My boyfriend and I drove up to the Hudson Valley earlier this month. We visited some friends in the Catskills, ate blueberries and tomatoes like they were candy and managed to see a few meteors shoot through the sky.
Getting there was a matter of driving north about 90 miles. Once you’re out of the city, and as long as you’re not going during rush, the drive is pretty – nothing compared to California’s coastal highway though. MoonPie always drives in the city because the speed and aggression is too intense. I’m happy to take the wheel once we’re out of city limits. I do have this one question I can’t help asking before starting the car and that tends to make passengers a little nervous, but I ask it anyway because it’s important: Which pedal is the brake?
I’m a good driver now, but the learning curve with a stick shift was long and turbulent. When I still had my permit I was pulling into a parking space at a bakery when the car next to me opened the driver door and I didn’t hit the break fast enough so I bumped the edge of the open door. Then a few days after getting my license I hit the gas instead of the break pulling into WaWa and nearly went through the glass front of the store. I still remember the looks of horror on the faces of everyone inside.
Ever since I don’t trust my feet to know which pedal is the brake, so I always ask. Sometimes I ask more than once, like while driving. This probably means I could never keep a job driving for Greyhound.
We arrived in one piece so that was a good start. I was ready to stay disconnected and go for a hike, but MoonPie had work to do so we went to New Paltz and sat on the breezy front porch of this cafe just off the rail trail. He worked and I pulled The Martian Chronicles over my head like a blanket. We split a plate of these fancy organic hand crafted flavorless dry home fries, which would be a crime to serve at a Jersey diner, then went for a bike ride on the rail trail.
The rail trail extends more than 20 miles. It’s flat and runs through the Mohonk preserve, farms, towns and woods. Around New Paltz and Gardiner you can take an ice cream, chocolate or beer detour and there’s some good food in walking distance once you hit Rosendale. The surface is a mix of gravel, broken pavement and some dirt. It’s a perfect running trail, but on an old borrowed bike my bum and back felt every single bump and crack. Shade kept us cool and we wound up riding 19 miles, about 15 miles more than we intended but we really want to see the trellis in Rosendale.
We made it!
Here’s a handy trick to estimate about how much sunlight you have left. Position your hand so the thumb is aligned with the treeline and pinky to the sun. As many hands as you can stack thumb-to-pinky, pinky-to-thumb is as many hours of daylight you have left. Both my hands fit between treeline and sun and we did indeed have at least two hours of daylight.
My back and shoulders were in a knot when we finished. I don’t understand how all cyclists avoid hunchbacks. Guess it showed because a friend of a friend invited me to go with her to yoga. I had to decline because this was called Spa Yoga and that’s absurd.
The place we stayed in was super awkward. I’m only going to share one moment because it says all that’s needed. MoonPie warned the host he’d be in and out to check in on work. Once we forgot bug spray so went back to get it. They saw us leave, but I guess didn’t hear us come back. (Clothes floating in the guest bathroom sink will send up red flags forever more.) From our room, I heard MoonPie come out of the bathroom and gasp then he came in disturbed and eager to leave. Later he explained our host was walking around wearing only her underpants. Naturally, the thing to do when you have paying guests is wash your laundry in the sink, which means you absolutely must walk around naked. That happened on the first day and after that we ditched the whispering and made please-don’t-reveal-yourselves noise.
Skies were clear on the most active night of the Perseids meteor shower, the only trouble was finding a dark space. Overlooks and open spaces we scouted during the day presented a big sky, but external lights from homes, parking lots and passing cars consistently polluted the night. We wound up in a friend’s driveway. Laid a blanket on top of the car’s trunk and had a pretty comfortable view. We only saw about a dozen meteors, but each one was thrill after long waits between. They seemed to get brighter and bigger the later it got. Next year we hope to be in Maine where skies are darker.
The big high of this trip happened on our last morning. We were running on the rail trail and saw a large deer and fawn cross a few feet ahead. Then a lump in a tree caught my eye. At first I wondered why someone would put a figure of an owl up there, then its head turned! Its brown body stayed perfectly still as its head rotated and deep dark eyes held mine. It felt like that scene in Interview with a Vampire after Brad Pitt is turned and the statue moves its eyes. We stopped and watched it for a few minutes. A few miles further down, a walker pointed out bear skat and told us to be careful. We talked a lot louder as every shadow suddenly looked like a hungry bear.
I didn’t see any bears, but did enjoy how the cows in this large field crowded together to share the only shade.
Bad food and nudity were countered by the area’s scenic bike ride, farmstand produce, vineyards and easy running trail removed from cars. I would’ve preferred to spend more time in the mountains than valley, but I saw meteors and an owl so no complaints.