Location: St. Thomas Episcopal Church, Vernon, NJ
Last night I was run out of the shelter by a section hiker’s snoring. At around 1:30am, I decided that I had had enough of the old man’s noise. For 10 minutes or so, I had been making noise to try to wake him up or get him to roll over. I was sleeping right next to him. My feet were by his head and his by mine. I’d lift my right leg and let the heel drop on the floorboards by his ear. He heard nothing. I crawled out of my sleeping bag grumpily and left to set my tent up in the woods below the shelter. I slept well under the full moon.
When I woke up this morning, I found Not Bad and Bonefish in the woods around me. They had left the shelter just after I did. John had a short laugh that his snoring was so bad that everyone left the shelter. We all started on the trail around 9:00am this bright morning. We had only 16 miles to Vernon, NJ where a hostel awaited us. I led the group out of the campsite with John right behind me. He didn’t keep my pace for very long. I made sure of that. Over the tiny ups and downs on the rocky ridge, I put space between us. I wasn’t particularly fond of his character when I first met him, and it only took a few minutes of his comments and subsequent laughs that pounded on my head like a hammer to realize that it would be a long day in his company. He couldn’t keep pace with us, so soon he fell behind all four of us. I figured we’d never see him again. He said he’d be in Vernon, NJ tonight, but he had been averaging five miles per day and we had 15 to go. I continued in the lead of the group, an undesirable task. The first person on a trail each morning becomes a human minesweeper for newly created spider webs.
I crossed the NY/NJ border around midday. The border had been designated by spray paint on the rocks. Druid showed up as I took my lunch break at the border. He thru-hiked in 2003 and has hiked several other trails. He says that all he thinks about when not on the trail is the trail. When his hike is completed he will return to Georgia and work until he saves the money to hike the Pacific Crest Trail.
I got to the road leading into Vernon before anyone else. I wasn’t sure if I was going to hitch since hitchhiking is illegal in New Jersey. It was fortunate that just as I had come out of the woods, I ran into an older couple that had just finished a day hike. Earlier I thought that I had seen fresh, wet footprints on rocks as I was coming down the mountain. When I caught up to them before the trailhead parking area, after short conversation I mentioned that I was in a hurry because I needed to get into Vernon tonight. I included a little desperation in my voice in hope for sympathy. The couple quickly offered to take me to town, so I obliged when they asked to take my picture.
When I reached St. Thomas Episcopal Church hostel, Cold Feet sat reading at a picnic table. She had hitched from somewhere to Vernon to meet back up with us. She informed me that the hostel had been closed only because the church was serving as a shelter for homeless families this particular week. The hostel was simple. We would have slept on the floor, but it offered internet, laundry, and a shower. I quickly showered and did my laundry since no one was due to show up at the church for another couple of hours. The homeless families could not arrive until 6:00 pm.
Druid, Not Bad, and Bonefish arrived at the hostel not long after I did. Druid saw a mother bear with two cubs just before reaching the road. He had only been a few minutes behind me, which means that in my hurry I rushed past three bears. The three hikers quickly did their chores and we put our bags in the hiker area until we could talk to a representative of the church. Hopefully they wouldn’t kick all of us out of the hostel. We all went for pizza at a local restaurant. I had my usual: a 14’ pepperoni pizza. Everyone had their own pizza, including Cold Feet. We took up two tables, one table where the four of us sat and one table where the waitress placed our five pizzas. The only unique thing about the dinner was that the restaurant was BYOB. Most restaurants in the state don’t serve alcohol, but bringing your own is allowed and carries no fee, unless you want a bucket of ice at the table.
The church found space for us to stay. All of the hikers slept on the floor of the old chapel on the church property. As we prepared for bed, John showed up at the chapel. Looking greasy, tired, and goofy, he clumsily stumbled into the chapel. He had only hiked a few miles today but called a taxi to come pick him up at a road crossing. He ended his section hike prematurely. I was not going to sleep in the same room with him and Cold Feet because they both snored loudly. I took my tent to the lawn by a small graveyard to sleep. I spotted the white stripes of a skunk among the tombstones, but figured I’d rather take my chances with the skunk than stay in the chapel with no chance of sleeping.