The Trail Less Traveled

By: Richie Bertrand

A car door slams. An engine sputters. Then it roars. I put the car in drive.

Despite our current pandemic and the necessity for caution in public spaces, the Hudson Valley's fall foliage seems to lure quarantined homebodies outdoors. Weekend northbound traffic appears like a dystopian thriller's escape from a New York City zombie apocalypse. As if this longtime freedom to leave home were some sort of newfound inalienable right, leaf peepers, albeit barbarically, exemplify an array of gluttonous behavior not unlike the ruckus of a medieval banquet – copious cups of cider, bountiful bushels of hand-picked honey crisps, mounds of steaming donuts, bowls of pumpkin seeds. Dubious that this is not a time warp to an era long past? Look no further than the digital medium which transposes it – prolific flannel uploads that populate Instagram feeds with cliché captions, only to be mindlessly double-tapped. But if we manage to escape our homes responsibly, how may we escape the crowds too?

I follow a county highway for several miles.

For me, the answer lies in local Hudson Valley trails and backroads - the kind you cannot discover on internet searches and BuzzFeed lists; the kind that is desolate, unpopulated, where no cell service dares to exist; the kind that asserts wildlife's authority; the kind that positions humans as trespassers. Welcome to the Hudson Valley's Edenic Garden – a trail runner's mecca.

I turn into an empty parking lot.

I would love to tell you — between the expanses of hills and mountains, along the streams and rivers, underneath the canopies of oak, maple, and pine – where I trail run. But I cannot. If I did, I would surrender my anonymity and jeopardize the animals' solitude. Have you ever been alone, trotting about a trail in the Hudson Valley? If you have, you will agree that it is the single most excellent outdoor adventure the region offers. Spend several miles in the Hudson Valley's wooded hills and you will soon realize there is an entire ecosystem that exists; we are one of many members who share in it. Outdoor activities like trail running provide means to understand ourselves as subjectively intermeshed within nature rather than objective, outside observers. As humans, we are innately anthropocentric, believing the world revolves around us. Spend time immersed in the Hudson Valley's terrain and you soon learn that the relationship between humans and nature is reciprocal; we coexist and are, in turn, dependent upon one another.

I enter the trail.

It is fascinating what you find while frolicking in the woodlands. Earlier, I told you that I could not tell you where I run, like some agreement I reached with my Hudson Valley forest friends– a townhall between me and the plethora of paw-printed and plant life pals I pass by daily. Too many implosive "p" sounds? Consider that a lesson in animal calls! I am sure you could find me if you listen closely enough. Perhaps with your ear to the ground like a competent tracker; you are likely to hear more than merely the staccato click of my footsteps bouncing by loose rock, dainty twigs, and dried leaves. Pock. Snap. Crunch.

I take a trail less traveled.

You may hear me scream, aaaah!, while I mistake a weather-beaten branch below my shoe for a venomous snake. You might listen to me choke, hrrrk!, while I swallow an unexpected, intruding fly. It's likely you catch fa-thud!, while I simultaneously cry out, "TIMBER!" like a lumberjack, and tumble to the ground courtesy of a protuberant tree root. There's even a chance you hear me sneeze, achoo!, while I rub my eyes, and wipe my nose through a pollinated pasture of wildflowers. Oh, if the animals hiding beyond the trails could laugh you would hear that too, while the clumsy human that I am provides a bit of levity to my furry audience.

I arrive back at the empty parking lot.

I lean against the trailhead's wooden post; my body too spent to notice the sharp splinter now lodged into my lower back. That will be a problem for me in the future. For now, surrounded by the woods and the night sounds of birds and other creatures that call it home, I feel at peace. Maybe these woodland animals have it right; that is, many come alive at the night time when humans go to rest.

A car door slams. An engine sputters. Then it roars. I put the car in drive.

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