With a shifting weather forecast it was hard to say how this day would turn out when I got up at 4:00 a.m. The day before had been rainy. The trail could be muddy. But for now there was nothing stopping the assault of our feet on the great D&R Canal
. When combining distance and number of walkers this would be like no event in this historical and pastoral area of New Jersey.
Car parking in the 24-hour garage across from the New Brunswick station was easy. As I headed to the station I met up with David, Risa, and Amy who followed the same plan to take the train to Trenton with the intention of ending in New Brunswick later that night. The big question that remained was, “Could we make it?” If not, was there some other way to get back? We trusted that somehow, we would get through this together.
In Trenton at about 6:45 am, there was a group gathering in the waiting room anxious to get started on this adventure. After an exchange of info, we were on our way at 7:10 am, heading west, to the Calhoun St. Bridge on the Delaware River. We walked by a different Trenton that looked like any other city in the early morning. Soon, we passed historical brownstones, large buildings with classical style and some that suggested the 50s or 60s when Trenton government was the powerhouse of a booming state. All remnants of different times.
The bridge marked our starting point with the East Coast Greenway
which crosses from Pennsylvania at this point. The ECG signs were our trail markers from hereon. Fortunately, the ECG had re-routed this awkward section of the trail recently and the new signs made the trek through Trenton much easier than our previous practice walk.
The D&R is a cement river running through and sometimes under the city until it reaches its industrial border. On the outskirts of the city it breaks into its normal canal form bordered by an elevated Route 1 and ghostly remnants of a once thriving industrial landscape. Its quiet and pretty serene at this time of day. It almost looks like nature was now working its way to take back what it had given away many years ago.
It’s a straight shot out of Trenton and into Hamilton where the open canal eventually meets with the trees that will border most of the canal for the next 35 miles. Ahead of us we saw many fishermen, on this normally deserted section, casting for trout on this opening day of the fishing season. I saw one small 8 inch trout caught while most other fishermen seemed to wonder if they were in the right spot or if the fish were going to bite at all today.
About five miles into the walk we came to the great footbridge over Route 1. This is a pretty impressive site that must have taken either some great vision or most likely tragic events to be approved. As I understand the story of its construction, the bridge was built with 90% of the time and effort going to building the two pedestal supports and one day’s work to lifting and placing the huge steel bridgeworks precisely on those supports. A great feat of engineering regardless of how it was done.
Our first major stop at around 10:30 am was at Alexander Road, Princeton/Turning Basin parking lot. Our group had spread apart as expected and I was at the rear of the pack. Loretta Rice helped us out again shuttling her car between Princeton Junction station and Alexander Road picking up Nancy, Lynn, Charelena, and Deanna who arrived on the 10:25 train.
Michael Ogg had called saying he would be out on his motorized wheelchair making the most of the event and day. With limited battery power to go too far he was a great inspiration and addition to our walk. Anne Kruimer had intentions of taking her custom three-wheeler out but ran into some technical issues with the bike. Maybe next time.
There was limited support here but our next stop about 4 miles ahead in Kingston would be where most of us converged and took our first extended break. Monique, a Brazilian engineer, was one of the J&J volunteers that walked with us to Kingston. Time flew by fast as I learned about her booming country and her management training program. This section of the trail, although not yet in bloom, is probably the most beautifully scenic area as it overlooks Carnegie Lake.
In Kingston, the ECG staff was in full swing with volunteers and plenty of supplies. Mike Kruimer and his wife Anne provided shuttle service back to Princeton Junction station for those that needed to cut their day short of the 25 miles ahead. This was a good time to meet up with most of the group, although there were some that continued walking on.
I was looking forward to meeting up with my friend Mackenzie Roe, who I consider to be the best 7 year old walker I have ever met. Mack and I walked the next 3 miles. She’s a great animal lover and we were excited to see deer swimming in a creek near the canal and a spotted turtle sunning himself on a log. Andrew Beshold of the ECG staff, rode his bike between the walkers and provided interesting facts on the plants and animals nearby, acting as our science guide.
At Rocky Hill the support table set up again and we were in for another mini-break. I have found that at about 20 miles, things start to breakdown during these walks. Its just a matter of staying ahead of the trouble if you can. I heard some blister complaints from some, but spirits were still high, due to the excellent rolling support we were getting every few miles. My feet ached and were a little tender. So, I changed socks. We soon realized that all these breaks were affecting our schedule and it looked like we were anywhere from 1 to 2 hours late for finishing in New Brunswick.
Mack rejoined me for another few miles and even she developed a sore toe that put her out of commission. It was time for me to crank up the effort with an extra boost of energy gel with caffeine. We still had over ten miles to go. Sunset was coming and we knew we would soon be walking in he dark.
South Bound Book, is about 7 miles from the end and is the last accessible stop. It became the ending point for many that day as they piled into Anne Kruimer’s van. It was dusk and Mike Kruimer and Andy were on their bikes with night lights. Nancy Jonap, Ken Koch, Steve Kornsein and myself took advantage of this last support stop. From here we would be walking in darkness on a towpath that was really an island, with no way off for the next two hours until the towpath came to an end.
With flashlight and headlamp we adjusted to the darkness and kept walking at a pretty good pace, anxious to finish asap. We made it to Landing Lane, the towpath’s end by 9:00 or so and headed to downtown New Brunswick. Ken had gone ahead of us at some point. Approaching 9:30, Steve detoured to a small restaurant to get something to eat and I went with Nancy to the train station to figure out where the trains boarded. Nancy had walked from Princeton and covered about 28 miles by then.
I then walked to the Harvest Moon Brewery, our planned spot but 1.5 hours late, to catch my sister Carolyn and her friends Ralph and Shannon who had started at South Bound Brook. I was feeling a bit fogged out but with plenty of energy and a hot spot on my sole which I knew would be a blister in due time but I had made it. While I'm eating Ken walks up to the table and said he just wanted me to know that he made it all the way and he was now heading home! One long 40 mile day for all of us.