Thursday, June 15, 2006
"Isn't there supposed to be a waterfall around here?" asked Roberta, as she stepped over a stick at a sunny overlook.
"Waterfall? Where did you read that?" I asked.
"That trail guide you emailed us. Didn't you read it first?"
"I, uh, skimmed, it," I responded sheepishly. Then, "Wha—ACK!"
I jumped and then froze. The stick Ro had blithely stepped over slithered off the trail and onto some rocks next to me. It was a four-foot snake.
I looked at it for a minute before some innate ancestral hillbilly instinct in me took over.
"It's a black snake. Just hold still. Black snakes are good."
At least I assumed it was a black snake. It was all black and had no markings. Thus, a black snake. Michael Kraiger ignored my instructions and proceeded to get closer, to peer at the good snake.
"Stop! You'll scare it."
He stopped. He likes to look up close at animals and reptiles. I don't know if it's because he has a kid or is a big kid, but he likes to turn over logs and look for frogs and worms.
I didn't mind the enforced rest. Ro, who goes to the gym three times a week and lives in a third-story walk-up, was taking the 1,200-foot mountain easily. I was pretending not to mind, but my calves ached from the steady uphill climb over the rocks. Like Ro, I go to the gym three times a week, but my gym is the lame express-circuit-training-for-old-ladies gym. Ro goes to the real gym. And I live at street level, though I freely admit that being in a fifth-story walkup when I lived in Barcelona in 2004 made me the healthiest I've been since I was a small child.
The snake slithered away. We enjoyed the view of the S-bend in the Delaware River, then proceeded up the trail.
After an hour and fifteen sweaty minutes, we reached the summit. A couple in their 60s were there, enjoying the panoramic view of the Delaware Water Gap.
"Did you guys see a waterfall somewhere?" asked Ro. Kraiger was wandering off to a rocky ledge so steep it would have petrified me.
"Waterfall? Who told you there was a waterfall?" hooted the woman of the couple.
"I just, uh, er, I guess I read it somewhere…"
We rested in the perfect morning sun. We were less than 80 miles from Manhattan, but we were in a protected National Park Service Recreation Area. The Delaware Water Gap is one of the many examples of cool things nature does with erosion. The Delaware River cuts a winding path through the Kittatinny Mountains,
and forms a natural border between New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Further south, George Washington took a regiment across the frozen Delaware in the dead of winter, surprising the Hessians and scoring a decisive victory for the Continental Army.
The Father of our Country could have brought his troops up to Mt. Tammany to hide if he'd had to. The British would have been crazy to climb these steep, rocky slopes in winter. Then again, George would have been mad to try it too. He did use natural barriers to protect his troops, but valleys were preferable to exposed cliff faces.
There was probably no easy access via highway 80 then, and certainly no port-a-johns at the visitor's center.
The couple left ahead of us, heading down the Blue-Dot Trail. Another hiker came up, a man in his 70s wearing a leg brace. He looked around quickly and then sped on.
We laughed a little. Climbing a mountain had seemed like such a big deal from Jersey City. But the only big deal had really been working out when to go.
We started down, passing a deer in the woods and then passing the couple. At the bottom, there was a bench cut from a log, next to a beautiful waterfall. We tore into the turkey sandwiches I'd carried along, stashed in one of those cool-bags which had served me well in transporting food in Uganda. The scene was idyllic, as the bench was bathed in sunlight but surrounded by tall hardwood trees that provided shade all around us. The water was also lit by sun.
The couple caught up. We looked at them smugly. Ro's waterfall. Here it was.
"That? You call that a waterfall?" The hikers laughed at us urban-dwellers and continued on.