By Friday, I’d had my fill. Buckets of emails, too many decisions and too little reward; a last weekend of summer called and I answered. The kids, the dogs and my wife packed up in the SUV and pointed it West for the Catskills. Behind, I left those things that put me on edge and settled in to those things that make me feel good.
Lulu thought it looked about right. Ashokan High Point is 4 miles to the summit, stripped with creeks and severely steep over the last mile. Plenty for the kids to do on the way up and enough exercise to make sure that we all slept well. 6 of us in a tent made for 3-4. It was a wedding gift, our favorite one.
2 hours to the trailhead, we got there by 12:30. Very different for me, I’m usually a Nazi when it comes to this stuff. But this weekend I wasn’t stressing about anything. On the trail, we walked for an hour without meeting anyone. The woods were old growth, the kids shot up between the trees exploring, chasing the dogs, playing. Two years away from my last hike, the pack was heavy on my shoulders but familiar and welcomed. Lulu and I used to spend a lot of weekends like this, now they were too few and far between.
Lunch by a little creek, there was talk about breaking open the peanut M&Ms but we all (but Nona) thought it better to wait ‘til nighttime. Drew swam, the water so cold, he struggled to catch his breath.
For a moment, I thought about breaking out the tent and parking it right there, in the little grassy opening a stone’s throw from the water. But it was only a mile in, too close to civilization. Upward and onward we went.
By two miles, Nona abandoned her pack. Tired and a little pouty, her enthusiasm was waning with the work. By three miles, the serious climbing began and I thought we’d lose her. 1000 feet up in a single mile is a big climb no matter how fit you are. I thought she’d blow up, break down, make a scene; she started running instead. For big chunks at a time, she burned up that hill. Not jogging, running like she meant it. Her brother was non-plussed. With his pack on, he started running too. Then the ledges came and because they couldn’t run, they started to crawl. Below them, Lulu and I watched and sweated. It was tough with the packs. I loved her more than ever.
Finally, to the summit. The guide book had promised campsites on the top but I was afraid they’d all be taken, our arrival too late. But no one was there. Just the six of us, a beautiful view of Ashokan reservoir and a perfect campsite on a ledge just below.
We made a fire, chased the bugs away with the smoke and started in on dinner. Drew climbed the rock ledges, Fiona cheered him on between helping me gather wood.
Sitting by the fire, roasting marshmallows, watching a big, fat, full moon lift up over the trees, I believed things couldn’t get better. I believed that everything I had was all that I needed. Looking into the faces of the people closest to me, through the smoke, I felt no anxiety, no fear. All was good, simple and within reach. In the moonlight, we tucked into our sleeping bags, pushed together for warmth, kept close by the nylon walls of our mountain home. The kids giggled when I broke wind, mom just groaned. Then it was still and I slept for hours.
Waking up, the seasonal switch had been flipped. Summer no more, the wind had picked up and there was an edge to it. Crisp and chilly, a forerunner of what was coming. Drew and I talked about climbing Ashokan in the winter time. He wants to wear crampons and use an ice axe and I want to teach him how. We got up before the girls, wearing long sleeves and pants, we stoked the ashes in the stone ring until little flames lapped at the kindling and the fire kicked to life. Breakfast was oatmeal and Folgers instant, for Lulu: Irish Crème. A too big stack of wood was burned, we didn’t want to leave. Just sat in our sleeping bags, around the fire, laughing and talking and watching the wood burn.
A few hours later we were down the trail and in the car. Just under a day in the woods but it could have been a week. Things were the same back at home but I felt different. The ride home was quiet, everyone slept and I thought of nothing, only making note of what lay off in the distance, who was in front of me and who I needed to pass.