My first thought when I saw the challenge was, “I’ll hike the Sourland Mountain Preserve to Devil’s Half Acre“. Bhavna offered to come with me. The parking in the area near the trailhead on Mountain View Road was filled with cars.
The warmer weather seduced local area residents and their dogs to enjoy the outdoors. We started up over the rocky terrain. I scrambled, took this shot and noticed that Bhavna was way behind me.
While on Hike and Hops at St. Michaels Farm Preserve a few weeks ago, we both injured our feet. It seems Bhavna didn’t recover as quickly as I did. Her mind was willing, but her body was not able. We walked the shortest part of the trail returning to the car, just thirty minutes after starting. I got this shot and a few others.
To fend off seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and get some fresh air, Bhavna and I decided that in 2019 we would find our way outside despite both hating the cold. We joined the REI co-op, bought some base layers, and new jackets, hiking boots, etc. After three months of staying indoors drinking craft ales, I start to look and feel “round“, especially in. my belly.
One of the perks of joining the REI Co-op is that we get access to classes about hammocking, hiking, biking etc. This past weekend Bhavana and I signed up for a beginner’s hike; the Hike and Hops at St. Michaels Farm Preserve. The Lawrenceville REI Co-op organised this hike. When we awoke that morning, Bhavna and I were sure REI would cancel the walk. It had rained the night before, and the warmer air temp was melting the snow. We expected the trail would be too wet to hike. It was too wet but not so much to cancel the hike. We layered up and drove to the trailhead on Princeton Avenue to find a group of about eight people waiting in the parking lot.
Now over 400 acres, the St. Michaels property, which was preserved in 2010 and expanded in 2017, is an expanse of farm fields and forests on the edge of Hopewell Borough. From many parts of this preserve, the visitor has long views, lending the preserve a wonderful expansiveness which promotes a sense of well-being in anyone who walks its many farm roads and paths. From 1896 until 1973 this was the home of St. Michael’s Orphanage and Industrial School which was operated by the Catholic Diocese of Trenton. After the orphanage was closed, the building where the children lived and went to school was torn down and most of the land was leased to a local farmer. Before the diocese divested themselves of the property through development they offered one last chance for preservation if D& R Greenway could raise the funds to purchase the property. Over $11 million was raised, and in 2010 D& R Greenway succeeded in purchasing the land through a public/private partnership. It is now preserved as open space forever. The largest amount of the $11M purchase price for this property came from the State farmland preservation program. Six miles of farm roads provide walking trails throughout the preserve.
We met the trail guide Dan and his friend John. John lives in the area and is an educator in a local public school. We were given an overview of the trail and a history of St. Michaels Farm before proceeding along a soggy and muddy open field. We struggled to make our way back to more solid ground, and since I stopped for Bhavna and to take photos, we fell behind the rest of the group.
The trail was soggy; perhaps boggy is a better word. Our guide Dan had to choose alternative paths across some of the streams. On the trail, we ducked under fallen trees and scrambled over others. We forded streams with water just barely under the ankle of the shoe. Water entered Bhavna’s shoes.
I’m working from home today. We both injured a foot this weekend while on this beginner’s hike. I think the issue is that we are both barefoot inside our house. We only wear shoes for work or to go hiking. For both of us, wearing shoes is an exercise in damage control. When I wear shoes outside on walks and hike along difficult terrain, my toes curl inside the shoe; trying to get a grip. This action stresses my toes. Is this the reason Westerners have such ugly feet? It’s damaged from years of doing the opposite of what nature intended?
What made the trek worthwhile was the camaraderie of the group during the hike and the post-hike Troon craft ale we drank together at the Brick Farm Tavern.
Planes crawled across the sky over Franklin Township travelling to and fro Newark Liberty International Airport. I walked on the path cut into the grassland, encountered ice and swamp-like mud. I slipped and slid, twisted and hurt something in my right foot. But I didn’t know that at the time. Just a lingering feeling that I had overdone it. That something wasn’t right.
I learned about the Griggstown Native Grassland Preserve while perusing the REI online store. I was checking out the sales items and saw a link for the REI Hiking Project. Thirty minutes later, I had downloaded the Hiking Project app and was looking at a list of nearby possibilities for a hike. I decided to try the Griggstown Native Grassland because it was close to home. A grassland hike would be different than my usual hikes in the Sourland Mountain Preserve.
I had rented a Fujinon XF27mm F2.8 pancake lens for a weekend trip to visit my brother in Charlotte, North Carolina. We had to postpone our plans and while I was able to cancel my flight and hotel booking, I forgot about the lensrental. I felt I had to get some value from the lens so I decided to put it on my Fuji X-T2 and bring it with me on my hike. With a ~41mm in 35mm equivalent, it provides a field of view roughly equal to that of the human eye. On this hike, the photos would provide a “Khürt’s Eye View” of the hike.
I drove along Canal Road and despite using Google Maps, I almost missed the entrance to the preserve. The entrance is a via a narrow dirt road that winds it’s way around to the trailhead. There were two other cars parked. I grabbed my stuff and walked over to the information shed to look for a map. I could not understand the map on the back of the shed.
I pulled out the Hiking Project app which has GPS to pinpoint my location. One thing to note about using a GPS app on a smartphone. They are only accurate to about 50 feet. To increase accuracy, these apps often use cellular or Wi-Fi signals. The Hiking Project app uses the GPS information from my iPhone and the cellular signal to place my location on it’s a map of the preserve. If you are in a location with poor (or no) cellular signal the hiking app won’t accurately place you on its map. Your phone knows your coordinates but the app does not.
I got some information the two gentlemen who were preparing to hike in the preserve. There was a small Blue Trail and a larger Red Trail. I decided to take the Red Trail.
The trails are not well marked. I walked across the wide grassland trail and felt the sense of openness. This is rare here in New Jersey. I walked across a bridge and around a path that took me to an abandoned shipping container. Ironically the words, Evergreen were printed on the side. I continued walking and realized that I had just walked in a circle.
Remember what I wrote earlier about GPS and cellular signals? I consulted the Hiking Project app and realized I had walked off the trail. I walked back across the bridge and re-entered the trail. This part of the trail was very wet, soggy, and muddy. It didn’t help that the trail path is cut through the grass. I was walking on wet grass on top of wet soil.
I walked up this hill which was slippery from water frozen into shoe prints left over from an earlier thaw or rain. At the top was a park bench and I stopped for a moment to take in the view of the Sourland Mountain Range. It looked so small in the distance.
I consulted the Hiking Project app and realized that I was almost done with the red trail. Ahead across large patches of ice lay the path to the Orange Trail. I slid my way across slowly crawling to the other side. The path ahead was again soggy wet. Arriving at the fork in the path to start the orange trail I saw, even more, ice and wet muddy areas. I reconsidered my options. Take the exit path back to the trailhead or complete the orange trail. I decided I had had enough and took the trail back to the car.
It was 3:30 AM when I uploaded these photos. I was in pain. I couldn’t get to sleep because of the intensity of the pain. I uploaded the photos, posted a link on the comments on Frank’s website, and went back to bed. This morning my wife took me to the doctor. I had a sprained tendon and will be wearing a boot for a few weeks.