How to hike New Jersey in 72.5 hours

Some people find New Jersey boring hiking, but not us. Its seventy-some miles were a relief: a good sight less rocky than Pennsylvania, and with flat stone tops to its low peaks, open to views of neighboring ridges and valleys, largely untrammeled by development, at least along the Trail corridor. (To be fair, many of the views were into Pennsylvania, redeeming it somewhat.) The mountain laurel are starting to pop open at last; just before they open their delicate white cups, the buds swell into little puffs that look like dabs of frosting.

The weather during our stay was a little less friendly: one evening of chilly rain followed by the three days of blistering heat. We had resolved a hundred miles before to no longer hold ourselves to daily mileage goals or set our hearts on a destination time or place. We will make it to Katahdin in time; our aim is to appreciate each day, and to walk just as far as we like. Lucky we made that resolution, as it’s near insane not to ease up in the heat. The muggy heat takes over your brain, slows your muscles, and soaks your clothes with hot salt water that doesn’t evaporate overnight. The third day particularly consisted mostly of sitting spells interrupted by short walks. We stopped at an air conditioned park office for sodas and mail drops… at a lake to shower… at a cabin to sit in the shade and fill our bottles from its frosty pump…

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at a general store a third of a mile off the trail for a late lunch… and at a water source, where we chatted with the hiker Blue Moon for a spell. Somehow we still went about eighteen miles, but they were far more pleasant thanks to the breaks in between.

And as Jersey’s parting gift… a bear sighting! On top of Wawayanda Mountain, into whose cool shade we gladly entered after the hot morning sun had steamed us while crossing the boardwalk over a wetland teeming with irises, red winged blackbirds, and bullfrog. We hopped across a clear, cool stream, climbed over the ridge, and there she was.

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A mama bear, her tiny cubs were already high up in a tree. She grunted at us, and huffed and puffed up the tree after them. A large, handsome, deep-black bear, she was a surprisingly graceful and swift climber. (I will never try an aerial ursine escape after watching this.) She chuffed her jaws at us. We kept a respectful distance, took a few bad photos, and left her in peace.

Goodbye, Jersey! Hello, New York!

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Full moon rising

It’s so hot that there is nothing to do but melt glaciers over my skin and drink the Flathead Lake once or twice. The sun’s packed and gone and the clock hands fuss until there is no one to call and nothing to clean and certainly no dish worth heating the oven for this evening. Nowhere to go but out, out with the dogs and alley smells and monsters, out to stand on the falling-down porch and watch the full moon come up.

The sliver of icy light seeps over the mountain’s edge and then lifts its white shape after. Dry seas are revealed, scars on an old face, and shape comes and comes and comes. Celestial kissing terrestrial, a slow round illusion of touch. It’s a long kiss, the tips of the pines stretching for the last flicks of light. Then it is up and off, on its own course again, solemn and blank. But before it goes back to messing with tides and moods and telescopes, it sends a wind. It slips between the moon and the hill. It steals down the mountain, through the alley and into the angry hot stacks of boxes full of people trying to sleep. And at last, it kills the hottest day in a thousand years, which crawls past crying into my oven to die.