Yesterday's 24.5 miles, my second-longest day to date, were not kind to my feet. Fortunately, today "only" required going 17.2 miles, and the trail was, in general, far nicer than it has been so far. I'm almost to New Jersey. That means the rocks are almost over, right? (Spoilers: no, it really does not.)
2.5 miles into the day brought the first of several milestones today: 1289.1 miles, or, 900 miles to Katahdin. There was no marker on the trail of the occasion.
The last mountain in Pennsylvania, Mt. Minsi, is just on the outskirts of the town of Delaware Water Gap. (Yes, that's actually the name of a town. It surprised me too.) This meant that, on the town side of the mountain, there were a lot of tourists climbing the mountain; some for the views, others to make a movie. And for some reason, they all kept asking me how far it was to the top. I guess I looked like I should have known, being I was coming down the mountain and all. But I didn't really take notice of being at the top, since there wasn't an obvious marker (and often there are false summits that further confuse the issue), so I just had to make something up that seemed plausible. (20 minutes. It's always 20 minutes to the top.)
The town was just over six miles from the shelter, which made it a perfect place for a break. I got a burger and beer at the Sycamore Grill, and then treated myself to a banana split at the town's ice cream restaurant. The place was right on the trail; its location could hardly be better.
The trail continued across the Delaware River on the I-80 bridge, bringing the second milestone: the PA-NJ border. Seven states down, seven to go.
Shortly into New Jersey (and still on the bridge), I ran into Ben, whom I hadn't seen in quite some time. (He was the hiker who had a soccer ball for awhile, until it ran away.) Ben was hiking south, having decided to flip somewhere north and come south for a bit as a change of pace.
Kittatinny Mountain, the first in New Jersey, with a nice gradual uphill, was also a popular destination for tourists, especially around Sunfish Pond, a rather scenic area (if somewhat rugged section of trail). It also brought (what was this time quite clearly human) poop on the trail. Well, more of on a small clearing next to the trail, but "don't poop next to the trail" just doesn't have the same ring to it (as "don't poop on the trail").
Kittatinny Mountain also brought the last of the day's milestones: the 1300 mile marker.
But, I could not spend much time for siteseeing: I needed to get to my destination today, the Mohican Outdoor Center, before they closed. This made the rest of the day a bit of a rush, but fortunately, I made it there at 6:30, with half an hour to spare. Dinner, a shower, and a bunk would soon be mine!
I also ran into the first NOBOs I'd seen all day, Stryder and Sky. Stryder was planning to push on to a campsite just beyond the outdoor center, but was waiting on Sky, who was trying to coordinate a shuttle and transportation to go home for a week to rest her feet.
My dream of a meal cooked by someone else died quickly. The camp store was not serving food (and hadn't been for the last few days) due to an AMC (Appalachian Mountain Club, one of the groups responsible for maintenance of the trail, chiefly further north) staff retreat this weekend. I grumbled a bit and asked the obvious out loud, "so, I guess dinner is just this" (as I pointed to the rack of candy bars) "and whatever I've got?"
I must have sounded pretty pathetic, because the guy at the desk offered me some chicken scraps they were about to throw out. I said yes, and a few minutes later, I had a microwaved plate of warm shreds of chicken. It was delicious. (Thanks, front desk guy!) At the same time, Stryder gave me some extra Hershey's Bars and Clif Bars he had. (He bought them before realizing there was extras in his mail drop here, and didn't want the extras.)
Likewise, my dream of an indoor bunk died, because they were all in use for AMC staff. That left me with a small selection of inexpensive tentsites. (The thru-hiker discount was actually pretty nice.) But, tentsites still came with a shower, so I still had that, at least. (And despite putting my stinky clothes back on after the shower, I felt way better.)
I also found out why the tentsites were so cheap. It's because they actually were pretty bad. Almost all the tentsites were filled up (staff retreat), but, I had my "choice" of three tentsites still open. Just go there and pick one.
The first of the three was taken. The second didn't have a place to put a tent. Instead, it had a roughly tent-sized area with rocks in random places making putting a tent there impossible. That left me with the third tentsite. The third site had a tent platform, a raised wooden structure that provides separation from the ground. (That way, your tent is on a clear, non-rocky, flat and level surface, and since it's not directly on the ground, the bottom of the tent shouldn't get wet.) Unfortunately the tent platform was literally falling apart (a nail got caught on my pants when I sat down, and it pulled up a board when I stood up), but it was the only workable site, so that's where I stayed.
It was a bit tricky to set up the tent on the platform (most of the places you'd stake can't be staked, since there's wood and not dirt), but I managed to get something that worked, and the tent was held in place by staking the ventilation and stability lines on the front and back ends into the dirt beyond the platform. (These are not strictly necessary to setting up the tent, but the lines pull the rain fly away from the tent body, providing for more ventilation, as well as additional attachment points to the ground.)
The tentsite also had a bear box, shared with the unusable rocky site. Unfortunately, the box wouldn't open (it seemed that the latch mechanism was jammed), so I had to share another group's bear box.
Finally, I could have dinner, but by this point, it was after 8 pm and I had no interest in cooking anything, so I had every five-year-old's favorite dinner: soda and candy bars (courtesy Stryder; thanks again!).
This tent site does have one thing going for it, though: it is quiet, which should make it easy to get some sleep. Ideally, I'd like to leave before 7 again. The forecast is calling for rain tomorrow afternoon, and before it starts, I'd like to get to my destination, Branchville NJ, for two zeroes at a friends family's lake house.