52 Hike Challenge: Hike No.8 Worthington State Forest & Camping

Last weekend I was camping at Camp Taylor in Columbia, NJ with the Meetup group Campers’ Group. This group has been around way before Meetup came along originating sometime in the 1960’s. It’s not known who the original founder was. The group plans camping trips, cabin trips, day hikes, parties and more for “people who love the outdoors and want to share the experience with like-minded folks.” Although there is no official head of the organization, it is often most run by Ken Q. Many other members host and help plan events as well.

This would be my first time meeting anyone of this group, or going to any of the events. I took a half day on Friday in order to pack and get up to Columbia before the sun went down. The camping grounds are located at exactly the same spot as the Lakota Wolf Preserve, although they are separate organizations.

Camp Taylor is tucked into the trees a bit south of Worthington State Forest. Their campgrounds are large with many amenities. I don’t personally care about such things. I come to camp, so whatever else a campground offers I hardly pay attention to.

The camp sites are a decent size, and–at least from our group of them–not too close to each other that you feel you have no room to breathe. We had sites 90-95 which took up one section all to themselves in the top left corner of the grounds. Many if not all our sites had pathways to connect each of them. It was a good combination considering we were all able to feel at once connected as a group, but with still having our own space.

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I pulled into one of the sites, hardly caring too much of where I would set my tent up; I wasn’t that picky. I choose a site that only had one tent on it so far, and plenty of space for me to pull my Jeep into.

There I met Nina, who was marked as one of the hosts for this trip. She immediately welcomed me. She already had her tent set up, and after moving the picnic table a bit I soon set up my new Cotopaxi Inti 2. A large part of me really wanted to set up the alcove it comes with, to take some pictures. The Inti 2 was a Indiegogo funded tent, and I was still having some issues connecting the separate alcove to the rest of the tent without creating any openings.

Since it was already pretty late, and I wasn’t sure how much space we’d need for other people, I decided to skip it. This was only the second time I would be using this tent. After setting it up, I walked over to the camp site where a few of the group had collected  to introduce myself and chat. I was hungry, but I was too eager to meet people and get a sense for the group to cook yet.

After dinner, and an unsuccessful attempt on Nina and I to start a fire, Ken and others finally started a fire on what was to be the group camp site. We collected our chairs, snacks, and booze in a large circle. Some of the faces were people that I had not met yet; they had been in their tents or wandering around somewhere not close enough to my site. As what often happens, most were amused by my tiny Alite camp chair.

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The usual questions were asked of what you did, where you lived, and all general small talk. A bottle of rum was passed around. I had my own bottle of red wine, which I offered up to the group. The air was quite chilly–much colder than camping with my dad just the weekend before–and with only shorts packed for this trip I greatly appreciated the fact I brought my Pendleton wool camp blanket.

All in all, it was a relaxing and chill night–until the raccoon came sometime after midnight. He seemed undisturbed by our shouts and attempts to scare him away. He was far more interested in the food someone left out on the picnic table. A part of me couldn’t help but find him adorable, even as he was being annoyingly stubborn.

If that wasn’t enough, a moment later one of the camp employees or owners popped out of nowhere, informing us in no short terms we were being so loud we could be heard from the camp store. Camp Taylor had quiet hours, and the sound traveled easily in the grounds. With a group as large as ours, it was nearly impossible to keep quiet enough even when only just talking at a reasonable level.

A large part of our group dispersed at that point, with only a handful of us remaining, myself included.

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Mornin’

The next morning I was pretty excited to start our hike. Cooking food during this trip ended up being a pretty big ordeal as I was not use to putting everything back in the car at night. I also wasn’t use to doing everything myself, as all previous trips I was either with friends or my dad.

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Me to Nina: “Is it supposed to do that?” Nina: “I have no idea…”

Ken and a small number of the group camping decided we would take a hike from the grounds to Sunfish Pond in Worthington State Forest. Another member, Gina, kindly volunteered to purchase our tickets to the tour at the Wolf Preserve so that we could go directly there after the hike. The tour started at 4 p.m. and we didn’t want to be late to it. Between talking, eating, and organizing we had a late start the hike.

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We accidentally took the wrong start of the trail for a short distance, but once we turned began to make our way up the steep 500ft change in elevation within the first half mile towards the Fire Road Trail.

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Starting on the wrong trail. The camp grounds sure didn’t mark them very well!

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It was pretty warm out, and with the incline a good workout. I just bought my Black Diamond hiking poles after having won a $150 gift card from a Backcountry.com contest, and it was exciting to use them for the first time. I was enjoying the energy required to get up the trail. After my trip in New Hampshire, I knew this was easy in comparison.

I normally don’t like being in a rush, so initially I was worried we’d not be able to enjoy the hike as well for having to make it in time for the wolf tour.

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I swear, I didn’t realize how many of my things matched until it was too late.

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Once we got past the initial climb, it was a pretty smooth and enjoyable hike to Sunfish Pond. We took the fire road to the Turquoise Trail which leads directly to the pond. I stupidly turned my phone’s airplane mode on, forgetting I was tracking the hike with my Fitbit. So the GPS data isn’t really accurate.

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“What are men compared to rocks and trees?”

We finally started our hike back to Camp Taylor after a little rest and some snacks.

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We made it back in plenty of time to spare, with a half an hour or so before the tour was to start. I had really wanted to do a decent hike like that for a while now, as the past couple hikes I’ve done for the challenge have been pretty easy.

Check back soon for the rest of this little camping-with-strangers adventures, as I go talk about the Lakota Preserve.

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