Hiking Out of Quarantine

Rediscovering the Outdoors on Lyon Mountain

The music is turned all the way up as Ashley and I drive along NY Route 374 west. We drive with the windows rolled down for about 30 minutes. The wind hits our faces and makes tornadoes of our hair. I look over at my friend, Ashley, who has her left leg up against the car door. Her hazel eyes are staring straight ahead at the road, and her blonde hair is getting snarled because of the wind. We pass small houses and a stand selling homemade maple syrup. It starts to get chilly, so Ashley turns on the heat.

I look out of the window at all of the trees and reflect on the five months I spent imprisoned in my house because of my autoimmune disorder. When COVID-19 started spreading, I was not prepared to hear the words, “You have to be really careful because if you get COVID-19, there is a good chance you’ll die.”

I would pester my sister into telling me how her walk to the dog park was. She would walk my dog, Spike,  because I was under strict orders to not leave the house. “Were there other people there?” “Was the wind strong?” “Did you see the ducks?”  “There are usually new ducklings around this time of year.”

By the time I stop my mind from drifting into past memories, I realize that we’ve already arrived at the Lyon Mountain Fire Tower Trailhead. 

I open my door and a cold chill rushes into the car. Goosebumps creep up my body. The wind is something that I haven’t felt in so long.

Ashley and I put on our sweatshirts and walk up to the 3.5 mile long trail. A few rocks are scattered around. Leaves from the tall birch trees that surround us have fallen. I can hear the leaves crunching underneath my feet, and it reminds me of the previous fall when people didn’t have to worry so much about their health.

We arrive at the trail register, where we are reminded by the safety guidelines posted to wear a mask and keep six feet away from other hikers. I’m already wearing my mask because I know I can’t take any risks. It’s only another reminder that I have to be overly cautious when it comes to my health. 

Ashley signs our names into the trail registry, and we continue along our hike. We cross a small wooden bridge that has been built over a creek. The bridge is quite old and worn. We proceed with caution, single file. Moss grows on the sides and in the crevices of the wooden planks. The trail gets narrower, and I start to walk behind Ashley. On our first switchback, a section of the trail that increases in elevation and has a zig-zag formation, we are met with two different trails. 

Suddenly after five minutes of following Ashley the terrain switches from dirt and rocks to shrubs and ferns. I turn around and walk straight, hoping that doing so will lead us back to the original trail. After another five minutes of walking back, we arrive at the switchback where we once stood. We laugh it off because getting lost is part of the adventure.

The last time I had gotten lost hiking was last summer before the pandemic. It was good to have a sense of adventure back in my life rather than sitting in my living room watching imaginary characters on TV shows have all of the fun.

As we continue our hike, we realize we can’t be so hyper-focused on our foot placement because then we’ll get lost again. After 2 miles, the terrain becomes rather rugged. We hike over rock scrambles that make it feel like rock climbing without a rope. 

If I fall, there’s no one there to catch me, and it’s a straight fall back down the mountain. The idea of falling frightens me, so I grip onto the rocks in front of me with my hands and use my legs with all my strength to push myself up some of the bigger boulders. I’ve lived my life knowing I’m always at risk, so my mindset is to add a little more. 

We stop, and I catch my breath before I have an asthma attack. While we are sitting on a rock, a group of people walks past us and a woman tells us we are almost at the top. On the last hike I went on someone told me that I was almost at the top, and I wasn’t. Now every time I’m told this, I get skeptical. Ashley and I start walking again.

There is an opening in the trees. It’s not the end of the trail, but we take another break and stare at the view for a couple seconds. We admire the beauty of the trees. They are starting to change color and seem to stretch for miles in the distance. We can see the small houses that we passed during our drive to the mountain and realize how high 1,798 feet really is. 

Knowing we are near the top, we start climbing the last bit of the mountain as fast as our bodies allow us to go. We feel our arms and legs shaking. As much as we want to take a break, we don’t. Looks of determination cross our faces because we don’t want the mountain to best us. We want to win. 

I reminisce back to hiking the previous summer. I remember the feeling of adrenaline rushing through my body, and how much of a drive it gave me. I’ve missed this feeling.

Ashley shouts, “I see it!” In a split second, her quick walk turns into a sprint. She moves like lightning towards the opening. I quickly follow her. We look at our watches and see that the 3.5 mile long hike took us four hours to finish.

I stand at the summit with my face towards the sun, my eyes closed and my arms stretched open. I never knew I would miss the rush of pride and joy that came from getting to the top of a mountain so much. The sound of birds chirping, the leaves rustling with the wind and groups of people chatting, engulf my ears. 

In the middle of the summit is the fire tower that was built in 1917. It’s 103 years old and looks like it’s barely been touched. The fire tower was used to detect and control wildfires but is now retired. Normally, hikers can climb to the top of the fire tower but because of COVID-19 people aren’t allowed to go up. 

We walk to the edge of the dropoff and sit down to eat our granola bars. After a couple of minutes, a strong gust of wind hits us, and we feel how cold it really is. I put my hood up and tighten the strings on my sweatshirt to keep my ears warm. We sit and rest for 45 minutes before making the walk back down the mountain. 

I only go hiking in the summer, so the cold is a new experience. It’s something I can get used to. I enjoyed the new experience, especially after my 5 months of solitary.

The walk back down lasts an hour and a half because Ashley and I are letting gravity do most of the work. Our legs shake as we move down the rocks. 

When we get to the bottom, we sit in the car for ten minutes and look through the pictures we took. We try using our GPS to get us back home, but realize we have no signal. It doesn’t take much for us to remember where to go because we are essentially retracing our drive. 

The hike showed me how important it is to me to connect with the outside world. It showed me that I’m most comfortable outdoors. After my isolation I’ve realized that no matter what I do or where I am, I have to keep my love for nature alive. 

Photos and Story by Angelica Melara

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