Snowshoeing without Snowshoes

I skipped out of work a couple of hours early (having worked late several evenings this month) and hopped on the Metro-North train to visit a friend who got married last summer. A few weeks prior, I was sitting in a restaurant next to three young women, one of whom was espousing the line to her two friends: “The Metro-North is the way to travel. It is like, so sweet.” I’m not sure I would go that far, but it does tend to be on time (great if you’re early, out of luck if you’re running late).

My friend and her husband picked me up from the train station in New Haven, Connecticut. Along for the ride was their big Doberman puppy, who jumped all over me as soon as I got in the back. She alternated between being very conspicuous—bounding on me and chewing the crocheted lanyard on my bag—and almost invisible, as she is black as that Friday night.

In their town about half an hour’s drive away, they had left their door unlocked for the other friend who would be joining us for the weekend and had arrived shortly before. We certainly weren’t in Kansas anywhere—or maybe we were closer to Kansas? In the Jersey suburb where I’m from, we wouldn’t leave the door unlocked if we weren’t home.

Here were wide open spaces. A long, wide driveway leading up the house. Peaceful, snowy trees out back. Birds flitting around a feeder on the deck. A kitchen that could fit two, perhaps three Parisian studios.

The weekend was a lovely one, with a BIG pancake (to quote the menu), laughter and talks, the making of not one but two cakes, music and movies, cuddling with the two dogs, and a hike up snowy hills and along a frozen reservoir.

In Paris I used to visit a friend in Marseille every few months. Since coming back to the States, I’ve done the same with my friend in Connecticut. The Metro-North is not quite the same as the TGV, but it’s still “like, so sweet” since it takes me to scattered parts of my heart.dsc00223dsc00224dsc00226dsc00229dsc00234dsc00235dsc00237dsc00240dsc00242

Cold Spring, Warm Fall

On one of the last weekends warm enough to spend all day outside, a friend and I went hiking in Cold Spring, New York. An hour by train from Grand Central Station in Manhattan, Cold Spring is a village of under 2,000 residents. We were reminded several times that it is the “village” of Cold Spring by signs, including one displaying the “village speed limit.”

Most of the leaves had fallen, though there were a few trees that for some reason remained lush with autumn colors. With a view of the Hudson River in the distance that manifested itself from time to time between the trees, we talked and followed the trail marks along the bumpy landscape. We’ve known each other for perhaps about five years already, but I got to know her better that day. I guess being out in the woods one on one and crunching through leaves away from the noise of the city will give the space and air to fill with words about one’s stories and real thoughts.

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Post-hike, we walked along the road to get back to Main Street, where we warmed up with a very early dinner in a café and poked at old, beautiful beaded bags in antique shops. Then it was time for a nap on the train (well, I napped while my friend read a novel).

Of course, as soon as we exited Grand Central, we found ourselves on extremely crowded sidewalks of people during our walk to the next stop in our respective commutes. Part of it must have been due to the Christmas market and ice rink at Bryant Park, though we were passing the periphery of the park. And may I just mention that a friend recently told me that though it is “free” to skate there, skate rental is $20; $28 if you want to skip the line whose wait can be one and a half hours; and $6 to purchase socks.

We squeezed through throngs of pedestrians and crossed busy avenues before parting with a quick hug at a frenetic corner in Times Square. Talk about a jolt back into the bustle of a city that never sleeps.

Climb Every Mountain

In the light of day, the New Hampshire outdoors was much less scary. To put it precisely, it was spectacular.

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We got dressed and packed some snacks in preparation to hike Mount Monadnock. My friend good-naturedly laughed when she saw me standing in the living room (not touching the wood stove) with my red purse tucked under my arm. You should probably leave your purse, she told me, offering to put anything I needed in her light drawstring backpack. I handed her my water bottle and stuffed some tissues in my pocket, feeling quite exposed and yet free without my phone, camera, wallet, and other daily accoutrements. Later, when scrambling up a boulder, I mentally thanked her for making me leave behind my shoulder bag. I might not have come back with it.

Are you sure you’ll be warm enough? she asked, looking down at my jeans. I have leggings underneath, I assured her, wanting to show that I wasn’t completely helpless.

The young man in the booth at the entrance to Monadnock State Park handed us a map of the hiking trails and advised us that some of the paths might be a bit icy. When we were actually on the mountain, slipping and sliding on portions of the trails, we laughed at his understatement.  I’m sure it had seemed like no big deal to him from his booth.

The mountain’s landscape was varied and quite beautiful. It was at times rocky, sloping, steep, sunny, icy, melting, and surrounded by trees. There were few people hiking, as it was the end of winter, and well, parts of the trail were iced!

At one point, as we entered an area that we heard someone ahead of us exclaim as very icy (I believe his exact words were “ice dungeon”), a group of boy scouts coming in the opposite direction told us which was the best way to take in order to avoid the slipperiest part. There was something truly reassuring about being guided by boy scouts, no matter that they were children less than half our age.

Two hours later, we breathed in the sight at the top of Mount Monadnock.

During the descent, we took a slightly different path, and I looked back multiple times to take in the still cascade of rocks that we had hiked down. I borrowed my friend’s phone to snap a couple of photos. It wasn’t a sight I was going to see tomorrow.

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We completed the hike in four hours. Up until now I’ve only been a sporadic hiker; I have nothing against it, I’ve just only done it when the opportunity comes up. I haven’t incorporated it into my lifestyle, which more often includes attending French events, visiting museums, running through the library and pulling books off the shelves to devour, walking and biking through the city and suburbs, and eating. That doesn’t mean they’re activities incompatible with hiking.

I felt good that I didn’t fall behind the group, more than half of whom had hiked many more times than me, and that I wasn’t the only one whose body ached the next day. “That was more intense that I thought it’d be,” one girl said, and I was glad to agree, otherwise not being sure if this was all normal for them. A couple of them were wearing hiking boots, after all.

I now see the appeal of hiking—the nature is beautiful, and though there are marked trails, it still demands that you make strategic decisions to move yourself forward. A steep set of boulders has multiple notches, and depending on which you choose, your ascent will be easier or harder. The weather and the state of the trails that day change how you need to tread on them. Making your way down a semi-icy incline, it may be helpful to grab onto the adjacent tree trunks, but you have to keep in mind that a tree may not be firmly rooted. The activity is really an exercise in body and mind.

I can’t promise that I will be organizing a hiking outing anytime soon, but the next time someone invites me, I will enthusiastically say yes. I might even toss around pro vocabulary, like “CamelBak” and “trail mix.”

Have you been hiking? What about it appeals or doesn’t to you?