The first time I went on a solo backpacking trip was in 2015, over Memorial Day weekend. I laid out my gear the way the folks on the ultralight and Appalachian Trail subreddits do it. I spent hours when I should have been working crafting an itinerary and noting when I’d be where, so that my roommate or parents could alert the authorities if I went missing. I also had a back-up route in mind in case my original itinerary was too challenging. (Reader, it was.)
I borrowed a two-person tent from a friend (hi, Ella!) but, in the interest of going lightweight, only took the rain fly and the footprint, and slept in the grass with the spiders and who knows what else. Hesitant to invest in a filter before I found out if I actually enjoyed backpacking, I bought a tiny bottle of iodine tablets to purify my drinking water. I took tortillas and cheese and enough trail mix to satisfy a family of five. Thusly equipped, I ventured into Bear Mountain and Harriman state parks.
I have returned many times; the parks are easily accessible to New Yorkers by train and by bus. Harriman is where I tested myself when I thought I was going to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail (but didn’t), and then again when I was actually preparing to hike the Long Trail instead (and did).
So I was so pleased (SO PLEASED) that my story about a “weekend thru-hike” that spans the length of Bear Mountain and Harriman state parks was recently published by The New York Times, and appeared in the Travel section of the Sunday paper last weekend. As someone who backed out of a plan to thru-hike the AT in favor of a shorter trail because I was afraid of what such a long trip might do to my career, to my bank account, and to my personal life, I love the idea of setting out to complete shorter trails end-to-end. As I wrote in the Times:
I’d like to suggest that one can achieve a similar satisfaction thru-hiking shorter trails without quitting your job and putting everything you own into storage.
Photo: At the Suffern-Bear Mountain trailhead (a bit more backstory here)
A lifeline, and a threat: On Palmerston Island, a remote, small and vulnerable coral atoll in the Cook Islands, the 35 residents (most descended from the same single ancestor, a “footloose Englishman”) are weighing the costs and advantages of building an airport in a community currently only accessible by boat, writes Pinch of Dirt reader Ali Van Houten in Outside Magazine.
Related: Writing in the New Yorker, Helen Sullivan considers a tiny part of the Great Barrier Reef:
One of the difficult things about climate change is that we struggle to imagine it. A living edifice such as the Great Barrier Reef can, to the human mind, seem too permanent, too complicated to fail. But here, on Heron Island, the world was just small enough—a mesocosm—for its precariousness to feel real. Remove one link from the breathing chain—the noddies from the trees, the zooxanthellae from the corals—and the others would be lost quickly, easily. Veron had said that a reef represents “the greatest concentration of life on this planet.” Now I could imagine its opposite. If Heron’s corals died, the fish would starve, leave, or be eaten. The noddies would follow, and after a while the trees that feed on them might die, too. The island would be abandoned, sandy and silent, until it slipped beneath the waves.
“Leviathans in the Harbor”: It’s really a shame that companies selling access to the natural world do so much environmental harm, as Brian Payton’s meticulous feature for Hakai Magazine on Alaskan cruise ships describes in excruciating detail.