Mom dropped us off at the hostel in DWG at around 10:30 a.m. We headed out of town followed by BeerGirl, Hidalgo, and a couple of other hikers. I felt really strong today and it showed in the pace I kept us puffing away at. For a change, FireBall said I was wearing him out--what a nice thing to hear finally!
Sunfish Pond--billed as one of the 7 wonders of New Jersey. This immediately raises the question "So what are the other 6?" Well, I sure can't tell you! The trail ran alongside Sunfish Pond for a while and at one point you came out on a little rock strewn beach area. This 100 foot wide strip of lakeside is dotted with dozens of rock structures that some very industrious people have been erecting. Some look like tall, narrow rock cairns. Others are testaments to somebody's engineering talents with pillars and arches galore. We added our own little artistic touches and then moved on.
We ran into Russian Waldo again today. He'd taken a full 2 days off at DWG. He was traveling with a guy named John today. John, whose prior trail name was Excess, had started the trail earlier this year and left after a few weeks when his partner quit. Now he's back out to try it again on his own.
It was a beautiful hiking day. The footpath was a little rocky, but still nothing like PA. (I'm still doing fine in my sneakers too.) I'm really pleasantly surprised with the beauty of the trail through New Jersey so far. We pass through mostly hardwood forests of oak and hickory and there have been plenty of beautiful viewpoints overlooking the valleys and lakes below.
We're camped on a wonderfully cushy bed of pine needles beneath a stand of white pines. I figure we're within about 300 feet of Worthington's Bakery on 206. I knew this place would be closed today, but I'm planning to be on their doorstep tomorrow at 8 when they open. I've heard too much about their goodies to miss them!
We also met two section hikers that told us all about their bear encounter at the Glen Anderson shelter earlier that morning. It basically sounded like a bear strolled into camp while they were eating breakfast and not knowing what else to do, they offered him their food bag. OK, maybe I'm exaggerating just a tad, but I can't say that I was too happy to hear how easily they left their food for that bear. Now that bear is being conditioned to associate easy picking with people and shelters--a very bad lesson for a bear to learn since he usually then becomes tagged as a nuisance bear and is "dealt with" in one way or another. The final result is all to often not a very favorable one for the bear.
I ran into Sedona and Safari in High Point State Park today. They were slackpacking southbound. I had met Sedona back in February of this year at a little get-together we had in Harpers Ferry for '97 thru-hikers that had been on the AT-L newsgroup on the internet. She and her partner looked to be doing just great.
I also ran into the African-American father and son hikers that I have seen on the trail since March. I've seen lots of little boys and girls being dragged out on boy scout/youth group type outings, but this was the first time I had seen two individuals who were out there of their own initiative. That's a pretty sad statement about the cultural diversity of the thru-hiker community. It seems like 90%+ of the hikers are generic whites with no very obvious ethnic diversity. For that reason, I enjoy telling people that I'm Puerto Rican. I just wish there were more cultures represented on the trail.
The variety of terrain today was incredible. We went from hardwood forests to rolling farmlands and pastures to bogs and wetlands. Vernie Swamp looked more like the Everglades to me rather than northwest New Jersey. I kept looking to see if I could spot the double humps of alligator eyes in the water. The trail travels through this swamp for three tenths of a mile on 112 individual bog bridges. Micah took a trial run at walking on water--he wasn't very successful. I think that all of the duckweed-like vegetation floating on the water's surface made him think it was solid ground. The look of surprise on his face as he plunged into the water head first was unforgettable :-) Luckily, it wasn't a very deep spot, but that was one muddy dog that came back up out of that muck.
Part of today's hike skirted three sides of what used to be a sod farm. It is now a bird sanctuary and I loved this section of today's walk. There were more birds and flowers here than I'd seen in weeks. I spotted Indigo Buntings, Goldfinches, Red-winged Blackbirds, and dozens of other birds in the center of this wetlands/marsh habitat that I couldn't identify.
I had given up on flowers there for a while. Today was a different story though. The bird sanctuary's borders were filled with wildflowers: the white blooms of Common Nightshade, and occasional Starry Campion, Rough-stemmed Goldenrod was just beginning to bloom, the towering stalks of Common Mullein, the delicate white umbels of Queen Anne's Lace, ....
Earlier in the day I had walked through a field of flowers that looked a little like flowering mint, but smelled very strongly of basal (both the leaf and the flower). The leaves and flowers were very peppery tasting and I believe this plant was Basal Balm, but I'm not sure. Whatever it was, it sure did have a strong odor that just filled the air as I walked through the field.
The accident happened about 1:30 in the afternoon. Luckily, the hiker wasn't alone when it occurred and their partner raced the three miles to the nearest road to get help. About that time, FireBall happened along and saw a pack in the middle of the trail. He didn't think much of it, since hikers are alway leaving their packs around while they take a break, but then he heard faint moans and a call for help. When he looked over the edge, he about fell over at what he saw.
The hiker was at the bottom of this cliff in a small heap with an obviously serious head wound. He climbed down to be with the person and then realized that the helicopters he'd been hearing overhead must be looking for this individual. He climbed back up on the rocks and waved the helicopter in with his t-shirt, but the helicopter couldn't do anything without ground support. At least they knew where they were now though.
A little while later, the other hiker who had run for help reappeared with a policeman in tow. Soon others started appearing, huffing and puffing as they came up the trail until there were about 20 people at the top of Prospect Rock and another 20 or 30 milling around down at the trailhead by the road.
All together, the hiker was not evacuated until almost 6 o'clock and was completely conscious throughout the whole ordeal. It took that long for help to arrive and for things to get organized enough to stabilize the hiker and prepare for the airlift. FireBall went to the hospital and hung around until he could find out what was going on. The hiker had a serious gash to the forehead, but luckily, no fracture to the skull and no neck injury. The eye socket was fractured and the cheek bone smashed and would require reconstructive surgery.. I called the hospital the next day and was told that the hiker had been discharged at about 4 pm that afternoon.
It was amazing how many people in the small community responded as quickly as they could to a call for help and were willing to give up so much of their time for a complete stranger. I understand that there was even a newspaper article written about it the very next day.
It's scary to think what might have happened had that hiker been traveling alone and been knocked unconscious. Would they ever have been found? There was no way to see the hiker from the trail, and they could not be spotted from the air either.
It always hits us hard when something happens to a member of our trail community. There were many thru-hikers who had gone into town from that trailhead and returned a few hours later to find dozens of emergency vehicles filling the area and even more people milling around who couldn't tell them what was going on. The other thru-hikers could hear the helicopters and they all knew there was a good chance it was one of our own, but nobody was allowed to go up the trail to investigate. In talking with the other hikers later, we all expressed our relief that it hadn't been a more serious injury (like a broken neck) and that the hiker had been with someone. It is always shocking to look at the numbers though and realize how long it can be to get help when you're out on the trail. This accident happened just three miles from a major road. Many areas of the trail are not nearly as accessible.
Once we knew that the hiker was alright, we all joked that what should have been done was to form a team of thru-hikers to evacuate the person since all the support people that hiked up that trail were about dead of exhaustion by the time they reached the top (and it took them quite a while to get there). There was even a fireman who went up in all his heavy rubber gear and rubber boots without socks on--he had to be treated for blisters after that one.
So, to our injured family member, we all wish you a safe and speedy recovery and hope to see your smiling face out on the trail again as soon as possible.