We took a week off in Jersey to celebrate the Birthday of our fine nation. One of Mr. Dallas's former students Kevin happens to own Sakura limosine company and sponsored us to the tune of a ride from the trail to home and back. It was surreal stepping out of the stinking hostel and into a suave Lincoln Executive town car. Thank you for the ride Kevin it was awesome and so good to see you and be back home! The week went by too fast.
The heat and the fireworks were still out in force as we stepped out of rock forsaken PA and into Bear Country NJ. Our spirits were high. Our first day out was a mere 5 miles. It was so hot when we arrived back at the trail in Delaware Water Gap (1289) that we really didn't want to move. We sat like jaded reptiles in the shade reluctant to climb into the woods. And so we hit up the pizza place and waited for a degree on the simmer to settle down in air conditioned space with cool sodas. Summer time is here at last.
Muffins was the first to encounter a bear. The bears come out when the blueberries are ripe. Muffins was walking across a particular stretch of trail that was swoddled in blueberry bushes. In front of him, maybe 20 ft, a large blueberry bush was shaking wildly. It undulated and shook and he stopped and gaped at it incredulously. Muffins heard a snort and then suddenly the bush stopped moving and the rustling haulted.
In an instant a big fat black bear head poked out from the top of the bush as if it were a jack in the box toy. It looked Muffins dead in the eye and assessed the situation. Sensing no threat from Muffins' comparitively small stature, the fat berry muncher snorted loudly and sunk back into the bush gorging its self. Muffins slowly walked by given safe passage by the bear's indifference. He was stoked to have had such a close encounter.
The next morning was our first morning in NJ on the trail. We slept in cool thick grass and had nice breezes all night. Deer walked right up to our tents and grazed in the moonlight. It was kind of spooky hearing them munch and move around outside our tents. When Mr. Dallas opened his tent he was greeted by several deer that scattered once they saw his movement.
Mr. Dallas started to walk down the rocky side of the hill to handle business. The privy was full of bullet holes and looked just a little too ragged to dump on. The woods would do just fine. A few steps down the rocks and his heart was in his throat. BRRRRRRRRRzzzzzzzzzzzz! A huge Timber Rattle snake started shaking up in a coil a few feet in front of him. He slowly backed away and another rattle fired up behind him. "You gotta be kidding me," he scream whispered.
Mr. Dallas tiptoed up and out of the rocky rattle snake mine field and took a couple deep breaths. To the bullet riddled privy! Hold your breath! He was surprised to find it in relatively decent inner condition thanks to Lee. Lee is a trail angel who maintains shelters and privies in the NJ area. He does excellent work and we thank him for taking care of us.
After a few more miles we passed Sunfish Pond and the climate and geography started getting strange and unlike anything we had ever seen before on the trail down south. Swamps appeared out of nowhere at the tops of the mountains complete with lilly pads, board walks, frogs, fish, and MOSQUITOS.
Our second night in NJ was wrecked with mosquitos. Despite the heat, Mr. Dallas was completely covered in pants and a wool sweater. His face and hands were the only things exposed to the bugs and those were each slathered it deet. As he cooked dinner he struggled to keep his sanity as the swarm buzzed from ear to ear. Much like our monkey relatives, we have developed nervous twitches and swats that kill and repel the mosquitos.
Mr. Dallas bought a sleeping bag liner to sleep in that repels insects with some type of magical non-deet chemical. He slept comfortable without even a humming assault on his face. Muffins and Still Don't were not as lucky.
They slept in a cloud of mosquitos. Mr. Dallas could ocasionally hear them from his tent a couple feet away. Smack! Swat! Smack! Pop! All night long Muffins and Still Don't rustled, smacked bugs, and sweated under their covers. The next night Still Don't piled leaves up to the edges of the tent and less bugs made it through. Adapt or have your blood drawn one prick at a time.
The ecosystems alternated from rocky vertical climbs to soggy mountain marshes and swamps dozens of times. Walk fast and the mosquitos can only stick on to the back of your arms. We were smashing five or six in a single swipe. Still Don't would stop to take a picture and have to fight off a panic attack and fainting sensation brought on by the insects. You know it's bad when they are a screaming chorus in your ear.
The moisture made the mosquitos, but it also made the mushrooms. At the end of the day we were excited about the mushrooms, that's how fantastical they were. Some of them were straight out of Super Mario Bros, others looked like they were from outer space. None of them looked particularly appetizing, at least not yet.
written by Mr. Dallas