This section of Trail is one of my favorites so far. Although there are lots
of rocks to climb it's still a pretty runnable course and varied enough to make
it really interesting. I kept saying to myself all day, "I wish Jim was here to
The highlight of my day came early as I entered a mile-long relocation of the
Trail through the Pochuck Swamp, also known as the Pochuck Quagmire. I thought
it was much prettier than the wildlife refuge I went through yesterday but
maybe my perception was tainted by yesterday's mid-afternoon heat. It was only 8
AM when I trekked through the Pochuck Swamp this morning, so the temperature was cooler,
there was a nice breeze, and numerous birds serenaded me as I walked the
beautiful new bridging through the wetlands.
The Vernon Valley is part of New Jersey's "drowned lands," which I mentioned
in yesterday's entry. Prior to 2002, the AT followed roads for two miles through
the valley to avoid the sometimes-flooded Pochuck Swamp. For seven years the
NY-NJ Trail Conference worked on the magnificent boardwalks and bridges that I
crossed this morning. It is one of the most complicated and expensive
construction projects in AT history.
The boardwalks sit three feet or more above the ground so hikers and
birders can walk through the area even when the swamp has waist-deep water.
Thin pilings are bored deep into the swamp. There are several observation
decks, one bridge about 50 feet long, and a 146-foot "floating" suspension
bridge over the Pochuck Creek.
I talked with one of the local club volunteers who helped build the
boardwalks and bridges. He and his golden retriever were doing "trail magic" at
the Hwy. 94 road crossing between the swamp and Wawayanda Mountain. He runs a
hostel in nearby Vernon that is popular with hikers. He was very hospitable, as
were all the local hikers I met today.
Although the boardwalks are flat and the new boards are evenly spaced I
didn't try to run across them. Even if I could run normally (hamstring still
hurts too much, except to shuffle downhill) I wouldn't have wanted to run. I
would have missed too much!
In mid-summer there is usually no standing water along the boardwalk, just lush
green plants and many flowers - four kinds of tall purple flowers, yellow
goldenrod, blue cornflowers, white Queen Anne's lace, and others. The only water
I saw in this swamp was where the bridges are located. I'd love to see the
swamp in the spring when it's flooded and early flowers are blooming.
I was amazed by the variety and number of birds out this morning. This is a
bird-lover's paradise. The most elegant ones I saw were the blue herons,
balancing on their long, thin legs before taking off in flight.
There were other smaller swamps on today's course, all mucky and some with
standing water, but none as pretty as this one. The footing isn't nearly as good
in them either - mossy rocks and roots in some areas, wobbly puncheon that
behaved like teeter totters in others. But since I was mostly walking, I didn't
You'd think swampy areas would be full of annoying bugs but the only time
I've been "bugged" was having gnats in my face in MD and PA. As soon as I came
down from the Shenandoahs to lower elevations, I started putting on Off Deep
Woods spray. That and a generic fabric softener sheet kept near my face have
warded off any bugs since then.
GOING THE "WRONG WAY"
The first eleven miles today were still "going the wrong way" - south! I was
also going east, but it's disconcerting knowing the AT goes generally north and
east and for parts of two days I'm going south. One part of my brain
knows it's OK because I'm still clicking off the miles necessary to reach my
goal. It's not like the miles are subtracted, or anything.
Life is like that sometimes, you know. We get sidetracked on our way to
certain goals (education, career, family, etc.) and feel like we're losing
ground. But it can work out if we always keep the end goal in mind and keep
plugging away at it.
Sometimes the Appalachian Trail can be a metaphor for life.
When I wasn't alternating between swampy and wooded areas in valleys, I was
climbing rocks up steep mountainsides (Wawayanda and Bearfort/Bellvale) or
walking across puddingstone rocks on the ridge. It was fun!
My first major climb was a steep 900-foot ascent to the top of
Wawayanda Mountain on a series of boulders and stone steps. I didn't need to use
my hands to climb here but I had to stop to catch my breath a couple times
before I got to Pinwheel's Vista overlooking the valley to the north and west.
Wawayanda is a Delaware (Lenape) Indian word meaning "winding waters." The
mountain is a dramatic ridge with some of the oldest rock in the Appalachians -
billion-year-old slabs of gneiss and other crystalline rocks that formed at a
time when the most advanced life on earth was probably algae. Some of the
boulders on the mountain were left behind by retreating ice sheets from the last
glaciers about 15,000 years ago.
At the summit was the first of two "tree registers" I signed today (didn't go
to any of the shelters because they were off the Trail). The quote above came
from the cover of this register. Inside I noted the dates some of my hiking
friends have come through: the Doyles on the 12th (doubt I'll ever catch them!),
Gypsy Lulu on the 19th, Little John in the 23rd, and the Over-Forty Club right
"Ah, ha," I thought. "Maybe I can catch Red Wolf, Pokey, and Gumby today"
. . .
and I did, about a mile before the New York border. They were taking a break. We
talked for a few minutes, then I went on ahead and didn't see them until my
rendezvous point on Route 17A, waiting for Jim to pick me up.
On the next hill I saw the second of three "trail magic" stashes today.
There were beverages and snacks from "Holden," a current thru-hiker. The
Over-Forty Club has hiked with him this year. He's one of the folks who did the
"Four-States Challenge" a few weeks ago (hiking at the end of VA, through WV and
MD, and just into PA in one day). Apparently he lives in the area and is taking
a short break. He left the goodies for others to enjoy today.
NEW YORK, NEW YORK!
A couple miles from the New Jersey-New York state line, somewhere in
Wawayanda State Park, I started going north again. Yes!
I almost missed the painted letters on the rock in the photo above because
they were hidden behind a large rock in the middle of the Trail. (I was coming
from the other direction.) But I noticed another "tree register" and stopped to
sign it. That's when I saw the state line mark. There was also an inconspicuous
metal survey marker. I was very happy to be in my ninth state!!
The name of the mountain I was on also changed at the state line: it's
called "Bearfort" in NJ and "Bellvale" in NY. That seemed a bit odd to me!
This mountain stretches along the northern side of Greenwood Lake, a popular
recreational destination and location for vacation homes. All along the ridge I
could hear motor boats from a thousand feet above but it was less annoying than
traffic noise to me.
The Trail is very interesting here. In a seven-mile stretch I had more
vertical climbs up fairly smooth rocks than I've had in any one previous day on
the Trail. Although it slowed me down I loved every minute of it! I had to use
my hands to pull myself up or scoot down the rocks in eight or ten places. It
wasn't scary like coming up out of Lehigh Gap, though. There weren't any really
big drops if I'd slipped here (although you could break some bones if you
Here's a photo of the only "ladder" I encountered today to
assist with a climb:
The rock on top of Bellvale Mountain is called "puddingstone," which is an
interesting name. About 350 million years or more old, it is a conglomerate of
red and white quartz pebbles and other types of rock and it shows the scraping
action of glaciers. It is smoother than other rocks I've seen until a few days
ago along the AT, and pretty easy to run on (unless wet).
There were many colors in the rocks in the NY section today - from blue-gray
to greenish to reddish purple, many with white streaks running through them.
Sometimes it was difficult to follow the white AT blazes because of the natural
white streaks in the rocks.
The Trail zigzagged up and down from the sunny rocks on the ridge to welcome
shady respites in the woods 50-100 feet below. There were lots of hemlocks,
other pines, hardwoods, and rhododendrons in the lush forested areas. Up on the
rocks, the views of the lake and forests to the south were nice, especially from
Prospect Rock, where I took the photo at the top of this page.
I met a personable south-bounder (SOBO) on the Trail this morning whose name
is Marc. He doesn't have a trail name. Marc is a young man from Wisconsin. He
began in Maine on May 26 and will hike as far as he can until he has to stop
September 1. He hopes to get into Virginia, and will complete the journey later.
Marc's a 10K runner but is interested in trail running, so we talked about
that a while. And ultras, of course! I suggested he run in the beautiful Kettle
Moraine forest and meet some trail runners in that area, as well as maybe go
observe the Ice Age or Kettle Moraine ultras next year.
I asked him if he'd seen Andrew Thompson fly by a few weeks ago. He did, but
only knows him as Traildawg. Andrew was running down a mountain in New Hampshire
when he caught up to Marc. They talked a little while. Marc knows about his
speed attempt. He said Andrew asked him if his knees hurt at night when he's
trying to sleep. I had to laugh, since this has been a problem of mine the past
month. And I'm not doing nearly as intense a run as Andrew is.
At the end of the course today I met two more section runners, "Silver Fox"
and "Huggy Bear," a couple in their late 50s or early 60s. They've been doing
sections of the AT for several years and hope to finish in a year or two when
they are both retired.
I had a great day today. This was one of the most fun days I've had on the
Trail. The weather was great, the people were friendly, the scenery was
beautiful, the Trail was varied, and nothing hurt when I walked. I was able to
do a little running but I don't want to strain my hamstring. I'll add a bit more
running each day. My left ankle has been hurting for two days (a swollen tendon
on the front) but it didn't hurt today.
I wish every day was like this on the trail!