When I woke up the sun was shining, the humidity had dropped, and the sky was blue, so I did what any self respecting hobo would do. I spread my gear out on several park benches to dry in the sun and I turned my clothes over that were hanging on the fence to expose the damp side. I was the last hiker to leave the city park, but my pack weighed at least two pounds less from the extra effort. Bad Santa had a family commitment that was going to require him to walk 20 miles per day to reach Katahdin on time, so I bid him farewell earlier before heading down the trail. Little did I know that today would turn out to be one of my top five favorite days on the trail to date.
The balls of my feet had been sore for the past several days. While my gear was drying, I told myself at least three time to stop by Horler’s General Store to see if they happened to have any of those cheap foam shoe inserts. Naturally, I was a half mile out of town when I remembered that I forgot to stop by Horler’s.
There is a saying that I have read several different times that says “The Trail Always Provides” and, honestly, I’ve always been a little skeptical of the stories I’ve heard. But after walking out of Unionville, I rejoined the trail and walked 1.1 miles through woods and pastures until the trail crossed NJ 284. About 20 feet after crossing NJ 284 I came upon trail magic that consisted of three one gallon jugs of water, a small bag containing a spray container of DEET insect repellent, and a brand new package of CVS Double Air Foam Cushioning Shoe Inserts. I just stood there dumbfounded for at least a minute. I’m staring in disbelief at those shoe inserts and I’m afraid to touch them out of the fear that doing so will cause me to wake up, thus ending the dream. But finally, I did reach down for them and I heard and felt the crinkling of the cellophane wrapper giving me confirmation of their validity as I gently slid the package into my pocket. And I gave a little prayer of thanks to my guardian trail angel.
I soon returned to my senses and walked away from the trail magic site with a big grin on my face. After a short time, the trail came out of the woods and started a road walk of nearly a mile in length, which is my longest road walk to date. Along the way, I passed a house that had some interesting “art” for sale in the front yard, and I especially liked the peacock made out of golf clubs. Just past that house, the trail takes a sharp right turn and enters the Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge.
The Wallkill Refuge is a 0.8 x 0.4 mile rectangular shaped marsh and the A.T. follows it’s outside perimeter for slightly less than two miles. It is a beautiful protected area and I would image that there are certain times of the year when it is loaded with migratory birds. The stunning variety of plant life, combined with the perfect weather and uniquely flat trail, made this section a pure joy to hike.
After exiting the Wallkill Rufuge perimeter road, the trail enters a low lying swamp area where the tread way consists entirely of raised plank platforms. Just as the trail exits the swamp, I discovered a trail magic cooler of ice cold sodas. As I’m sitting there enjoying a nice cold Coke, a ninja squirrel comes out of the swamp and runs past me down the trail not two feet away. Just to make sure I didn’t miss his first performance, or to score some extra coup for bravery, he turns around and runs by me again! When I started to think the squirrel might be rabid instead of ninja, I chugged the rest of my Coke and quickly departed the area.
As soon as I left Ninja Squirrel Bootcamp, I started a steep and rocky 600 foot climb to the top of Pochuck Mountain. To have named this a mountain might have been a stretch, but it did provide a nice view from to top where I stopped for lunch. If you zoom in on the picture you can see the High Point Tower in the distance where I ate lunch yesterday. I thought that it was amazing that I had covered all that ground during a 24 hour period. Coming down the backside of the mountain, the trail crosses Lovemma Lane where someone has posted several humorous signs.
At the bottom of the “mountain,” I crossed Country Road 517 which was lined with dozens of cars belonging to day hikers out to enjoy the Pochuck Boardwalk at Wawayanda State Park. The boardwalk extends over a swamp for almost a mile and includes an awesome suspension bridge over Pochuck Creek. This walk was absolutely lovely and since there were so many people there, it was a real challenge to take pictures free of people. This is one of the few places along the A.T. that is wheelchair accessible.
After exiting this feature and crossing the Wawayanda Creek Footbridge, the trail continues through the woods and pastures on additional plank walkways until reaching NJ 94. Just down the road is the Heaven Hill Farmers Market and Nursery, so I headed there for a much needed break, some blueberry ice cream, and an apple. Once I had refueled with some calories, cooled off, and resupplied with water, it was time to face the 1,000 foot climb up Wawayanda Mountain.
The steep climb up Wawayanda Mountain is known as “stairway to heaven,” but I dubbed it the New Jersey Speedbump since it is the only real climb in NJ. This climb was a straight up rock stair climb that was a real challenge. It was covered with day hikers which made it fun to try to stay ahead of (with mixed success) the grandmothers and toddlers sharing the trail. Despite the fact that it was quite hot this afternoon, I had a lot of fun on this climb.
At the summit of Wawayanda Mountain is a short side trail to the Pinwheel Vista. The visibility was so wonderful that I sat here for the longest time enjoying the vista and watching the birds soar on the thermals. Before I knew it, it was 6:00 pm and I still had 3.6 miles to go to reach the shelter where I intended to spend the night, so I reluctantly got back on the trail.
The next few miles were a blur as I rushed down the mountain in a race against sunset. I did stop briefly at Barrett Road where a trail angel had thoughtfully left some water, but soon continued on my way, walking as quickly as I could possibly go. In the end, I covered those miles in one hour and twenty minutes to make it to camp and get set up before dark. After getting settled in for the night, I reached into my pocket and pulled out that precious package of foam shoe inserts. Tomorrow, I will be walking on a (trail) magic carpet.