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Carpenter's Loop I Winter Evening

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Sunday, February 5, 2012
Moon over Hudson River in the evening as seen from Shore Trail, Part of Carpenter's Loop I in Palisades Interstate Park, Fort Lee, NJ
During the spring and early fall I started preparing for my winter workouts by getting some warmer workout clothes.

Unfortunately I've been slacking quite a bit. Especially when it comes to my outdoor activities.

The last few weeks I've made an effort to work my way back up to jogging regularly again.

I haven't turned into a complete couch potato but I do a lot of my more intense workouts outdoors and I've been a baby about the cold.

As usual, I started out kind of slow by walking and hiking. Most of my hikes involve the 300' stair climb on Carpenter's trail at Palisades Interstate Park. My short hike includes the Carpenter I loop. I start down Shore Trail at the entrance of the park near Edgewater Colony. Work my way down the stone stairs flanking the only co-op community of its kind that I'm aware of in the area, continue North along the Hudson River, past Hazzard Dock, under the George Washington Bridge, up Carpenter's Trail and then head out of the park on the Long Path back towards the bridge.

It worried me that the park would feel a little dead this time of year but was happy to see so many mallards swimming close to the rocky banks along the trail along with some squirrels.

With winter's shorter days combined with not being in as good shape as I was during the warmer months, my hikes have been ending after the sun had set. The photo above shows the moon over the Hudson during my last trip. One word kept popping into my head. BATS!!!!

Bats really creepy me out and I've seen quite a few in the park. There are some other things that freak me out about being in the park at night. During the day, I hear something scurrying around just off the trail and I expect to see a cute rabbit, chipmunk or squirrel. At night all I think of are snakes, coyotes, hyenas, zombies and chupacabras. I know it's irrational but walking alone in the woods at night is a bit creepy.

The toughest part of this hike is the stair climb up Carpenter's Trail. In the past, my long hike (Carpenter's 8) took me up the stairs twice and I didn't have much of a problem. After not climbing those stairs regularly for a few months I found it difficult. For the first time I had to stop and sit when I reached the top so I could catch my breath. Running the rest of the trail back, as I normally do, was not an option.

Wooden Planks over Carpenter's Trail Stair Collapse
Repair over collapse
About 2/3rds up the climb the stairs show their age. A large section has started to crumble, including a roughly 3' section which completely collapsed.

Glad to see the park's crew is aware of the  problem and have laid a few wooden planks to allow safe passage. Hopefully there is a more permanent fix soon because it's a long way down.

During the summer the lush greenery helps mask how high you really are. With all the leaves off the trees there's no way to trick your mind into thinking you're just on a leisurely stroll and not hundreds of feet up in the air.  I don't have a fear of heights but there was something unsettling about being very much aware of how high I was and seeing that just a few feet away was a steep drop.

View of George Washington Bridge behind bare trees from The Long Path
View from Carpenter's Trail

The whole trail takes on a different feel in the winter. The vegetation covered stone structures in the Spring and Summer make you feel like you've discovered some magical ruins. This time of year the dead looking vines and branches creates a more ominous tone.

After finishing my ascent up the palisades I could see the last signs of sunlight fading away through the bare tree limbs that usually obstruct my view of civilization. My 30 minutes where I felt like I had escaped to a serene natural environment has been cut a little shorter now that the steel and concrete buildings nearby are clearly visible.

George Washington Bridge at Night As Seen From The Long Path
Even the George Washington Bridge is constantly visible along the Long Path South of Carpenter's Trail. Seeing its towers lit up among bare sticks that used to be trees seemed a bit surreal. Almost as if the towers were created by an alien civilization that has conquered the planet, killing all the indigenous life around it.

It was still an enjoyable experience but I'm going to try to time my hikes so I'm not there after dark.

I was almost out of the park when I realized I hadn't seen a single bat. Last time I was on this part of the trail at night there were dozens flapping above me. A quick search when I got home confirmed my suspicion that they hibernate during the winter which is a relief when I'm out on the trail at night but reading that they sometimes make their way into people's homes (and having had one decide to chill out in my parents bedroom when I was a kid) had me searching to make sure none of those blood suckers came to visit.

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