Thursday, May 2, 2013

I've Been To the Mountaintop

One of the best things about staying around all summer is... staying around all summer. My bucolic little acre lies on a private dirt road in the middle of the woods and just several miles from the boundary of Catskill State Park, which contains miles and miles of fantastic hiking trails ranging from easy to moderately difficult. I’ve been on most of them and this year I’m planning to expand my reach a bit and attempt some of the trails a little further from home.

On a regular basis, though (“regular” being about three times a week last summer) I hike the Sleepy Hollow Trail. The trailhead is a mere fifteen minutes from my house and the hike is a good one, from the base of the mountain up to the top and back down. It’s an hour up and an hour back, which means if I get an early enough start I can be back home by ten AM and still have almost the entire day in front of me.

The trail’s an interesting one because it was originally the stagecoach road to the Catskill Mountain House, built in 1824 as one of America’s first luxury hotels. The trail is, in fact, still officially designated as a horse trail. The first half-hour is fairly strenuous--not terribly steep, but enough of a slope to get one’s heart pounding. This is where you might wonder why the heck you chose this route. It’s rocky, too. Since I use this hike as my cardio, though, that’s a good thing.  At the 30-minute mark the trail makes a hairpin turn to cross a cut in the mountain where the remnants of a stone foundation are all that’s left of a way station for travelers to the summit.

From here, the trail--while never leveling off--gets easier. There are long stretches of even, pleasant walking where one can catch one’s breath after the first upward haul. It continues switchbacking up to the top of the mountain, varying between gentle, grassy inclines and short patches of rocky stream bed. But after that first hairpin turn, you’ll never wish you hadn’t started. Also, the path is consistently a wide one, due to its original purpose, so there are plenty of options to step around an obstacle without leaving the trail itself.      

A couple of spots have views of the Hudson Valley, most noticeably the Mountain House site--where one also finds graffiti cut into the stone from the 19th century--but for the most part you’re walking through a leafy, cool corridor from start to finish. This is nice on warmer days. Apart from the physical workout, I get to exercise my brain as well. It’s kind of like my morning mediation spot, this trail. I think things through... sometimes I’ll puzzle out something I’m writing or some project around the house I’m in the middle of. Last year I worked out the entire playlist to my cabaret show “Nature Boy”. I’d come singing down the trails while memorizing lyrics. 

As I have the luxury of going early in the morning and mid-week, I have yet to pass another soul during a hike on Sleepy Hollow. That’s not to say I’m without company, though; starting with the golden retriever who lives at the old farmhouse at the trailhead and who usually greets me with a ratty old ball to toss, I encounter plenty of wildlife. The birds twitter away, the squirrels and chipmunks scamper as I come by and once in a while I’ll even spy a bear. Last year I caught a burly fellow with one arm wrapped around a tree trunk while the other paw was dipping into a bee-infested knot hole. Yes! I caught Pooh red-handed!

The errant plane droning overhead is the only aural evidence I find of the real world. The soundtrack to this experience is twittering, chucking, flapping, scampering and gurgling, bubbling or dripping. 

It’s a 2-hour slice of heaven.

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