And the Winner Is….

… me! Because I got out of my house and out of my head all day, and I’m gonna sleep like a rock tonight!

It’s Election Day, RBG is dead, COVID numbers are climbing, Trump supporters are literally running people off the road, and I’m a wreck. I knew I couldn’t sit at home and listen to talking heads on NPR all day.

Mom taught is a lot of stress and mood management skills as children, more than I guess other kids got, but two things were always at the top of the list: regular plentiful sleep, and exercise. When we were crawling up the walls, or driving her up those walls, Mom had one consistent response: “Go outside!”

So, that’s the coping mechanism I turn to most in this bizarre year.

I’ve had my eye on Ramapo Mountain State Forest for a few months now, but it was always farther than I wanted to go, or could go by the time we’d made a decision and walked out the door. Today, though, we were looking for an all-day immersive experience, and while it was nearly noon by the time we arrived, it was plenty of time for something slightly farther afield and more than our usual 2-3 miles.

Starting Off

The first section of the trail, as we chose to take it (there are a lot of options here!), rises up along the banks of the lake’s outlet stream. The water burbling, more foliage still bright on the trees than I had expected….

It was an auspicious start.

Castle Loop

Before arriving at the lake itself, we veered right onto the white-blazed Castle Loop trail, which wound gradually up a hillside through the woods, a nice leisurely wander to the top of the hill and the primary Ramapo parking lot.

After a short passage along New Jersey’s own Sky Line Drive, the loop trail turned downhill, and I do mean down! Some sections of the trail were nearly vertical, and I was definitely glad to be taking the counter-clockwise approach to this loop!

The Castle

But all that precipitous downhill, followed by a long uphill, brought us to a pretty fabulous overlook.

From there, it’s just a short walk across the ridge to perhaps the most famous edifice of the state forest. The trees part, and Van Slyke Castle (previously known as Foxcroft), or what’s left of it, rises up out of the green scrub across the top of the hill.

This is the kind of mystery I love to speculate about on a walk. Why is it here? What were the rooms? How did it burn? And I loved the bits of detail, too. Wood crossbeams here, steel struts there, brick detailing at the top of the windows and emerging from the crumbling chimneys. A tree growing out of the living room, the pillars of what was once a porch with a spectacular view now just jutting towers along an overgrown cliff-edge.

I’m not sure what these red and yellow berries are, in what might have been a corner tower of the castle. I’ve always wanted to have a mansion with a sunny tower with a view for a writing room….

With one more shot at expansive landscape views, the trail dropped precipitously again, straight down to Ramapo Lake below.

The Lake

I will always prefer a hike with a nice water feature, but in contrast to the burbling brook that accompanied the first leg of this, our longest and most strenuous trip of all these Isolation Adventures, a hike featuring a large lake implies a flatter trail. Ramapo Lake did not disappoint in that regard. My legs were beginning to feel the strain of all our rock scrambling now, and I was glad of a long, flatter route ahead. The sunlight was also shifting to that lower angle that makes everything glow, the late foliage more brilliant.

So soon after this fall’s time shift, the sun settled behind the trees much sooner than we might have liked or anticipated, the wind picking up and cooling the air significantly, the trees losing the luster of their fall colors in the gathering gloom.

But I wasn’t sorry to make our Ramapo Lake trip an all-day affair. It was exactly what I needed.

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