Outdoorsy Part XVII: Is This Nature?

Shirley Chisholm was not a cowgirl. I first saw her name in the novel The Sellout by Paul Beatty where the main character refers to Shirley Chisolm’s smile. I pictured a woman in a cowgirl hat and spurs with a lasso and a smile. Fast Forward to Shirley Chisholm State Park being constructed and my mention of it to my brother during which I ponder the name, wondering aloud if she was really a cowgirl. You can guess his reaction—one of those face palms and a mini lesson about how everything with the name Chisholm is not related to herding cattle.

I Love My Park Day is an annual event that encourages people to help keep our parks beautiful. Luckily, some parks extend the day into two days, which meant my brother and I could go on a Sunday, and we headed to Brooklyn. Off the Belt Parkway, the park is several huge hills, all built on top of a former garbage dump (as my brother likes to say, Where they buried the bodies. And I don’t think he’s completely wrong).

We met up early so we could walk the trails before the cleanup. Actually, I arrived earlier than early because traffic on the Belt is unpredictable, so what I thought would take me 40 minutes took me 20, which rarely happens. My brother got there on time because that’s what my brother does, and off we went, up a hill and winding around and up another and winding around. Birds chirped. We saw a cat. We got to places in the park where all we could see was water and grass, as if we weren’t in the middle of a frenetic urban space. Pretty trippy. We made it to the top of a rather high path, checked out the views—we could see downtown Manhattan’s skyline—and wound our way back down. We then went to the other side of the park where we found paved paths and went up only a little so that we wouldn’t be late for signing in.

We found the parks people (rangers? guides?), signed in, and waited. Then we waited a bit more. Then I was like, Imma gonna have to use the port-a-potty. I’d checked it out before and decided it was a big fat no. However, I’ll take port-a-potty over days of agonizing UTI any time. Off I went, holding my breath, trying to not touch anything while having to touch things in the portable toilet. So. Gross. Wearing a mask has its advantages. A long time ago, I had to use a bathroom in the Bowery where I was at first mouth-breathing and then not breathing at all by the time I was done. Here, I realized, the smell wasn’t atrocious, and any time I did breathe, the air was mask-filtered. (To be clear—the park does a great job of keeping these things clean. They still skeeve me.)

After dousing myself with all kinds of sanitizer except for the official park sanitizer that smells like that Bowery bathroom and doesn’t fade away for a week, I hooked up again with the group that was still waiting and still growing. There were a bunch of families and two young men whom my brother told me were most likely there for service credit. He can spot em. My brother has run all kinds of service groups with his students. He’s a good egg.

The two park people (rangers? guides?) introduced themselves, told us a bit about the park, informed us about who Shirley Chisholm is (NOT a cowgirl), and then showed us the way to the shore. My brother and I walked with one of them, talking about how many state parks are in NYC (seven!) and how my brother is a history teacher and tour guide and how the park already looked so clean so what exactly could we clean up. When we got to the shoreline, we saw what we could clean up. The tide comes in. The tide goes out. Garbage gets left in the beach grass.

Everyone grabbed a bucket and some grabbers. I was in heaven. Grabbers! Such fun to use! Unfortunately, we were using them to grab garbage, and there was so much. At first glance, you may not see anything, but then, it’s everywhere. We dove in and found mostly bottle caps at first. That prompted me to proclaim no one should be allowed to drink out of plastic bottles. Then we found a lot of straws. That prompted the new rule of no straws allowed. Then we found a lot of vaping things, and I was all, vaping should be illegal. Then we found candy wrappers. I didn’t say no one should eat candy, but really, people should eat the bigger sized ones so that there aren’t so many little wrappers around.

Since we were picking through the beach grass, we had quite a time deciphering what things were. We got into a routine of poking, picking, and then often asking, What is this? Is this nature? Sometimes nature and garbage look similar. I found a few plastic bags. My brother found a tampon applicator and a glove. I kept getting more upset about the garbage. He was like, Sometimes it blows out of cans when it’s windy, and I was like, People are gross and shouldn’t be allowed to do anything!

Then the rain rolled in. The sky had been looking ominous as soon as we’d begun. The drizzle came. Then it ended. Then it came. Then it ended. Then it came once more. Then it ended as we finished up our bucket. Some families came back with eleven pounds of garbage. We had four. We won, I guess? Less garbage is better.

Outdoorsy Part XVI: Rain No Rain

Here’s something you should know that I keep forgetting to say. I am a nightmare to hike with. Actually, not for the whole time. Mostly, it’s when arriving to a park. I take maybe ten minutes to get out of the car. There’s a lot of situating that goes on. When I finally get moving, I’m mostly okay except for when I’m jumping at noises that I’m convinced are bears or when there’s a path I refuse to take because I decide it leads straight to something Dante would write about, which I’m sure would also disappoint Frost. My goal this summer is to get out of the car in under five minutes.

I’m still new to hiking (or, as some people in a nature group call what I do, walking –seriously, I shared some nature stuff and they were like, that’s more of a walk than a hike—how about I didn’t ask you about words—anyway), so weather is a factor. I bring a lot with me in case of weather changes or mud or dehydration. This is mainly why I take so long getting out of the car. I decide what I need and what can stay, and the decision is never easy.

The Captain and I had signed up for a group hike through Caleb Smith State Park. Rain was in the forecast, and the hike leader responded to my RSVP with Be ready for showers. Okay, I guess hiking in the rain is a thing even though the description said rain cancels. The morning of when it was still raining, I got an email that canceled the hike. The rain was more than a shower but intermittent, so I guess that’s the line—uncertain rain.

We went hiking anyway, starting a bit later because the forecast called for a decent break. We started off in a drizzle (after I got out of the car in about ten minutes, locked it, put my key away, paid for parking, then had to find my key, open the car, and put the parking ticket on the dash—a nightmare, I tell you!). The park was mostly paved, though we crossed over into some woodsy, soggy, muddy areas. The drizzle subsided quickly, so the only rain that was happening was secondary from the trees.

We found some spots where the leaves looked burned. That’s not natural, right?

The highest point in the park is 120 feet up. Not nearly as high as Jaynes Hill. Still pretty steep though, and my glutes were loving it. The steps up were like lunges on overdrive.

Because the park was empty, deer were out. One actually ran across the walking path. A group of three were eating leaves. Then a group of what seemed like ten galloped away when they heard humans. There were no bears.

After finding the main building—bathrooms! I need to find out what other women do when they need a bathroom and are in the middle of a hike (or a walk, whatever) because if the only option is to pop a squat, I’ll do it, but if there are other options, I’m up for knowing about them—we went down the road to Sunken Meadow for another climbing hike. Before the hike, we skipped rocks. My first rock was basically a throw diagonally into the water. My second rock? Skipped! Getting my nature groove back one awful throw at a time.

The only part of the hike that gets tricky comes up towards the end when I have to come down from the bluff onto the beach where there’s no foothold and it’s a step about six inches too steep for me to actually step down. This is what roots are for—I grabbed onto tree roots and made my way half down. Then I half hung from a skinny tree trunk and made the rest of the way down backwards. Little people are highly resourceful.

Outdoorsy Part XV: Advice and Facts

Belmont Lake State Park has a long loop around the lake that’s easy to follow. It’s my kind of navigation—walk in a circle. It also has off-shoots, and I’ve wondered where they go. Because the Captain has a better sense of direction than I do (as do all people and most animals), he agreed to come along and scope out the paths. I mentioned this plan to my brother who replied, “They all go to the parking lot except for the one that goes to Argyle in Babylon.” That seems not-getting-lost-able. Here’s what we learned.

  • 1.

Most paths go to the parking lot when you veer away from the lake. It gets a little woodsy at times, but you can usually find a road or a lot somewhere close by. Also, there are entrances to the park from the street in some of the woodsy areas, which would account for how some of the joggers suddenly appeared seemingly out of nowhere. 

  • 2.

If you have not yet been vaccinated, here’s some advice: drink a lot of water the day before, the day of, and the day after. We learned this from a little old lady on a jazzy who was zipping through the woods. We put our masks up when we saw her approaching, and she yelled out to us, “I’ve been vaccinated! It’s okay!” and then asked if we were and then told us about the water, which she found out from her doctor. Later on, I saw this lady trying to get a young child in a stroller to smile while the man pushing the stroller kept moving it away since this lady had no mask on and the child was not entertained. I like this lady. She’s got spunk.

  • 3.

Go here to find children.

  • 4.

Some plants that look like lettuce are called skunk cabbage and they smell like skunks, which means they smell like weed, not as in gardening weeds, but as in the pot. I first saw them, and the Captain was like, “Skunk cabbage,” but they didn’t smell. Then I had an annoying bunch of gravel in my boot, so I had to sit and shake it out, and when I sat, I was whipping my head around, looking for people smoking up. It stank. And it wasn’t the people. It was the plant.

  • 5.

Yellow flowers are not all the same. I knew these flowers weren’t daffodils or dandelions, but I didn’t know what they actually were. I also knew there was a good chance I’d find out for sure (and find out for sure about the skunk cabbage) if I posted pictures on Instagram in my story with question marks.

I get all my science facts from an inanimate chair.

Outdoorsy Part XII: Baby, It’s Kinda Cold Outside

Winter elements and my body have never gotten along. Fingers and toes go icy rather quickly. It’s incredibly uncomfortable.

Also, this past week, a pain started up in my left foot (not like the movie, but like for real). It’s pain I’ve had before that comes from being a super fit person. Show me a super fit person, and I’ll show you someone who has some sort of weird twinge happening somewhere.

When the weather started to turn, that half-sleep-half-wake twilight time started to be eventful. I get flashes of my daily morning walks. I get snippets of hikes from warmer days this year. I realized that I miss outside. All these years, I’ve never gone outside, so I didn’t miss outside. This year, being outside changed me, and now my brain is having panic nostalgia for the park.

The Captain was like, Would you go hiking in the winter? I was like, No. The Captain was like, I went hiking. I was like, I’m jealous. The Captain was like, Do you want to go hiking? I was like, No.

This extended circular conversation went on for a while until I was like, okay, let’s meet up for coffee, and I’ll bring a variety of footwear. So that’s what we did, and that’s what I did, and putting on my hiking shoes felt pretty okay. We met at the place where we zigzagged a bit, and then we went into the woods, following another section of the Nassau Greenbelt Trail.

Things that worked for me: A hot drink; a coat that creates heat from the inside; hiking shoes over padded wool socks; earmuffs.

Things that were still an issue: Never-warm-enough gloves; runny nose under a mask (it’s gross, y’all, but I was happy the trails weren’t crowded so I didn’t have to have it on the whole time); an attack swan that hissed at us; still-cold-toes towards the end; that hot drink was no longer a good idea after five miles when it needs to make an exit and the only bathroom around is the one in the park that isn’t heated.

This swan hissed at us.

Things that were glorious: the sky; mud that looked like lava cake and not falling into said mud; a random brick path; signs that helped navigate the way back; random Christmas trees in the forest; a stream of moss, glowing and bright and it made me squeal out loud.

The temperature reached almost 40 degrees, so I’d say another hike in almost 40 degree weather could be on the table.

Outdoorsy Part XI: Zig Zag A Bit

As we all know by now, directions and I do not mesh well. Capt and I wanted to go on another hike with the LIGTC through Massapequa Preserve, which would cover a different part of the Nassau Suffolk Greenbelt. There is no traffic circle to contend with. That’s a plus. However, the directions for getting to the start of the hike literally include the phrasing “zig zag a bit” through the parking lot. I was convinced we’d never get there.

Capt zig zagged first and found it. I turned into a lot and then barely zigged and zagged and found it. It was a much easier find than what I’d thought. Crisis averted. We were on our way.

The trail is an out and back. It’s narrow in a lot of places. It’s mostly paved. There are a lot of bike riders who like to ride very fast on these narrowed paved paths, and that proved to be exhilarating. Here, exhilarating means annoying and scary all at once.

The group was much larger than on the other hikes. I realized that for the other ones, we signed up in advance because they were capped at 10. This one had no sign up and no cap. We were a throng of many walkers at different speeds, occasionally taking over the entire path, but the leader was very clear as she repeated several times: You cannot fan out three across because the path is narrow! Corralling a large group of nature walkers is no easy task. She led us around easily and clearly. This is my kind of walk.

We did get to a part of the park with fewer people and wider trails. Everyone fanned out a bit more. Somehow Capt and I got a bit ahead of our lead hiker, and she exclaimed, The solar charger! I remember you! She’d been on the circular tour of Bethpage when I’d first tried out my new charger. Now that’s going to be my thing. In poetry, I’m the gal with the astronaut ice cream and stickers. In hiking, I’m the gal with the solar powered phone charger. I can live with that.

I don’t know how far we walked, but I do know that on a trail that was out and back, we managed to find a loop around so we didn’t backtrack the whole time on the same trail. Luckily, though, we did backtrack on the trail that connected to the park where the bathrooms were. And luckily, there was a hiker in front of the capt and me who heard me talking about trying to find the bathroom and pointed it out to us. Good people, I tell ya.

We passed by where we’d entered the trail so I could show the captain part of the path I’d walked for the virtual Alzheimer’s walk with my brother in September. Fun Fact: I found an ALZ flag on the path where my brother and I hadn’t hiked, but I’ve convinced myself it’s the same flag I’d planted in September. I mean, what are the chances someone else randomly planted their ALZ flag in the same park? Also, though, what are the chances that someone took my flag from where it was and moved it? These are questions without answers.

We didn’t go the whole way. I stopped us before crossing Sunrise and headed back. We got into our cars. Then rain. Pouring rain. Talk about good timing. We’ve hiked in rain before, but it was more of a mist and I’d had my hat. The one time there was a downpour, we’d called it quits. Being in the car instead of getting soaked through was a gift. Also a gift, I ate my lunch in the car, and it was soup because it’s soup season, and it was good.

Outdoorsy Part X: Rambling

The first time I went to Bethpage State Park, the GPS took me to a golf course. It’s world renowned! Also, it’s not where I wanted to be. I called my brother because he’s biked there, and he was like, you’re totally on the wrong side. Somehow, my writer friends and I made our way out of the golf parking lot and into the nature side of the park after weaving in and out of highways and parkways and circling around a traffic circle several times (Big Ben and Parliament!). We had a lovely afternoon chatting and writing and chatting and writing and then going to get food and then sitting in a parking lot until the sun set. It’s still one of my favorite days of this year.

The second time I went to Bethpage State Park, I knew the GPS would take me to the golf course, and I knew I could fight against it when I got to the traffic circle. Fight against it I did, and I still looped around that circle (Big Ben and Parliament!) and wound up back out of the park completely before finding the nature part. Finally, I met up with a different friend, and we hiked. She said I was in for a very long hike because every time she came here, she got lost a little. I was fine with that. The bramble is pretty, looking like an English countryside with wildflowers. Somehow, instead of getting lost, we kept finding the parking lot. If only this were possible when driving into the park and not while hiking.

The third time, I was totally prepared. I circled around that traffic circle (Big Ben and Parliament!) only three times before finding where I needed to go. I texted the captain: when you find yourself in the golf parking lot, drive away from the bubble building, loop around the traffic circle, and go straight until you find the park. I waited in the parking lot on the nature side when the phone rang—the captain informed me that he was near the bubble building and couldn’t find the nature side. I was like, follow my instructions. He was like, I tried. I was like, welcome to my world.

Eventually, he made his way to where we needed to meet up with the hiking group. We spotted a group forming so he asked if they were there for the hike. Yes, but the hike leader wasn’t. What had happened was the leader either sprained or broke her ankle or foot, so she had called upon a different leader to lead us around. Somewhere in the chain of hiking and leadership, something stalled, so whichever person was supposed to be there wasn’t there. However, several of the women lead hikes in different parks, and two of them had a map. I was like, I’ll follow anyone who knows where they’re going.

Let me reiterate: my decision was to simply follow anyone into the woods.

So it was settled—we would all hike along the Red path if we got lost, and otherwise, we’d take some of the other paths. What I do know about the paths from the last time is that the trails overlap in some places. Like, you’re on the Blue trail and then you’re also on the Orange trail. We stopped several times to look at trailheads and markers. I took a picture of the map. Captain regaled me with tales of map making and the DEC. And then we were in the woods. Nature all around. We could hear the parkway in the near distance; otherwise, all nature. To think, I used never go outside, and now I can’t imagine not doing so.

The drawback of being this far into nature is that I have no sense of direction, so even if I’m following a certain path, I can loop that path in a circle for eternity and still think I’m making progress. I actualy had a compass on me. I bought a solar charger for my phone that came with a compass.

Back in maybe 5th or 6th grade—either at Caumsett or Ashokan—we had to learn to use a compass. I remember putting it around my neck and “plugging it in” by pushing it against my belly button. I still got the entire group lost. The end.

My orienteering skills have not changed. Thankfully, Capt has a pretty good sense of where he is and can find civilization. Plus, we were in a great group. Everyone was pitching in to figure out where to go. The members of the LIGBTC are so, so, so nice and also knowledgeable, which means even in getting a bit turned around, never once did I think I’d have to teach myself to build a fire and set up camp.

After a hike that was not 6 miles but 4, we wound up in the parking lot. Ah, yes, this is the moment I know well. Everyone decided to call it a hike, and we thanked the hikers for their wisdom and kindness.

Captain and I took a spin by the English-country-side-wildflowers-turned-cold-weather-dead-flowers. We found some pumpkin vibes. Then we went into the woods on a path, and I was like, how do we know how to get out? It was close to lunch time. I wasn’t about to get lost on an empty stomach. He was like, we keep going left. I was like, that’s the plan? He was like, yup. And I was like, Oh ok sure! Because it was more of a plan than what I had, which was nothing.

Going left worked, and we made a large circle and found the parking lot once again. I ate the lunch I’d brought—soup! because it’s soup season!—but it wasn’t easy because my hands were cold and they didn’t want to hold things like spoons.

For dessert, I wanted to go to Dunkin. Usually, I don’t crave anything sweet or any holiday-driven gimmick. However, they were touting a ghost pepper donut, and I was all about trying it. So we found a Dunkin, grabbed a coffee each, and we split a donut. That heat creeps up on ya, for sure, but it wasn’t what I’d call ghost pepper spice level. As I’ve heard, ghost peppers knock you sideways. This was merely a tongue-wake-up-call. That sounds unpleasant and dirty all at the same time. It was a fun way to top off the day.

Outdoorsy Part IX: Not Getting Lost At Caumsett

You know how hiking became the thing to do over the summer? Apparently, people hike year-round! I know! I’ll give you a moment to take that in.

That’s how I found myself all signed up for a guided hike in September, which is the dividing line between summer and autumn, and which is also the time of year I climb into a cuddly winter coat (I’ve got a big red coat that someone once referred to as wearing a sleeping bag, and he’s totally right).

I met up with the Captain at Caumsett. I did not wear a big red coat. After a slew of texts the night before about what to wear, I went with new leggings, high socks, hiking boots, and layers on top. I did not wear a hat though I brought one along with extra socks and sneakers and an extra shirt. I did not bring extra underwear, though now that I think about it, that’s not a bad idea. I also had snacks. Capt. had on like a hoodie. I was overprepared for this summer-into-autumn weather.

Side note: I don’t usually wear leggings. I find that they make me look like I have quad-butt, you know, like when you have visible panty line and it looks like you have four buns instead of two. These leggings were a bit thicker, so avoiding quad-butt seemed to work out, but they also have pockets that I think were made for taller people even though the leggings were supposedly my size because my phone was down by my knee instead of at my thigh. Is that normal? Legging wearers, lemme know.

It was windy and overcast, which meant I was cold at first. We stood in one place waiting to see if we could find the hike leader. We’d decided to try a guided hike because the last time we were at Caumsett, I was all, Let’s go that way, and we wound up on that path that I can describe only as a real life rendition of that pig head in Lord of the Flies. If you haven’t read that book, then first, for shame!, and second, it’s kinda buggy. There’s also a wild boar. In the book, not at Caumsett. At Caumsett, there are trails that we figured the good folks at the Long Island Green Belt Trail Conference would be able to show us through.

We found the hike leader easily. Then a small group gathered. Then we were off. And when I say we were off, I mean like warp speed off. These people walk like they are on a mission. I was fine; all the working out and walking I do had prepared me for this moment of power hiking. I mentioned to Capt, This is a moderate walk? He was like, the hikes have only two labels: easy and moderate. I was like, Oh, then yes this makes sense.

Our hike leader immediately took us to places we hadn’t seen. We were around and through fields and woods. Then we were at the beach. Then we were on a small path deep in the woods where we all had to walk single-file. That’s when I realized, wow this really is a hike hike. Not like a walk in the woods. Several times over the summer I had found myself in this position—realizing in the middle of doing something what I was actually doing. I think it’s better that way. You can’t be afraid of something you’re completely oblivious to, amirite? (I’m probably wrong, but let’s just go with it).

The grounds were gorgeous. The sun came out. There were times where we were protected from the wind, so I was not freezing. It still amazes me how we can be in the woods and then at the beach. Nature. Kinda magnificent.

I was, however, in need of a bathroom. This should come to no surprise. When we were about to come through mile five, two women veered off. Capt overheard that they were going to the bathroom. He was like, we should go with them. I was like, Are you sure? My bladder was like, Why the heck are you asking? Capt was like, yeah. I was like, But we’re cutting it short. My bladder was like, I’m going to let loose if you follow the group back into the woods again.

So off we went, chatting with another hiker about her excursion last year to Nepal where she hiked to the base of Mt. Everest. This is the benefit of hiking with a group. You get to meet neat people. She also informed me that if ever there’s an older woman in the group, I can guarantee a veer off towards a bathroom at some point. Good to know!

The veer off was at a good time, too, because my lunch was back at the car. Apparently, if I’m not sweating or peeing, I’m eating. I’m very primal, y’all. Since I’d gone grocery shopping the day before right after teaching yoga outside when it was like 40 degrees and I couldn’t feel my feet, I’d bought a lot of soup. Now that the sun had come out, I was eating soup and running from yellow jackets in weather not meant for soup. And that’s Autumn.

Storm King For The Win

Y’all, I completed my Summer Wish List! I am so grateful to all my friends and the fam who helped make it happen!

The final item was visit Storm King. Originally, I had two reasons. The first was to make new memories because the last time I was there, the wasband was also there. We had a great time, for sure, but new memories would be nice, too. The second was because a guy I was recently seeing suggested that we go there, and then he suggested we not date anymore, so I went with both suggestions, changing the first to singular: I go there, not we.

Then the reason changed. I really like public art, and I hadn’t seen SD and BS in a while, and with the semester closing in, this would be a really nice way to catch up before the nonsense begins.

Tickets kept selling out. Finally snagged some for a week out, and we hoped for no rain. The day came, and not only was there no rain, but the weather lady called it a gem of a day. It truly was. Perfect outdoor art weather.

I left my house a bit on the early side to make sure I got there on time, so I was able to stop along the way when I passed by two places.

The first is a bookstore pit stop for NYS. It was closed, but I bumped into an old friend.

Walt Whitman is everywhere, yo.

The second was Fort Montgomery, where I was a few years back for a Sibling Adventure day. I pulled over because I couldn’t not gawk at how pretty Bear Mountain Bridge was. Seriously, a gem of a day.

I did get to Storm King a bit early. They let me into the parking lot. They scan tickets through the window, so when the woman pointed in a direction for me to go, I wasn’t sure what she meant, so we wound up miming and pointing a few more times. Really, there was only one way to go, but my directionally challenged brain wouldn’t allow it to be easy.

We all met up after parking, put our masks on, and off we went to see the art. It was large art. There were pieces that puzzled us. There were sections where we asked, Is that art? Later on, in the vending machines, we found a book called Is It Art? So I suppose we aren’t the only ones who ask that.

The grounds are sprawling. We ventured up and down hills. We checked maps and couldn’t figure out where exactly to go. We became very focused on finding the North Woods. We did go into them a bit but not on purpose. Every place we went was pretty much accidental.

While I couldn’t find the man coming out of the ground that I saw the other time I was there, we did see a plethora of sculptures. We decided some were put together with pulleys, some with glue, and some with magic.

I’m holding it up with magic and invisible pulleys.
Nosy

What a way to end a summer. What a way to complete a wish.

Outdoorsy Part VIII: Climbing Cut Short

Since I’ve begun getting my nature on, I’ve been rained on. Actually, I also got rained on a whole bunch when I went to Portland and took myself on a municipal fountain walking tour and figured since it rains there all the time, this is what people do—look at fountains in the rain. Anyway, what’s relevant here is I go outside now, and it rains outside, and I am sometimes in that rain.

However, the forecast said that the rain would not come down on my head when I hiked at Cold Spring Harbor State Park. It was raining on my way there, and it stopped as I arrived after taking the scenic route courtesy of my GPS and a street sign not agreeing which way a certain road runs. And I added an extra three minutes to my arrival time after taking a detour into the library parking lot, which is where the Captain and I wound up to start anyway. The parking lot has gravel and no bathrooms, so we went up to the very fancy library to use theirs.

Then we doused ourselves in Deet and hiked. But first, we waited for the two ladies on the path to go ahead of us. And then we went ahead of them. I’ve never seen anyone hike in this way—they would go a little bit and then stop to have a conversation. They were talking while walking. They weren’t stopping because they needed a break. It was almost as if they forgot they were on a hike. So strange. Eventually, they caught up to us and passed by. Then they went right and off the Greenbelt, and we went left to stay on.

Yes, again with the Greenbelt, but also no. This is a different Greenbelt. It’s the Nassau Suffolk trail. Also, it’s different because it’s not exactly a trail but steps built into a mountain and then no steps only inclines and wishes for good luck not falling on your ass. Since it had rained, the terrain was a bit wet. Thankfully, I had my hiking shoes on.

Side note about the hiking shoes. I didn’t buy them for hiking. They are shoes my mom bought for me a few years ago to wear in the winter when walking across campus. I’ve worn them a few times, but to teach in them proves a horror show on my feet. To hike in them is not the most comfy thing, either, but now that I’m breaking them in while walking in the woods, they may start to give way to more comfort.

So we were taking some time on some of the up and downs. It was a trail that required a bit of concentration. And then there was thunder. And then there was rain. Since we were in a rather woodsy part, the rain had no effect at first. Then I saw people coming down. Then I saw people continue to go up. Then we got to a point that was rough to climb at the same time some rain broke through. I was like, Should we keep going?

Captain was like, What do you want to do? I was like, I want to keep going. He was like, so let’s keep going. I was like, But I think we shouldn’t. He was like, then let’s head back. Then I was like, But I don’t want to. Then he was like, So let’s keep going. Then I was like, I’m a bit worried about going down if it really gets wet. He was like, I think you’re right about that part.

Then the rain really broke through, which decided it for us. We headed down, and it wasn’t easy in some points. I followed the Capt. towards a different trail. He found a flatter way for us to go, which circumvented some of the rougher hills down. I was like, Do you know where you’re going? He was like, Sure. I have no idea how people do that—like know where they are at all times.

Then we came upon a house in the woods and a lawnmower. Not creepy. At all.

For a feather in my cap, when we made it almost back to the beginning, Capt. make a left, and I was like, Nope, we came from the other way. Now we have a rule that I put in place since our trek in Caumsett—when I have ideas about paths and choices, he needs to overrule me because I don’t have any sense of spatial recognition. So at this point, he looked at me and was like, Are you sure??? I was actually sure of it because when we’d come down from the beginning hill, I saw this path and thought, Where does that go?, and we passed it by. So yup, I was right this one time. Solidifying that I made the right choice was a few yards further along when I saw a piece of a Snickers wrapper on the ground and said, Yes I remember that!

When we got to the beginning, it was pouring down rain. We hung out by the trailhead map and saw some groups who had passed us going up start to come back down and run to their cars. I don’t know exactly how far we’d gotten, but I know they didn’t get much further. Which means we made the right choice and no one fell. The End.

Sick Sock Game, yo

Outdoorsy Part VI: Orienteering

More hiking means more summer wishes came true on a rather lengthy excursion to the end of the North Fork. As a South Shore gal, I know Montauk as The End, so I wonder what everyone on the North Shore calls Orient. It’s also an end. It’s a really far end. Along the way, I saw farms. It’s that kind of far.

Upon arrival at Orient Beach State Park, a lovely woman in the booth gave me and the Captain the rundown of what to expect in the park. She told me to drive really slow because there’s no rush. It’s two miles from the booth to the parking lot, so we could look out the windows to take in the scenery. She showed me a map of how we got there from Riverhead to the point. Then she showed me another map with the park trails. When we looked at the trail map, we saw really it’s only one trail, and the map shows it magnified at several levels. We made our slow drive the two miles to the lot, and we found that the day was already heating up.

We hit the trail where it was marked Start and End. That seems surreal, but it’s not because the trail isn’t a loop. When you walk towards the booth end, you’ve gotta walk back unless you plan to walk home. We took a side nature trail for a moment and read about a guy who was there once in history, and then we went back to the normal trail because I wasn’t wearing high socks and I’d refused to put on bug spray. So onto the paved path we went.

High socks and bug spray were not necessary on the pavement. After walking a bit, we went down onto the beach. Yup, this was pretty much a trip to the end of the earth, and it was heaven. Also, there was red sand. I’ve got a penchant for any sand not sand colored.

Then I tried to make a bird friend again. Why do I stalk the birds? I don’t even like birds all that much. Captain and I even talked about how I know a lot of birders and am not into birds. He considers birds dinosaurs.

We skipped rocks. That’s right, we. I got some skipping to happen. I’m heading for the Olympics soon.

After a bit more walking, Capt. was like, This is the hottest and sweatiest I’ve ever been. I was like, Oooh look at how the sand is so pretty. He was like, Let’s find some shade. I was like, Everything is so pretty! He was like, There’s shade over there, so let’s sit. I was like, Why are you so hot? He was like, It’s boiling out here. We climbed up between some boulders and got into the shadows of some trees. Then I felt sweat literally pouring into my eyes, and I had to use the flap of my backpack to wipe it away. Actually, yes, it was very, very hot. It kind of snuck up on me.

We rested and agreed to keep going at least to the next half mile marker. But first, we broke some rules.

A breeze kicked up as we ventured to find a lighthouse. We saw one, but it didn’t look like the one on the cartoon map. I thought the one we were looking for was on the other side of the beach and the marsh. We headed back, this time taking the paved path and reading the signs along the marsh. Everything felt cooler until we hit the patch where it was maybe 20 degrees hotter. I have no idea how that happened, but for a stretch, we were drenched again. I made a plan: get to the car and blast the A/C for at least five minutes while downing lots of water. I’d brought my insulated cooler bag packed with water and coconut water that I’m drinking because I have dehydration issues lately and I don’t like drinking it but I am because I have to.

Next, we walked the beach. Captain spotted a kayak at the lifeguard station and offered to grab it so I could sit in it. I declined, pointing out that it was daylight, there were lifeguards around, and they probably wouldn’t want us to do that.

Why the kayak? I cannot quite explain this. For the past year, almost every new person I’ve encountered has talked to me about kayaks. This prompted me to remember a found poem I wrote called “Survey” that lists all the weird questions I get when I take surveys to get free stuff. One of the questions for quite some time was “Do you own a kayak?” (The poem got published in an anthology put out by one of my favorite journals, and now that journal has closed indefinitely because the editor decided to be a terrible human towards a writer and then shuttered everything. Sigh.) The surveys also asked, “Do you own a crab pot?” What the hell is a crab pot?

Anyway, the kayak thing. I decided one of my summer wishes was to sit in a kayak on land. When I shared this on Instagram, I got a slew of replies about how to possibly make this wish come true. This bolsters my point: I know kayak people. The universe is telling me something.

I can’t swim. If you are saying to yourself right now, Everyone can swim, stop that thought immediately. I get told this often. I know how to swim. I can do the doggie paddle across half a six foot pool. I do not float. Accept this, and let it go.

Therefore, I’ve never understood kayaks. I refer to them as Little Boats of Death. They are cousin to the Canoe, The Boat of Death for Two.

I learned some things walking at the beach at Orient. First, we found ourselves at another body of water. When you’re out on the end of the fork, there’s water everywhere, and we found what seemed to be half-beach-half-marsh. People were paddle boarding and kayaking. We skipped some rocks. That’s right. We. Olympics here we come. I learned that skipping rocks does not make people fall off of their paddle boards.

I also learned that some kayaks are open. I didn’t know this. I thought you were basically in the boat as part of the boat. Thirdly, some kayaks fit two people. My mind kept exploding.

Then we saw them. Kayaks on the shore. Captain sat in one. He was like, It’s a good fit. He got out. I got in. And there ya go. Wish granted.

After kayaking on land, we went around through another path and found the parking lot again. We looped back onto the beach for a final shot at rock skipping and ocean watching. Then we were done with the park, which had been filled to capacity. We never found the bug lighthouse. On the way out, I pointed out a replica of the lighthouse we did see. Turns out it was the Orient Lighthouse, which seems appropriate.

On the way back West, we stopped at The Candy Man. We got candy.

Then we stopped at the Lighthouse Museum. It was closed. We found a set of steps down to another beach. So we took them. I lost count of the steps when I saw seashells in the trees. After a few minutes of beachiness, we headed back up. I took breaks every landing because I knew if I didn’t, I’d keel over at the top. I know this because once I decided to take the stairs instead of the escalator at that subway stop where the E and the F meet and it’s vertical and maybe the equivalent to climbing a mountain, so I took my time.

We tried finding some art galleries on the way back. Whatever we found was closed. I found a library for a bathroom break, and the librarian was like, We have an art gallery upstairs. I love serendipity. And apparently my new thing is taking pictures of signs in bathrooms. You should know that I sanitize my phone a lot. Like a lot a lot.

And I love Long Island. I love that I can drive out to the ends of the earth and make my way back all in one day. I love that I can see different kinds of water and beaches. I love that I can pass by real farms and vineyards. I love that roadside stands have hand-painted signs to sell corn and honey and pie. And you can bet I’ll be heading back to have some corn and honey and pie. And there’s a whole community of kayakers that I still don’t quite understand, but I have somehow become adjacent to, and it’ll be fun figuring out why. Whatever the universe has in store for me, I’m ready for.