I decided I'd better do some hiking before my hiking club debut on the 20th. I'm booked this weekend with social events, but I knew the weather would be beautiful today (60 degrees in November!), so I headed to Wells Mill County Park for what turned out to be one of my most successful solo hikes yet. I was the most prepared I've ever been. In fact, I was too prepared - the day pack was unnecessary, but if I'm ever going to do the AT, I'd better get used to carrying extra weight (although my 5lb pack is nothing compared to the 40lb+ pack required for long distance backpacking). Anyway, I had my route well-planned, printed out the best map I could find, and was able to greatly enjoy myself.
On my last hike, the 8.6 mile Mt. Misery Trail at Brendan T. Byrne State Forest (formerly Lebanon State Forest), I left too late, and by the time I got back to my car it was almost dark; it's not the absolute best feeling to be in the woods alone in the dark with only a few granola bars and half a Camelpack of water left - in Jersey Devil country no less! I also decided last time not to print out the map and just look at it on my phone, which was fine, until my phone died (also making the aspect of darkness a little more frightening). Fortunately, I'd studied the map pretty thoroughly and it wasn't too complicated a trail. I only fell off the trail once, but I got back on almost immediately after realizing I was on a side trail (adding a couple miles to my hike).
Mt. Misery Trail Brendan T. Byrne State Forest 10/30/10
This time, however, I printed out the map. I even wrote my route on the back of it because I wasn't taking one trail the whole way through. I switched between three trails, which proved to be a satisfying challenge in orienteering. I manage to get lost all the time when driving, but for whatever reason, I haven't had much difficulties at all on foot, probably because I'm super paranoid and check the map compulsively. Anyway, I was able to visit Wells Mill Lake, Penns Hill (126 feet), and Laurel Hill (130 feet). I didn't see another hiker/cyclist the entire time, which I personally enjoy. I don't worry too much about animal attacks as I do people attacks. I was pretty deep in the woods of the Pinelands, and felt safe from onlookers. The trails I took don't cross any roads, so I wasn't consumed by turning around in fright every time I heard a branch crack or leaf fall. I chose not to sign the trail log even though they say that's for "your safety;" I think it just makes a rapist's job even easier. Anyway... sadly, I didn't see much wildlife. I think maybe a mouse (or something) scurried across the trail, but that's about it. I did, however, enjoy hearing the chestnut oak and white cedar trees sway in the wind like welcoming old creaky doors.
Wells Mill Lake
My 4.93 mile route:
- Take the first 3 miles (approx) of the Penns Hill Trail (white blazes), at around .25 mi cross over the Estow (green blazes) and All Terrain Bike (yellow) trails, and Raccoon branch around 2.75 mi (Penn's Hill and Laurel Hill aren't marked, but you sort of know when you get 130 ft high)
- After approx 3 miles, bear left for the Estow Trail (green), which runs along with the yellow trail for a little ways, then bear right to stay on just the green trail
- After about a mile on the green trail (4 total), crossing the white trail at some point, turn left onto the Conrad Trail (blue). This trail seems to end abruptly in a mildly wooded area near the parking lot, I just cut through the woods to go back to my car.
The trails at Wells Mill are extremely well marked. It's reassuring when I can see at least one blaze from wherever I am on the trail. However, it looked like someone was scraping off the green blazes, which was ineffective anyway because you could still tell where they once were. At any rate, the trail was so well marked with blazes, you could easily tell where you were supposed to go. The trail itself isn't always clear, as it must not get much use, but that just made me feel all the more like I was deep in the woods. It's also a very winding trail, which keeps things interesting. I can't imagine it would be good for mountain biking as they've put a few boards and even some steps in areas that probably get swampy.