Sunday, June 10, 2007

Trekking Through Bear Mountain State Park

The view from atop.

Covered with bug bites and cuts and with sore, sore legs, I returned from my very first camping/hiking journey on Saturday, June 9th.

Jon, my hiking/camping partner/connoisseur and I, his hiking/camping novice, set out from Ossining to Bear Mountain Park, Rockland County, rocking out to The Office theme song and Cake. Parking in the Hikers' Parking Lot, we made our way through the 1777 W trail which eventually turned into the double-blue-blaze/single-blue-blaze/the Appalachian trail. We trekked on and upwards—our goal was the top of this mountain, but it seemed to continue on and on. Every time we reached a ledge, there was always another ledge off in the near-distance. And, being the kind of people we were, we had to reach that ledge. Then the next ledge. And the next ledge after that. And so on.

Despite all my city walking and Hudson rowing, I tired quickly. Thankfully, I wore sneakers (a first for this summer—I've been sticking to flip-flops, casual flats and low-heels or fancy red heels for special occasions/job interviews) which made it much easier. I convinced myself to march on. Instead of thinking of where we were going (which would have been useless anyway, since we didn't know where exactly we wanted to stop), I concentrated on the right-then-&-now. I just focused on where my feet landed. I tried to not ask for breaks—I wanted to continue on, I wanted to prove to myself that I could do something like this. And I did.

Sunlight through the woods.

Everything had brilliant shades of green and brown with touches of colors—white, pink and yellow flowers, brightly colored (and probably poisonous) bugs and occasional red berries. The rays of the sun leaked through the trees and hit everything at just the right angle. The air was heavily humid—we were drenched with sweat and drank water often. I had the urge to take my shirt off, but I don't think it would've been appropriate to walk around in a bra.

We took breaks and sat on huge rocks, enjoying the views and munching on cranberries, peaches, granola and chocolate chips (you gotta have chocolate) and drank water. We passed by several creeks and, once again being the kind of people we were, we refilled our bottles with the mostly clean and more refreshingly cool water.

This tree fell against the other tree. It made creaking noises because of the wind.

I was surprised when my cell phone rang, but it turned out to be a wrong number. On our way through the Appalachian Trail/blue blaze trail, we ran into a guy who has been on the Appalachian Trail since May 14th. He was aiming for the Delaware. Jon and I took a break and let him pass by. When we continued, I noticed the holes left by his hiking poles. I also found an animal skull, though we're not sure what animal.

Hazy sunset.

Jon explained to me what blazes and cairns were. He also pointed things that I would have missed because I have bad vision (tiny, brown toads and deer off in the distance). He showed me what poison ivy looked like, since I've never encountered it before. I probably stomped through poison ivy and as of yet, I’ve felt nothing.

When we realized the trail was leading us down the mountain, we decided to go off the path and explore a little more. Walking through bushes and deadened, bleached trees with mostly open skies above us, we wandered up and up and finally decided to settle on a nice patch of soft moss. Jon showed me how to set up his tent. We used a tarp and rain fly because it was supposed to thunderstorm that night. Looking around, we realized despite our efforts to stray from the path, we were on another marked trail, the red circle blaze.

Cooking dinner.

Then we walked over to another clearing, with a better view of the sun. Jon set up our campfire using the New York Times sports section as I gathered dry, dry wood. The sun was beginning to set and the sky was hazy and getting darker ever so slowly. The sun was huge and red and surrounded by thinly-stretched clouds. The heat from the fire felt nice against our dried-sweat skins. Using a flat branch, we warmed up the steak we brought and tried to roast carrots. Venus (I believe that's the planet visible in the sky now, if not, then, I don't know) was clearly there. Alas, there were no stars. Well, there was one star but it kept fading in and out.

Playing with embers.

We let the fire die down to embers a couple of times, and because of the wind, the fire randomly started up sometimes. The smoke was getting to us too, making our eyes water. When we decided to head back to our tent, we killed the fire and turned on the flashlight. Because the air was so thick and hazy, the light didn't shine far.

When we were inside the tent, we read for a little bit—it was only 10 p.m. and we woke up late that morning. As we tried to fall asleep, it started to rain, though the wind was louder. The next morning, my neck hurt.

Glorious Hudson River.

After striking camp, we proceeded to follow our new trail—the red circle blaze. We circled around the mountain and found a gorgeous view of the Hudson (oh, how I'm drawn to it) and the rest of Bear Mountain. We proceeded to circle the mountain, but it became too rocky for us (or at least me) and so we headed down the mountain. Our plan was to walk in between the two mountains until we reached the vicinity of the parking lot and hiked up. We actually didn't know where we were going. We followed the new trail we found, the red dot, and somehow that turned into the white blaze as well. When we headed down the mountain, we figured we were off the path, but there we were in the red cross blaze path.

Doodletown map.

We found our way onto that handy 1777 trail, somehow. As we continued on the trail, the path became tidier and the greenery seemed more picturesque in a molded way. Jon kept singing something along the lines of, "I think we're in Doodletown." I thought he was just being silly, but actually, he was being serious. Doodletown is an abandoned village (1762-1970s) and the few broke-down houses that remain act as far-off attractions to tourists and hikers alike. We passed by a group of people and I figured they were bird watchers because of their binoculars and the way they kept looking up. Annoyingly, two park rangers whizzed by us on their off-road vehicles.

Bear Mountain Bridge.

We finally left Doodletown and found the main street, which led us to the the car. We were done. I threw my stick into the park as hard as I could. Extremely satisfied with our journey, we drove across the Bear Mountain Bridge and talked about pizza and showers and naps. We accomplished all three.

Next Sunday, we (along with Floating the Apple, Lang kids and random people) will be camping in Croton, then rowing to the Palisades for another camping night and then finally rowing all the way back to Pier 40 at Housten Street. Woohoo!

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