Sometimes it’s not about the hike but it’s about the people you meet. Hikers are an odd lot for sure, but in the end they’re my kind of weirdos.
They mosey about in the woods for hours, some just strolling along. Others are racing up mountains, trying to make miles and cram in some Mother Nature. Some just find a birch tree, peel some bark and chew on it. Hand up! Been there, done that. It tastes like misspent youth.
But I dig all of them and I talk to ALL of them. The hippies, the runners, the survivalists, the gear geeks, the hunters, the nearly hypothermic dude in a pair of jeans and a T-shirt who can’t believe how cold and wet the woods can be. Heck, I even like the old buck who was pretty convinced I was about to be coyote meat.
I was on the Appalachian Trail in the Delaware Water Gap late last week, enjoying a climb up Mount Minsi when I came across this character on his way down the mountain.
The exchange went more or less like this.
Me: Hi there.
Carl: (For the record, I have no idea if that’s his name. He just looked like a Carl to me) Howdy
Me: Enjoying your hike?
Carl: Yep! Lot of coyotes around right now and they’re hungry.
(OK, gonna dispense with the small talk I see)
Me: Ummm, coyotes huh? See any today? (At this point I was trying to remember how that guy in Colorado strangled a mountain lion, just in case)
Carl: Nope. They’re hungry though.
Me: Well, I’ll keep my eyes open.
Carl: Eh, you’ll never see them coming anyway. Why you keeping your sidearm in your backback? You might need it quick.
Me: A gun? Oh. Well, I’m not carrying one.
Carl: Why not?
Me: I don’t know. I’m just hiking. (Carl clearly had some thoughts about my lack of preparedness but to his credit kept it to himself.)
Carl: Oh … well … good luck to you.
And with that he was off, leaving me with another mile to the top and a mother of a panic attack.
But deep breaths and onward we go, treading over ice and snow and a pretty steep climb to the top for a killer view of Mount Tammany on the New Jersey side of the Delaware. I hung out there for a little while but my feet were wet and kinda cold so I retraced the white blazes of the AT back down to the parking lot. The hike itself is a good one. A Google Map search of Mount Misni parking lot will get you to the starting line and from there you take a service road before finding the trail on the left side. From there, it’s a pretty easy climb to the first vantage point of Tammany and the river and Interstate 80. The view is slightly off the trail but your instincts will take you right to the clearing for a great view.
From there, the climb gets steeper and goes through overhangs of rhododendrons and a very rocky trail. You will cross a service road and climb just a little bit more until reaching the top of Mount Minsi and the payoff for your hard work. Soak it in. You don’t always get great views when hiking the AT, but this one is worth it. For the record, I used microspikes. It was a day after a storm dumped some snow and ice on NEPA and the trail was slick.
Once I got back to the parking lot, I was sitting in the back of my trusted Suby, making some hot chocolate and a turkey sandwich when a woman in her early 50s arrived. She was clearly going for a run. I was thinking, “Jeez, I don’t know the other trails here but if she’s running the AT, she’s a damn fool and possibly my hero.”
Then I did the thing you should never do to a woman going for a run alone. I asked, So, where ya goin’? ”
I quickly tried to take it back and not sound like some creepy dude looking for a victim. I knew how it sounded.
“I mean … Crap, I’m sorry. I’m not weird. Well, I probably am weird but not like serial killer weird. Just like normal weird, ya know? Did I just say serial killer? I like the Grateful Dead. Hi, I’m Chad. I run, too.”
She took pity on me and introduced herself with what I can only assume was a made up name and said she was indeed running the AT.
“Wow! That’s awesome. I just came down from the top and was sucking wind on the last part and you’re running it. So cool.”
It turns out it’s her regular route and she runs ultramarathons. This was just an easy leg-stretcher for her. I needed a nap and she was just stretching her legs with a little mountain running.
I didn’t tell her about the coyotes. I figured if they wanted to take their chances with her, good luck to them.
By the time I said “Have a good run” she was gone.
The people you met in the mountains really are a special breed.