If you Google “pandemics” you’ll find a host of terrifying historical events that can keep you up at night. It starts with the Prehistoric Epidemic CIRCA 3000BC and moves on through the Europe’s Black Death in the 14th century and then, of course, there’s the deadly 1918 Spanish Flu. While I’ve always embraced the quote “well-behaved women rarely make history” I never wanted to make history as a statistic in a worldwide pandemic. Yet, eight days after being tested for COVID-19, I received a call. “You tested positive for COVID-19,” said the nurse. Just like that I became one of New York’s history-making COVID numbers.
Admittedly, my case was mild compared to the unfortunate masses subjected to ventilators in hospitals across the world and, fortunately, I’ve recovered. When you realize you’ve beaten a killer virus, it brings an opportunity for personal growth. In my case, I became acutely aware of just how important those workouts my, always inspiring but often annoying, husband insists we need in our lives. He’s right, but don’t tell him I said that.
As the symptoms subsided, I resumed at home workouts and daily walks. Later we added weekend hikes to our schedule. While I knew this would benefit me physically, I never imagined the key role nature would play in maintaining sanity as 2020 hurled its continuous attacks.
Escaping the City
Greg and I live in Harlem which offers a colorful and culturally rich home base. We love the city, but sometimes we need to escape. With long distance travel erased from our calendars for the foreseeable future, we started a weekend ritual that has continued for the past five months…hiking in nature. As of this writing, we’ve hiked 155 miles encountering busy chipmunks, noisy woodpeckers, shy deer and creepy reptiles along the way. Most hikes yielded a sense of accomplishment; others taught us valuable lessons.
Exploring Close to Home
Thirty miles north of New York City is Rockefeller State Park Preserve that formerly served as the country estates of the John D. Rockefeller and William Rockefeller families. Today it serves as a tranquil escape for nature-craving New Yorkers. With 45 miles of carriage roads turned hiking trails leading to geological wonders, epic views of the Hudson River and even a pig farm, there’s plenty to explore.
As I climbed the hills on my first post-COVID hike I worried about my labored breathing. Despite the slowdown, I managed to hike 8.5 miles that day. Things continued to improve as our hikes increased and we quickly learned that these hours spent convening with nature would carry us through the weeks ahead.
We also explored the Orange Heritage Trailway. This 14.5-mile rail trail in Orange County, New York runs along the former Erie Railroad line. For Greg, it was a walk filled with train history and artifacts. For me, it was a flat trail which I welcomed in the early days after COVID. While the train memorabilia entertained Greg, the inspirational messages posted along the trail kept me going. How can you stop when the message says, “Don’t give up; you never know what’s around the corner.”
New York State Discoveries
Over time, New York City began to feel a bit like District 13 in the Hunger Games, making our weekend escapes even more compelling. Heading 85 miles north to Poughkeepsie, we strolled across the Walkway Over the Hudson. Stretching 1.28 miles across the Hudson River, this popular pedestrian bridge yields stellar views of this historic waterway. It also attracts far too many people for social distancing.
To escape, we slipped down to the Franny Reese State Park under the entrance to the nearby Mid-Hudson Bridge. Five miles of forested trails welcomed us with views of the Hudson River, ruins of a mid-1800s Victorian Estate and plenty of frisky little chipmunks. In the time we were there we saw only about seven other hikers.
For the July 4th weekend, we embarked on a mini road trip upstate. Bucolic landscapes dotted with farms, horses, and cattle set the scene as we ventured to our northern border with Canada. There we discovered a true gem tucked away at the edge of Lake Ontario. Chimney Bluff State Park looks like any other leafy park until you discover the bluffs towering over its lakeside beach. A fantastic hike, a picnic on the beach, and even a scramble up a muddy embankment made for a spectacular holiday.
Never Trust a Man to Plan a Hike
One weekend Greg chose a combination of trails in New Jersey, bordering the east side of the Delaware Water Gap. Among the trails was a hike up Mount Tammany. Failing to ask questions before we started the hike late in the day, I enthusiastically began the initial climb. It never ended. We climbed up, up and up some more until we reached a rock scramble—my 5’2” body’s worst hiking enemy. Scrambling in a series of grace-lacking movements, I eventually worked my way through to reach the 1,526-foot summit. We arrived just in time to catch a magnificent sunset, avoiding a very unhappy and thankfully vocal rattlesnake on the way.
The only problem with taking in a mesmerizing sunset on a mountain summit is that the sun soon disappears. We finished the final 3.5 miles in total darkness, except for the stream of light from our headlamps. Given the steepness of the trail, the innumerable loose rocks underfoot, and my inherent clumsiness it was a miserable experience…at least for me. All of Greg’s future trail choices require my approval. And I still haven’t decided how I feel about the young lady who praised my efforts on the scramble saying “You’re amazing. My grandmother would never attempt something like this!” I never told that kid I was a grandmother.
About Making History
I have more to contribute to history than being a COVID statistic. Perhaps I’ll become a renowned hiking grandmother. There are worse titles.