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Summer is gone and so are some toe nails. I never lost toe nails as a runner, but once we started hiking off they started coming, ever so slow and blackfully. Off they go to a better place, a place that is not my toes. That’s a rather sultry image but fear not. Pictures of my busted feet aren’t forthcoming. There’s not much to see anyway and that’s because my nephew got married at a beautiful farm in New Jersey. For this special occasion, I painted every toe with a dark silvery polish that now will not come off. On the two toes that were lacking in the nail department, I simply painted the skin where the nails once were. My pretty-if-you-squint toes were basically a wedding gift to them.

And now you know who to come to for beauty tips.

I’m also qualified, through on-my-feet experience, to offer advice on how not to buy hiking boots. For instance, when a teenage boy tells you men’s and women’s shoes are pretty much the same thing and that you should just buy men’s shoes because your size is sold out in women’s and the sale ends tomorrow you should … not. I go through pain so you don’t have to. My men’s hiking boots felt great in the store when I bought them about two years ago. I even tested them on the ramp. I loved those shoes for all the places they took me, but even the short easy hikes ended with pain, specifically blisters, bruised toes and throbbing arches.

Which leads me to suspect that men and women have different feet. Over Labor Day weekend, I lucked into a pair of Columbia hiking shoes made for women and the difference is glorious. Hiking doesn’t have to hurt. Hopefully I’ve resolved my shoe issue and will go back to merely stubbing the toe nails off my feet.

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We made it back up to the fire tower on Hunter mountain, this time we hiked up instead of cheating on the ski lift. You can hike the fire towers year round, but the top cabin parts will only be open for one more weekend until next Memorial Day I think. This view is from the last weekend in September. There’s much more color in the Catskills now. Hike the Hudson Valley shows the views around peak foliage and details the path we took. It’s steep and beautiful like so many places up there.

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We’ve been working on our 35er peaks, looking forward to joining the 3500 club some day. Right now I have a bit of a block on the peaks that require bushwhacking so we’re focusing on trailed peaks. Slide mountain (peak #1) and Panther mountains (Peak #2) were under our belts from a previous year. Hunter was our first fire tower of the year and peak #10 for us. The volunteer working the fire tower told us about this year’s Catskills Fire Tower Challenge. Hike up all five and you get pins. I love pins! Guess what we’re doing this fall?

Last weekend we hiked up the Balsam Lake Mountain fire tower.

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Balsam Lake Mountains is peak #11 for us and fire tower #2. This was by far our easiest Catskills hike, more like a storybook walk in the woods.

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Here’s the view from the top of the fire tower. Its also the westernmost Catskill 35 peak.

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This peak comes with its own soundtrack of continuous bird song. Heading back to the car, we passed dozens of people but it was still way less crowded than Hunter. At the top, a Jack Russell puppy sat in Raj’s lap while his human friend told us about the fire tower’s history. The clearing around the tower is shaded with plenty of warm rocks to have lunch on. The first and last two miles of this hike were on an old logging road so it’s a very gentle walk most of the way. Good for all fitness levels, with slightly more challenging trail over the last .7ish miles.

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Hiking mornings can be rough. We wake up in our Brooklyn apartment around 4 am, shower and we’re on the road before 5 am. After a few stops we usually reach the Catskills around 8 am then we get lost for about 30 minutes. During these early hours we’re tired and maybe a little cranky. In the moment it feels insane. Why are we waking up so early and driving all this way to walk in the woods for miles? Why are we doing this?

Then we finally have our shoes laced and packs on our back and within a few steps on the trail I am so thankful we give ourselves these hikes. I may not enjoy the before, but I love the during and after I’m good tired and all the negative stuff is wrung out. Then you hop on a country road, get lost again and eventually if you’re lucky you end up at the Bad Seed tap room and farm in Highland.