Random notes from January hikes….
I’ve been reading a very good biography of Ralph Waldo Emerson, and that’s been encouraging me to think about and try to articulate why I seek to spend so much time on the trails:
- As modern society is becoming more and more digital, I want to stay physically active, as it seems to me mind and body completely are intertwined, so one can’t be healthy and happy without the other
- As the world is becoming more and more artificial, I want to spend time in nature, which seems like the real source of joy and exhilaration, of which media and other content are but faint imitations
- As people are becoming more and more interconnected, I want to cultivate an attitude of self-reliance, not meaning that I shun relationships, but rather how can you interact meaningfully with others if you can’t stand on your own two feet
Which brings me back to the Grid, which is the goal of climbing all 35 of the Catskills’ high peaks in every calendar month. Heading into August, I was in pretty good shape, with 27 done and only 8 left to go, thanks in large part to my August 2016 attempt to thru-hike the entire 35.
Here are some notes from a recent hike where I completed 6 of the remaining 8 together with my friend Alan D.
The mission was to complete the remaining twelve peaks needed to scratch the month of May off the Grid, and accordingly I arranged to take a week off of work. But the Rock The Ridge 50-miler left me with a sore ankle, which required a reduction in speed and mileage. In Henry David Thoreau’s essay, “Walking,” he used the word “saunter” to describe the act of sallying forth into the woods, which was for him the adventure and escape of his day, and he likened this daily saunter to the motion of a stream flowing downhill to the ocean:
The saunterer, in the good sense, is no more vagrant than the meandering river, which is all the while sedulously seeking the shortest course to the sea.
— Henry David Thoreau, “Walking”
To complete the Grid for May, I’d need to saunter instead of run — and rather than pushing myself, I’d need to “flow” through the mountains, just like a stream, except I’d be going uphill as well as down…
I was supposed to join a hike in Harriman but discovered at the last minute that Odie the Labradoodle wouldn’t be welcome. It wasn’t personal: some groups have developed policies, out of respect to certain members, that limit who can accompany a group hike. So Odie and I headed north instead, for our first spring hike in the Catskills.
Time is short and so in lieu of writing up a narrative, here are some notes and images from a recent traverse of Graham, Balsam Lake, Hunter, East Rusk, Rusk, and SW Hunter — 27 miles that left me tired and hungry, but which contained several memorable moments, thanks to glorious February sunshine, dramatic winds, and the unavoidable adventures associated with nighttime bushwhacking.
The pleasure and value of every walk or journey we take may be doubled to us by carefully noting down the impression it makes upon us….It was not till after I got home that I really went to Maine, or to the Adirondacks, or to Canada. Out of the chaotic and nebulous impressions which these expeditions gave me, I evolved the real experience. There is hardly anything that does not become much more in the telling than in the thinking or in the feeling.
— John Burroughs
Low hills flank the Thru-way, and through the car window you see mostly trees. On the drive up this morning, the sky is clear, and the sun’s rays are pouring down with such intensity that every detail of the passing trees stands out: stout trunks spattered with lichen and tangled with vines, leafless branches reaching, twisting, interweaving. The clarity is astonishing: it’s like a geometric pattern, brightly-lit but bewildering.
However, there’s a spot just north of New Paltz where the road dips and the hills pull back, and for a moment a vista of the Catskill Mountains is revealed. This morning they appear huge and rounded, a soft mottled mix of brown and tan, flanks dappled with blue cloud shadows. The detail has seemingly melted away with distance, and the mountain plateau looks like some kind of lost world – but the vision is divulged for only an instant before the road rises back into the hills again.
Of course, closer to the mountains more details emerge; the ridge tops resolve into jagged lines of spruce and fir tinged white. I arrive at the Devil’s Tombstone Campground full of enthusiasm, imagining all the peaks I could climb today, but on opening the car door, feeling the cool air, and staring down at the ice sheet that covers the parking lot, some reality seeps back in. Also, with a few aches and pains to be mindful of, maybe it’d be smarter to take it easy.