Delaware Water Gap to Williamstown

Rest days are good. Rest days can be far too good, to the point where it’s a real wrench to pick up your rucksack and start hiking again. So it was with Delaware Water Gap. We had a comfortable hostel room, there was a great bakery in town, a kind lady who we met at the restaurant gave us a lift to the larger neighbouring town to resupply, and most surprisingly of all, there was live jazz at a hotel round the corner from the hostel. The Deer’s Head Inn is the oldest continuously running jazz club in the US. It seemed like too good an opportunity to pass up! Seven of us started the evening but only four of us made it through to the end – the music was great, with piano and violin carrying the tune, with double bass and drums behind, but really it took a bit too much concentration for tired hikers. It finished at 10pm which was definitely past my bedtime!

The Deer’s Head Inn, Delaware Water Gap

The next morning, the seven of us descended on the bakery to scoff all manner of sweet treats, and pick apart the previous evening’s performance and our reactions to it. We had a good laugh, and I could quite happily have stayed there all day, sitting in the shade and chatting.

L to R: Jenny, me, Neil, Mountain Goat, Dingo, Rex

But there were miles to be hiked, so we gritted our teeth and picked up our packs. A couple of miles later we passed into New Jersey on a bridge across the Delaware River.

New Jersey provided some pleasant hiking and a brief visit to Branchville to pick up and forward on our bounce box (box containing our cold weather gear and my meds which we post to ourselves further up the trail). Not many hikers visit Branchville but we enjoyed fantastic, cheap and filling stromboli, a lovely cool motel room, and the next morning we had great breakfast bagels and coffee (or should I say “cawfee” like the locals?) in the bakery over the road.

After just 73 miles in New Jersey, we crossed the next state line into New York. What a welcome it was! The trail followed a series of granite domes, some just inches high and some forming huge whalebacks with 30 foot drops on either side. What could have been fun scrambly hiking in dry conditions turned out to be nerve-racking in the wet, with lichen on the rock making it very slippery. We were hiking with Bubbles and Firefox from Alaska, and all four of us slipped at some point, thankfully not too far! After a few hours of wet slippery rock and with feet soaked from walking through wet vegetation, we finally reached Bellvale Creamery, an ice cream shop barely 50 yards from the trail. I was exhausted, and filthy after a full-on faceplant on the trail, so when we heard about a hostel in the nearby town of Greenwood Lake, I was most definitely on for getting off trail for a shower, laundry and a rest.

Bubbles, Firefox and Neil climbing down off a granite whaleback

Coming out of Greenwood Lake, we hiked a while with Dingo, an Australian hiking from Georgia to Maine roughly following the route of the AT. We thought it was a great section of trail, with some short climbs and narrow squeezes, but I think Dingo would have preferred a more straightforward route!

Me and Dingo on yet another whaleback
Dingo squeezing through a narrow gap in the boulders – she had to take her sleeping mat off the bottom of her pack to fit through

That night we camped at the William Brien shelter with Dingo and Mountain Goat, the Methodist chaplain on the AT who we’ve been meeting up with regularly for hundreds of miles. The following day she had to get off trail to attend a conference, meaning 3 days of not hiking and putting a distance of maybe 60 miles between us. It’s an odd thing on long trails – sometimes you just keep on bumping into the same people over the miles and the weeks; sometimes you get out of sync and never see them again. We really enjoyed Mountain Goat’s company, so we were all very sad when it came to saying goodbye the next morning. But she had a great final day for this section of her hike – she saw two bears as she left the shelter, and we were all stunned to see the Manhattan skyline away in the distance beyond the trees!

The Manhattan skyline from the trail

That day we crossed over the Hudson River, the lowest point on the entire trail at 160 feet above sea level. We also did what was possibly the oddest section of the trail – it passes through a small zoo housing native animals that have been injured or are undergoing rehabilitation. The zoo had good information boards about ecosystems and the environment which were well done, but the contrast between the animals’ cool and shady natural environment that we’d been hiking through, and the hot little pens of the zoo, made us feel really bad for the animals, particularly the bears, and a lone beaver in a concrete pond.

We hiked on into Connecticut, the first of the New England states – we’ll remain in New England for the rest of the trail, through Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. We collected our new shoes from the post office at Wingdale – the 4th pair of the trail for both of us. Our old shoes had worn out badly on the Pennsylvania rocks, and by the time we got our new ones I had several blisters and Neil’s ankle was giving him trouble. We reckon the Hoka Speedgoat trail shoes are good for 400 miles, we pushed them to 500 – definitely too far!

There aren’t many hiker hostels in Connecticut, but we had a lovely stay at Barbie’s Dream House near Kent. We use the Far Out app to access information about hiker services, including hikers’ comments, and a hiker who had commented described Barbie as being like “your grandmother who is also your greatest AT cheerleader”. She welcomed me, Neil and Dingo into her lovely home where she’s lived all her life,  let us cook dinner in her kitchen, fed us dessert, and made us a fabulous breakfast the next morning before giving us a lift back to the trail, sending us on our way with her blessings. It’s people like her who make the AT such a great trail.

Me, Neil, Dingo and Barbie outside Barbie’s house

As we hiked along the Housatonic River towards Massachusetts, we got our first sighting of a bear on the AT! We’d been hearing reports of bear sightings from other hikers; all we had expected to see was the rear end of a bear as it ran away through the trees. Most black bears are easily scared and don’t pose much of a threat. Not this one. We had stopped for lunch at a shelter, and were sitting at the picnic table enjoying our peanut butter bagels when suddenly Neil spotted a bear less than 10 metres away. It was a beautiful creature, its black fur gleaming in the sun and with a gingery muzzle, but having a bear that close is definitely a threat. We started shouting at it, but instead of running away, it just started circling around us, getting closer to us and our food. We shouted louder, clacked our walking poles together (works on cows, didn’t work with this bear), banged our saucepan with a metal spork, but nothing would make it leave. There was nothing for it but to hastily pack away our food and leave. As we backed away from the picnic table towards the trail, the bear came out of the trees and wandered casually up to the table to see if we’d left anything. Totally unafraid, clearly knowing that the shelter meant hikers and hikers meant hiker food … Sadly, the chances are this bear will be shot, or if it’s lucky, anaesthetised and moved a long way away from popular hiking areas.

The bear between the shelter and the privy

The next day we crossed into Massachusetts, and it felt like the trail stepped up a grade! Back to daily ascents of over 3000 feet, with high temperatures, high humidity, steep gradients, and rocks and roots giving our feet a beating. Luckily there are more hiker services close to trail, and some very hiker-friendly communities. At Great Barrington we camped outside the community centre, where they let us use the showers, and enjoyed a great evening with Dingo and Gail, an 80 year old Triple Crowner who had already hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, Continental Divide Trail and the AT. She was only re-hiking the AT rather than one of the other trails to address her children’s concerns for her safety! She was tough, to-the-point, opinionated, and wanted to get Bill Bryson (author of “A Walk in the Woods” about his half-assed attempt to hike the AT) back on trail “to make a man of him.” We really enjoyed her company and hope to meet her again further along the trail!

Incoming storm in Great Barrington

Our next night was camping at the Cookie Lady’s place – hikers camp on the lawn at her soft fruit farm, and are greeted with homemade cookies and cordial. From there it was just 9 miles to the small town of Dalton for burritos and bagels, then on to another small town, Cheshire, to camp at the free campsite in town. After some very steep and hot hiking, we were overjoyed to get there and find the ice cream shop open, so we went a bit mad on ice cream, milkshakes and soda (yes, all three!) Then shortly after, a couple of trail angels turned up at the campsite with a portable barbecue and bags of food, and fed us burgers, hot dogs, salad and water melon. The town is a recognised “trail community” and the local people really go out of their way to welcome hikers. It was lovely!

Hershey’s dark chocolate ice cream with raspberry ripple – had to be quick about eating this before it melted!
Trail magic at Father Tom’s campsite in Cheshire. Walkie Talkie in orange, Grasshopper standing, Happy Hour sitting wearing glasses

The next morning was our earliest start yet on trail, with the alarm set for 5 a.m. Temperatures were forecast to be in the mid 90s, and before getting to Williamstown we had a mountain to climb – Mount Greylock, the highest peak in Massachusetts at 3489 feet. It made sense to get the ascent done as early as possible while it was still cool (ish). We were on our way by 5.40 and enjoying the rather hazy views from the top before 9.30; it was hot sweaty work going up, but easier than the descent! We’re pretty fit for climbing hills now, but our knees and feet suffer on the descents. We were glad to get down to Williamstown and headed straight along the road to a grocery store for sodas and ice cream.

War memorial at the top of Mount Greylock

So it’s been over two weeks since our last rest day at Delaware Water Gap, and today we have thoroughly enjoyed doing as little as possible in Williamstown. We’re staying in a really nice motel with really friendly staff, and we have had air conditioning on all night and all day which is a great luxury in the intense heat. A big thunderstorm has just arrived, so fingers crossed that might bring down the temperature before we head back out on trail tomorrow!

3 Responses

  1. George
    | Reply

    Excellent write up Tanya. I feel very sorry for the bear though.

  2. Becka
    | Reply

    Great write-up, Tanya, and that bear looked huge, I thought black bears were the small ones!

  3. Sandra & Johnny
    | Reply

    Wow! That’s a lot packed into two weeks, fantastic effort!.. Those granite humpbacks would’ve finished me off!.. That was a big ice cream to scoff before it melted.. I could’ve manage that with ease! You are both doing so well, I admire your willpower and strength to carry on.. I hope the bear gets moved rather than euthenised..

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