A Fall Drive

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I approach travel and writing in the same manner. I’m planned. I’m measured. I map, and I plot things out. 9 out of 10 times, this comes in handy when I’m doing trips of both the day, and the longer variety. There are times though, that I feel it becomes, well, maybe stifling is a good word, as I’ve been told by others that my tendency to over plan “can be stifling.”

9 out of 10 times, I feel it also helps my writing. But then sometimes I get stuck, as most writers do, and  I plan, and plot, and re-plan, and re-plot, and end up getting nothing down on the page, and you can’t do much with nothing. You can’t change it. You can’t edit it. You can’t completely redo it. You need something to make something. Sometimes you just have to  get it down, stream-of-conscious style. Sometimes you just have to wing it and see what happens, and see where it goes.  Even though I only do this a fraction of the time, I have done some of my best work in this manner.

I had big plans for today. I had the whole day mapped out. I was planning on waking up around 6AM,  and wanted to drive to the Mohonk Mountain House property outside New Paltz to do the Labyrinth & Lemon Squeeze hike. My plan was to get there by 9:30. The hike takes approximately 3 hours, and factoring in lunch at the top, I figured I’d then start to head towards home around 1:00. If time permitted, I wanted to venture down to Port Jervis, and drive route 97, otherwise known as the Upper Delaware Scenic Byway, along the portion known as the Hawk’s Nest to Barryville, where I planned on pivoting down towards Lake Wallenpaupack, instead of towards Honesdale and home. This is the boring part of the plan. I wanted to end in Dickson City because I need a new pair of sneakers, and the one I had my eyes on at Dick’s just went on sale. But, I thought, a new brewery just opened in Wallenpaupack, so I’ll stop there on my way through. It’ll be a full day.

Then I woke up late. And my leg was stiff as anything. I pinched a nerve sometime last week in my hip, and it makes me entire leg stiff and hard to move around. It makes sleeping painful, so I’ve been prescribed muscle relaxers, which knock you the hell out, hence, the waking up late. So with my timeline already thrown to hell itself, and my leg feeling maybe too stiff to hike in the morning at least, I had to come up with a plan B. The day was gorgeous. Yes, warmer, than I would like for this time of year (fall weather aka sweatshirt weather is my favorite kind of weather), but who can complain about balmy and sunny, you know? Any other day, and I’d easily be able to find something to do at home, but it was the kind of weather you feel you need to take advantage of. I wanted to be somewhere.  I could, I thought, still drive  Route 97. I was looking forward to that portion of the day quite a bit. I saw an article designating it one of the best fall foliage rides in the country last week, and it’s been one of those things I always say I’m going to do, but never quite follow through on. Hell, I thought. I’ll drive up, take my time, and just see what happens. I’ll wing it.

Route 97  was made for a nice, meandering drive, as there’s plenty of options of where to hop on and off, and plenty to do along the way. I was initially going to start up in Hancock, but after doing some errands in the morning, felt maybe the day was getting away from me a bit, so decided to hop on in Cochecton, the closest access point from my home. Next time, I’ll head from Cochecton to Hancock, and check out that stretch. I’ve heard good things about Callicoon.

Driving between Cochecton and Narrowsburg.

My one disappointment of the day was that the leaves really hadn’t started to change at all. This would’ve been a absolutely stunning ride under colored leaves. Yet, I can’t  complain about a ride on a gorgeous country road, when I had no real destination, and no time constraints.

I’ve been obsessed with audiobooks and podcasts lately. I feel like I’m becoming so much more informed as a driver these days.  The one negative side effect to this, is that I spend a lot less time riding around with my sunroof down. Sunroofs are not conducive to listening to the news, or about serial killers in Nazi-occupied Paris (which is the super upbeat audiobook I’m currently enthralled by). You know what they are good for? Jamming out to some tunes, “Thunder Road” style. And you know who is a good artist to jam out to “Thunder Road” style, someone who I’m going to go out on a limb and say is highly underrated? Someone who may never be your first choice, but is always a good choice, always someone you’re happy to hear? Someone who quietly over the years, has amassed the collective goodwill of music listeners, and someone whose death I didn’t think would upset me as much as it did? Tom Petty. I’ve always been a Tom Petty fan. He was my first concert as a teenager, that I went to unattended, with friends, where we snuck beers from my parent’s basement to have our very first tailgate. His songs were a soundtrack to summer bonfires, and all throughout my college years. He was someone who was always in my rotation, even if he was somehow never at the forefront. Like, he wasn’t someone I clamor for, the way I do with Bruce, or Frank Turner, or the Killers. Still, when I heard about his passing  earlier this week, I found myself rather despondent. Then, I and went to go find some Petty on my IPod,  and I was pleasantly surprised to find that he low key invaded my top 25 most played 5 times. He was just there.

A meandering road trip, with Tom Petty Spotify blasting out of an open sunroof, seemed like a perfect way to pay tribute to him on the week of his death.

My first stop was in Narrowsburg, a cool little town I’ve written about before, but not spent a ton of time in. Truthfully, I didn’t spend a ton of time there today either, really just a quick lunch. I stopped at The Launderette, a much touted pizza joint taking up prime real estate on the river. Narrowsburg has reinvented itself over the past decade or so as sort of a hamlet for misplaced New Yorkers, a Brooklyn in the Catskills, if you well, and you could tell walking into The Launderette. Their beer list is extensive. Their cocktails seem heavily curated. Their menu is on a clipboard, and a disco ball adds just the right amount of authentic whimsy. They serve tap water in a carafe with glasses that barely hold a mouthful. This isn’t an indictment. I quite enjoyed my lunch there, and would probably return.

Disco lunching.

The view can’t be beat, and the pizza looked delicious. Still, the NEPA in me looks at the $8.00 Catskill IPA  had, and thinks, I could get that cheaper at the divvier looking pub up the street. I could probably get an appetizer there too, that was heartier and cheaper than the smoked trout toast I had. And that probably wouldn’t have pickled beets on it (maybe they were pickled red onions? I don’t know, I picked them off). Again though, I enjoyed the trout toast and beer, while reading a book with a gorgeous backdrop behind me. And I mean, I can’t sit here and condone hipsters, when I was reading a book of David Foster Wallace essays, alone, and with a locally brewed craft beer.

I didn’t walk around downtown at all, because it was early on a Wednesday, and not much was open, but allegedly Narrowsburg has a good (albeit very small) main street to do just that. I want to check out both The Heron, as well as One Grand books, which I discovered (and wrote about here) when I realized they have some kind of partnership with Vulture, which I check daily.

Sidenote: Isn’t it awesome when you find out about somewhere in a national publication, and realize it’s within driving distance?

Good old Kittatiny campgrounds. Some of my fuzziest memories come from here.

I forgot what a gorgeous, underrated part of the country I was in. We used to go camping in Barryville, NY, rather frequently. It’s just a skip away from Narrowsburg. I’ve written about Barryville here and here. Cool town. The drive between Narrowsburg and Barryville was shorter than I remembered, which I feel is rarely the case (things are always further, at least in my personal experience), but one of those swaths of roads chock full of places to stop and explore, if that’s your prerogative.

For real though: who stays at hotels like this? I’d like to hear your story.
This is a shot of the Delaware Aqueduct, or the Roebling Bridge, the oldest cable wire suspension bridge in the country. While it’s a bridge today, it was built as an aqueduct originally. The D&H Canal crossed the Delaware here on its way from Honesdale to upstate New York. Speaking of stumbling across places you’re familiar with in national publications, last summer, I was reading the book Hostile Takeover. An integral car chase happens on the Hawk’s Nest, and ends with (stay with me) a drone machine gunning a limo as it tries to escape over the Delaware Aqueduct. Spoiler Alert: the book wasn’t great, but I was very excited with the setting.

What I was looking forward to most, was the Hawk’s Nest, a section of road between Barryville and Port Jervis, which I’d driven upon years ago during one of the aforementioned camping trips. I remember it being awesome and terrifying. I don’t do well with heights. The Hawk’s Nest is really just  the nickname for a very high, very scenic section of the road, that coincidentally happens to be in a hawk’s nesting area.  Large stone walls used to separate what used to be a one-lane dirt road from the Delaware and Hudson Canal, which ran parallel to the Delaware River.

Views from the “Hawk’s Nest.”

Just as the drive between Narrowsburg and Barryville didn’t seem as long as it did year’s prior, the Hawk’s Nest didn’t seem as scary. I mean, if you’re scared of heights (which again, I am), I’d probably let somebody else drive.  But for whatever reason, I found it more exhilarating than scary. It looks exactly like a car commercial road, and in fact, there have been commercials shot here.  Maybe the day helped. I don’t know that I’d love this in the rain. And the time. I don’t think I’d love it if it were crowded. You know when I think it’d be absolutely amazing? During a full moon. I’m adding that to my bucket list. I want to drive the Hawk’s Nest in a full moon, on my way to the Rohman’s Inn & Pub. 

I was still kind of itching to hike, so tentatively was going to stop at High Point State Park, just over the New Jersey border from Port Jervis. I’ve XC skied there in the winter, but never hiked it, and figured it’d be a nice end to my drive, and a relatively easy hike. But I was enjoying being in the car so much, with the sunroof down, and Tom Petty still singing about getting to the point and rolling another joint, and was in the mood to do a meatier hike, so made the last minute decision to head south on another scenic drive through the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area to hike Mt. Tammany in the Delaware Water Gap. I’ve done Tammany twice. It’s a great hike. It’s strenuous, but can easily be done in 1.5-3 hours, and has several amazing views, and at just an hour away, it was the perfect time frame to keep me from getting sick of being in the car.

I set off on the Mt. Tammany red-dot trail around 2:30, and by 3:15 was sweaty, exhausted, and laying down at the top. I treated myself to a sandwich I had in my backpack, and spent a really relaxing forty minutes reading on the top, and despite passing quit a few people on the trail, had the summit entirely to myself.  I listened to a couple of podcasts on my way down, and was in the car on my way back home by 5:30, a day well spent.  I didn’t end up getting those sneakers either. I ended up going to dinner with a friend who was back in town for the night, and used the whole “I went on a hike” thing as an excuse to have  scallops and risotto, steak and potatoes, as well as a good chunk of my friend’s chicken parm, and then two pumpkin Stegmaiers. My little fall drive turned out to be a really good day.

Planning serves me well most of the time, but sometimes it’s nice just sit back and drive.


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