Surprises (Days 92-94)


New Jersey has been full of surprises. I try to find some sort of unifying theme for each post, and for this one it’s a bit of a stretch, but surprise is definitely the common element.

New Jersey Surprise #1: The Full Monty.

I got to the Delaware Water Gap on a nice, warm, sunny afternoon and decided that I wanted to go swimming. I’d made the ridiculous purchase of a camouflage bikini a while back and was looking for an opportunity to try it out. I talked Hot Shot into joining me on my swimming adventure and after getting directions to the best swimming hole around, we were on our way.

We followed the directions down to the highway, took a right at the visitor’s center, passed under the highway, then over the railroad tracks, and finally found the path to the swimming hole at the end of the second soccer field. It was following this path as it wound through the woods at the edge of the river that I encountered New Jersey surprise #1.

I came around the final bend in the path and found a man looking straight up the trail towards me me with his shorts around his knees letting out an impressive stream of pee. He saw me, grinned rather guiltily, and turned to the side without interrupting his arc of pee. Though I’ve surprised a number of gentlemen on the trail in the act of peeing, this is the only time anyone had actually been fully facing me and peeing on the trail. Most hikers seem to chose to face a bush or a tree off to the side of the trail and are far more subtle about it.

After that initial awkwardness we joined the guy, his wife, and his five year old son at the swimming hole. It was a picturesque spot with lots of lush greenery and an old abandoned railroad trestle in the background. The swimming hole was pretty deep, and the parents of the five year old had an interesting (some might even say surprising) strategy for encouraging their son (who was learning to swim) to head into the deeper water… Whenever he started to head back to the shallower water they’d throw a barrage of pebbles/rocks at him. This was typically met with an onslaught of giggles from the kid, and laughter from the parents as he tried to avoid the splashing of the rocks.

New Jersey Surprise #2: Electrofishing.

The next day when I got back on the trail I was surprised to find what looked to me like three of the ghostbusters (pictured above) walking up the middle of the creek. It was especially strange because the pack would occasionally emit a bright red flash of light.

Eventually I remembered seeing something like this in the National Geographic documentary about the AT. The backpack was for Electrofishing, where they use an electric current (active when the pack flashes red) to stun and monitor fish before releasing them back into the wild.


New Jersey Surprise #3: Beauty.

I was surprised by how beautiful the trail in New Jersey was. It seems to me that pop culture doesn’t have much if anything positive to say about New Jersey, so I wanted to share a positive surprise about it.


New Jersey Surprise #4: Hatchet.

Walking down the trail and seeing a hatchet up in the branches of a tree was rather unexpected!


New Jersey Surprise #5: Lost Guy.

It was a rainy, wet, cold evening so I decided to spend the night in the shelter even though it was one of the small, dirty old shelters. It is also one of the only times I’ve slept in a full shelter. Gilgamesh, Uno, Hot Shot, and I had all crowded into it as well as an old guy that didn’t speak English very well (he was German). We hypothesized that he might be the 85 yr old guy that’s trying to set the record for the oldest thru-hiker.

When he arrived it was already getting dark, so he quickly spread out his stuff in the shelter and then wandered off to go get water and use the privy. About 10 minutes later I took my headlamp and went down to the water source. The water was probably 200 yards from the shelter and it was not the easiest path to follow. It reminded me of why I try not to make a habit of night hiking unknown sections of the AT. As I was heading back to the shelter I thought I saw the twinkle of a light about 500 yards away and figured it was probably something on the nearby road.

When I got back to the shelter the old guy still hadn’t returned. I asked around the shelter to see if anyone else was starting to worry about him, and they said no. Since we was an old guy they supposed that maybe it was just taking him a long time at the privy and that we should give him his space. No one on the trail wants to be crowded.

I finished my bedtime preparations and the old guy still hadn’t returned. I was definitely worried about him now. We decided to send a search party and Gilgamesh and Uno decided that Hot Shot and I should be the search party since I thought more than one person should go.

The more I thought about it, the more I began to think that the light I had thought was coming from a road earlier had actually been coming from our old guy, so I suggested we start from the shelter and head down the access road in that direction. There was no sign of him or of his headlight. We turned our headlamps off and then called out into the darkness hoping that he’d hear and respond. After a brief pause we heard a reply in the distance in a thick German accent that sounded both frantic and relieved. We turned our headlamps back on and continued to head toward him, and soon we saw his headlamp in the distance. He’d gotten horribly lost and had just been wandering around hoping to see the lights of the shelter, but he was going the wrong direction and getting further and further away. He thanked us profusely for coming out to look for him and assured us that he was ok now and just cold.

I was just relieved that we had found him so easily and that he was ok!

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