Day 98 – Wednesday, June 15: Sunfish Pond to Branchville, NJ, 22.3 miles, 1,321.4 total AT miles.

My alarm woke me up at 4:00am – and I was ready to go. I quickly packed up and was ready to hike at 4:30. Just as I was about to exit my tent, I heard some snorting coming from outside. I instantly knew what it was (I think) – I had a bear in camp. I sat upright in my tent, grabbed my headlamp and shined it outside. I saw what I thought was the profile of a bear and yelled from the top of my lungs just to make sure. It took off into the woods – now I was ready to go. The skies were just starting to get bright on the horizon so I strapped on my headlamp and started hiking north.

I instantly noticed a trash bag hanging from the trunk of a tree – I remembered seeing it last night, but didn’t give it much thought. Now it bothered me a lot (and probably explained the bear I had just scared off). The trash bag was full of typical day-hiker garbage (soda bottles, chip bags, beer cans) as well as a surprising amount of thru-hiker trash (Pasta Sides, tuna packets). It kind of ticked me off – all it would take was one hungry animal and Sunfish Pond would become littered with garbage. I took it down and decided to pack it out.

I initially strapped it to the back of my pack, but soon felt garbage juice dripping on the back of my legs – that didn’t work. I ended up just carrying it. I paused at daybreak and checked the AT Guide – I’d have an opportunity to throw the bag of trash away in five miles at the Mohican Outdoor Center. Bummer.

I hiked north, but was traveling very slowly. After Sunfish Pond, the AT got rocky again – not quite as bad as PA, but bad enough to slow me (and my trash bag) down substantially. I’m really glad I left early – I caught a spectacular sunrise from the top Kittatinny Mountain.

I also ran across a pair of turkeys, one hen and one tom, scrambling around in the bushes. I laughted out loud – Virginia has the bears, Pennsylvania has the snakes, and, apparently, New Jersey has the beavers and turkeys.

I eventually made it the Mohican Outdoor Center at 8:30 and was able to throw my trash away in the dumpster. An employee of the MOC asked what I was doing – I told her packing out garbage from Sunfish Pond. She returned minutes later with garlic bread and hummus. What a treat!

Now unburdened of my extra weight, I started hiking north again at 9:00. I was ready to put up some big numbers – I felt great. But, as is often the case, the AT had other plans for me. I hit PA-style rocks and had to slow down to accommodate.

I caught a nice view from the Rattlesnake Swamp trailhead and pressed on.

Three miles up trail, I paused again – more garbage. This time it was a grocery sack full of beer bottles and an empty water jug – I strapped them to my pack and carried on.

Not fifteen minutes later, I hit a paved road and was surprised to find a small group of hikers relaxing in the shade. I knew they all had hiked past the same garbage and just left it there. I was frustrated. I asked if anyone was planning on going to town – one hiker was actually waiting for a ride. Good, I said, then you won’t carrying this out and throwing it away – before he could respond, I unclipped the garbage and set it at his feet. He agreed and I hiked on.

The rocks stayed bad the rest of the day. It was noon and I had only hiked 13 miles so far – not good at all considering my early start. I decided to stop and have a quick lunch before pressing on towards Branchville.

Shortly after leaving, I stumbled on a rock and ripped the front of my boot – the sole came detached from the shoe. It wasn’t a big tear, but left a hole just large enough for small rocks and debris to get into my shoe. I tried plugging the hole with leaves, but that only provided a temporary fix. Thankfully, I ran into a hiker who carried duct tape (I used to – just ran out and never bought more) and was able to tape my boot back together.

I hit Rattlesnake Mountain at 3:00 and paused to check my GPS app – I still had six miles to go and the terrain was not improving. The whole point of my getting ahead of the group and leaving early this morning was so I could enjoy time relaxing in town. It looked as if it wasn’t going to be the case.

I put my headphones in and tried to make up for my slow start. I did eventually start making ground, spilling out onto US 206 at 5:30. I was tired and my feet ached – I was ready to get to the hotel ASAP.

I stuck my thumb out and caught a ride ten minutes later. I found myself checking into the Cobmin Ridge Motel at 6:00pm. This place was a dump. I’ve stayed in bad hotels before (Buena Vista, VA), but this place takes first prize by a long shot. I quickly met my neighbors and assured them I didn’t need any help “finding things” and that I didn’t “need company” – it was that type of place.

Note: I’m usually very kind when it comes to places I stay and eat at. I can’t do that here – it was that bad.

I took a long shower and walked next door to the Mexican restaurant to have dinner – it was actually awesome. I took the leftovers back to the hotel and laid on the bed (not under the covers) and started writing.

* * *

The whole litter thing really ticks me off. I get it – everyone has a different set of standards they hike with. And that’s fine. I didn’t shame or lecture anyone – I just made it known that I don’t tolerate that behavior. The people I hike with don’t tolerate it either – I’m sure they’ll be proud when I finally get to tell them. Packing out litter is what we do. I hike with some truly amazing people.

Do not stay at the Cobmin Ridge Motel.

I’m not too concerned about getting an early start tomorrow. I’ve been spending most nights the past few weeks in pain – it’s high time I took it easy. Plus, everyone’s behind me. And I know I’ll be able to put up bigger miles in Connecticut and Massachusetts. I’m still on schedule to finish this thing in less than five months. It might be only by a few days, but I still think I can do it.

My boots – ugh. I feel like I just got used to these Merrells and then this happens. I’ll need to buy duct tape before I leave town. I have my old trail runners (the ones I got replaced for free) arriving in a mail drop next week. I think I’ll be fine.

Breakfast: one 20 gram protein bar (I’ve stopped listing the flavors – they all taste the same at this point. Not true! Quest protein bars are awful across the board.)

Lunch: Garlic bread with beef jerky and hummus

Snack: Dried apricots and cranberries, Dot’s Pretzels

Dinner: Guacamole (made table side) with chips and salsa, chicken fajitas

Author: Chris Kummer

Hey y'all - Cool Dad here. Ever since I was a little kid, I wanted to thru-hike the AT. It remained a nagging thought for nearly a decade - then it got loud enough to warrant my attention. So I quit my unfulfilling job(s) in Seattle and commenced hiking north from Springer in the spring of 2016. And I'm exceedingly thankful I did. The people I met, the things I saw, the gross foods I ate - not a day goes by without fondly remembering life on the trail. If you've already thru-hiked a long trail, you know exactly what I'm talking about. If you're thinking about tackling a long-distance hike, do it. Do it now. I'm probably gonna do it again...

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