“A Walk in the Woods” by Bill Bryson and what an enjoyable read it was. Mr. Bryson’s book is his tale of his goal to reacquaint himself with his “native country” by hiking the Appalachian Trail (AT) from Georgia to Maine. Not only does Mr. Bryson detail his trip along the AT but he also interjects humor, amazing facts about the AT and the towns surrounding it along with environmental information and editorial comments. Mr Bryson spends time sharing all the interesting things and people he has encountered along the trail, enlightens you to the trials and tribulations of trying to accomplish something as simple as walking the entire 2,200 plus miles of the AT and how it affects him both physically, emotionally and mentally. Ofcourse I am joking about it being a “SIMPLE” task because it is in no way shape or form SIMPLE. From behind my desk 2,200 miles doesn’t seem like much right, heck I can drive 2,200 miles in about 29 hours so what’s the big deal. Now consider an average daily mileage for a hiker of say 15 miles a day and that means it takes 146 straight days to cover the same distance. Almost 4 months, now add breaks into the trip for rest and restocking, bad weather, etc and it could easily take someone up to 6 months to complete on a thru hike. Who the heck in their right mind would spend 6 months walking a trail through the mountains? Good question but you have to read the book to understand why people choose to do so.
This book has been on my reading list for some time ever since my son Brendan had to read it for school. Brendan was excited to read a chapter on a familiar section of the AT that runs through the Delaware Water Gap (DWG) along the Kittatinny Mountain range in New Jersey as this was a place where we had and still have personal experience with. This is where we spend many hours during our many hunting and fishing trips and we have actually spent time on this section of the AT as well as many of the side trails like Douglas, Garvey Springs and the Copper Mine. You can’t talk about this section of the AT without mentioning Sunfish Pond. Sunfish Pond is a 44 acre breathtaking glacial lake found on top of the Kitattinny Mountain inside the Worthington State Forest where the AT runs right into the beginning of the lake and then up and around the East side of the lake. Mr. Bryson never did get to see a bear during his time on the trail, but this part of NJ has plenty. As a matter of fact, the picture at the top of this page was taken in Oct 2006 by me during a walk in the woods just off Old Mine Rd near the Depew area.
My first introduction to this area was 32 years ago when I was 12 during my first trip to hunting camp and it was just 7 years ago when Brendan was 12 that I took Brendan on his first trip to this area. Reading this chapter in the book took Brendan back to the day when he first hit the top of the mountain and had his first experience with Sunfish Pond and the AT. So as I set off to read this book, I too couldn’t wait to read that same chapter. Well sure enough as I was reading this chapter I struggled to stay focused on the book, because I couldn’t stop my mind from wandering and thinking back to Brendan’s first trip and then on to my first trip here. I remember sitting along Sunfish Pond with Brendan and my friend Ray and watching Brendan taking in all this area had to offer and I couldn’t help but wonder if he was thinking and feeling exactly what I had some 37 years ago. As I began to think back to my first encounter with the AT and Sunfish pond I couldn’t help but realize what role that day and this place had in building my love and passion for the outdoors and what a part of my life the outdoors has become.
Hunting camp for us back then was a tent filled with as many of us as we could fit on a wooded campsite along the Delaware River in the Worthington State Forest. My dad and his friends had been hunting here and participating in this yearly hunting trip for years prior to my starting and it should come as no surprise that being the new guy I was filled with so much excitement that I couldn’t sleep, while everyone else slept soundly. Our daily routine started off with a 3:30am wake up to prepare for our daily walk up the mountain so we could reach the top before sunrise. Once at the top, we would work our way across the top along Sunfish Pond and stop on the AT only long enough to change into our hunting clothes and drop off the other side and into a hollow that we affectionately called “The Hole”. The Hole is basically a long drawn out V between two tops of the mountain. The start of the hole where the two mountains tops come together is just north of Sunfish pond and this is where Dunnfield Creek and The Hole start their 4+ mile trip down to the Delaware River and the Dunnfield Creek Parking area along Interstate 80. According to my father, the fastest way to the hole was straight up the mountain from Old Mine road. At age 12, who was I to question this so called fact, 32 years later we still go the same way – start at the bottom on old mine road where the elevation is about 350 feet and proceed to crest the top at an elevation of over 1400 feet. I don’t remember questioning it back then, but today we often ask ourselves “why do we do this?”. Mr. Bryson answers this exact question in his book when reflecting on why you keep trudging on when hiking the AT....He said we walk because that is what we do on the AT. So we start from the bottom and walk up because that is what we do. Doesn’t matter if there is an easier way, that’s what we do, Right Dad?
I’ve never gave much thought about the amazing history of this trail or the people who participate in hiking the AT until a few years ago when we started staying at a local AMC (Appalachian Mount Club) camp called The Mohegan Outdoors Center. During one our trips to the DWG for some spring turkey hunting and shad fishing a few years back. Billy, one of my friends from CT, and I had rented some bunk space for our 5 night stay where we would use the cabin as our home base of operations, but we would also be sharing this space with many of the hikers that would call this place home for a night. The cabins offer all the amenities that we take for granted like hot showers, toilets, refrigerators, stoves, comfy chairs, heat and oh yeah, a roof over your head. For those folks hiking the trail this was a treat. No sleeping in a tent on the ground and by themselves, as well as an opportunity for a shower and a good night’s rest. On this trip we met a few hikers that were working their way along the AT, but one hiker will forever be etched in our memories. It was midday and Billy and I had just woken up from a little nap after being out all morning turkey hunting when we noticed we had company. We politely introduced ourselves to our new bunkmate who would be joining us for the evening. She was from British Columbia and was working on a 400+ section of the AT that would give her the accomplishment of hiking every inch of the AT. Her hike started in Virginia and would take her to Connecticut where should was planning on celebrating her 70th birthday with her Daughter. Make sure you read that correctly, her 70th Birthday…. oh and hiking by herself. We sat for hours asking her questions and listening to her tales from her AT hikes as well as her other trips which also included hiking the entire Pacific Coast Trail. At one point we offered to drive her to CT and she declined saying she wouldn’t know what to do with herself with all that free time in CT. So we just sat there and continued to ask her questions which she politely and enthusiastically answered. She was even showing us pictures of her family and was extremely proud to show us one of her son with a caribou he had taken on a recent hunting trip. We were so engrossed with her that we hadn’t realized that we were late and that we had left my dad waiting for us down by the river. In the years since this trip we have had the pleasure of meeting many more hikers during our stays at Mohegan and with everyone we meet, we learn more and more about the AT and why people want to hike it…. The answer is simple really….It’s because that’s what they do.