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Sabbath Day – Pushing Myself

May 17, 2019

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The Vernon Valley, New Jersey

“This is the kind of day you just want to go back to sleep,” my son said to me at 5:30 AM.

He was right, I wanted to go back to sleep.

But I had used my last hour before going the bed the night before planning my first long hike of the season on the Appalachian Trail in New Jersey. I had completed most of New York two years ago, and then spent last year biking. Having touched the NY/NJ state line just last week, I figured a couple of Sabbath Days, and a judicious use of Uber and asking for lifts to avoid loop hiking, would allow me to knock out the mere 72 miles of the AT in  New Jersey in a few short weeks.

I parked my car, illegally it turns out, where the trail crosses the Warwick Turnpike just west of the entrance to Wawayanda State Park in Vernon Township. Wawayanda, a Lenape word which means “water no the mountain”, was the name given by the original inhabitants of this area to a local river I would cross later in the day. 

Three miles northbound from my car would connect me to where the AT intersects the State-Line Trail which I had hiked with Katie just last week. And then, of course, three miles back.  

Back at my car I crossed the Turnpike and started walking southbound. My ‘stated’ destination for the day was Pinwheel’s Vista, four and a half miles steadily up. I figured a nine-mile loop ‘there and back again’ would give me a good workout and a pleasant day and get me back to my car in time drive home in time to attend August’s lacrosse game at 4:15.

That’s not quite what happened.

It was a gorgeous day to be out. The temperature was in the mid-50s when I started and was rapidly climbing to 70. The sun was out and the sky was blue, and the sound of fast flowing water accompanying birdsong was music. The trees shelter me from direct sunlight.

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Recent rains meant that much the trail was muddy and whole sections were hiked by hopping from stone to stick to keep my feet dry. Later, when the whole trail was nothing but stone, I would miss the mud. Rivers and lakes were well above their normal levels.

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I never got a picture from Pinwheel’s Vista. As I approach the summit I stopped to sign the trial log and read messages left by other hikers. As I turned toward the summit, and just before I was to have found the side path which would give me the promised stunning 360 degree views of the region, I got a phone call from the church. In taking it, and talking while walking, I got turned around and began hiking north again. I did not immediately recognize my error (walking while talking on the phone, one does not really take in the surroundings and hiking a trail in reverse in not quickly recognized). When I finally turned around to find the right direction again I bypassed the vista again. I can only imagine what the views would have been like from the few peeks I got through the trees.

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One error led to another. By the time I realized I had hiked significantly past the Pinwheel’s Vista I was descending rapidly on the far side of the mountain. The trail was nothing but stone and occasionally stone steps. I felt like a goat.

I’m not the first person to get turned around at the Pinwheel. Perhaps half a mile (down) from the summit I found this sign that would have been hepful earlier. 

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Now I like hopping from stone to stone like a goat. So I kept going down. But by time I got over the fun I realized I did not want to hike back up again. At this point I was beginning to encounter hikers coming up and they were sweat covered and panting. But their presence in such numbers suggested a trailhead nearby.

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yes, this is the “trail!” – see the white blaze up ahead?

So… I consulted my GPS and decided that another mile would get me off the mountain and take me to Route 94 where I could try and hitch ride back to my car. So I kept going.

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This is a look back at the Wawayanda Mountain I had come over.
(It didn’t photograph impressively). 

However, once I made it to Route 94, the trail continued over the road and across a cow pasture via a thin boardwalk. The cows were up to their knees in mud, munching away. I had energy (because I didn’t go back up and over). I had time (if I could get a ride back to my car). There was a parking lot full of cars belonging to day hikers like myself (so I was optimistic about getting a ride). I knew another two and a half miles would link up to the only other New Jersey hike I had hiked in 2016 which would complete this section of the AT. So I pushed myself and kept going. I could always hitch a ride from the next highway, right?

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Just after the cows …

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… and over the railroad tracks …

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… and across half a mile of boardwalk into the woods …

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and through the swamp, I came to the swollen Pochuck Creek – which should have warned me what was coming. 

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I was in familiar territory now. I had hiked through Pochuck Crossing back in 2016 with Noelle and August. I recognized the path and its bridges and boardwalks. However, the path soon became uncrossable. At least for me. The only way through the waterlogged swamp was by wading. Several hikers removed their shoes and were bare-footing it though the water. But that’s where I stopped. I’m protective of my feet. I’d been here before, anyway. I turned around and went back to Route 94.

I met a man named Paul (and his dog) who gave me ride back to my car, and I made it home just in time for the lacrosse game in New Rochelle. (Our team lost). But still … blue skies.

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Here’s a map of my hike. Including the six-mile round trip from Warwick Turnpike to the Trail in the Abram S. Hewitt State Park, and the short double back from the Pochuck Creek, my total walk was 13 miles.  Just 72 miles to go to Pennsylvania!

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Happy Sabbath.


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