The Catskills

Strangers in the Woods

This past weekend, I met three strangers at a Dunkin’ Donuts, got in the car with them, and drove up to Bear Mountain. When I told people what I was planning to do they thought  I was crazy, and most certainly would end up involuntarily donating some of my vital organs to the black market.

Just when I was starting to get fed up with this asphalt paradise I live in, I found a group on the website Why Leave Astoria that was for people in my neighborhood who want to take day excursions to the many hiking trails outside of Manhattan. Some friends thought it was sketchy, but then I had to remind them that I met my husband on a dating site, so I’m willing to take a chance on strangers from the world wide web.

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The popolopen creek.

We hiked the Popolopen trail on Bear Mountain. It was steep and super muddy from all the rain, but absolutely gorgeous. I can’t believe it’s only an hour drive from the city – it felt like a different world.

A 360 degree view of the Hudson Valley.

Honestly, I was surprised at how well we all got along. Lynne, our fearless leader, researched the trail, and was well prepared. The other two woman had been on hikes with her before, and we met up with her friend when we got to the trail. There was none of the awkward small talk of getting to know strangers because we already had so much in common: a love of nature, living in the same neighborhood, and a willingness to try new things.

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Third time I’ve used the timer on my camera. I’m glad it didn’t fall down the side of the mountain.


I had been planning to do a hike for a while now, but I wasn’t in the mood to rent a car and balance my friends’ busy schedule to find one weekend four month from now where everyone’s available. This trip was so easy, and had the unexpected benefit of introducing me to awesome people in my neighborhood.

I’m taking away two lessons from this hike:

  1. Don’t reinvent the wheel. There is a group on the internet that is planning to do whatever you want to do. Don’t wait around trying to plan it yourself, join a group and start doing it!  If you don’t have a neighborhood based website to find other people than I suggest browsing MeetUp for groups, and How About We which is more of a dating site but is based on doing activities together.
  2. In this day in age, we seem to focus on the worst of humanity. We hear one terrible story about a stranger murdering someone and then every stranger seems capable of murder. These sensationalized stories are so rare that they overshadow the best of humanity. You are more likely to be hit by a falling tree branch than be attacked by a serial killer. Don’t let fear control your life.

That said, please also use common sense. I don’t want to be the reason why any of you loose an organ 😛

Top 10 Most Amazing Places on Earth: The Catskills

Ok, I’m the first to admit it. I’ve been super spoiled. I’ve traveled everywhere and there’s not a day that I don’t reminisce and recognize how lucky I am. Here are some of the most amazing places I’ve visited:

Top 10 Most Amazing Places: #7 The Catskills

Two summers ago, Mike and I dusted off our boots, filled out water bottles, strapped on our backpacks and headed for the Catskills. we’ve both done a bit of hiking (Mike was an instructor in New Mexico and I took a 5 week camping trip across California and Colorado) so when we studied the maps and saw that most of the peaks were under 3,500 feet we thought it would be an easy stroll in the park. Big mistake!

These were some of the steepest trails we’ve ever done. We could only walk about 5 miles each day because the terrain was so difficult. It was also a dry season, so almost every stream was dried up. We found out afterward that the trails we took were better suited for day hikes because there are no sleeping grounds and hardly any water sources. That’s right – we’re hard core!

One of the coolest finds was a plane that crashed into the mountain in the 70s. It’s been slowly decomposing, but you can still see the control panel and the engine. It’s amazing that everyone survived.

I loved seeing all the stages of a forest. These saplings (in the above picture) were growing on top of a giant bolder. One day their delicate roots will brake the boulder into tiny rocks. Pretty impressive how small changes can make a big difference!

Nothing brings out your inner child like being out in nature!

When we reached the highest point, and it seemed like there was no one else around, we took of all our clothes and had naked lunch! I have to say this was even better than skinny dipping. Nothing feels as good as lying on a warm rock on the top of the world in nothing but your birthday suit. It’s the closest you can get to Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden.

On the third night it started to pour. The pounding on our tent kept us up all night. In the morning we were soaked and shivering, and dog tired. It made the next part of the hike much more difficult. The picture above is a just a small sampling of what the terrain was like. Those rocks were covered with wet moss. It’s extra scary when you have a thirty pound backpack pull you backwards.

But all the rain made the streams much more picturesque!

The trip was definitely hard, but fun and romantic. You really get to know you partner when you’re eating cold sardines in the rain.We had to be cheesy teenagers and carve our names in the rock. Our plan was to visit this spot every five years, but for the life of me I will never be able to find it again. Let me know if you come across it 🙂

I don’t know about you, but when I go hiking I want to feel like a hermit. We only ran into 6 people the whole time, so that was a big bonus. The Catskills are beautiful, and challenging, and a must see. It’s no wonder there’s so many people in the Catskills 3500 club – to become a member you need to hike all of the 35 peaks that are above 3,500 feet and you need to do the four hardest ones again in the winter! We climbed 4 of the 3,500 feet peaks in our week long trip. We seriously considered trying to join the club, but the winter clause reminded us that we are not that crazy.