Driving home from work on Monday night, I was sitting at a yield sign waiting for traffic to pass before getting onto the road. Suddenly, I felt a thud at the rear of my vehicle. I had been hit. I looked in my rearview mirror and observed the blank stares of four men in the car behind me.
After screaming for the driver to pull over further up the road, I got out of the car to inspect the damage. My bumper was knocked out of place, its clips forced upward, and the trunk would not stay closed without a very strong slam. I articulated my anger to the driver but he didn't seem to understand me. Being impatient, I got back in my car and continued toward home.
I have a hard time accepting when things like my car's bumper are out of place so it weighed on my mind. However, the car still ran and would be able to get me somewhere where I'd be able to hike away the stress and temporarily forget about the damage.
I had originally chosen the 8-mile Shawangunk Loop in Witch's Hole State Park as this week's hike and had hoped the forecasted winter weather would hold off long enough for me to complete the trek.
So, I was disappointed as I passed Sloatsburg, NY on the NY Thruway with the distant mountain peaks only barely visible due to clouds and snow just starting to fall hard enough to make me reconsider. The sky was relatively clear and there were only some scattered flurries just a few miles before. I took the next u-turn and headed back in the direction I had come. I would go to eat breakfast at the Stateline Diner in Mahwah (not to be confused with the State Line Inn near Alpine) and find another nearby hike.
As I waited for my food, I searched Alltrails for the hikes nearest to me. The Ramapo Valley County Reservation was at the top of the list, offered a few different options to get in a good amount of miles, and it was only a few minutes away. Plus, I haven't been hiking in NJ since I hiked in the Palisades four weeks ago. After enjoying the perfect plate of pancakes that was placed on the table in front of me, I got back into my car for a short trip to the Ramapo County Valley Reservation trail head.
The brief drive led me past schools, shopping plazas, and houses. I came to grips that this hike wouldn't provide me with the feeling of seclusion that I usually strive for as the trail had its own parking lot and the views were mostly facing east toward the town. However, the inclines looked good enough for some exertion and there were some vistas (Hawk's Rock and Cactus Ledge) that seemed worth checking out.
As I approached the road where the trail parking was located, I passed the headquarters of the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference. The efforts of the NYNJTC cannot be overlooked as they are responsible for invaluable trail maintenance and the printing of the best topographical maps that you'll find anywhere, among other things.
Maverick snowflakes fluttered as I pulled into a spot in the parking lot but they were inconsequential. I loaded up my gear and walked to the bulletin board at the trailhead. I inspected the map and decided that I would hike most of the yellow-blazed Vista Trail and would jump onto another if I felt it was worth it.
Entering the park, incessant road noise ringing in my ears, I was still admittedly skeptical that this hike would provide me enough of a true nature experience, but I was hoping to be surprised. Almost immediately, old building ruins came into view. Graffiti covered the walls and trees grew where a floor used to be, rising above where the former roof once was.
I continued over a bridge above the icy Ramapo River and walked onto a wide path that commenced the Vista Trail. To my right, Monroe Ridge towered behind the frozen Scarlet Oak Pond. A sign warned that the ice was thin and should not be disturbed.
The yellow blazes quickly began to work their way steeply up the mountain and the ground was covered by a thick sheet of ice in some places due to the erratic weather of the previous week. I would find myself walking off the trail around the slick sheets on many occasions.
It wasn't long before I arrived at Hawk Rock. Lake Henry, also covered over by a sheet of ice and across from the pond, was visible through the trees below. However, visibility was not ideal today as you should be able to make out the NYC skyline in the distance. I was only able to see as far as some mountain ranges beyond the office buildings, backyards, and roads below.
I lingered around the rock for a while and took in the view before continuing upward along the trail. It was only about 27 degrees but it almost felt warm compared to the far more frigid temperatures that we have experienced recently. Still, clusters of icicles clung to the surrounding cliffs and I was careful to avoid many more ice slicks. In places, the ground was made up of thin, ice crystals where loose, waterlogged soil had refrozen.
Arriving at Cactus Ledge, the view improved slightly. There were less office buildings, some nicer homes, and I could see out to Campgaw Mountain Ski Resort and High Mountain Park. This helped create, at least, the illusion of the "outdoors". The close proximity to civilization and continuous sounds from traffic on the nearby roads were costing this hike points. During the summer months, I imagine this hike would be through a much thicker forest which would assist in one's immersion in nature.
However, it's January, cloudy, and the landscape was bordering on bleak. I could see the lake and pond through the trees to my left but I could also see the rest of the real world peeking through. I looked to my right and, for the first time, I found myself admiring the lack of a view. I was looking at nothing but trees and rocks and I knew that, in this direction, the woods carried on all the way to Ringwood State Park. So I walked, with nature to my right and civilization to my left.
After a few more minutes, my eyes moved to the horizon beyond the trees to the right. Something compelled me to travel up the slight incline, a few feet above the trail and over a large boulder. The slight elevation difference completely changed my perspective. Just off the trail, I could see nothing but trees out ahead and I had finally hiked far enough to lose the road sound.
As I took a deep breath, appreciating the true forest view, I caught the stare of a deer standing about 15 yards in front of me. Its beige coat kept it almost completely camouflaged among the trees and leaves. Keeping an eye on the deer keeping its eyes on me, I adjusted my focus and scanned the woods. Another deer stood at my 2 o'clock.
The two animals stood there watching me and I was standing there watching them, camera in hand. None of us moved for a few moments before one of them hopped away; the other one followed. I moved in closer as two white tails bounced through the trees ahead. The two tails became five tails as three more deer darted away. The quintet of deer ran, in formation, deeper into the forest and out of my sight. I was surprised and excited to have unexpectedly seen these creatures and it was certainly a highlight of this hike.
Eventually, I came to a sign that advised I could continue to follow yellow blazes to the parking lot in 1 mile or I could take a white-blazed trail to Ringwood State Park 4.5 miles away. I quickly evaluated the options and decided I had more than enough energy to make it to and from Ringwood. I went right and enjoyed a brisk walk on a simple trail in the opposite direction of my car. I already felt like I was deeper in the outdoors and it was quiet.
I did not go all the way to Ringwood State Park as I eventually found the connected, green-blazed Halifax Trail covered in too much ice to enjoy. I walked back the way I came on the white-blazed trail and returned to the yellow blazes to follow them back to my car. I passed a bald along the way and took in a view from the top which was considerably more interesting than the two previous vistas. I then moved onto the blue-blazed RIdge Loop (a dilapidated asphalt road) for the final descent to my car and enjoyed a running waterfall to my right.
When I finally went back over the bridge above the Ramapo River and passed the building ruins again, I found myself satisfied enough with the hike, but it was mostly due to the initial climb and going off the trail to see the deer (I continue to come across wildlife where I expect to see it least). Also, a short hike through this park was hard to compare to the snow-covered peaks of FIshkill RIdge and Storm King Mountain that I had climbed over the past few weeks.
Since I had not planned on doing this hike until minutes before I arrived, I did not chart a specific route and so this was more of a free form walk in the woods. Nevertheless, I was still able to get in a good workout and clear my mind, which is most important. I will be happy when snow season ends so I may truly plan and explore, uninhibited by unfriendly weather. I am sure a hike through Ramapo Valley Reservation would be more interesting during other seasons when the trees are thicker and there is less ice.
As I made it back to my car, I was immediately reminded that my bumper had been knocked out of place and started to consider my options. Would I spend $500? $1000? More? By the time I parked back by my home, I decided to watch a brief Youtube video on removing a Toyota Camry bumper and followed the steps. I used a hammer to bash the damaged clips back into place and reattached the bumper. It's almost as good as new, cost nothing, and only took me about 30 minutes to repair. If I was lacking any satisfaction from my hike, I made it up to myself by displaying some adroitness.