks like each leg rests on a broad foot, so as to not sink into the quagmire. The boardwalk snakes around, and is barely wide enough for two people to pass without making room for each other, and that would simply be people by themselves. The fact was that there were baby strollers, and pets (pet excrement), and large groups. We are pretty fast walkers, and occasionally you simply get trapped behind people who won’t give way to faster people behind them. A little frustrating, but nothing to get upset about.
Eventually you come to Pochuck Creek and the Suspension bridge. Upon first sighting it, you feel some how, that this project was so incredibly over engineered. The creek only appears to be about 15′ wide, and here is this giant suspension bridge whose deck sits about 18′ above the surface of the water. It is a very impressive structure, and again I urge you to put some effort into the early part of the above referenced document on its design and volunteer construction.
The bridge marked the furthest east that most of the day hikers were willing to wander. The trail re-enters the woods just beyond the eastern and of the bridge, and we ran into few people until we hiked the last 500 yards to Route 94.
I did the NJ AT end to end in 1997 with Mike, and though I know it was beautiful then, I had really forgotten just how pretty the AT is while it snakes around the Northwest edge of New Jersey. This section hike we did today was short enough to be easily doable, and rich enough to leave a lasting positive impression regarding the beauty that lies hidden all over this great state. If you think you would like to hike this, then I encourage it whole heartedly and you can get some of the details from this link.