Located off Route 9D just south of Beacon, New York, the trail starts its climb at the northern side of an old stone tunnel. Parking is next to the Breakneck Metro North train stop or along the road. It’s tight, be careful.
It was a beautiful, unusually warm late September day in the Hudson Valley. The sun had yet to reach the western side of Sugarloaf Mountain. It was time for something different and we were looking for some place new to hike, so here we were. My son had hiked Breakneck awhile back and described it as a ‘freaking death trap.’ Nah, I thought, he can exaggerate. This is the Hudson Valley not the Himalaya’s. How steep could it be? I found out.
This is my sixtieth year and last winter on my birthday I decided that it was time to stop thinking about what I should be doing all the time and start doing what I wanted to do. I still had to go to work, but does it really matter if the grass is one inch tall or two inches tall? On this day a part of my old consciousness chastised me for packing the granola bars and the water. There are leaves to rake, it shouted.
I ignored it. The new me was going for a hike and I had the perfect partner, my wife Kat, was coming with me. The leaves would wait, off we went.
The first part of Breakneck Ridge trail ascends 1,000 feet in the first quarter mile. It’s not a hike, it’s a scramble up and over boulders and around granite outcroppings. Don’t bring the walking sticks, you’ll need your hands to hold on and climb. This is a three point all the time scramble. Pretty cool.
The usual hike in the hills of the Hudson Valley climbs a few steep inclines, perhaps traipsing through second growth forests with old stone walls or soft shoeing around swampy wetlands. It’s all very scenic but generally not too strenuous. Breakneck Ridge is an exception. The first part of the trail is up, and up and up.
One thing became instantly obvious to me as we scrambled up and over, we were the oldest people on the trail. I felt like the old man of the mountain as one after another brightly glad 20 and 30 somethings passed us by. Maybe I should sit cross legged on an outcrop and wait for someone to ask me the meaning of life. It’s probably just as well no one asked since I’m still working on that.
I kept looking for the AARPA group but couldn’t find them. They weren’t on this trail.
It was also very obvious that this age group has gotten a bad rap from some of us older statesmen. They weren’t sitting at home with their video games, nor were they discussing millennial politics at a coffee house. This group, and there were a lot of them, were out in the air climbing the steep and rocky slope. By the looks of it they were enjoying the day and enjoying the challenge. Perhaps there is hope for America.
I like to watch people. There’s a kind of voyeuristic pleasure in watching people, guessing about other lives and passing judgements that are generally ill-informed and wrong. I particularly like to size up hikers and what they wear and carry in the woods. I guess I’m old school but in my pack I have extra socks, the required first aid kit, and a space blanket in case of a sudden blizzard. All the stuff you carry ‘just in case’ but have never really used. Of course I had my trusty Danner hiking boots on. They’ve worked for me for a long time. My trail mates however were an eclectic bunch, they’re dress appeared to be more like a fashion week parade. Maybe it was because we were so close the New York City.
Some went by wearing outfits that looked right off the rack at Lourde and Taylor’s. Yoga pants were obviously very popular and one guy seemed to be wearing a pair of gloves on his feet. Ok, they weren’t gloves they were those thin soled, toe sneakers. There didn’t seem to be much between his feet and the sharp rocks.
The old me was busy passing judgement on these youngsters who were passing us by going up the mountain when the new me smacked me upside the head and yelled, “Stop it! Everyone is out climbing, enjoying, living. Not everyone wears jeans and a logger shirt all the time. Live and let live.”
The new me was right, the stogy old me was wrong. The dress code didn’t matter anymore than the length of the grass in my backyard.