It’s that time of year when journalists lay out their lists of the year’s best cultural offerings. Honestly, I’m not sure anyone cares about my top movie of the year (The Boy and The Heron) or TV show (Netflix’s Hilda) or album (weird experimental drones mixed with field recordings that I am only allowed to play when my family is away). Sometimes the lists can be overwhelming. Who had time to watch all that TV? Who are all these singers? Cocaine Bear was real?

Let’s start a new tradition: What were your five best days outside in 2023? Here’s my list:

[5] March 1: As you may remember, we didn’t get much snow last year. By late February we had barely seen a flake. As soon as The Current noted that, we got hit with 6 inches. Fearing that it wouldn’t last, I strapped on my hiking spikes and went up the Pocket Road trail to Lamb’s Hill. Being on top of the ridge with the Highlands blanketed in white is always glorious; it was even more so because I knew it would be fleeting.

March 1st: The briefest of winters on Mount Beacon (Photo by B. Cronin)
March 1st: The briefest of winters on Mount Beacon (Photos by B. Cronin)

[4] Dec. 5: During a run at Madam Brett Park just past nightfall, heading toward Long Dock, I heard a pack of coyotes having what sounded like a raging party. Their cries echoed across the cove and Metro-North tracks. Maybe they were celebrating because Denning’s Point had been closed to humans for the season and they had it all to themselves? I’ve heard them in groups on Mount Beacon, but never down by the river. It was beautiful. But I finished my run in the other direction.

[3] Sept. 30: My wife and I went to Ithaca to celebrate our wedding anniversary and, look, I don’t want to get all freshman-year dorm room about it, but have you ever been to Ithaca? Like, really been there? Despite owning the ubiquitous “Ithaca is Gorges” T-shirt, I had never taken the time to explore its gorges and waterfalls. As my son said after seeing Ithaca Falls (150 feet high, 175 feet wide, in downtown): “This place looks like a screen saver.”

Sept. 30: The underappreciated Ithaca Falls
Sept. 30: The underappreciated Ithaca Falls

[2] April 9: With so many microclimates tucked away in Highland hollows and slopes, you can often find hints of the coming season. With the days getting longer, I set out on a 19-mile hike from my front door in Beacon to the summit of Bull Hill, and back by way of the Mount Beacon reservoir, Fire Tower, Squirrels Hollow and the Cornish Ruins. The air felt a little warmer, the colors a little richer, the light a little sharper. No visual signs of spring, but if you breathed deeply enough at the rushing brooks, you could catch a whiff of a warm, pungent sweetness of the soil.

April 9th: Looking for Spring on Bull Hill

[1] Sept. 23: I had signed up for the inaugural Wild Goose 100-mile race across the New Jersey line in Wawayanda State Park. Shouldn’t be too hot, the wildfire season is dying down, what could go wrong? Cue the tropical storm. Incredibly, the race was not canceled, and 50 of us lined up as the first tendrils of Tropical Storm Ophelia lashed the park. During the first mile, a runner yelled, “This storm will just make the stories we’ll tell about this day that much better!” We all cheered. Twelve hours later, the same runner left in an ambulance.

Needless to say, things went downhill fast. The course consisted of three loops that we continually revisited, allowing us to appreciate how thoroughly the park was flooding. Puddles on one loop became brooks on the next loop, brooks became rivers, bridges became reefs. Night fell and the temperature dropped. I had to quit at Mile 50 because I could not stop shaking. I was so thoroughly soaked I felt I might devolve into a prehistoric fish.

Why is that No. 1? Because slogging through that mess with 50 other idiots was a blast — all of us trying to cheer each other up, telling stories, giving advice and sharing snacks. In general, the longer a race, the less competitive it is. Maybe it’s because we’ve all been humbled by failure, but it might be because we know that one of the best things about outdoor adventures are the people you share them with.

Here’s hoping I see more of you out there in 2024.

Behind The Story

Type: Opinion

Opinion: Advocates for ideas and draws conclusions based on the author/producer’s interpretation of facts and data.

The Skidmore College graduate has reported for The Current since 2014 and writes the "Out There" column. Location: Beacon. Languages: English. Areas of Expertise: Environment, outdoors

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