I got an email from Viv a couple of days ago that started out innocently enough. "Who wants to do something other than poker?" Sounds interesting. She forwarded a link to a local organization that gets outdoor activities together for small groups of people. The event she was interested in was called "Giant Steps on the Palisades - Day Hike and Intro to Rock Scrambling". Well, that sounds like something I can do! Notice the word 'Intro', by the way. It will come into play in this conversation later.
Well, since I have been telling myself all summer that I should do more poker-related activities, I said I would go. Darko joined up as well and we got the itinerary from Viv. The first thing that caught my attention was the time the bus left to go to Pallisades Park (just north of the G.W. Bridge); 9:45 AM. Now, the day before is Yom Kippur and I knew I would be fasting that day and spending most of my day in temple. In addition, I would be gorging myself afterwards by breaking my fast at my cousin's place in Merrick. After all that, would I really want to wake up at 8:30 in the morning and go hiking? Well, my guilt over not having done enough outdoor activities took over and I said yes.
8:30AM came today and I hit the snooze on my alarm. A thought occurred to me: "The tickets are only $45 for this soujourn. I could go back to sleep now and only be out $45". I wrestled myself out of bed, semi-disgusted by my own thoughts. I showered and went about the task of dressing myself. Now, I didn't know how hot it would be and I didn't know what kind of terrain i was in for, so choosing clothes was not a small thing. If I wear shorts but we do a lot of rough trailblazing, I would be infested with bugs and bitten up something fierce. But if I wore pants and we were in the sunshine the whole time, I would cook. I opted to wear long shorts and a white T-shirt. Footwear was another sticky issue. I have hiking boots, but they're heavy. Depending on what kind of terrain we were going to be going over, they could be valuable or a huge hinderance. I opted for my old running shoes instead.
Once I was up and out of the building, I noticed how magnificent the weather was. Cool and sunny, it would remain that way for the rest of the day. We got very lucky on that account. I stopped off at a bagel shop for a little light breakfast of an egg on a roll and a few bottles of water. I met up with Darko and Viv and was relieved to see that everyone else in the group (there was a full rented van for transportation) was dressed similar to me. Whew! The trip up to Pallisades Park was uneventful but full of excitement as we got worked up for the experience.
We disembarked at about 10:45 and stretched. We were at the top of the Pallisades cliffs (near Englewood Cliffs I would imagine) and the view was majestic across the Hudson. Darko couldn't quite get his camera working but finally changed the batteries and set the date and time and was soon taking pics. Finally, the group got going. There were about 20 of us, another van having met us at the site. We walked for 5 minutes along the cliff top and turned right onto a trail. The terrain was basically flat with a slight decline and the canopy of trees was providing great shade. I was thinking this would be a great day. But then the trail started getting rockier. And rockier. And steeper. We soon found ourselves on stone stairs cut into the cliff face going down to the river. As we descended, the flat and smooth trail gave way to rough stones and a very uneven walking surface. It was getting more and more difficult to walk and I started to notice that my sneakers, with their completely work down tread were having trouble gripping the rock surface. I counted at least 6 times that I nearly slipped and fell. That would have been bad. Very bad. Mostly because most of the trail didn't have guard rails of any sort. One bad slip and you were over the edge of a 200 foot drop. I was starting to think this was a bad idea. At least the rocks weren't wet though, which might be the only reason I'm alive today.
Meanwhile, most of the group, experienced hikers, were practically skipping through the rocks. There were some real beginners, at the back of the pack with me, and we were taking our sweet time about it. After about 45 minutes of this, we arrived at the river and found ourselves at the base of a pile of boulders. The boulders were obviously the product of some long-forgotten rockslide and encompassed about 2 acres, rising about 150 feet from the river to the top. Yes, we were supposed to climb these! It was actually easier than I had thought. The rocks were very craggy with plenty of places to grab on to. Not at all like the movies where there's a sheer cliff. Instead, try to imagine a bowl of ice cubes, tilted on ege. "3 points of contact!," yelled Igor, our group leader. We scrambled up the side of this rock wall and by the time I got to the top, I was feeling very winded. I sat to catch my breath, but there was no time as the group started moving horizontally across the rocks at the top. I assumed that there was a trail at the Top Left of the wall, but when we got to the corner, the group started climbing DOWN the other side!! Are you kidding me? We're going up AND down? Oy Vey. Down, as it turns out, is harder than up, mostly because you can't see what the next step is. There's a lot of putting your ass on the rock (hey, 2 points of contact right there!) and stepping carefully onto another boulder. It took me 10 minutes to climb up and 20 minutes to clambor down. When we finally got to the bottom, we immediately took off down another path, which was strewn with similar boulders to what we had just climbed. We went probably around 500 yards on this path, but it felt like 10 miles because every single step had to be negotiated with care. My legs were starting to feel the burn and my gait was getting shakier. I asked how much longer the hike was going to go and got a laugh. "We're not even half way through". Uh oh.
There was another rock wall in our future before we finally broke for lunch. The half way point. We found some flat areas in the shade at the top of the wall, but I wasn't hungry. More to the point, I was afraid that eating would be the *last* thing I would want to do. I did, however, suck down water like a camel at the beginning of a trek through the Sinai. Lunch was about 20 minutes, and I got some energy back, but that doesn't change the fact that I didn't want to do another rock wall. So i was relieve that when we got to the third and last one, there was a trail to go around it. Darko, Viv and I all took the trail, which was hard enough by the way. We got to the end of the trail and it was time for the climb up to the top of the cliff again. A man and his wife got to the bottom of this trail and informed us that there were about 340 steps for us to climb. I was starting to feel sick. Igor gave directions to a group of two that were planning on going ahead of us. The directions involved going up, finding a fork where you go under a tree and then turning right. I listened carefully, which bore fruit a little later.
As the group started to climb, I immediately started to feel that I wasn't going to be able to keep pace. Sure enough, after about 5 minutes of steps going straight up (rock steps by the way, not proper steps), I needed to rest. I had fallen to the back of the group and every 20 steps or so, the lactic acid in my legs would force me to stop and rest. Before I knew it, the last person in the group was out of sight and I was all alone. I had ascended about 300 feet when I encountered a couple descending the mountain. "How much longer," I asked. "Oh, a long way," came the answer. It should be noted, by the way, that many times along these treacherous paths, i came across couples in their late 60's or older, sometimes with small children and dogs, LAPPING me like I was standing still. Clearly, city life has taken it's toll.
Anyway, I finally got to the point where I had to go under the tree and I took the right turn like Igor had advised. This led to more rock stairs and more wheezing and panting from yours truly. But after falling behind the group by at least 20 minutes, I got to the top of the trail and it felt unbelievable. BUT, there was a road in front of me and I had no idea where to go from here. Igor appeared like an angel from heaven behind me at that precise moment and led me to the car. He had gone back to find some of the others and managed to come up behind me on the trail. Seriously, that guy was a mountain goat. It was another 10 minute walk down the road and there it was. The van. I've never been so happy to see a vehicle in my life.
Viv and John, though, were nowhere to be found. It turns out that their little group hadn't heard Igor and when they got to the tree, they never made the right turn. So they showed up 15 minutes after I did even though I was 20 minutes behind. I was pleasantly eating my lunch in the shade when they arrived.
The drive back was about 10% of the energy level as the drive there. Viv fell asleep and I had a nice conversation with Lori, a 47 year old woman who was in better shape than nearly anyone I've ever seen. We sat in the back together, reading our Sunday Times and commenting on the articles to each other.
Viv asked if I would ever do this again. I'm torn really. It was an insane workout and my body feels great...now. But it was way more intense than I had anticipated. I would hate to see what a complete beginner, in worse shape than me (if that's possible) would have done with this. As much as I want to get out of the city on nice Sundays, maybe just a nice walk along a leafy shady trail would be better next time.
One last thing: I have two words for any woman who wants to go rock climbing in any lycra/spandex pants: Camel Toe.
'Nuff Said. Peace out.