Whenever New York City starts to get to me — as it does about every two weeks these days* — I hightail it up to the very tip of the island, to Inwood Hill Park, and walk into the woods.
Inwood Hill Park is one of the last remaining (the last remaining?) old growth forest in the city, and as you climb up and around the side of the hill, the city drops away to just a dull roar. My usual MO is to enter near Payson Avenue, and just keep walking and walking until the cars on the Henry Hudson Parkway are replaced by crickets and the crunch of my own footsteps.
I’ve hiked this in all weather, in snowboots and in sneakers. On a sunny weekend, like yesterday, there were plenty of people out and about. I passed about 6 groups, more than I’ve ever seen. Most of the paths are paved, which makes it pretty family-friendly (so easy even a grandma can do it!) but occasionally I come across real trails, leading off to Narnia.
The whole point of hiking is to be away from noise and chatter. I suppose I am something of an introvert, stranded in the world’s most extroverted city. So having this refuge, for days when even the Cloisters is abuzz, is key for me. The goal, if there is a goal, is to get lost. (But not too lost. Safety matters. Phone++.) Of course, sometimes you do some across signs of life.
After two hours of hiking on Sunday, I reemerged just off Broadway, feeling full of goodwill, the way people are supposed to feel in Christmas movies. And as I made my way back home, passing young families (Inwood: the new Park Slope?) and people walking their dogs, I suddenly realized, “What the hell am I thinking? I don’t want to leave New York.”
This feeling lasted just about till the George Washington Bridge, before I started feeling stressed again just trying to cross the street without getting run over by a gypsy cab or a MetroBus or a little old lady with a walker (true story!). Ah, well, it was nice while it lasted.
* There are only so many times you can squeeze yourself onto a crowded subway carrying groceries in both hands and just hoping that your eggs make it home unsmashed, before you start pining for a car with air conditioning and some space of your own. The current rotation, where I “take care” of 90 year olds by causing them a great deal of pain for little clinical benefit, doesn’t help. (But that’s a story for a whole nother post.)