Summer days in the northeast are long, hot, and humid, so I wanted to hit the trail with Huck as early as we could. Before our daughter was born, that would’ve meant around 7:00 am with a stop for coffee along the way, but now it’s more like 9:00 am, with a feeling of guilt for leaving Steph behind with a fussy infant. Being active has always been important to us, and we want to be an active family and set a good example for our daughter, so I knew Steph didn’t mind, but I can’t help but think it’s a little unfair that I get to do that while she’s the one setting the example for how to be patient and loving. Since Edie was born, we’ve been mostly keeping to nearby trails, which are fine and convenient, but I needed a change of scenery and so did Huck, so we got into the ‘Ru and found ourselves at the trail head for Bald Mountain, which is in Bear Mountain State Park. It’s a scenic drive to get there, and the Bear Mountain Bridge stretches across the river where it cuts through the highlands below Anthony’s Nose.
Sometimes by 9:00 am the temperature can start building, thickening the air as it does, but today it was still comfortable. We were there for a quick out and back to the summit-just over 3 miles in total-long enough to work up a sweat but quick enough for my guilt. I still packed plenty of water for both of us in a few UD bottles, a collapsible water bowl for Huck, a cliff bar for myself, and lots and lots of treats –also for Huck.
Huck loves trails more than anyone I know. He loves running through the trees, sniffing plants, and chasing chipmunks. He has recently learned the enjoyment of wading into streams to cool off. He’s also incredibly good at finding and staying on the trail, which I find astonishing given he can’t see the trail markers and doesn’t necessarily know we’re even trying to follow a trail. He just does it naturally. If I ever lose my way, then I just follow him. He’s never lost, not even existentially.
We parked on 9W and followed the Cornell Mine Trail up the first small hill above the creek. Huck always starts slowly because he likes to do a lot of sniffing around at trailheads, and I took him down to the water to see if he wanted a little pre-game splash. He didn’t, so we got going.
Light moved through the trees and made colors you only see during summer mornings in the woods, and it felt good to go quickly through it. Huck was confidently in front of me and took a few side trips to chase chipmunks and other woodland rodents. A hiker who started around the same time as we did was now no longer in sight. I even stopped to give Huck some water after a particularly action-packed chase, but still the other hiker never caught up. We hit the climb and the heat picked up. Huck slowed a bit, still going strong and steady but panting, still out in front of me, every so often stopping to let me catch up.
We came to a spot where the trail cuts across the slope before continuing upward. It was winter last time we were all there-Steph, Huck, and I–and everything was clear except for this spot, which was covered with thick ice made from melted snow that descended and froze in the shadows. Steph was pregnant at the time, so she decided to bushwhack below it. Huck followed her, but I took a slightly more treacherous route above so I could see the best place for her to go and call out instructions. Today it was in the 80’s, and there was no ice, or any water for that matter thanks to the lack of rain. Still, Huck started sniffing around and followed his nose through the exact same bushwhack from last time. I followed because I thought it was funny, and I think he felt proud of himself with that happy, content, selfless pride that only dogs can exude.
The climb picks up after that for a bit. There’s not much of a view because of the trees, one of which had fallen, so we worked out way around it, Huck athletically and me clumsily. After more climbing, the Cornell Mine Trail meets up with the Ramapo-Dunderberg Trail, which we followed to the right for a few minutes before arriving at the top. We sat on the rocks and looked out at the terrain and up at the big birds casting fast moving shadows. Huck sat on my foot and I scratched his head to return the sentiment. He usually wants to keep moving but we were both content to hang out for a while. His alone time with either me or Steph has been less than he’s used to since Edie came into our lives. Still, he really likes her. I was worried he might become jealous of the time we spend with her, but I’m finding I’m the one who is jealous of the time he spends sitting by her. I’ll take that though. I didn’t think I could love Huck any more than I already did until I saw him curl up next to her in her little pod pillow on the couch.
We returned via the same trail we followed up for two reasons: 1) it’s a little faster and I didn’t think we should be gone for too long, and 2), frankly, the other way down is really boring. It goes through a partially paved area called Doodletown–an abandoned community from the days of mining in the area. It sounds interesting, and it sort of is, but it’s not really hiking.
Descending is where Huck really shines. He takes the downhills like a mountain biker, and I try to catch it on video but I’m too slow to get the good stuff. Sometimes he lets me go ahead of him, and when there’s enough space he launches himself down off a rock or a drop and hits the ground already at top speed. We saw a few people coming up as we were going down, and we got back to the trail head pretty quickly. This time when I take Huck to the stream he jumps right in and sloshes around, looking up at me with his look that says hey, isn’t this the greatest? It pretty much is, and in a few weeks I hope we’ll all be able to get out on the trail together. That’ll be even more greatest.