Monday, June 27, 2016

Stairway to Heaven

My husband and I went hiking on Saturday. I thought it would be a fun activity for us to do together while the girls are away. I have a warped idea of fun. We drove to Vernon and went on a seven-mile hike in the Wawayanda State Park, with the goal of climbing the Stairway to Heaven.
I should have known from the name this was not going to go well.
The hike started out easy—according to my husband, it wasn’t a hike, it was a "nature trail." And it was lovely. The trails were flat, some of them included walking on boardwalks over the marsh and there were even a few bridges to walk on—including a suspension bridge that was WAY less scary than the ropes course we did a few weeks ago (and from which my body has FINALLY stopped being sore, and most of the bruises have faded). I loved wandering through farmland and marshes and reminiscing about nature walks my great-uncle used to take my cousins and me on when we were little.
The worst part about it was the heat.
They had benches strategically place so you could sit and rest. I’m not sure why you’d want to, as the benches were within the first mile of the hike, made of really splintery wood and in the blazing sunlight. There was not a spot of shade to be found, so sitting and sweating didn’t sound appealing. We kept walking. I sweated and thought about turning around, but that wouldn’t get me out of the sun. 
After an hour, we found a rock in the woods that was in the shade. Yay! My husband looked at the time and said we’d been walking an hour and asked if I wanted to stop. In the woods, with the temperature several degrees cooler, suddenly I didn’t mind continuing. Besides, he didn’t think it was a hike yet.
Then we got to the train tracks.
From there, we looked across the meadow—where there were cows—and saw a mountain. My husband wondered if we were climbing that. I laughed. No way were we climbing that and getting back to the beginning while only hiking seven miles. Apparently, my knowledge of distance is about as reliable as my knowledge of geography and directions.
The good news: it was shady.
The bad news: It was rocky. I kept getting lost because I couldn’t find the stupid white marks that told you where to go. It was steep. Really, really steep. And every person we met on the trail told us it was 30 minutes to the top.
No matter how long we kept walking, it was 30 minutes. And we’d know we were close when we saw the “really big rocks.” Um, we were climbing up, around and over really big rocks. Lots of them. And we didn’t seem to get any closer.
I thought I was going to die. Seriously. So I started planning my funeral, only to realize that if I died, my rabbi wouldn’t be able to officiate because he’s away at camp, and I’d have some stranger talking about me, who probably wouldn't get me or my humor. Except I probably wouldn’t care since I’d be dead. 
After the longest 30 minutes of my life, we finally made it to a fork in the trail that had a huge man-made pyramid of rocks (even I could tell we’d made it). There were people standing there talking about bears.
Apparently, a mama bear and her anywhere from two to five cubs—depending on who was relaying the information—was at the top where the view was. The view that was the only reason we were on this damn mountain in the first place. There was no way I was turning around this close to the end. Not happening.
So we waited until those people turned in another direction, because I didn’t want to have to deal with them and we headed toward the ridge. We didn’t see the bear. My husband said he didn’t want to end up one of those stupid people on the Internet (as of now, it’s probably too late). So we walked carefully. And I tried to remember all the tips from the "What To Do If You See A Bear" brochure hanging at the beginning of the hike. All I remembered was something about being loud--was I supposed to be loud or were bears loud? Because I didn't hear any bears, and I'm not really good at being loud. When we got to the ridge, the view was beautiful and we started taking pictures.
A man and his teenaged daughters arrived and asked if we’d seen the bear. We said no.
And then we saw the bear.
The man said not to worry, he was a cop and he had his gun with him.
Great. Except I was not letting him shoot a mama bear and orphan the babies. Nope. He was going to have to shoot me too. And then there would be the funeral planning that I mentioned earlier. We peeked over the ridge and watched the mama bear and her cub (I only saw one) walk below us. The cub looked like a cat. I’ll assume it was a bear, since I wasn’t getting closer. More people showed up and eventually the mama started looking annoyed.
Actually, she looked like she was smiling, but even I don’t believe that.
We turned around and headed back down the mountain, which was significantly easier than heading up it, especially with “I saw bears” adrenaline running through me.
Until I wandered off the trail—because, again, the stupid white marks were impossible to find. Why anyone let me go first and navigate is beyond me. So we hiked down and I distracted myself by wondering how the heck I was going to contact anyone if something happened and we got stuck.
“Hi, we’re next to the big rock.”
When the “I saw bears” adrenaline wore off, we were still on the mountain. Climbing down over the rocks wasn’t as scary as climbing up, but it certainly wasn’t any easier. But at least it was shady.
Because when we finally got off the mountain, there wasn’t anymore shade.
So we stopped at a farm ( advertising ice cream (and lunch), because my husband needed a break from my complaining and feeding me usually accomplishes that.
Eventually, we got back to our car, after passing the cows who kept walking toward us rather than away from us, scaring a baby deer and passing some guy walking through the marsh trying to photograph a butterfly.
And lots of people who asked us if we’d seen any bears.

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