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My Year-long “Staycation”: Hiking the Trails Close to Home and Surfing in Rockaway

Visiting the Bahamas would be nice, but since we can’t get there thanks to Covid, we can (re)discover the wonders of our own backyards

The lighthouse that sits in the Hudson river in Tarrytown, just ten minutes from my house. Photo: Michael Lepetit

Ask your typical New Yorker and it’s been forever (if ever!) since they’ve seen the sights of their own hometown. Even better, New York City is in the middle of a building boom right now, with exciting new places to visit like the Edge, the highest outdoor sky deck in the Western Hemisphere…. This enforced “staycation” is also a good opportunity to develop a skill that will eventually be useful when you start traveling again. If you were hoping to trek the Andes one day, this is a great time to prepare for that challenge by hiking locally.

There’s a great old The Odd Couple episode in which Felix attempts to show his friend Oscar how great New York City can be before Oscar leaves it behind and heads to the Bahamas.

While on their way to the airport, however, the subway that they’re on breaks down and Oscar and Felix find themselves trapped in a hot subway car with some surly passengers, including a pregnant dog. When the dog starts to give birth, Felix finds a way to unite all of the passengers in aiding in her delivery. By the end of the episode everyone sings together and cares for the puppies. The train car works again and all the passengers make plans to meet up again someday.

Oscar’s faith in New York City is restored even though he missed his flight.  Felix tells him not to worry: “you’ll spend your vacation in the most popular vacation spot on Earth… New York City.”

“I live in New York City” Oscar tells him, unamused. “You ever been to the top of the Empire State Building?” Felix asks.

“No.” “You ever seen the Statue of Liberty?” “No.” “You’re a typical New Yorker!”

Felix says.  “We’ll take the Orchard Beach bus” he says, imagining an amazing New York City vacation.

Milo and Mike at the Waterfall. Photo: Michael Lepetit

Well, it seems that now we are all Oscar and Felix stuck in the subway car. Yes, visiting the Bahamas would be nice, but we can’t get there.  Our inner Oscars sit surly in the subway, longing for a nice warm beach, but without that option it’s time for us to let our inner Felixes shine and explore that which has been close to us all along.  Felix makes a good point; ask your typical New Yorker and it’s been forever (if ever!) since they’ve seen the sights of their own hometown.  Even better, New York City is in the middle of a building boom right now, with exciting new places to visit like the Edge, the “highest outdoor sky deck in the Western Hemisphere.” 

But even if you don’t live in a major tourist destination you can also find something to do. Personally, I’ve been exploring some of the state parks close to my house.  Recently, my father, my dog Milo, and I took a hike in the Nerversink Unique Area about an hour away.  With three waterfalls, including one of the most stunning I’ve ever seen, miles of trails, and a beautiful river, I realized how much beauty I’ve ignored so close to home.

A waterfall and small swimming hole in the Catskills, the exact location of which I have been sworn to secrecy. Photo: Michael Lepetit

In fact, I’ve found myself exploring some pretty amazing outdoor areas during the pandemic.  While thumbing through a book of amazing travel destinations, I spotted one in Vermont.  The state’s Long Trail, which extends the length of the state, was listed as one of the most beautiful places in the world in Autumn.  So Milo and I had to check it out.  I’ve also recently familiarized myself with the endless hiking trails of the Catskills.  Some of the hikes are harder than I would have imagined but the payoff is always worth it.  I’ve seen some wildlife that I’ve never seen before like porcupines, and some that are always exciting, like bears.  While some of the hikes take longer than others, they are all about two hours north of New York city.

This enforced “staycation” is also a good opportunity to develop a skill that will eventually be useful when you start traveling again.  If you were hoping to trek the Andes one day, this is a great time to prepare for that challenge by hiking locally.

This summer I took the time to learn how to do something I’ve always wanted to do while traveling: surf.  I took a few lessons in Rockaway beach and immediately fell in love with it.  And while Rockaway isn’t Hawaii, I still really enjoy surfing there. When in the hopefully near future, I’ll be able to take a surf trip to far off beaches, I’ll know how to surf thanks to Rockaway!

After an eleven mile hike through the Green Mountains of Vermont the day before, Milo opted for the tent. Lucky for him we were heading home. Photo: Michael Lepetit

Photography, too, was what originally propelled me to travel around the world.  That passion hasn’t left me and so, recently I’ve found myself traveling to photogenic places close to home. One summer evening I found myself setting up a tripod by a lighthouse on the Hudson river. I always knew it was there but I had never bothered to make the ten-minute drive and I was glad I finally did.  It took Covid for me to discover a beautiful spot 10 minutes from home.

Unfortunately, however, as hidden local gems come into the spotlight many places struggle to keep up with the rise in visitors. We must remember that with great fun comes great responsibility.  Many parks have seen a rise in litter, and irresponsible, often novice, hikers have been known to veer off the beaten paths and trample their surroundings. Same as when we travel abroad, as visitors we are to leave our surroundings undisturbed for all to enjoy.  This means that we must act responsibly even when enjoying adventures close to our own homes.

There’s a lot to see and experience in our own backyard if we look for it.  There’s never been a better time to explore local parks, points of interest and new hobbies, so long as we do so responsibly.  While it might not be the Bahamas of Oscar’s dreams, our travel appetite might be satiated, at least for now, close to home.

 

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