Had a great two nights in the Pine Barrens 12/29 and 12/30, 2011, with KYBob from Connecticut. KYBob is a lurker who would never in a million years join HF. He wouldn't want to join any club (or forum) that would have him as a member!
We parked at Batona Camp & hiked 6.5 miles to Lower Forge in under two hours, arriving at dusk. Lower Forge to Batona section of the Batona Trail is well-marked and it's almost impossible to get lost, unlike the Batsto to Lower Forge section that's fractured and bewildering at times (especially at night).
The turnoff to Lower Forge campsite was washed out again, but the water wasn't too deep so we just walked across without getting our feet wet. I collected firewood in the dark, and found a couple of 20 ft. deadfall trees that was all the firewood we needed. I dragged them a couple hundred yards back to camp and we sawed them with Bahco Swedish folding saws.
KYBob cooked up some Hawk Vittles Sausage & Peppers. After hearing so many rave reviews, I found this Hawk Vittles dish very disappointing in the flavor department. Still, it was good to have something other than the Mountain House I've been eating.
The temps got below freezing. We heard two or three coyotes, which is always a happy reassurance that you are actually out in some kind of semi-wilderness.
In the morning we hiked north to Batona and made even better time than the trip south. The temps rose steadily throughout the day, and I shed layer after layer. We had lunch on the trail - I had an individual serving of tuna salad with crackers, and some trail mix for dessert. KYBob ate some kind of nasty four-year-old MRE that made me gag just looking at it. After eating that crap in the military, I will never eat an MRE as long as I live.
By 1:30 pm the temps were in the 50s. About a half-mile from Batona, I took a breal, and KYBob hiked on without me. I laid down on the side of the trail in the sunshine and would have sworn it was summer. It was the best five minutes of rest I ever had - the only thing that spoiled it was realizing that it's 55 degrees in December and that ain't natural. Basically, we've had no winter so far in New Jersey. This weather is not helping me test out my gear for winter camping. I even had mosquitoes buzzing around me at one point.
We got to Batona and were the only ones camping. We hung our hammocks, but I skipped the tarp since no rain was in the forecast. I set up the fire so all it needed was a match when the time came to light it. KYBob thinks he's some kind of master fire builder and immediately started criticizing my fire. I told him that tonight was my night to make the fire - he had made the fire the night before. "Can I make a suggestion?" KYBob would say. And I would reply, "No, your input is not required. I am making the fire tonight." KYBob would not leave it alone.
"Leaves and pine needles are not going to burn. You need more twigs and proper kindling," KYBob offered. "Bite me," I replied. "All the fire is on top and none on the bottom," Bob observed, and I offered an expletive in response. What Bob did not know, because he was too busy talking, was that I purposely made the fire to burn from the top down, a method I found on YouTube to keep you warm all night without having to get up and tend the fire.
KYBob made steaks-on-a-stick, cooked on the fire KYBob said would never burn. The steaks were really good, and we had way too much food for two people. The fire burned hot all night and was still going strong in the morning. KYBob implied that I had stayed up all night nursing it to make him and his expert fire-burning analysis look bad, but I didn't put so much as a stick on it.
I really didn't want to leave in the morning; there's a bond developing between me and the Pine Barrens. It feels like home.
Through a combination of hiking and playing basketball regularly, my legs are now in shape and hiking-ready. I had no leg soreness at all post trip. I'll be ready for any pre-hike before the NJ Winter Hang (unless it snows)!