Trail Notes: RA Outdoors Ladies Edition Takes on NJ, NY, CT & MA

There was a lot of excitement and anxiety in the air as we began planning for the latest RA Maine Event hike. Not only would we be hiking through steep inclines and unknown terrain, four of our young ladies would be tacking another “first”… flying. After navigating three airports (Birmingham, Charlotte and Newark) we found ourselves loaded in the van and heading to High Point, New Jersey …. aptly named because it’s the highest point in the state of New Jersey.

A stop at the local Wal-Mart for water, a REI for fuel (no Alabama Outdoors in New Jersey), a Smashburger for sustenance (please come to Birmingham) and a hotel (thank you Best Western) to pack our bags and get our last good night of sleep, we headed to High Point Park ready to tackle eight miles through New Jersey and into New York on our first day.

Day One - New Jersey to New York

At the time of High Point is an obelisk monument. It was there that we stopped for our first rest on the trail, snacks for refreshment and trail magic for encouragement. As we enjoyed the breeze and amazing vistas, we also noticed storms rolling in over the valley below. At that point, one of our leaders (the fault of another leader) realized she hadn’t packed a poncho but a pack cover. Insert trail magic and a Marmot rain jacket handed off by a visitor to the monument driving an old army vehicle.

Off we headed through rain for the next six miles. Thankful for cover and the 30 minutes of sunshine we were blessed with for lunch, we enjoyed many mountain views and the onset of fall in New England.

We pulled into the Secret Shelter - also known as the Jim Murray Shelter named for the man who owns the property - in the late afternoon with plenty of time to set camp and wait for the rain to stop. Luckily finding two shelter spaces each with a covered porch big enough for us to sit and unload our packs. Also at the shelter was a furry friend named Jake who quickly welcomed us. We later learned that Jake has an affinity for coffee… but not left-over quinoa. We weren’t really certain if we were in New York at that point, and really still aren’t. We do know that it was amazingly beautiful and a fun place to spend our first night on the trail.

Day Two: New York

The next morning brought sunshine and the most beautiful mist as we packed up and headed the two miles to Unionville, NY. We had heard about a pastor in town who was known to help hikers out with rides, places to stay and food when seeking a zero day. We called him and he agreed to meet us at the General Store in town for a quick ride back to our van. The car ride was filled with good conversation and an overview of the sermon Pastor Doug had stepped away from writing to get us to the van. He also shared with us how he and his wife have started a mission in their town specifically focusing on AT hikers! It’s called SOLA and you should check it out.

We spent time in the van driving to our next destination, Bear Mountain in New York. Bear Mountain is a wonderful state park known for its proximity to New York City and its beautiful surroundings…but NOT it’s first aid station. In need of some supplies for a minor burn incurred by one of our leaders the night before, we ventured into West Point (home of the US Military Academy), New York and a Walgreens there. We then drove back into the state park to get on the trail again.

The West Mountain Shelter is perhaps the most beautiful on the AT. With amazing vistas looking out on the Hudson River Basin, on clear days, you can see New York City in the far distance. We trekked up to West Mountain Shelter by way of the Bear Mountain bike path (thank you ranger lady at the info center) that connected to the AT. The steep STEEP ascent was worth the views at the end of our climb. We made camp and cooked dinner on the rocks in front of the stone shelter and watched the sunset over the city. It was amazing to think about how very few people get to actually see that view AND what it would be like to then drive into the city two days later.

Day Three: New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut

We woke up the next morning, broke camp and backtracked SOBO (south bound) to the van. We had been on the lookout for a true New England apple cider stand with apple cider donuts and we found it in Connecticut. What a treat!

We headed north towards Connecticut and Massachusetts, deciding to hike a portion of the trail in southern Massachusetts called Jug End sans packs. The lighter load was welcome on such a steep climb however, we greatly regretted not bringing our trekking poles along. When we made it to the some of us ate lunch while the rest took in the surroundings and tried to catch our breath.

We weren’t alone on the cliffs though. Two snakes quickly came to greet us, one of them even slithering under one of the leaders (EEEKKKKK). Our quick descent (leaving our legless lizard friends behind) to the van had us figuring out where we would stay the evening on the trail in Connecticut. We drove the 45 minutes into our fourth state for this adventure and put in on the trail just over the border in Connecticut.

A short two mile hike in to a pine tree grove found us at one of the nicer (although buggier) campsites we’ve found. You know you’re “hooked” when you get excited over a trench privy.

We made sure tents weren’t pitched under any pine branches, known for dropping limbs randomly, and settled in for the evening. That evening brought a thunder storm, a leaky tent and some good sleep.

Day Four:

The last 1.5 miles we hiked on this part of the adventure was downhill and beautiful. Trekking alongside a flowing river with fall foliage all around was picturesque and exciting. With exhaustion barking at our heels, we quickly made it to the van where we unpacked our remaining fuel leaving it for the next hikers to come along the path.

Our drive towards New York was beautiful, actually driving over a covered bridge and through several quintessential New England towns before coming to interstate. We were excited to drive into Manhattan and even more to pull up to the valet stand at our hotel (along with the bell hops to help with our packs). By the grace of God, the hotel had rooms available for early check in by the weary travelers after we informed them “not only do we need showers, all of New York needs us to have showers.”

After everyone was bathed and clean, we headed out into the city for some sight seeing, shopping, coffee and good food.

Molly Stone