After a memorable few days back with my teammates in Ithaca, New York for the fourth of July, my girlfriend Carmen and I drove to a trailhead in the Catskill mountains. We parked her Honda and started on our four day backpacking trip. But the escape ended up being more stressful than our busy realities.
In our relationship Carmen is typically the one who does the planning while I go with the flow, letting us both do what comes naturally. But for this trip it was my turn to step up. She had to force herself not to plan and I had to force myself to be proactive. It was good for both of us.
My teammate and good friend Sean recommended Devil’s Path, a 25 mile trail from Indian Head Wilderness through Hunter Mountain. “It will be a toughy,” he warned. “But you guys can do it.”
“Perfect!” I thought. While I scavenged together the equipment and planned our route I thought about what I had learned of Rás Life from Brendan. My freshman year was a stressful one, sometimes neglecting to focus on the fascinating people around me, the natural beauty of Ithaca, and Carmen. But learning about Brendan’s brand gave me a sneak peak past the grind. Come summer, I told myself, I was going to embrace nature with the girl I love by my side, and for four days we are not going to care about anything but the world immediately around us and each other; the antithesis of the school year.
Off to a smooth start, we spent the first night cooking hot dogs over the fire and talking. It is amazing how when we cease to plan around time, two people who talk every day about almost everything can find so much to talk about.
But soon we figured out what every 20-something trying to balance friends and newfound responsibilities probably already knows: the more you try to avoid stressful situations, the more they haunt you. For most of the hike we were using our hands to climb up and down rocks and roots. To make things more challenging, most of the state was going through a drought; we were so dehydrated at one point that we stopped on the trail and opened a can of corn and drank the water inside. We sat on the natural steps made by the declining path, teaming up to piece together where other hikers had told us the still-functioning springs were along the trail, and reevaluating our water consumption for the coming days.
Afterward when we talked about the trip, those times were the most vivid in our minds. When I got lost 50 feet from the tent in the middle of the night trying to set up bear-proof food storage in a tree, I had Carmen to help me follow her voice back to the tent. When we were sitting on the trail eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and we ran out of water with 7 miles until the next campsite, two friendly day-hikers offered us one of their disposable water bottles. When we finally got there and found a spring to fill our nalgenes in, another backpacker told us where the head of the spring was, saving us the labor of pumping the much-needed water through a filter.
The third night the rains finally returned hit us so hard that a puddle formed on the bottom of our tent, and soon all me and Carmen’s gear and sleeping bags were soaked. At 4 a.m we were sitting in a puddle, I was pouting and cursing, Carmen started laughing at me, making me realize why many people spend weeks immersed in nature, either by themselves or with people they care about, embracing both the tough and rewarding parts of the outdoors. Shivering all night, we argued, complained, joked, laughed, and maybe got 30 minutes of sleep each. When the first rays of sun poked through the trees we packed up our soggy things and headed for the car. In our sleep-deprived, adrenaline-driven state we argued over prices of motels, hotels, and bed & breakfasts, until we realized only one option opened in the next several hours. Retreating to a diner, we gorged ourselves on eggs, toast, and coffee until 8 a.m when we got to the only bed & breakfast willing to answer the phone early in the morning, took hot showers and slept in a warm bed until 2 that afternoon.
After waking up we dragged our groggy selves into the quaint downtown of Hunter, New York, where we grabbed coffee and went to a bookstore. Quickly, we realized the store was too artsy for our tastes and too expensive for our wallets, so under murmurs we agreed the best way to not be rude to the friendly store owner would be to look around for five more minutes, pointing out books to each other, saying “interesting” a lot, before heading out.
Carmen and I spent that night in the town, where we ate, watched movies, and thought back on our trip together. To say the least, it burned us out; not at all what we escaped to the Catskills to do after busy semesters. On the surface the trip didn’t live up to what I had once thought of as something living up to the ideal of Ras Life.
It may have not been an escape, but it sure was unpolished and real.
I planned the trip as an antithesis to a stressful semester, but I realized that just like when Carmen and I sat in the middle of a trail scavenging our packs for cans of corn, during the semester I embraced the people and world around me every week: dancing with my teammates at a house party after running a fast relay on the track that afternoon. Taking a long run through the woods the next morning while we talk about the night and our goals in running, school, and our futures. Sprinting from downtown Ithaca back to campus through snow and slush at 1 in the morning. Grabbing coffee with classmates after our 8 a.m while we vent about our teacher. The knowledge I gain from interviewing different people for articles in my school newspaper.
Calling Carmen on the phone after pulling an all-nighter in the library, laughing, as if we were in a tent filled with water at 4 a.m, in the middle of the Catskill mountains.