I was pretty excited studying the driving options from NYC to Columbus this past weekend, discovering the route crossed the Appalachian Trail (AT) at the Delaware Gap on the Pennsylvania/New Jersey border. There wasn’t much (or any) preparation time for the hike, but I figured it would be cool to scope out the AT, take in some of the scenery, sweat out the booze from the weekend.
The AT has become the mecca of hiking trails to me ever since reading Bill Bryson’s (review here) ‘A Walk in the Woods’ (plus 3 Nat Geo docs.). Could I really hike the whole thing? How long would it take? Is it paved in gold at the end? Just seeing the ‘ Appalachian Trail – 1 -mile’ sign on 80 West made me a little giddy, singy, and Marti wondered aloud if I might have some brain damage from excessive drinking.
The whole approach is pretty low-key – I mean, I wasn’t expecting confetti and pinatas – but you pull in to the parking lot, and the trail is literally 10 feet from the asphalt. I expected a bit of a hike, before spotting the famous white blaze on the trees (which you can see just above my shoulder in the above picture…the other shoulder). I also expected to see hoards of day hikers racing passed us, but there was only one; a large, elderly gentleman who gave us a huge smile, and a panting ‘hello’ as we crossed paths.
Majority of the folks headed up Mount Tammany – a strenuous 1,500 foot ascension fording the Delaware River tributary, straight up rocky striated terrain with Copperhead and Timber Rattlesnake warnings posted about. As you can tell from the picture I wasn’t exactly prepared for such a hike (though I regularly hike in red high-top Converse All Stars *awaits sponsorship), and forgot rattlesnake repellant.
The goal for the day was to make it to Sunfish Pond 3.75 miles from the parking lot, circumnavigate the 1 mile loop, and head back. We got about 3 miles in (if that); both laboring, sweating away a greasy trucker’s lunch from the gas station off exit 4. It might have been the rough weekend wrestling with Dionysus, but this was absolutely one of the hardest hikes I’ve ever done. The rise in elevation is constant, the path goes from dirt – to rocky – to all rock, and there’s no tree cover (yet) from the blazing sun. We sucked down the last of the water, and Marti asked if I could imagine hiking this with fifty pounds of equipment on my back.
Not without months of Jedi training. At one point the path looked like the burial ground from the film ‘Pet Sematary’, and I thought if I died, I could come back as a trail zombie/have a better chance of completing the damn hike as a mindless brain-craving shuffler than living Mike.
I now have complete and total respect for those who even contemplate finishing the AT. Hikers must have unwavering focus, a screw-loose, and an iron physical constitution. Bill Bryson walked away from the AT after approximately 850 miles out 2,400 – Marti and I did about 6 miles, yet, the trail motivated me to start getting in to better shape in case I DO get the opportunity to hike it again. An embarrassing ass-kicking from Ma Nature is quite inspiring….
Here are some pictures along the trail – not as exciting as the New York City in Twenty-Five Pics and Twenty-Five Words, i realize (except the part where the Grizzly Bear yelled at me) – but this is how I roam: big city/museums/culture one day – AT solace/nature the next.
(A special thanks to Marti Babcock for taking the opening picture – instead of distracting the Grizzly Bear)