It was a cold day in May, brisk and frosty, when we hiked to Harriman Park, the second largest park in New York State. The train ride was long yet gentle compared to the ensuing 16 mile hike through rain and spotty sunshine required to get to our final camping ground. Exhausted, yet accomplished, we made camp in an undefined area. As we boiled water from the near by lake, we realized we may have been doing some illegal camping. Not to say we encourage such activity; we are merely observing the possibilities and its rewards.
"Exhausted, yet accomplished, we made camp in an undefined area. As we boiled water from the near by lake, we realized we may have been doing some illegal camping."
So that being said, let’s backtrack a bit. It was about 6am on a Saturday when I threw on my 20 pound hiking pack and headed out of my apartment. Tired and disgruntled, but excited for the adventure that laid ahead, I met my friends David Perkins, gear snob extraordinaire and Sylvia (aka: Yang), the fire starter, at Penn Station, where most great NYC adventures start. We hopped on the Yellow Line on the New Jersey Transit towards the Sloatsburg stop, and began our overnight journey to Harriman Park.
Arriving at the Sloatsburg stop in New York, we disembarked the train and continued our journey into the unknown. Trekking through the rural area of Upstate New York, I noted how it was littered with homes covered in vinyl siding each fixed on a modest plot of land with room to breathe. The cloudy and rainy day reminded me of the Upstate I knew as a child. My hometown now seemed simple, as it consisted of a few houses, small bridges, a mini mart, and a bar/restaurant. Compared to my current residence of Brooklyn, it was both a literal and figurative breath of fresh air.
"The fear of rain hung over our heads while the crisp air filled my lungs."
From the train station, we walked for about 30 minutes North crossing the Ramapo River, and under the I-87 Bridge. On Seven Lakes Drive, there was a short cut just before a bridge. It was faintly painted with a trail marker on the right hand side, which eventually led us to the beginning of the main trail. You will know it when you see it from the parking lot and the gift shop. From this point, we hiked 8 miles along streams and creeks, climbing over huge boulders and giant trees. The fear of rain hung over our heads while the crisp air filled my lungs. Each step felt easier than the last, yet so accomplished. The rain held off and after 3.5 hours we reached Pine Meadow Lake. Base camp WAS BORN!
Perkins and Yang setup their 2 person tent and I chose a camping hammock, (my first attempt). (My camping hammock is made of a parachute-like material, making my pack lighter and quicker to setup.) Once camp was constructed, Perkins used his Rambo like camping knife to cut kindling wood for a fire. Keeping the fire going proved more of a challenge as the ground was wet and most of the fallen wood was nearly rotten through. Luckily we had Yang. She proved to be the fire starter of our team and was determined to keep the fire going throughout the night.
Perkins brought beer, which he had heroically carried in two flasks made for cold beverages on the hike, and we eagerly drank them as we looked over our campsite. Each of us brought packets of dehydrated food, which can be bought at any outdoor store. We used David’s camping stove kit that he assembled to boil the water from the lake. I brought biscuits and gravy which actually wasn't that bad, plus the warm food felt satisfying in my stomach surrounded by the cool air as sunset approached. The rewards of that day's accomplishments and the warmth of beer set in, we gathered by the fire and passed around a bottle of Bourbon. A cloudless night exposed the glistening stars. Relaxed, slightly buzzed, and physically exhausted, we turned to bed. The next day had even more to offer!
The following morning we woke to soggy and cold conditions. As we dismantled camp, the cold and rain did not deter our immediate need for coffee. We brewed up a pot and watched the dirt slowly turn into mud, then sipped on glorious caffeine. Once the warmth to returned to our fingertips, our bodies rejuvenated. We courageously resumed our journey and traversed through rough, wet trails Southbound. Our spirits grew high. We hiked the next 3 miles and continued to elevate as the rain let up. Rainless skies called for breakfast, so we took a rest on a semi dry boulder on the trail. We whipped up some dehydrated food, and chowed down. The sun began to break through the clouds as we were finishing breakfast and the temperature rose at least 20 degrees. I shed layers, bearing down to a T-Shirt, and the dampness from the morning slowly evaporated from my pants. I suddenly felt like I could trek another 20 miles.
We reached the end of the trail, after 2 hours of hiking and were welcomed by the Harriman Park gift shop, and a bright and beautiful sun, unfiltered by the canopy of the forest. Maps, trekking pulls, bug spray, and every other item you would expect at a General Store were available for purchase. I bought a new pair of socks, because despite the newly formed sunshine, mine remained drenched.
Then it was time to head home. We enjoyed every step of the paved road and held our heads high as we soaked up every ray of sun. Just shy of the train station, was The Stone Meadow Inn. We took a detour there and stuffed our faces with nachos, fries, beers, and victory. Stomachs full and pride high, we headed to the train where civilization, unfortunately, awaited us.
Overall, Harriman is a great place to hike, regardless of experience. It’s a place that can be as easy or as difficult as you want, whether you’re the type of person who wants to boil their food with lake water, or if you’re just the day hiker who wants to snack on a couple of protein bars. Just a short train ride away, Harriman is one of the best parks NY has to offer.