Day 1: Wednesday, 7/17
On the Northville-Placid Trail with Andy. We are spending the night in a beautiful lean-to at Kelly’s Point on Long Lake. Dinner consisted of a tuna wrap with cheese and hot sauce. We ate on the rocky point and it was nice to hear the water lap against the shore. Our little pup, Tahawus slept next to me. Even though he’s full grown and almost four years, I call him my “forever pup” because he’s thirteen pounds of awesomeness and pure joy.
Five years ago, Andy and I worked as wilderness therapy instructors and every night before dinner we went around in a circle and expressed what we were thankful for. That night on Long Lake, I was thankful for books and journals, family, the buzz of mosquitoes and the protection of a mosquito net, memories of time on trail, and puppy snores. Thankful that no matter what you endure during the heat of the day, it seems to break down with the cool of the night and a peace is offered in the contours of the moon.
Day 2: Thursday, 7/18
Today we hiked from Kelly’s Point to the Cold River. It was incredibly buggy with mosquitoes nipping at my arms, neck and ears and deer flies dive bombing my pony tail. In these moments of clustered vegetation, swampy mud holes, and relentless insect pals, I put my head down and moved faster. In places the trail is overgrown and feels like a herd path, with pine boughs poking your arms and slapping your legs. Despite these small annoyances, the NPT may be one of the best kept secrets in the Adirondacks. It’s a beautiful long trail, 140 winding miles from Lake Placid to Northville, past stunning waterfalls, rivers, lakes and hermitage sites. Even in the height of the summer when parking lots overflow in the High Peaks, there are remote sections of the NPT where it’s not uncommon to go a day or two without seeing another hiker.
Around noon, we stopped and made lunch at Cold River #4 lean-to. The Cold River is my favorite section of the NPT. The trail dries out significantly along the cedar-lined banks and for miles one hikes riverside. I fired up my Pocket Rocket stove and boiled two cups of water for my Chana Mansala. While the food hydrated, I swam and explored the circular pockets carved out by high water. In one deep “bowl” I found a large crayfish. Three thru hikers crossed over the suspension bridge and waved. A few hours later, Andy and I packed up and moved camp further up the Cold River to Seward lean-to. When we got to camp we lay by the falls on sunny rocks, read books and ate dinner.
Our bodies are meant to trek during the day and sleep by rivers at night.
Day 3: Friday, 7/19
About a month ago, my grandmother passed away. Her name was Beverly Viola and she was a kind and beautiful woman. She loved the ocean, sand dollars, sunbathing on trampolines and the color purple. On the day she passed, Andy and I were rock climbing in the Wind River Range of Wyoming. That previous night, I’d had a dream that I was sitting next to her in her kitchen. She lay her cheek upon my shoulder, a gentle smile on her face and took her last breath. I began to cry and woke up short of breath. Van camping next to a beautiful lake, high in the mountains, I opened the side door and for the first time in a whole week, the night sky was clear and I could see the stars. It seemed heaven was ready for her.
That morning, I told Andy about my dream and on our way to the Tetons I turned on my phone to see if there were any messages. There was one. It was my mother. “Grandma is declining, rather quickly.” I called my mother and watched horses graze while the phone rang. It was a clear blue day and the full moon waned over the jagged summits of the Wind Rivers.
My mother picked up.
“How much time?” I asked.
“72 hours, maybe.”
The snowy caps of the Tetons rose in the distance.
“We’re coming home.”
Andy turned the car around and we headed East. I sat in the passenger seat in a slight daze. My eyes fixated on a stack of pink clouds with a hopeful wish that we’d get to New York in time to say goodbye. We went out of cell phone service for a couple of hours. As we crossed the Continental Divide we regained service and there were two missed calls from my older sister. I knew before listening to the voicemails. Beverly had risen into those beautiful pink clouds.
Here and Now: I wear my Grandmother’s necklace, a simple chain with a gold “B” and trace it with my fingertips. At Cold River Lean-to #1 we have lunch and make a small fire to keep the bugs away. Smoke drafts upwards cutting through the pine, wildflowers bloom in the clearing and butterflies dance among them, dragonflies harass mosquitoes, my side is tender from a tumble I took in the river while filling my water bottle, wind rattles the maple leaves, our packs sit on the picnic table, one blue, one orange, it’s the heart of summertime in the Adirondacks, and I’m in love again. What a beautiful thing. What color we miss when we hang onto anger and fear. It’s important to acknowledge sadness. It’s important to grieve. I sweat the pain from my body and it’s absorbed by a greater force around me. When we ask for help, we usually get what we need. Even if it’s time.
Day 4: Saturday, 7/20
Today is humid with a light breeze. We pushed from Henderson lean-to through Indian Pass to the Adirondak Loj. The views of Wallface were stunning. At the top of the pass we sat at the view point for a while and admired the 700 feet of vertical rock. Climbers called out commands on the wall and I tried my best to spot them amide the vastness. On the descent, enormous boulders lay on both sides of the pass and from them came a refreshing coolness that put goosebumps on my arms. I imagine these crevices held snow well into June. Near Rocky Falls, we began to see a lot of people on trail. Heart Lake was busy with swimmers and paddle boarders. Tahawus laid down in the lake and I watched a pair of Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterflies flit from flower to flower along the shoreline. The sand and lapping waves reminded me of Grandma and her love for the ocean. Like the life of a butterfly, the end of one phase is simply the beginning of the next.