Outdoorsy Part XXIV: Camping Except for Not Camping At All

I told people I’m going to stay at a cottage at Heckscher State Park, and several people responded with, Oh, camping! To which I responded, Do you know me at all? It’s a cottage. Not even a cabin. Cabin implies more woodsy. It’s a cottage—a one-bedroom, one-indoor-bathroom, living-room-kitchen-area with a screened -porch, an outdoor deck, a firepit, and a 30-second path to the beach on Nicholl Bay. This is also known as Heaven on Long Island.

Because I received the DEC grant through the Huntington Arts Council, I marked this weeklong stay as the time to get my writing done. It was also a time to not be on any social media, not talk to anyone, read a whole lot, and not think about any responsibilities (except for daily necessities like washing dishes, and now I am more grateful for my dishwasher).

If you’d like to hear the writing I got done, then come to my panel in November. Here are snippets of my cottage life.

Day 1: Getting there—

The morning before heading out, I bought almost all my groceries for a week during which I was nicely scolded at the grocery store because I’d let an elderly lady who had been waiting on the adjacent line to go ahead of me. The cashier pointed out the arrows on the floor and explained how they like to keep it that way. I understand avoiding chaos, but also, no one was behind either one of us, and when I told the woman to go ahead of me, the scolding cashier was not yet done with the person checking out. I explained none of this and simply said, Okay I gotcha. Then I was feeling dumb because I had so many bags, and how could one person have so many bags, and attachment and possession are so un-Zen-like and this is why the world is a hard place.

Clearly, I needed this retreat.

After realizing that bags are necessary to carry linens and food, I got excited and off I went! I got to the park and couldn’t find where to check in, and my phone service kept cutting out. So back to being anxious, thinking I’d have to spend the week in the parking lot in my car with my too-many bags. I remembered a sign for camping and cottages I would see walking, so I went that way. I found the check-in office. The guy had heard my message and called me back but the phone service hadn’t allowed for me to get the call. He said it wasn’t my phone—the service was wonky that day around the park. Once again, excited to be there.

Finally, I got to my cottage by the sea. Very English-Moorish with wild flowers and wild plants. I unpacked and walked to the path that would take me to the beach. I stopped short and literally gasped. That first view of the water from the path, whoa.

I then went food shopping for a few extra things and returned for some more beach walking in the evening. I was the only one on the beach. Then I went inside and started to read a book as the skies grew dark. I’ll repeat, this is heaven.

Day 2

Rain stormed in overnight and the morning still had a drizzle mist. I figured I would walk the path I knew so that in case rain stormed in again, I’d know how to get back. Then I got really excited on my walk, so I explored the loop path I don’t really take to the interior of the park. It’s all connected and very difficult to get lost. Even I did not get lost.

Everything soaked through because I’d been out for so long. My sock were gross. Then I couldn’t figure out the shower. I also can’t really explain it. It’s a standing shower and there are drains and there’s water that comes out of the shower onto the bathroom floor whenever I showered but not a lot of it, and I wound up showering kind of in a corner all week, but I was okay with that because it was a comfy shower with plenty of hot water. (Here I will remind y’all that I recently became a full professor). The rest of the day was misty, which wasn’t an issue since the rest of my activities were indoors—I wrote poetry and submitted poetry. Then I read some more. Beach walk at night—all by myself. I could get used to this.

Day 3

Rain had stormed again, and it was still going in the morning. I wrote and edited some creative nonfiction pieces. By the time I finished that, the sun came out. Sun’s out, guns out! A bit over-zealous, forgetting that clouds went away at peak sun time and it was not the usual morning walk, I went on a mission to find the boat launch, which I could never find when walking. This mission took me onto streets and through camping (there’s actual camping in tents at the park, which I did not do because the park has indoor cottages). I found the boat launch which also has a kayak launch. Some guy was funnily cursing as he got into a kayak. Then, after what seemed to be a long production in doing so, asked, Hey how do I know when to come back? The kayak guy was like, Don’t worry if it’s a few minutes late. The other guy was like, I don’t think I’ll be late because I’m already fucking tired! Heh heh. I did see him start to paddle out, and he had a friend paddling behind him, so I think he made it out at least past the No Wake zone.

When I got back to the cottage, I downed several bottles of water. I was soaked, this time with sweat, which should not be a surprise to anyone. I also had bug bites from walking on grass. Actually, I didn’t walk. I kind of galloped across, like a high-knee combine drill, to avoid any chance of ticks. The park has signs posted about ticks maybe every twenty feet. The grass I walked across was low, but other bugs presented themselves and bit me up. Basically, I was a sweaty, itchy, fulfilled mess. I showered in the corner, wrote and edited, and then took a walk to the beach in the evening. Then my flip flops broke on the way back. I didn’t really use flip flops on the beach, so it wasn’t too much of an issue to chuck them.

Day 4: A Mini Sibling Adventure!

My brother visited, arriving on his bike at my cottage right after I’d gotten back from a park walk. I showed him the path to the beach, and he stopped short as soon as he saw the water. I know! Then he went to ride for ten miles while I did some writing. The most challenging part of his visit was figuring out which parking field was where. Even looking at a park map did not help. However, by luck or something like it, when I pulled my car around to where I thought he’d be, he appeared in a lot, waving to me. We did it! Sibling magic. We went to the beach, which we have never done together ever. We witnessed a life guard watch two people out in the water on jet skis. My brother kept wondering what he was watching for, and I guessed that it would be to see if they needed help since they were out there floating and not jetting or skiing. When the lifeguard was satisfied that no one was going to drown, he passed by us and asked if we were planning a vacation because he overheard talk of Harry Potter. He, too, is a Harry Potter fan. He said he’s 28 but loves it. I was like, Harry Potter is for everyone, and all adults are big children anyway.

Side note: If you’re going to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, please take me with you.

The rest of the day, I edited, wrote, read, and then walked the beach. At one point in the evening, I didn’t want to go back from the beach. It was well after 7 and with sunset at 8 something, I knew I’d had to go back because there were no lights. And also, night animals. I’d seen so many bunnies and chipmunks and birds during the day, and they’re all okay, but at night? I didn’t want to know.

Day 5

I left the park to visit another park. Technically, it’s an arboretum. Bayard Cutting Arboretum is five minutes away, but also ten minutes away when you cannot find the entrance. I found the entrance and then got lost in a very manicured garden. I also got caught by the massive sprinkler, which felt good because the sun was beating pretty hot. I kept running into a woman who clearly was out for a relaxing walk alone, so I slowed down my pace and eventually lost her. And got lost again. You’d think in a place where you walk along the edge of the water you can’t get lost. Think again, friends. This is me.

When I got back to the cottage, I wrote and edited for several hours. Then I was like, I need to move, so I took an afternoon stroll to the beach. This is when I learned how strong the skin on the bottom of my feet is because without my flip flops in midafternoon, the brick path scorched and the sand charred. I burrowed my feet into the wetter sand nearer to the water for my walk and then hobbled back, doing that same high-knee tire run I’d completed across the grass the day before. Later that evening, after more reading and writing, the path and sand were cool. That’s how sun works.

Day 6

I left the park to visit another park. Connectquot is hard to spell and about fifteen minutes away. Quick! Guess what I’m going to say next!

If you guessed I couldn’t find the entrance, you are correct!

The entrance has a big-ass sign right off of Sunrise, yet I somehow made my way to the street next to the park and drove quite a bit, wondering if I could loop around and get in. I can never loop around, so I don’t know why I thought it would work this time. After finding the entrance, I found my way into the park. Then I couldn’t find where the paths started. I wandered down to the river where all the geese were. Then I meandered over to some buildings. Then I saw a white blaze across a tree and knew I would be on the Greenbelt! Not to be confused with the Green Trail, marked in green. Got it? Greenbelt White Green Trail Green. At some points they cross. At one point, I was on the Yellow Trail and the Greenbelt.

This is the first time I’ve ever gone into the woods alone. I went on Saturday because I knew there would be other people there. I went super early because it was another searing day. It’s my kind of hiking because a lot of the beginning runs right next to a road and at a certain point there’s no way to go except straight ahead. Also, when I pulled over to the side for some shade on a bridle path, I took a quick screenshot of the map of the park so I’d have it if my cell service went out.

I wound up on the Green Trail by accident. I knew it would cross the Greenbelt again, so I kept following the green arrows. When a bunch of horses came around a corner, I pulled over to the side again and checked the map. The horse leader called out, Are you contacting Sputnik? I answered that I was just checking to see where I was. He asked where I was headed.

I had no idea. There was no actual destination. So I said, The green trail?

He was like, I don’t know about the colors.

Neither do I, sir. Neither. Do. I.

He followed up with, If you get turned around, the visitor center is back down this path. Make a left and a right and you’re there.

I thanked him. I don’t know left or right, but it was still helpful.

I got to a bridge. I looked at the map. I knew where I was. I did a victory dance and sang out, I got to the briii—iidge, I got to the briii—iidge. Getting to the bridge meant nothing. If you’ll recall, I had no destination. However, this felt like a defining moment. I’d accomplished something, like knowing where I was on the map. I then followed the Greenbelt. The path narrowed. I knew where I was and that I could take the path to the edge of the park.

And then there was a cat. A black cat laid flat out across the path. I looked around. No one else was around. I’m aware that a cat is not a wild animal—usually—which made it even scarier because why was this cat there? I asked it out loud, Why are you here, cat? This cat was going to be the downfall of my hike? I moved forward a little, and it looked at me. I moved back a little, and it ran away, under some brush. I called out, No low brush no high grass, cat! Because that’s how you get ticks.

Also, ticks cannot jump or fly, so you get them by standing where they are and having them crawl on you. This is what high socks are for. Despite the hot temps, I’d put on long pants and high socks. The pants also acted as a signal that I am a person in the woods, not an animal to be hunted, and also a way to find me if for some reason I wound up in a place where knowing my left from my right may be helpful and not being able to figure it out.

I kept going, passing the cat, through the woods. I hiked the fuck out of that trail! Then I finished my first water. I had another frozen water, which had been melting down on the outside pocket of my backpack. I was pretty sure it was making my back and booty wet, but that didn’t matter because the swass had been thriving since I’d passed the fishery near the end of the Yellow Trail. I took a moment to eat a snack. I looked at the time and how far I’d walked. I figured if I went to the end of the park, I’d have to use my pee spout—have spout will hike—and if I did that, there was a possibility I wouldn’t be able to get my sweaty pants back up, and I’d have to hike the rest of the way back sans bottoms, which is not good for avoiding ticks (though I’d still have the high socks, so maybe it would’ve been okay.

On my way back, two runners came barreling through. One was in a sports bra and shorts. The other was in shorts and a tee. They had nothing with them. There I was with my large backpack of pee spouts and food, and there they were, trail running almost naked. Nature is a strange place.

I did a happy dance when I made it back to the fishery. There’d been a few turns where I was like, Did I go this way or that way? However, I kept looking for the blazes and the arrows, and they guided me. Also, the happy dance was for the bathroom at the fishery. I’d made a really good decision to go back when I did because I really needed to pee and I did have a hard time getting my sweaty pants back up. All my clothes were simply wet pieces of cloth by that point. No shape. No form. Just swaddling for a hiker on a hot day.

Not long after that, I found the parking lot and stretched. Then I found a CVS where I got a bottle of orange-mango Body Armor for hydration and a Key Lime Kit Kat for a reward. I also bought a pair of flip flops for $2.99. Victory after victory.

After peeling myself out of the used-to-be-clothing, I took a corner-shower and sat with my writing. When I was done with that, I organized some of my digital music library. (iTunes, my phone, and my laptop are all different, and I’m trying to make them the same). Later on, beach walk. Later on, Netflix and Hulu because I’d finished all the books I’d brought to read.

Day 7: Enjoying Every Bit One More Time

A bit of rain came down in the morning, so I started with writing. Then the sun came out. I went hiking around Heckscher, once again forgetting it was later with stronger sun, but my sunscreen works really well, so while it was hot, I didn’t burn. I went to the beach and then more writing editing writing editing. Then to the beach. Then I did some packing.

Day 8

Checkout was at 10 AM. There was a huge storm the night before that woke me up because it was so loud. The morning was so calm. I finished packing. I took a walk on the beach. The water was barely lapping. It was everything. I got back inside and saw a sizeable cricket right near the doorway. I yelled at it. It started to skitter. I crushed it with my new flipflop. I had a split-second thought to scurry it outside, but its movement was not towards the door. I’d been very nice to nature the whole week, and this bug was not where it was supposed to be. I’m very happy this happened on the last day because now I can never go back there.

Upon handing over my keys, the park guy told me that next year, they are renting for only weeklong stays instead of shorter ones. I was like, that works for me because I was here for a week. He asked me how I found it. I told him, It was a fantastic week.

Life at the cottage involved sweeping every morning. I finished reading three books and put a small dent in my Netflix queue instead of adding to my list, getting overwhelmed, and shutting it off to watch reruns of Guys Grocery Games—there’s no TV and no radio. Everything I watched and listened to was completely purposeful instead of mindless. I used the wifi mostly for writing and to access workout videos every morning. I wasn’t on Facebook or Instagram all week and it made a huge difference in time and energy. To pretend I know no one and have no responsibility to anyone or anything, every day reminding me that everything I do is actually a choice, was exactly what I needed to find some peace and calm again.

I had the thought, I could live here. I’d have to install a dishwasher and maybe figure out the shower so I wouldn’t have to shower in a corner, but otherwise, it got me thinking. Then again, I just had that light switch fixed and bought new air conditioners and had them professionally installed, so I’m pretty invested in my house for the next hundred years. If I moved to the beach, I’d be worried about hurricanes every day. An occasional visit and a round of pretending seems to be enough. 

Outdoorsy Part XIX: Golf Adjacent

Sunken Meadow is huge. I’ve been there a few times now, and I’m always seeing something new. This time I found out that there’s a trail around the golf course that leads straight to a bluff above the sound. Birds flitter around. I don’t like birds but I loved them here. There’s a place where you can hit golf balls into the water. Thinking about that now, maybe it’s not so great but at the time it was all kinds of wonder.

Before seeing all that though, I managed to spray my water bottle with bug spray. And part of my windshield. The spray on my water bottle was the chemical-ish kind, and the spray on my windshield was the organic essential oils kind. That means my water was now semi-toxic and my windshield was not going to get clean any time soon. More impressively, I got out of the car and was ready to go in under five minutes. Goal achieved!! (Now for the next goal: Don’t spray the water bottle with bug spray).

While capt hit golf balls I made my way away from the edge of the cliff so that I wouldn’t fall off and I wouldn’t be hit on the backswing. Then a shirtless man ran by in the woods behind us commenting on how beautiful the view is. Perhaps the cousin of the ghost of King Zog? 

Side note: We actually did not find the ruins we thought we found in Muttontown. We found something but not exactly what I had been looking for.

Anyway, we made our way down to the beach and walked it back. We took a break on the boardwalk because I was hungry and thirsty and working up a good swass. And  if you didn’t know all three things about me already, hello, welcome, you must be new. 

After trailing through that side of the park, we walked over to the boggy part. We saw some deer. I talked to them. They looked at me. It was a moment. Mind you, I don’t really enjoy animals (see the aforementioned birds) but here I am, all Dr. Doolittle.

The boggy part was an in and out trail unless we came out at the end on a golfing green and walked across the course while golfers were putting and swinging and doing what golfers do. Capt figured I could wear a collared shirt to look like a golfer and blend in. My idea was, How about not that? We didn’t even make it to that point anyway because the flora closed in on the path and ticks are not on my agenda. We turned back towards the road with me leading the way out for a few paces. This is what we call bravery.

Sure it was buggy and sandy, and it was also sunny and grand. 

I got home and took the best shower of my life. All that bug spray—two kinds!— and sunscreen and sweat and sand washed away.

Then I took my mom to a tiny beach for a quick visit and got all sunburned. So much for safety first. Still a day outside from start to finish is great for the soul. 

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 XIII: Where Are We Hiking?

The Captain gave me no choice in the matter. It wasn’t “What do you want to do?” or “Should we get coffee?” but it was “Where are we hiking?” meaning “It’s warmer than last time so you are going to hike.” So we decided on Massapequa Preserve again, the part we hadn’t walked from Merrick. I’d done it before with my brother for the DYI Alzheimer’s Walk (Go Team JoeRau!), but we’d walked the paved path. This time, Capt. would navigate the woods, and I’d follow.

You know what? I just realized that Capt. is a good guy. He could totally lure me into the woods and murder me because I wouldn’t be able to find my way out, and he hasn’t done that. Thanks for being a good pal.

Anyway, we met up and it was indeed warmer than last time. However, in my brain—and body—it was somehow colder. I literally stated this “logic”:

It’s almost 50 degrees, but it’s like going up to 50. Last time, it was almost 40, but it was going down to 40. It’s been cold, so up to 50 is, like, colder than down to 40 when it’s been warm. You know?

Capt. nodded at this. He could have been simply nodding to stop the nonsense. No one should agree with this. It makes no sense at all. That, however, is how I felt at the time.

There was mud. There were trees. Lots of fallen trees, broken through the trunks, lying over other trees. There were also wooden paths to walk on, complete with a set of steps. That one took us over water, and I was like, I’m pretending there’s no water and no way to fall. Some of the wooden slats on other paths were bouncey, and Capt. was all ready to warn me, and I was like, Nope we’re pretending it’s fine, and so it was. Over 25 years of yoga pays off in balance.

Several other walkers and hikers were out, and we ran into one couple twice. They were very curious about the woods. Where they go. What was in them. The second time we bumped into them, they were like, Is it muddy? I was like, Yes in some places. They were like, Here? I was like, throughout, here and in other places, like where the dirt got wet. Okay, I didn’t say all that, but I was thinking it.

There was a swing in the middle of nowhere. One lone swing, dangling from a tree.

The attack swans swam leisurely here and there. I stayed far away.

Rounding around the water, Capt. thought we should go one way, and I was like, But the water is on this one side of us. It has to stay on that side. Otherwise we won’t be going around it. He was like, You might be right. So that there is my 1 out of 10 times I’m right about directions.

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 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.