The Catskills Diaries: Part Four

Ahh, the final entry of the Catskills Diaries, chronicling my solo retreat to a cabin in the mountains. This entry from my personal travel journal was written after I’d returned home, on Saturday morning (October 5th). At this point, I’d had a little time to process the week and what it meant to me. I was starting to feel like myself again, and slowly becoming ready to face the world.

Looking back now, I could not be more thankful for this experience, and everything that it gave me. It really brought me back to life in a time of hopelessness.

But I have hope again. And here is my hope for you, reader: I hope that one day, regardless of your life’s journey, you will go somewhere and be with yourself. It doesn’t have to be in the mountains with no one around, or anywhere in particular. Just a place where you can hear your thoughts, with enough time set aside for you to really listen to them. I think you’ll be surprised, and heartened, by what you have buried deep inside you. I know I was.

Catch up on past installments of the Catskills Diaries: click here for Part One, click here for Part Two, click here for Part Three.

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Days 4 & 5: Thursday, October 3/Friday, October 4

I stayed in at the cabin until the late afternoon, working. After I finished up, I set off for another hike, this time at the Red Hill Fire Tower in Denning, NY. 

On the drive in, I was faced with another dreaded dirt road, only it was called a “seasonal highway” for some reason I couldn’t figure out. I, of course, accidentally passed the entrance for the trailhead and ended up driving through these private YMCA-owned woods. There were rocky cliffs on either side of the road at varying points, and I genuinely thought I might end up stuck, somehow. What if the throughway was out of “season?” How would I turn around? I’m pretty sure backing out would have meant certain death.

Thankfully, at the end, there was a place to turn around, so I was able to not drive off a cliff in the middle of the woods that no one knew I would be in. (Note to self: tell SOMEONE before going out into the wilderness. SERIOUSLY!) 

Once I was on the trail, it was a fast, but challenging hike. Maybe I was pushing myself a little too hard because of the time (it was pushing 4 when I arrived at the trailhead). In any case, it was a great workout, an amazing view, and I really wished Dave could have been there to see it. The views at the top of the tower were 360 degrees of mountains. The skies were a little cloudy, so the pictures didn’t come out great, but it was gorgeous up there, if not slightly terrifying (the foundation of the fire tower would shake with the wind. And, when is there not wind at the top of a mountain?!)

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Top of Red Hill Fire Tower.

I went home and had another relaxing night filled with my favorite activities, and finally triumphed in sitting outside for longer than 15 minutes, stargazing (confession: I was on the phone with Dave, which made me much braver). The night wasn’t as “amazing” in terms of meaning, as Wednesday night had been, but it was fun nonetheless. I finally started to feel ready to go home, and return to the life waiting for me.

On Friday, I hung out for a chunk of the day, working and enjoying the views from the porch one last time, and then took off in the evening.

Overall, I had an incredible week. It was the first time I ever really felt on my own. It was scary as hell being out there with only myself. But I felt independent and I’m really proud of myself for doing that; for braving it. I did it. I was there. I built something just for me. I did something proactive to grow; to once again confront my fears of ending up alone. And even if I do end up alone, at least I’ll be in great company. 

Plus, if you can’t stand on your own two feet, you’ll never survive when the world strikes against you. 

As for the Catskills, I feel that they are one of the last bastions of unexploited beauty this country has to offer. And they’re only two hours away. I get the notion that I’m now holding the biggest secret in the city and I’m not sure if I want to share it, or if I should keep it for myself. No matter: nobody can take it away from me. 

This week, the world was mine and I was its. And we were very much in love. 

The Catskills Diaries: Part Three

We’ve reached Day 3, the pinnacle of my solo trip in the Catskills. At this point, I was starting to feel “on my own” for the first time ever. It dawned on me that each decision I made was completely my own, with no “adult” to consult. There were times when I thought, “I NEED AN ADULT,” (such as, when I began to worry that I would pop a tire on one of the many dirt roads I encountered) but then came to realize that I was the only adult around.

This was a stark, and somber reckoning for me. I have always reveled in the guidance and safety of my mother’s presence. She was both my sounding board and my North Star. And, while I had admittedly spent the year leading up to her stroke reluctantly crawling out of my extended adolescence, I was far from ready to lose her support.

So, here they are: my impressions on being “on my own” for the first time, moving through the world as proper adult. Or something.

To catch up on the Catskills Diaries: Part One, click here. For Part Two, click here.

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Day 3: Wednesday, October 2

Wednesday was relaxation day. I went into town and visited a shop called, maybe “Splunk.” Is that right? I’m not sure (Ed. Note: No, that was not right. It was actually “Plunk,” but NICE TRY two-glasses-of-wine-deep Chelsea). The shopkeeper was extremely friendly and helpful, and she talked my ear off about biking, and where to go in the area. I bought some things from her and walked around. The town, Livingston Manor, also had an organic shop, a pizza place, a grocery store, and a few other businesses. Plus a cute little park in the center of town on the river, where I ate lunch. 

It was a nice town, but lots of stuff was closed. Apparently many of the shops and attractions close in the Catskills during the week, especially on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, after the weekend tourists leave. Their weekend is essentially Tuesday/Wednesday. I find this to be a very interesting mountain town phenomenon. 

Livingston Manor’s town motto is “Small Town, Big Backyard.” Which is both adorable and TRUE. I cannot believe how much of the land is “for the people” here. The streams, the mountains, the parks, the forrest — so much is public land. There is signage everywhere indicating what is for public use and what is private. 

It’s really nice being somewhere like this, where the people have ownership of the resources around them. And they use them! It’s so different from the city, where resources are vastly limited and there is nowhere to be alone except your own room, if you’re lucky. 

I hung around for awhile and got some things at Main Street Farm (the organic market) for dinner and headed back. It was kind of muggy out and I just wanted to enjoy the cabin. I made myself a nice dinner, and put together a playlist of songs that inspire me, move me and make me dance. I turned it up, and just had myself a party! 

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Did I mention the view from my cabin?

I stargazed, played my banjo, wrote, snacked, hookahed, cried, danced, failed at building a fire, and just felt. Yes, I let myself feel it all. I let the beauty of the mountains, my loss, my fear, my happiness, my overwhelming love for Dave, and my giant heart bursting with so much more take over and just listened to myself. 

It was. I don’t know. It was so lovely. One of the best, most life-affirming nights of my entire life. Like, this is it. This is what you get — this place exists in the world, and you can just go here alone when everything feels wrong and feel right again. 

Hiking up a mountain can bring you back to life.

Stargazing can remind you it’s still ok to dream. 

Smoke leaving your lips can give you just the right high to let your guard down and dance alone. 

The leaves changing can keep you mindful of the changing seasons, which like life, evolve in phases — constantly metamorphosing and overlapping; turning.

And fear can make you reverent to all that is around you and wake your dulled senses. 

I learned so much that I cannot even say. I am alive again. There is hope. I will be ok. I will create again and I will feel drive again. This deep sadness is temporary. There will always be adventure and inspiration to be found — I just have to remember to let it in. 

The rest feels insignificant. It all culminated like I hoped it would. I thought I would cry my eyes out, and then some (Ed. Note: That did come, days later) but instead, I basically danced around and did whatever I wanted to do. I felt free. And in a life of debt, and obligation, and responsibility, and loss . . .

I found freedom in a cabin two hours north of biggest metropolis in the United States, dancing around in my sweatpants like a teenager. 

Sigh. I’m gonna make it after all. 

The Catskills Diaries: Part One

I decided to do something a little different this week. In an effort to simultaneously blog more and stress out about blogging less, I will be sharing passages from my private travel journal for the first time.

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to travel to a cabin in the woods in the Catskills, completely alone. I took this trip for many reasons, but mostly to check in with myself after losing my mom to a stroke in July. I firmly believe in learning to be with, and setting aside time for oneself. This trip was a time for reflection, self-TLC, loneliness — and ultimately, triumph.

I normally wouldn’t share my writings from a personal journal — the thought makes me hot with embarrassment. However, after much vacillating on how to cover my trip, I decided that publishing my impressions and thoughts as they were first recorded is the best and most pure way to convey all that this trip meant to me.

I will be posting one journal entry per day this week, to correspond with the entries I wrote on my trip. I hope you all enjoy my personal journey as much as I did.

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Day 1: Monday, September 30

I arrived at the cabin around 4:30 in the afternoon. The dirt — or should I say boulder — road up was terrifying. I scratched the bottom of the rental car, and worry that I will do permanent damage if I try again. 

I took a quick walk to the private lake down the street to check it out — it was beautiful, but I wasn’t sure where the access point was, so I only walked around the parameter. 

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Hunter Lake, Parksville NY

I made gnocchi for dinner and tried to settle down. I felt anxious about being alone in such a dark place, so I turned on all the lights and cranked Prohibition on Netflix, to help me feel more comfortable. 

I put on a fire (because, as my dear friend Alysa says, “fires make everything less scary”) and had to LOOK UP how to use a wood burning stove. Like I’ve never used one before! It’s so crazy how things completely slip away from you over time. Even skills that once felt like muscle memory — like tending to a wood stove in an old barn after school each day — become foreign with the passage of time. 

Pretty cozy, right?

Pretty cozy, right?

Anyway, outside of my hyper-bright cabin in the woods, all was dark and quiet and I genuinely became kind of terrified. The fact that I cannot see outside AT ALL is the worst. Plus, there are no shades on the windows in this house, except in the bathroom and bedroom. It’s quite awkward. I keep thinking of how someone could simply watch me from outside and I would have no idea. Like anyone would stand outside and watch ME watching a Ken Burns documentary, binging on snacks. That sounds… super likely.

And then I started thinking of all of the animals. Couldn’t there be bears? Foxes? Rabid raccoons (are they still a thing?!)? Who knows. I considered shutting the gate out front for further protection, but was too afraid to go outside the “safe porch.” I did go out there a few times to check out the stars. It’s so dark and clear here that you can see the Milky Way and every little star. It is beauty beyond imagination. It’s too bad I am scared to stay out there for more than two minutes. 

I will try again tomorrow.