All of my life I have enjoyed the outdoors. Whether it was hiking trails in Sequoia National Park with my parents and brother or walking outside with my children or dog, spending time in creation brought (and continues to bring) joy and pleasure.
So with an extra day off from school and the promise of amazing views and beautiful trails, I agreed to an overnight backpacking trip with Brad last weekend. At first I was reluctant. I had my mind set on car camping, with its offer of a shower and running water. After reading some reviews about Harriman State Park and the promise of a delicious brunch at Blooming Hill Farm, I relented.
Since moving to New York, I have been struck several times by how quickly a person can be “in nature” in a relatively short period once leaving New York City. It really is quite wonderful. Crossing the Hudson River about fifteen miles north of Manhattan, the landscape changes. The horizon—no longer cluttered with skyscrapers—fills with woods and the beginnings of mountains. In my mind’s eye, I imagine the original inhabitants of this land standing amongst the trees on the granite bluffs, scouting the river and the land below for food and potential threats.
Within the hour of leaving the city, we pulled into the quickly-filling parking lot of the farm. We made our way to the barn and queued up with other hungry customers to place our order. The pastries lining the counter were too tempting to skip so we each ordered one. I had the morning bun, a flaky pastry sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. Brad snagged the last pecan sticky roll. Soon our main dishes arrived. My breakfast pizza with roasted potatoes, tomatoes, onions, fresh herbs, and two fried eggs was divine. These simple vegetables transform when roasted, making each bite a medley of flavors and deliciousness. Brad ordered the brioche bread-pudding french toast with fresh cream—over-the-top goodness.
More than full, we gradually made our way to the park. One of the few downsides of our trip was the heat. The effects of Hurricane Maria brought warm temperatures for late September and the high was close to 89 degrees! Thankfully, we were in the shade most of the time.
We hiked a mile and a half to the Bald Rocks Shelter. Another couple was already using it, but we found a lovely spot a short distance away that had a fire ring, a grassy spot for the tent, and a few logs for sitting. We set up camp and headed out for a hike/search-for-more-water quest. This was the second downside of our trip. Many of the creek beds were dry. I eventually spotted a pool of stagnant water, not what you want to drink, and we knew we were closer to water. Continuing down the gully, we kept our eyes peeled for flowing water. After a bit more searching, we heard a small trickle and found a tiny flow coming over a rock. We filled our water bottles (don’t worry, we treated our water) and headed back to camp.
As dark descended, the sounds of night filled the air. The evening was warm, but our bright fire provided ambiance and kept the bugs away. We shared our simple backpacking meal and sipped some wine out of a water bottle. Nothing fancy, but nourishing to the body and soul. Later, as we crawled into our tent, the nighttime sky exploded with stars. No, it wasn’t the Ritz Carlton, but something about the fresh air, the sounds of nature, and the chance to be away from everyday life for a moment, offered refreshment and a sense of peace.
The next morning as I emerged from the tent, I caught a glimpse of the sunrise. Standing there, transfixed by the fiery orb rising as it does every morning, I experienced a brief, sacred moment. I have no power to make the sun rise each day. I have no control over the day or the night. Yet, because of God’s goodness and love for his children, every once and a while the curtain of ordinary life is pulled back and we experience an extraordinary moment. Such as this one. Having the best seat in the house to watch the grandeur of a new day beginning.
After breakfast and another hike for more water, we packed up camp and headed back to the car, ready to return to normal life. I know backpacking isn’t for everyone. But, I am grateful for opportunities to carry everything I need on my back and to trek into the woods for a different kind of experience. One that requires me to hike to it.