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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It rained. The weather report said the rain was going to stop by the time we got to Rockland Lake. It still rained. Before getting out of the car, I was like, I guess I’m finally going to use this poncho. As my brother enumerated all of his poncho complaints from the days he wore one at the Army Navy games, I unfolded a large piece of thin plastic from its plastic pouch. And kept unfolding. And unfolding. Then I thought I ripped it only to find, no, I had to unfold more. With every unfold, I shouted and laughed with glee. I was gonna wear a poncho! (Later on, my brother commented that he was getting a little worried about how giddy I was. He simply doesn’t understand the joy of life’s little pleasures).
Getting out of the car, I draped myself and my backpack in plastic. The wind kicked up, and the plastic billowed all around me, and I laughed hysterically. I was like Glinda The Good Witch in my own plastic bubble, only instead of a poofy pink dress, I had on my hiking shoes and high socks. My hiking fashion is on point, yo. My brother opted for his orange rain coat. I have a matching one, but it’s too hot for summer attire. He took one look at me and was like, I don’t think I explained this park well. I understood why when we walked to the water. The path was paved and flat, and I was ready for the woods and the beach like on my more recent outdoorsy adventures. It didn’t matter. Hiking is hiking is walking is poncho-ing.
Clouds rolled over the lake. Purple flowers grew from the muck. We saw deer! When we first came upon them, one was on his hind legs, biting into some tree leaves. Then he stopped and stared at us as his deer friend did. We stared at them. They won the staring contest. We kept going and found a garden with a scary scarecrow. Like, scarecrows are supposed to be scary, but this one was jacked up scary. And then I found a flower that was glowing.
We made our way out of the unwoodsy park and towards the Edward Hopper House. I love Hopper’s stuff. I love the empty rooms, squares of light through door frames, lonely women in badly fitting outfits. I used to have a version of Nighthawks hanging in my college dorm room—the version where the people in the poster are James Dean and Marilyn Monroe and such. Why is that a thing? I don’t know what that’s a thing. Is that still a thing? College kids buying posters with James Dean and Marilyn Monroe? Anyway, Hopper. He’s great.
The woman at the Hopper House is also great. She was so welcoming. I think she was simply happy there were people there—it was us and another woman. A bit later, an older couple showed up, and though they hadn’t gotten tickets in advance, they were allowed in. We all had our temperature taken. The woman gave us some history of the Hopper family. When we got to a room that plays a film on a loop, she started it over for us and was concerned that we were not sitting to watch. It was a short film. We were fine.
Anyway, the exhibits were fabulous. A contemporary photographer found locations of Hopper’s painting subjects, and the photos and picture of the paintings were hung side by side. Hopper’s drawings and doodles were on display along with his paints and palette. A lot of the film and some of the drawings were about Hopper’s focus on water. I never think of him as an artist who painted seascapes, but apparently that’s half his career. I always think of the houses and rooms. My mom requested a postcard of a Hopper lighthouse; we found a bookmark instead. There was artwork inspired by Hopper. The second floor recreates his bedroom where the lighthouse light shines in at night and the Hudson is on view. The floors are magnificent.
The rain stopped by the time we were finished with the museum and said goodbye to the nice lady. We took a map of a walking tour of Hopper’s Nyack and went up and down the streets to find places he painted and views that inspired him. Then on the main drag, we went into a new agey shop (my brother was like, You can go in without me, and I was like, Really you’re not going to go in? He went in.) Then we found a bookstore, which meant we had to go into the bookstore. It was the kind of store where you can’t find anything but the guy at the counter would know exactly where it was. It’s also the kind of store that will bury you in books if there’s even a hint of an earth tremor or maybe a vibration from a large truck passing by.
While the museum taught me about Hopper’s history, my brother taught me about ice. That’s right. We had an impromptu chat while walking around the lake about the ice industry. This is what it’s like having a sibling adventure—you learn stuff. He told me he learned it because there’s a sign in the park somewhere that he read. Aha! So he doesn’t just know things. He reads them and retains them and then shares at pertinent moments that seem random. My fun facts usually are a bit more random, like Tesla had a thing for pigeons. And this is why we get along. Facts.
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.