I knew I would get a bit of a late start because I needed to mail my old backpack home, along with a few other items, and the Post Office didn’t open until 8:30 am. But I was there when it opened and enjoyed the speediest Post Office transaction of my life. It felt so good to be back on the road again and I was loving my new backpack. Had I known that for the weight of two cups of water I could have hiked in comfort (even with a five day food resupply), I would have had this backpack from the beginning.
The A.T. follows a street through town and then crosses the Delaware River on a bridge shared with I-80. Halfway across the bridge was the long awaited sign that marks the state line between Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Goodbye Rocksylvania!! After crossing the river, the trail follows a road to the Kittatinny Visitors Center where I was delighted to see First Aid and Hawaii eating breakfast at a picnic table. I had figured that after my double zero in town, I wouldn’t see anyone on the trail that I knew, so I happily waved hello.
After passing the visitor center, the trail passed under I-80 and entered the beautiful Dunnfield Creek Natural Area. From here I knew I would be climbing over 1,000 feet, but the gentle grade along the creek, along with the padded comfort of my new backpack, made the work easy.
Of course New Jersey didn’t bring the end of the rocks, but it was nothing compared to Pennsylvania. At least the people of New Jersey pick up the rocks and create art. In what seemed like no time at all, I arrived at Sunfish Pond, a glacier pond that is considered to be one of New Jersey’s seven natural wonders. It is a beautiful pond but the trail around it is one long rock scramble.
About halfway around Sunfish Pond I decided to sit on a rock and eat a snack. While I was sitting there, First Aid and Hawaii passed me and they hadn’t gone 50 yards when I heard First Aid shout, “Onthego!” “What?”, I replied. “There are a whole bunch of snakes over here!”, he shouted. “What kind are they?”, I asked. Hawaii responded, “Big scary ones!” Naturally, I quickly suited up to get over there and take pictures but by the time I got there, the snakes were long gone. A few feet further, however, I came to another impressive collection of rock sculptures along with the 1,300 mile marker!
My climbing finally ended at the rocky summit of Kittatinny Mountain where I was rewarded for my effort with a fine view. From there, the trail continued downhill until it reached a side trail to the Mohican Outdoor Center (MOC). The MOC is owned and operated by the Appalachian Mountain Club and includes a camping area, cabins, and a small store. More importantly, they sell food and I had a craving for a club sandwich and a coke. When I arrived, there were a couple of Ridgerunners sitting outside and I chatted with them for a bit before heading in for food. First Aid and Hawaii were already there and Hawaii, who had received a care package there, was trying to give away treats because she couldn’t carry it all.
This is where I first met Bad Santa, a retired cop from the Las Vegas. He does have a short white beard, but earned his trail name because he carries a full load of ordinance which allows him to drop at least three f-bombs per sentence. In spite of his limited vocabulary, he is hysterically funny.
After eating and cooling off for a while, First Aid, Hawaii, and I headed back to the trail together and immediately encountered one of the Ridgerunners talking to C-biscuit. C-biscuit had hurt his hip and had walked 1.5 miles southbound to make it to the road. He was obviously in a lot of pain and he told us that his hip hadn’t hurt that bad since he carried a radio in Vietnam. We suggested that he spend the night at MOC and see if it felt any better in the morning. (I heard later that he tried to walk the next morning, re-injured his hip, and is now off the trail).
Soon we arrived at the Catfish Lookout Tower and Hawaii made the climb to the top while First Aid and I cheered her on. We had already enjoyed several views on the way up the mountain and I didn’t feel that climbing a hundred more stairs would add significantly to my portfolio. After the tower climb, First Aid and Hawaii took off for the next shelter and I told them that I would see them down the trail since I intended to camp short of there.
I have seen Rattlesnake Road, Rattlesnake Mountain, and Rattlesnake Swamp, but I have yet to see a Rattlesnake. So I headed for Rattlesnake Spring to get water and was joined there by the Ridgerunner that I had met earlier. She had completed a thru-hike the previous year and her name was Padfoot. After chatting for a while, we both decided to camp at the nearby Rattlesnake camping area.
After setting up our camps, Padfoot and I ate dinner together while I picked her brain about what it is like to be a Ridgerunner. Ridgerunners are experienced hikers who are employed by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy to be the eyes and ears of the A.T. Their main job is to provide information to hikers and educate them on Leave No Trace principles and bear procedures. They also pick up trash left behind by campers, dismantle fire rings in areas where fires are not allowed, and do light trail maintenance. In addition to their regular backpacking gear, they are required to carry pruning shears, a pruning saw, and a fairly substantial first aid kit. Their schedule has them rotate among the shelters and other high activity camping spots in their assigned area, and they work five days a week for $10 an hour. Of course they also have reports to submit regarding trail conditions, number of campers, etc. We talked until time to go to sleep and since this is a position in which I have a keen interest, I really appreciated the opportunity to have some quality one on one time with a real Ridgerunner.