The last main stop for this trip to the States was to be in the woods, at a cabin in the Catskills we had rented for a few days in order to experience a bit of the great American wild. To this end, we definitely picked our spot quite well – the large expanse of forest just south of us was called, rather vaguely, the ‘Big Indian Wilderness’.
We left Boston a little later than we’d planned, but still decided there would be enough time for a detour, this time to visit a site of particular cultural importance: the largest Walmart in America. The ‘largest’ bit was accidental, actually – we needed some supplies for the trip and also wanted to visit a Walmart to see what all the fuss was about, and it just so happened that the most conveniently placed was also the largest (Crossgates Mall, in Albany, NY).
I didn’t really notice the size too much, to be honest, and the Walmart experience turned out fairly underwhelming, but I did spend an enjoyable 20 minutes having a look at the sheer range of crap passed off as food on American supermarket shelves. One of my favourites was something called Cookie Crisp, found in the breakfast cereals aisle, which upon inspection appeared to be nothing more than a box of cookies intended to be eaten for breakfast. The recommended serving sizes on the box was something like 20 grams, but when you consider the actual average bowl of cereal is something more like 120 grams, that means that in a single, average serving you’d be consuming around 500 calories, not including the milk. Just what kids need in the morning.
I’ve gone off topic a little. After finding what we wanted we loaded up the car and hit the road. Not long after we got off the freeways, and the drive became immensely more entertaining: twisty roads over rolling hills, surrounded by a mix of forests and fields, and every we’d pass through a homely little settlement. The last 40 minutes of the drive was in that lovely golden light you get just before the sun sets, which made everything look even nicer. After a short blast up an unsealed gravel track, we made it to the cabin.
It was actually a beautiful spot – we could kind of see a farm on the hill across the valley, but aside from that it was total isolation. And, having lived in a bustling city of 8.6 million people for the past year, it was amazing. We spent the evening relaxing, catching up, cooking, drinking (responsibly, of course) and capped it off with a campfire. We’d heard there were bears in the area, every sounds we heard coming from the nighttime forest was a little more concerning than it otherwise might have been, but in the event our stay was bear-free. I’d have actually quite liked to have seen one, from a safe vantage point, but it wasn’t to be.
The next day we decided to go on an outing to a swimming hole. Dan found one, Otter Creek, which was an easy drive away and so off we went. We found the parking lay-by on the side of the road, loaded up and headed off into the woods for what was supposed to be a 0.5 mile walk to the creek.
We never found it, of course. It looked like we were in the right spot, but we saw no mention of it on any signs and nobody we came across had ever heard of the place. They were all astounded by the fact that half our group was wearing jandals, however, and one or two looked a little concerned we were out in the woods so ‘unprepared’ (we were fine – they were the weird ones. Perfect weather, easy well-definied path, and some of these guys were carrying enough equipment to climb a small mountain).
Undeterred, we decided to push on for a while towards a site we saw on some of the signs, Big Ledge (it was either that or Panther Hill). The name wasn’t overly inspiring, but after a three and a half mile hike uphill we made it, and my goodness it was worth the effort. Big Ledge turned out to be a series of look-out points as the path ran along the side of a big ledge, hence the name, and the views were just amazing. Just rolling forests, as far as we could see in all directions. We stopped on one to eat our packed lunch of sandwiches, then just sat and admired the vista for quite a long time. We even saw an eagle (I’m sorry if a bird expert reads this and it turns out not to be, but we held a vote to decide what it was and eagle won, so eagle we called it).
We made it back to the car, and as we were quite hot from all the exercise set off in search of another swimming hole. This time we knew where we were going, as we’d passed it along the way earlier in the day – a place called Belleayre Beach. As a swimming hole, it didn’t quite compare to some of those we’ve been to back home in New Zealand, but it did the job for us. I hired a paddle board (I love paddle boarding) and paddled around the lake for a while before noticing a beaver lodge on one of the banks! I stopped by it for ages, but there wasn’t a beaver to be seen.
After that we drove back home and spent the evening much as we had the one before, just relaxing and having fun around the campfire. It ended up being quite a late night, so I was surprised when I woke up just before dawn the next day. We had to leave reasonably early anyway so I figured I’d just get up and make a coffee, and sit on the deck to watch the sun rise. It turned out to be so spectacular that I went and woke Bridge up to have a look (in retrospect, likely to have been more dangerous than any bear encounter, at that time of the morning), and we sat in the deck chairs and watched it come up together.
And that, I think, might be the perfect spot to finish our American trip on. After we left we drove the long drive back to NYC, via a night in Harrisburg with Dan, jumped on a plane and left the States. Hope you guys enjoyed it all as much as we did.
Until next time, B & A.