Thursday, June 28, 2012

Good bye Pennsylvania - HELLO NEW JERSEY!

Well I'm not going to say Pennsylvania was horrible, but I'm not going to say it was fun either. If anyone ever asks about the views in PA all I can say is that I saw very few.  I spent most of my time looking down so I didn't see much.  The rocks in PA are tough, add a little water and some big rattlers and they get even harder.
I saw several small rattlers like Eastern Diamondbacks and a few huge Timber Rattlers... I'm talking like the the thickness of my arm.  My first encounter with one was while it was raining.  
I found that while the boulders are hard to walk on when they are wet, it can be even harder to try and walk around them when there isn't much ground to step on.  So I in these big boulder areas I find all the "flat" boulders that can provide easy footing even in wet conditions. As I was finally beginning to enjoy my wet saunter though the woods and boulder fields, my trip almost came to quick halt. Hopping boulders one at a time at a fairly quick pace, I moved to step down to a smaller boulder that I couldn't see from a distance. Problem was this boulder moved! I saw a huge Timber Rattler lift his head up as I approached and I quickly shifted my left foot to an adjacent rock on my right which was not so flat. The resulting step made me fall down to the level of the ground using the rocks as a landing pad. The words "May day! May day! I'm going down!" ran through my mind as I hit the rock squarely on my forearms. I don't think I even felt the jolt to my body as my feet were now laying less than a foot from a rattler whose head was bigger than my fist, and I wanted OUT OF THERE! Faster than you can say "Snake bait" I leaped forward about 10 feet from the rock and crash landed on some rocks in front of me. I turned and looked and saw the rattler put his head back down like he was going to go back to sleep.  Ok I guess I was never a concern for him.

Nj and bears

In the first 3 days of being in nj I decided that this is my favorite state on the AT. I didn't decide this just because I'm from jersey. This state has so many beautiful views. There is so much to see in the short time we're hiking through the state. I'm not talking about Newark or the  smog. I'm talking about views of Sunfish Pond, the southern most glacial lake on the AT. I'm thinking of the ridgeline views that overlook other lakes and towns. I envy the open views from mountain balds that I didn't know we had. So now when I think of Jersey, I think of family, friends, dinners, delis, the shore, Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi, and the best part of the AT.

I'll also remember the bears.

I've been used to the bears in Shenandoah that know when to make room for a hiker... by the sound of the poles being tapped together. No here they have to be asked to move. The NJ bears are hungry enough that they can distinguish the difference between a hiker carrying ramen noodles and hiker loaded up on kosher deli food. The bears here are a good indication for hikers to know where to find food too. They tend not to be too far from a road loaded with variety of food options.  Of course they didn't tell me this in the guide books. That would have been too easy.

So far in NJ I've seen 3 bears and heard about 6 more near the trail. It had been really cool to see how they react to hikers. Definitely no need for a gun or bear spray. Still we try to be careful about encounters and storing our food. I refuse to be the hiker you hear about on the news that got accosted by a bear over a Snickers bar. All my food goes into the bear box or gets hung from a tree. There's no guarantees though.

Well with another state down (PA) and over 1300 miles hiked, I'll be going slow this week to get myself setup to be with the family for the 4th of July. That's fine with me since NJ had been so good and Harriman State Park in NY is one off my favorites. It'll be fun!

Sunfish Pond

Rock Sculpture on top a bald in NJ

Bear - Back of the head

Big Bear - Very close

Porcupine trying to get some sun

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Hiker challenges

I'm now in Pennsylvania and taken down several states in the last week. So long to Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland! This hike has been loaded with challenges, mostly for the fun of it.

The word "challenges" here takes on different meanings.

The first meaning of challenge is to have to deal with what is presented to us hikers, like bears, bugs, mice, rocks etc.

The bears win every time. We must take many precautions to protect the animals while  we are out here, like hanging our food so the bears can't get to it. We also need to give the bears the right of way. The bears in Shenendoah National Park are very used to seeing people. Hence why I finally got to see my first bear... actually I saw seven. The last encounter was thankfully my last for awhile. On my last evening in the park I ran into momma and her cubs right on the trail. I gave them space and took a couple far away photos. The cubs still very young, saw me as a threat and climbed the first big tree...right next to the trail. Momma bear climbed on the bottom trunk, huffed at me and then just watched what I was going to do. I figured "ok I need to go that way and they are too close to the trail." So I approached them while makin some loud noises and begged them to leave. That didn't work as mom got a little worked up and the cubs climbed higher up the tree. So I backed off again. Next I decided to use my umbrella with a rapid open and close maneuver making lots of noise like a bird flapping his wings.   The cubs went further up the tree and Momma just looked at me like I was an idiot, so I backed off again. Finally I used the international human-to-bear signal for "get out of my way please" by tapping my umbrella with my trekking pole. This momma recognized! She removed herself from the tree trunk and backed off about 30 feet from the trail allowing me room to pass while continuing to tap my pole. After I passed I said "good girl" and she went back to the tree trunk to get the cubs. What a way to get up close and personal.

The next meaning of "challenge" comes as the games hikers like to play on the trail, such as the 4 state challenge. This challenge starts at the Virginia border with West Virginia and continues through Maryland to Pennsylvania, a hike of over 40 in less than 24 hours. One of my buddies, Houdini did the challenge successfully. I however am glad I didn't try. I would have missed all of Maryland and the nice people along the trail. I however did have to deal with the challenge of the rocks in MD.

The challenge I've been looking forward to was the half gallon challenge. At the half way point of the trail hikers attempt to eat a half gallon of ice cream. For our efforts all we get is a little wooden spoon and bragging rights. I ate my half gallon in 22 minutes, not bad considering the darn ice cream was frozen solid.

So far there aren't there aren't any challenges that I've heard of in NJ, but since it's my home state I may make up a new food challenge of my own. NJ and NY are part of what is considered to be the "deli circuit." I'm thinking I need to challenge hikers to five 12 inch Italian subs within a single 24 hours or maybe a dozen potato knishes at one deli. I'm going to be doing some food exploration once I get home. :)

I eat, I eat, and I eat.  So far I have found that I can consume all the junk food I want, have several cheeseburgers, a couple pints of ice cream and still be hungry before bed.  And I've lost 30 pounds! Hiking the AT has been the best weight loss plan EVER!

An update on my buddy Bill... He's WAY ahead into Massachusetts now doing over 30 mile days.  I wish I could go that many miles, but I'm glad I get to see all that I can instead of rushing through the trail.

Well I should be able to get through a few more states in the next couple weeks. So far I'm through 6 states and have 8 to go. For now my next big goal is Bear Mt, NY where I'll be headed home to NJ for a couple days off with the family.

On we go!

At Grayson Highlands with the wild ponies

Mary visited and hiked 27 miles of the AT with me

Momma Bear (cubs were in a tree)

Harpers Ferry at the ATC headquarters

The half point!

My half gallon challenge