Schunemunk Mountain

I grew up on a mountain ( whose residences were initially summer only. My parents built their house here almost 40 years ago as one of the first year round homes. A little removed from its heyday the mountain has fallen into a bit of disrepair. My parents talked of movies at the community house and summers spent in the river fed "pool". It was a tight knit community (,_New_York) where people could spend christmas eve caroling. Summer residents would come up from NYC to spend their leisure hours hiking, horseback riding, or indulging in each others personalities.

By the time I was growing up the mountain had taken on a different persona. The pool was closed and a small park was put in its place, named after my grandfather ( The store closed down and the same sense of community faded. As a young child I conjured stories in my mind out of the fears of my parents. My neighbor had (still has) a 9ft tall wooden fence around his property and several disabled old vehicles. His pack of rottweilers would come screaming to the fence when anyone walked by. I was honestly afraid to travel to the end of my trail for fear of being consumed by Cerberus.

The mountain has a main (mostly paved) road and branching dirt trails where everyone lives. As long as I lived there I hardly went on the other trails being afraid of the "bad kids" who hung around late at night drinking. My fears of the woods were based not on fantasy or animals but on the evil that men do in the dark.

Occasionally the boy scout troop I was a part of would take a trip on some of the hiking trails on top of the mountain but I never ventured on them by myself. It wasn't until my last year in high school that I would take a trip to the topmost road on the mountain and follow a dirt service road to the communication towers on top. The view is of beautiful New England rolling hills and the distant Catskill mountain range.

On my trip home for the holidays I decided to take a run up the same route and maybe explore some of the hiking trails that cross by the communication towers. I started off traveling to the base of the mountain where I would catch the school bus when I was young. On the first day of me having to bring myself down to the bus stop in the morning as a child I was so nervous that I called my mom crying and threw up all over the kitchen floor. My run down went much better than that.

The salt on the road was so thick I could taste it in the breeze from passing cars. I tagged the stone pillars and started up the same path I lugged school books up many years prior. The houses and forbidden trails slipped by benignly. Before I knew it I was up the last trail, up the service road, and taking in views. 20 minutes had realigned perceptions of where I had grown up. It could have been any other small climb in any of the other places I've run this year. It felt more impersonal without the intimacy of my childhood fear. Familiarity with myself changed the influence of the outside world.

My eyes followed the "ridge line" to an exposed outcropping of rocks, my feet followed. A short jaunt later I was chipping quartz out of the large conglomerate rocks that made up the feature. Without much fanfare I returned.

The trail I was on turned out to be part of the NY-NJ Long Path ( Checking into it, seems like it would be a fun long journey some day on really hard trails. The path was overly marked in this section and much less gnarly than the blue hills or fells. Though, 95 miles of the path winds through the Catskills which sounds like it would take a couple of days. I wish I had spent more time in the woods when I was young, seeing how great the trail system was right in my own backyard.

I am much more confident in my ability to travel distances in the woods on foot, which reduces my fear of dying in the woods. There is so much to learn about mountaineering and wilderness survival and avalanche safety and a host of other things that will continue to reduce that fear. I certainly don't live on the edge but I feel undeservingly brazen at my current level of knowledge because my feet and will can carry me far.

That tiny bit of restraint is still there. Even on the well marked and well traveled trail I started on at the top of the mountain I felt as if I was breaking a thin sheet of safety in those first few steps of the unknown. The trail closes in behind you and and envelopes you in its lack of civility. The intersection of my childhood worries, my confidence and the safety of modern life was at the start of the trail.

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