Leaving Pennsylvania felt like closing a long chapter of the hike, and crossing into New Jersey turned out to be the start of a series of pleasant surprises.

Pennsylvania was overall pretty low, elevation-wise, and flat compared to the rest of the trail, and New Jersey was little different with its vaguely phallic, tiny-windowed “High Point” tower built on a hill of only 1800 feet. Outside of elevation, though, New Jersey was unique. The unending rock hops and foot-breakers through state hunting grounds gave way to boardwalks over wetlands, and the first wildlife preserve on the trail. The bugs were bad, and the rain continued off and on as a new norm, but the path was pretty, and easy to hike. The swamps were teaming with new plants, dragonflies, frogs, and flowers, and when we were up high, the views showed surprisingly untouched woods, for such a populous place.

That’s not to say there was no evidence of civilization. The New Jersey and New York trail is known as the “deli-to-deli” hike; almost all road crossings were home to a hot dog stand, ice creamery, deli, or tavern, and trail towns were often less than half a mile down the road. Beagle, Par 3, and I frequently stopped for lunch, happy hour, or dinner in towns or on the road, and truth be told the deli trail was far more a pub crawl for us. We were also joined by Sparrow, a member of the canoeing “Snooze Crew” who’d gotten back on trail after a couple weeks off. It was good to see a more familiar face, though I didn’t recognize him at first; he’d chopped off his curly mane and beard, frustrated by the heat. Beagle and I took the towns-are-trail further and camped at a drive-in theater, where hikers set up for free with a view of all three screens and a radio. The movies were terrible, but between features some locals magic’d us beers, chips, and snacks, and waking up to an empty drive-in field was a unique experience.

If Pennsylvania vaguely reminded me of the hikes of my youth, the trail in New York was a vivid re-living, and one of my favorite sections. The rock scrambles and stretches of hiking over large, bouldery slabs felt so familiar I wouldn’t have been surprised to find my high schools friends at the top somewhere with a bag of goodies and a tall stack of blank index cards, just like old times. As the trail got closer to New York City, day hikers appeared in greater numbers, as in Maryland, but from Manhattan instead of D.C. The parks built around the lakes in the area provided well-maintained trail and other attractions, including a zoo and pool at the park just before we crossed the Hudson. I skipped the zoo, hearing it was a sorry sight for the animals, but regretted missing the pool, as I’m always hungry for some laps!

Just before the Connecticut border I was treated to another surprise. While walking up to a pizzeria and deli on the side of a road crossing, a van pulled up and hikers began piling out. Ho-hum, more unfamiliar faces slackpacking this section; I’ll pass them soon enough. Then the last hiker exited and turned to enter the deli- it was Uncle Ya! I’d finally caught him! We embraced in the rain, reunited after some 900 miles, and hiked together the rest of the day. I stayed that night at an AirBnb his new crew had rented, and enjoyed a reading of a chapter of The Hobbit, a nightly ritual for their group.

I stayed the next night in nearby Pawling, NY, to rest the feet before the hills of New England and change the guard in my mp3 player at the library. There Beagle departed for NYC, but our old Koozie Crew pals Crazy Moon and Scavenger got back on trail. We had a good group with Par 3, Sparrow, and three other hikers, grilling out in the park the town allows camping at.

Despite all these reunions, I quickly found myself hiking alone again. Scavenger and Crazy Moon were taking it easy to be safe with her injury, Par 3 was also detouring to the city, and I lost track of zany Sparrow after a couple days of hiking a few more miles than him. There was a silver lining, though: a group of more “Snoozers” were spending several days up ahead just past the Massachusetts border, and I had time to catch them. I rushed through the hills of Connecticut, kind of, stopping in one town for an afternoon beer and ice cream with another hiker I hadn’t seen since Pennsylvania, but otherwise hiking long days and often camping alone. The return of noteworthy climbs served as a reminder to my legs, and a good warm up for the final leg of this journey. Connecticut felt decidedly “New England-y” with sparser, tree-heavy woods and trail that wound by rivers more often than ferny creeks.

After a lengthy night-hike and what felt like an unending day, I finally arrived in Massachusetts and met up with most of the Snooze Crew! Uncle Ya was there too with his group, and Sparrow had followed the “yellow blazes” up the road to meet us. It was one of the Snoozers’ birthday, and we kept the bowling alley open long past their posted closing time drinking, singing, throwing rocks, and just about every other kind of merry-making you might imagine. I still hiked out the next day, the group kept up (either by trail or by thumb-and-road) and we spent a zero-day in the woods at Upper Goose Pond, a shelter on a big body of water known for its pancake-cooking caretakers. I finally got to scratch my lap-swimming itch with a long swim out to an island in the middle of the pond.

The pace of the Snooze Crew that allowed me to catch up with them is a double-edged sword and has kept me ahead of most of them since our zero day at the pond. One of them, a young lady named Giggles, is hiking with me, and Sparrow has bounced around us in the way he does. Uncle Ya is close by, too, which is exciting given how close we are to the finish. Vermont is just around the corner, then the Whites of New Hampshire, and Maine!

See you soon,
Boogerbear

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