Tag Archives: New Jersey

On The Road #3, water

I hit the road walking north from Princeton, New Jersey, in the early spring of 1969. I didn’t think much about carrying a heavy, WWII surplus, cotton-stuffed sleeping bag my aunt and uncle Celesta and Paul Huff had given me. A long coat of heavy wool was just a coat. And I didn’t hesitate to tote along a seven-pound wooden box of artist’s paints. 

But I was concerned about weight so decided not to burden myself with a toothbrush. 

Opps.

It turns out fingers make bad toothbrushes, no matter how vigorously one squeaks them across one’s enamel. Although I was avoiding major highways and cities, I did regularly pass through small communities. The first one I passed through on my second day on the road is where I spent a bit of my limited financial situation on a delightful device to brush my teeth. No toothpaste—too expensive and too heavy. But the brush? You bet.

One thing I did not lack for cleaning my teeth was water. 

It was springtime in the hills of northern New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania. Snow was melting so any brook was a stream and the streams were small rivers. But these waterways were difficult to get to, often running with steep banks covered with wet grass—a trap just waiting for a hapless hippie, heavy with packs, to slide into. The easily accessible, gentle slopes and sandy beaches on these high-water streams were all tucked well behind the Private Property — No Trespassing signs that were posted on every other tree.  

Compared to the snarling dogs of the snow-fed streams, I found water that was as pleasant as a  flicking finch. It gently rushed in small rivulets, usually through grass but sometimes gravel. It was clean as polished crystal in sunshine, cool and fresh, and available within a few feet from everywhere my feet fell. 

This water had just fallen in the misty rain that filled the days and nights. It was often an inch deep, a few inches wide, and always running swiftly. It was the water beside the road, running between the roadbed and the cuts that had been graded through the hills. 

I had always lived in deserts. My mountain hiking had been where rushing streams were few and far between, and then possibly polluted. These roadside rivulets of rain-fresh water were new to me. 

I may have been damp and cold, sleeping in this springtime weather without a tent. But to this day I remember how lucky I was to enjoy those fresh, abundant, and pleasant sources of beautiful water.

On The Road #2, New Jersey lessons

The New Jersey countryside was wooded hills and just-greening farms when I lit out from Princeton in the spring of 1969.

After a day of walking north on an obscure road the light began to fade and I started to look for a spot to sleep. The fields were too muddy and I wouldn’t have wanted to irk the farmers anyway. The forests were posted as private property with emphatic No Trespassing instructions.

It was all a quandary and getting darker when I saw smoke from a campfire across an abandoned field. There were a couple of young guys at the fire and they seemed to be waving me over. After some Who? Me? gestures I walked across the field, perhaps some two blocks distant from the road, and took my shoes off to cross a stream running swift and very cold from the spring thaw.

The guys turned out to be high school buddies enjoying a favorite camping spot. The stream I crossed was joined by another just west of their camp, making a tip of land caressed by the sound of rushing water. Complimenting the noisy atmosphere were all the amenities a young men’s camp needs— A few rocks to sit on. A campfire. A small tent. A few pots and pans. And a brand new electric lantern, the most modern kind available, with a short length of florescent bulb meant to light the entire camp. A vast improvement over flashlights.

I rolled out my sleeping bag beside their tent, confident it wouldn’t rain. The darkness gathered. Soon we were in a cocoon of flickering campfire conversation.

Then I hear a thud. Before I had time to think a thud in the night was rather odd my camping companions were on their feet, the florescent light was out, and a rusty stick of metal had materialized from their tent. I soon realized the rusty stick was an ancient BB gun, long since having lost its wooden stock but still perfectly capable of being pumped and shot.

As BB pellets volleyed into the darkness rocks began to rain into our campsite from several directions across the two streams.

“They better not break my new lantern,” was the only concern I heard as the two New Jersey campers grabbed the device and told me to follow them, still shooting blind into the woods. We retreated some hundred feet before they turned and said we’d be OK, “The rocks cant’ get this far.” Apparently the BBs could since pellets kept being pumped into the darkness.

The next morning we broke camp and the shooter insisted he carry me across the cold stream. It was awkward, me being a half a foot taller, hanging onto his back. The two guys walked off through the field headed southwest and I was just heading north when I saw the rusted stick of a BB gun where it had been dropped in the grass. I picked it up and called out. They were glad to have it found and I was glad for an adventurous camp.

And that’s how I learned two things. First, a highlight of New Jersey high school camping was waiting for your buddies to sneak up and throw rocks at you. Second, it certainly was wise to find a camping spot where swift, cold motes are too dangerous to cross in the dark.