@loripalminteriTweets by @loripalminteri
I had thought about it the night before but wasn’t sure if I would actually follow through. Hiking Bear Mountain was something I talked about when I moved to Astoria almost four years ago, but alas, as beautiful as mountains are, my heart always belonged to the sea.
Bad sleep is to blame and to thank. Bad sleep that has meet up at 4am. Then again at 5:30. Then again at 6:20. Then again at 6:45. Then again at 7:15. Then again at 7:40. And this just goes on till I finally say fuck it. It’s hard to sleep in unless it’s raining out.
It’s nice out. Really nice out. We’ve been so spoiled this Fall. This could very well be the last time it’s this nice out until next year. And I’m off, with no plans but to write. Ah, fuck it. I throw some shelled peanuts (will come back to this), fruit snacks, a water bottle, extra socks, sweat shirt, hat, sunglasses in a backpack and I’m driving up to Bear Mountain.
The traffic coming out of Queens sucked. But you knew that part already. Once on the highway, speeding along, taking in the colors of autumn, it’s amazing that something can be so beautiful when it’s dying, but you’re probably aware of that part too. Unless you’re not paying attention. You should be paying attention. You can miss the good parts so easily.
At the state park, there’s some sort of multi-school track competition going on at Bear Mountain, and the place is teeming with people, and not just people, high schoolers, and their overbearing parents. I could not tell you who annoys me more. It’s a tie I suppose.
I grab a map, but the map seems really vague, also I suck at reading maps, which is a skill you lament not having, especially when you’re an adventure seeking individual. The trail I wanted to do (it was rated most difficult) was closed. Not only was it closed, but there was a fence keeping you out of the area. For some time, I stood there debating if I should hop that fence. Damn it, this was the trail I had my heart set on ten minutes ago. Had I not been alone, especially if I was with my daredevil brother, I would have hopped that fence. But I decided it’s best to try something else.
Almost everyone is there for this track event. It irks me there’s so many people. I didn’t come here to see people. I came here to get away from people. My map reading skills are proving to be a real burden and I have no idea how to get to these other trails, but then I see a couple dressed in hiking gear.
“Excuse me, sorry, “ I don’t know why I’m apologizing but I am for some reason, I point to the map, “do you know where the entrances are to these trails?”
But before I even finish my question, I know they don’t. The girl, probably around my age, and very pretty, is wearing red lip stick. Who the fuck wears lip stick to go hiking? Certainly not someone who knows where the fuck the trail is.
The dude answered, and as soon as he started talking I knew he was from a Midwest state that I probably couldn’t point to on a map without state lines. Did I mention I am terrible with maps?
“We’re looking ourselves,” he said, “we’re not from here.”
Yes, I already pieced that part together.
“We think it must be this way.”
I agreed. Said good luck, then quickly walked away from them. Their midwest walking speed is no comparison for my New York speed walk. No. Comparison.
There’s a sign. Even though it’s not a sign for a trail, there seems to be a trail behind it leading up the mountain and that’s where I want to go. Right? Taking another look at the map, I remember I’m really the worst at reading maps, so I just go for it. What’s the worst that can happen? A bear eats me? Yeah, actually. That probably is the worst thing that could happen. Are there bears here? I mean, it is called “bear mountain” but I don’t know. I’ll deal with a bear if/when I see one (me=dead).
Climbing up, I’m getting more and more uncertain this is an actual trail. I think I’m just following rocks up a mountain. But there’s plenty of daylight so I’m not worried. All the ways down the mountain lead to the lake. Right? I’m pretty sure. The trail looks less and less like a trail, and I’m winded. Either I have found a difficult trail, or this is not a trail. I think that I shouldn’t be that winded. I’m pretty fit.
(Is it or is it not a trail?!)
My phone, in my back pocket vibrates. It’s my friend and fellow comedian Bryan McKenna. I pick up, out of breath, and before even saying hello, he says, “where are you or what are you doing?” This is funny if you know McKenna.
“I’m hiking Bear Mountain.”
“Oh no, this isn’t the day you kill yourself, is it?” (I know that sounds harsh, but it is actually very funny.)
“No,” I laugh, “but you’re the first and only person to know my whereabouts so if I go missing…”
“Oh, great,” he says sarcastically. But he’s got other problems. He lives in my neighborhood and his car needs a jump. We bid each other good luck.
It’s lunchtime, and now, part of my “clever” plan was to eat my shelled peanuts and leave the peanut shells on rocks and shoved in tree bark to use as “breadcrumbs” to find my way back. I thought this very clever of me. Peanuts are good for protein, and their shells are useful markers that don’t hurt the environment. Well, I quickly learned how much peanut shells blend in with other autumn foliage, and my plan seems very not thought out (it wasn’t). But I’m still hungry so I eat and place my peanut shells on rocks while climbing up (which is becoming increasing more challenging while holding a bag of peanuts), and I wonder why I didn’t get chalk. Chalk. Duh. To mark the trees. My pocket is full of pennies, which I also use as markers. See, I’m not a complete idiot.
As I continue up, I got my wish. There was no one here. NO ONE. Then I start thinking about all the ways I could die up here as I climb (often on all fours) on what I am pretty sure is not a Trail (I’m 100% sure it’s not a Trail). Since I’ve ruled out getting mauled by a bear like DiCaprio in “The Revenant,” I figure, the worst that could happen is if I fall and bang my head on a rock and either die instantly or go unconscious. I would rather die instantly. I’ve always wanted to die instantly, and I’ve always assumed I would die young, but hiking Bear Mountain wasn’t a cool enough mountain to die on, so that would be a pretty disappointing way to die. Still, that seemed better than getting knocked out, then waking up when it’s dark out, dizzy, confused, shivering cold, and soaked in your own blood. This, I thought, was why it was a good idea to hike with others, and not by yourself.
But that was it. That was the only way I felt I could conceivably die. I mean, I could get hurt. Certainly. It would be too easy to break an ankle, scrape your legs and arms, get lost for hours and get hungry and dehydrated. But I never once didn’t have cell service. To be clear, if I broke my leg, I would make a splint and crawl down this mountain to the lake before calling for help (okay, I may be exaggerating here a little bit, but I’m not calling for help is my point unless I’m almost dying).
(I also snapped pictures to use to navigate my way back, if needed.)
Regrettably, I only packed one water bottle, and I’m sweating a lot. Sweat is dripping down my face so much my sunglasses keep sliding off my nose. See, here I packed extra clothes because I was afraid of being cold, but instead I was overheating. The long sleeve shirt I have on is getting wetter by the minute. For a moment I considered taking it off and hiking in my sports bra, but the branches and brush would scratch the shit out of my arms if I did that.
There is nothing up here. Just me and the birds and the squirrels and the chipmunks. Seeing another person up here would be unnerving though. No one in their right mind would continue up this ‘clearly not a trail’ trail. Suppose it’s good I’m not in my right mind.
So yes, if a branch snapped, my heart rate would spike and I’d look around like a frightened rabbit. Yes, when sliding and grabbing a tree branch so I don’t take a tumble, I wished I had a hiking partner with me. And yes, as it gets steeper, and further from where I came from, I’m a little scared, I won’t lie. But fear is stupid I tell myself (fear is not stupid, fear keeps you alive). The danger has already been assessed. The most dangerous thing would be falling on my head. Don’t slip and fall on your head, simple.
But then, the sun rays streak through the trees… amber leaves fall, gracefully, like snow fall. Stop. Look around. Take a breath. It’s like a fucking painting it’s so goddamn pretty. The sky. The gentle wind. The colors of pale yellow, fire orange, and a merlot red. It’s perfect. It’s pure perfection. You would think at some point Mother Nature would cease to take your breath away. But God, I hope that never happens. I’d rather die. I’d rather hit my head on a rock and die than not be able to appreciate this moment.
Continuing my climb, I’m actually relieved to find the occasional left behind water bottle or power bar wrapper. Yes, it’s litter, and I have some very strong malicious feelings towards people who litter, but I’m a bit grateful for their laziness. I put empty water bottles or wrappers in trees for markers (in case my peanut shells look too much like acorn shells, which, spoiler alert, they do).
Ascending has never scared me. My brother and I, maybe because we were so small, always loved climbing and reaching high heights. But descending is much harder. Descending can be alarming.
I know I’m not on a trail, but I’m too stubborn now to give up or back track, so I just go on. Climbing a mountain, even a small one, is much like climbing a metaphorical mountain… you always think you’re close to the top but it keeps going. It doesn’t bother me though. I like it up here. In the quiet. In the trees. In the colors. That’s why I came.
Finally, I reach the top. Of course, since I was just scaling a random side of the mountain, the top is filled with brush. I sit on a rock and take it in. Drink some water (and try not to drink all of it). It’s peaceful. Until I yell, “FUCK YOU!” At the top of my lungs. “FUCK YOU!” I yell again. And then a third time, “FUCK YOU!” Why would I do that? You might be wondering. But if you’ve never done a strenous climb, in the middle of nowhere, and didn’t yell “FUCK YOU” to the world at the top of your lungs where no one can hear you, you are sorely missing out on what is a very exhilarating feeling.
Now, drenched in sweat, a little dehydrated, and the occasional little spasm in the quadriceps (probably from a lack of potassium) I know the hardest part is going down. I climbed up on all fours, I would be going down that way too. Or sometimes, just sliding down on my butt, grabbing branches of shrubberies to control speed. The occasional dead branch snaps on me, and I yell “son of a bitch” a few times. For a while, the markers did work. I found some of the litter I set in trees and some of my peanut shells! Though the more I descended the more I knew I was not taking the same way down. “Hmm.. that fallen tree looks familiar, does it? Hmm… there are a lot of fallen trees.”
At some point, I slide, my bony ass hits a rock, and my sunglasses fall off my head. I hear them land, but when I look around, they’ve vanished in the dead leaves. Fishing around with a stick through the leaves, I actually apologize to the mountain, I say, “I wasn’t saying fuck you to you! It was to the world! Fuck you to the world! C’mon!” I really like those sunglasses. I spent a solid five minutes, looking from different angles, raking the leaves with sticks, crawling on my knees, and then I saw it. Something black and plastic. My sunglasses! All was right with the world again.
Indeed, a few times I lost my footing and fell. Sometimes, knowing how to fall is the best way not to get hurt. Of course, in this scenario, there are rocks everywhere, so you have to be careful. Where I climbed up, there was little mud, so I was not anticipating my foot to slide out from under me, and catch myself with my palms, only to scape a few layers of skin off. It’s no big deal. I’m barely bleeding. A hike is always better if it involves minor injuries.
The lake is visible, and even, the path around the lake, so I’m not worried. There’s an asian couple pushing their baby in a stroller on the path. I emerge from the brush, from a trail I made up, my shirt drenched in sweat, my ass muddy, and breathing heavy. They are at least surprised, if not a little concerned. It’s times like this I’m thankful I’m a non threatening female. If I had been a guy, they would’ve probably been a little panicked.
Finishing my water, it hits me how thirsty I am. The lake is gorgeous, reflecting the moody and dramatic sky, as well as the contradicting brilliant colors from trees. I’m beat. I could use a hot shower, and by could use, I mean, I definitely need a hot shower. When walking back, I come to where the actual entrances are for the trails. And I actually laugh at this, pretty hard, spectators a little perplexed by this solo hiker, drenched and dirty.
Ready to go home, just off the path there are giant boulders. Some teens are climbing them. These were the types of boulders my brother and I lived for climbing. Forming caves, you crawl through, climb up, and watch every step. One of the teen boys says, “what if one of these boulders fall?” In his voice it’s obvious he’s scared. He’s the last of his friends to climb and he does so with extreme apprehension. I wanted to say, “these boulders have been like this thousands of years, if not hundreds of thousands of years, it would take something epic to move them.” But I don’t, of course. I had the same thought, actually. What if one of these boulders crushes me? Well, then I’ll die instantly. And I think I would be okay with death by being crushed by a boulder.
Looking like a mere teenager myself, I follow their lead a little bit. Not getting too close, but letting them be the test dummies for the climb. And it is a climb. Lifting yourself up, using caution with your footing, and seeing two, three, maybe four steps ahead, while keeping most of your focus on the step you are on. At a certain point, my knees actually tremble. It’s cool. It’s fun. It’s a great view. It is not for the faint-hearted. Again, I know climbing down is going to be a bitch, so I don’t go far up. Plus, I’m already shot, but I could do this all day. But coming down was scary as fuck. The eyes scan a way down. Falling into a crevice cave meant at least breaking something, if not dying. This was far more dangerous than what I just did. Because these cave crevices are large gaps, easy to fall through, with sharp pointed rocks waiting to break your body.
It’s times like this it becomes so abundantly clear why my mind works as fast as it does: Because even without me dictating it, my brain goes, “that way is death, that way is death, that way is difficult, that way is a leap but probably good, that way looks easy, that way looks hard, that way is definitely death, that way is good, that way requires more upper body strength, that way requires balance” on and on like that. All at once. With every step or lowering of my body, and movement across a boulder, the mind and heart races. My brain works perfectly in dangerous scenarios. Too fast the thoughts come, but here, in this moment, it is helpful. God, the evolutionary mind is fascinating, isn’t it? This is exactly why the (my) mind gets overloaded and jams up in regular life. Because the over thinkers lived in times before western civilization. Because those with anxiety are the ones who survived and passed on such neurosis to later generations. This is exactly why I take little white pills every night to keep my head from going haywire. If that doesn’t make sense to you, I’m not sure me explaining it further would do any help.
It’s early still, but I am tired, hungry, and most of all thirsty. Peeling pieces of the skin off my palm, I go to the main center, or whatever the fuck it’s called, to buy a water bottle. When I ask for one from the girl behind the counter she asks me if it’s raining. Because of how I looked. My ponytail was dripping sweat. My shirt completely soaked.
“No,” I laughed, and I went to the bathroom and threw out the shirt I was wearing and put on the dry one from my bag. I should have bought two or maybe eight water bottles. It felt like I drank that one in a gulp. I had barely left the parking lot. Sure, I could stop on the way home, but I’m not going to do that. But I was so thirsty the whole ride home, I continuously reached for a water bottle in the cup holder, even though there was nothing there.
Monday, I had a doctors appointment scheduled to remove a cyst in my hand. It’s right under my left index finger, palm side, and it’s so hard, that the last time I had it, me and anyone who felt it was convinced it was my bone protruding. It wasn’t. It was a cyst which was removed with a needle. The doctor said they were usually soft and not hard like that, but they can be hard. He also said it would probably recur. And it did. Just as firm as last time. I forget about it until I open a door or lift something. Then it hurts. However, the cyst was gone. Unbeknownst to me, it burst. Not sure if it was from climbing or falling, but none the less, I wouldn’t have to go to the doctor to have my cyst removed. It removed itself. Painlessly.
But I wasn’t without scratches on my arms, a nice bruise on my hip, and a tender right ankle. None of which I could pinpoint when they happened exactly. I hadn’t noticed till I was in the car. Both my hands were trembling. Especially my right hand. It’s not so unusual for me to have a hand tremor, but this was way worse than usual. I figured I was just hungry and thirsty. Placing my fingers on my neck, I felt my pulse rate and it was still going. Ah yes, this adrenaline fix will level me out for 48 to 72 hours.
By the time I was home and showered, my body clock was ready for bed, exhausted. It wasn’t even 4pm. I couldn’t sleep now. It would fuck up my already fucked up sleeping schedule. So I ate, drank coffee, and made a dirty martini (in that order). I then wrote this blog. And my hands still trembled.