Hiking: Good for the Body and Soul - Eamon O'Toole '22

Eamon next to a large boulder on a hike in New York state.
Monday, May 25, 2020

Whenever I tell people that I am from New York, the immediate reaction is, “What’s it like living in New York City?” I quickly tell them that I live between Albany and NYC in a very scenic and unique part of the country called the Hudson Valley. It is an interesting mix of rural and suburban landscapes, with apple orchards and dairy farms dotting the countryside, with new neighborhood developments scattered throughout. Several Revolutionary War battles were fought here, and George Washington stayed at a couple of local taverns and inns several times. The Hudson Valley is also prime hiking country, with the famous Appalachian Trail meandering throughout the area. Hiking has been an important part of my life, from early walks with family to NOLS preparation, and it has been my saving grace during the quarantine.

Throughout high school, I accumulated a list of favorite spots that have become my “go-to” places. Have only two hours? Hike a portion of the Appalachian Trail that passes Nuclear Lake, named after a demolished nuclear fuel research facility that operated until 1972 (it has been deemed safe to the public, and I have never seen any three-eyed fish there). Have the whole day? Head over to Minnewaska State Park, a gorgeous spot that has three deep blue and crystal-clear lakes, with pine trees and steep white cliffs surrounding them. Some spots serve more than just a trail. At the top of a clear hilltop on the Appalachian Trail, there is a spray-painted 9/11 Memorial of an American Flag, a beautiful tribute to those that lost their lives.

As upset and sad as I was to leave Charlotte halfway through the semester, I knew that I would at least be able to hike more at my favorite spots. On any weekday that was sunny and relatively warm, my Mom and I, along with my dog Gracie, would rush out to our spots to get parking before the lots filled up. My hiking boots from NOLS are still in really good shape, so I actually still use them! The first couple of weeks had fluctuating temperatures, so I brought layers just in case it started off cold but warmed up. Although winter and spring can be cold and dreary in New York, I prefer cold-weather hiking because there are no bugs and you do not get sweaty. For food, I like to bring snacks such as cheese, pepperoni, and fruit, because they do not take up a lot of space in a backpack and they are great for refueling.

Since you are in nature when hiking, you never know what you are going to see. Some hikes are pretty uneventful, and you only see chipmunks and squirrels. Other times, you can have an unpleasant encounter with snakes. Once, I saw a Timber Rattlesnake sunbathing on a stone wall. I kept EXTRA distance away from that one, since they are extremely venomous. I live in an area with lots of black bears, and although I have never seen one while hiking, I always have to be alert just in case. Although I have never seen them alive, I have seen several roadkill porcupines recently, which is an animal that I would have never expected to live near me. A few years ago, there were even two moose that wandered down from Massachusetts and caused quite a commotion!

If you are finding yourself bored over quarantine, I would highly recommend that you lace up your best hiking shoes and give it a try! It is great exercise, you can learn a lot about the area you live in, and the fresh air can help clear your mind. It is also flexible with people – you can hike alone, with pets and family members, and even friends, because you can easily social distance. Best of all, it is a free activity! Before you know it, you will be racking up the miles, just like at NOLS, but without the summer sausage.