Updated: Apr 8, 2019
I am a gemini through and through. I am always on the hunt for my next adventure and if I stay in one place for too long I start acting like a three year old who refused to take her nap that day: I get cranky, restless, and overly emotional. When this happens I need a change of pace, and more specifically I need to get outside. Geminis are represented as “the twins,” and so it is often said that we have split personalities. I love the fast paced nature of Manhattan. I marvel at the chaotic energy that engulfs the city that never sleeps, and yet at the same time I feel the most grounded and myself when I’m out in the middle of nowhere, no other humans in sight, with only the sounds of nature. I love hiking. I love being at 14,000 feet above sea level. I love scrambling over rocks and boulders and I absolutely love losing cell service. That’s actually one of my favorite parts of every hike: when the top left hand corner of my phone no longer says “Verizon,” but “No Service.”
A couple weeks ago I started acting like that pesky three year old. After all, it had been seven months since I’d gone on a proper hike. I literally sat on my bed and cried actual tears.
“I just miss the Tetons so much,” I wailed. “I need to get back to the Tetons!”
For those of you who don’t know, the Tetons are a mountain range near Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where I was lucky to spend the summer of 2015 doing a production of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Every couple of months, when I start to feel suffocated by this concrete jungle, I have an "I miss the Tetons" meltdown. And like I said before, the only cure for one of these meltdowns is to get outside. After dating me for three years, Jon (my partner) knows all too well exactly what to do when I start crying about missing my favorite mountain range. He sat next to me and together we figured out a day to get out of the city.
I chose Beacon, NY as our destination for a multitude of reasons:
1. It's super easy to get to from the city via the Metro-North.
2. Beacon has a reputation for being a hippie dippy town and I love me a cute hippie dippy town! I mean, have you seen my crystal collection and my 16 plant babies?!
3. Most importantly: Mount Beacon is the highest point in the Hudson Highlands and there's a fire tower you can climb up at the top, giving you a stunning view, or so I'd heard.
So on Tuesday morning, March 26th, we hopped on the first off-peak Metro-North train out of the city. From the moment we got off the train in Beacon I literally felt my heart beat slow down. Even the air smelled cleaner. We walked the thirty minutes or so from the train station to the other side of town where the trailhead was.
The hike up the mountain is pretty straight forward. The trails are well kept and there's plenty of color coded posts along the way to help guide you. Of course, this didn't stop Jon and I from losing our way not once, but twice. Both of us have a pretty keen sense of direction and decent map reading skills, but when you go hiking with your best friend it's easy to get lost in conversation, forget to pay attention to where you're going, and end up 15 minutes in the opposite direction you wanted to go in. Oops!
The hike starts out with switchbacks up the mountain and those babies are steep. It's a nice little wakeup call for your booty at the start of your day. After the switchbacks you come to the first of two cool historical landmarks on Mount Beacon: machinery left over from the Mount Beacon Incline Railway.
History nerd alert! I'm a secret history nerd. Not in the read-history-books-and-watch-documentaries kind of way but in the if-you-take-me-to-a-museum-I-will-literally-stop-and-read-every-single-plaque,-poster,-and-informational-blurb-in-the-building kind of way. However, if history bores you please feel free to skip the next paragraph.
Back at the trailhead there was an informational post containing trail maps, safety tips, and my personal favorite: a brief history of Mount Beacon. During the Revolutionary War Mount Beacon was used as a lookout for the Continental Army to warn troops down in the valley of any incoming attacks. Later, in 1902 a railroad was build on Mount Beacon which would bring thousands of Americans each summer up to the top of the mountain. Here, visitors could enjoy cooler temperatures, a beautiful view, and could dance or gamble the night away at the hotel and casino which had also been built on the summit. In 1926, 110,000 people rode the Mount Beacon Incline Railway to the mountaintop and business was thriving! However, the following fall of 1927 a fire broke out in the casino, spread to the neighboring hotel and both were destroyed. Unfortunately, as America entered the Great Depression soon after, the hotel and casino were never rebuilt. The fire left behind pieces of the railroad's powerhouse (pictured above) and ruins of the actual casino itself, which I forgot to snag a picture of.
Anyway, we continued on our hike and made it to the top. We climbed the fire tower. The views were gorgeous. It was 50 degrees and sunny, not a cloud in the sky. To the south we could actually see the New York City skyline in the distance, to the northwest the Catskill Mountains, and to the northeast Massachusetts.
Nature is healing. When we give our bodies the opportunity to spend time with nature there is an energetic shift that occurs. I feel this every time I leave the man made world behind and venture into the world Mother Nature made for us. The first time I experienced this was when I spent that summer in Wyoming. The Tetons healed me without me even knowing I needed healing. That's why that place means so much to me. That's why I wear a Teton ring every day.
I've always loved the outdoors. As a child I could spend hours catching frogs in our backyard. My parents used to call me a monkey because of how fearlessly I climbed every tree I could get my hands on. But my deep obsession with the outdoors developed because a theater job took me to one of the most beautiful and still completely wild places in our country. Coincidentally, or maybe not coincidentally, every single contract that has taken me to a regional theater outside of New York has given me access to nature in some way. There were the beaches of Ogunquit, Maine when I worked at the Ogunquit Playhouse and the Booth Theater. The beaches of Long Beach Island when I did summer stock at Ocean Professional Theatre Company. The Appalachian Trail, wide open spaces, and creeks that ran through the Allenberry Playhouse. The vibrant desert of Utah, canyons, mountains, and red rocks galore of Tuacahn. And of course, the bison, Snake River, and Tetons right around the corner from the Jackson Hole Playhouse. For me each theater contract outside of New York represents much more than a career accomplishment. These contracts provide me with free transportation to and housing in places overflowing with nature. If I want to go on a vacation in any of these places I have to pay for airfare or a train ticket, an airbnb or hotel room, and the prices quickly add up. It's easier when I don't have to worry about funding it myself because a theater is paying for me to be there.
So what happens when no jobs are coming my way? What happens when no producers are offering to pay me to live in a beautiful place (to do theater, of course) with cheap and easy access to nature, hiking, camping, swimming, climbing galore? I have to find a way to make it happen for myself. I have to save the money myself, carve out the time, and prioritize giving myself time to play in the dirt, quite literally. This is just as important as making sure I budget taking class into my weekly schedule. Sure, sometimes it seems daunting to find the time and money to leave the city. I absolutely have moments where I find myself overwhelmed by my desire to explore, where I feel like I'll never have enough time or money to see all the places I want to see.
Hiking the four miles to the top of Mount Beacon and breathing in the air at 1,653 feet above sea level might not look as glamorous as some of the other nine mile hikes I've done 14,000 feet above sea level. It isn't quite as remote as some of the other places I've been and to be 100% honest, I never actually did lose cell service at the top of the fire tower. But regardless, I was able to reconnect to Mother Earth and she left me feeling whole again. I was also reminded that there are some really beautiful places within a day trip of my own home. I don't have to travel halfway across the country and spend hundreds of dollars to find nature. I can take a one hour train ride just north of the city for $30 round trip and find the solitude I crave. I came back to the city feeling refreshed and calm.
When I got back to my apartment I stepped outside on the balcony to take a look at the sunset. She was particularly beautiful that night. I like to think it was Mother Nature reaching out to me one more time that day as if to say, "See? I am everywhere. Even here, in one of the busiest cities in the world, you can find me if you only know where to look."