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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Beacon Bits - To the Mountaintop

I did it! I finally got to hike with the Mt. Beacon Incline Railway Restoration Society (MBIRRS) on its monthly guided "tour" of the trail up to the top of the mountain. The heat and humidity of late July didn't quite catch up with us because of the shaded trails during the ascent. But the midday sun accompanied the amazing vista at the summit -- and oh, what a view! The group of hikers were congenial, the trail leaders (Kristi, Sandy, Frank and Ali) were knowledgeable and the surprise for the day was that a New York Times reporter Amanda Petrusich and photographer  Kelly Shimoda were hiking with us to interview Mayor Steve Gold of Beacon and Mike Colarusso of MBIRRS for their article for an upcoming Travel/Metropolitan section about day trip destinations close to the city. So one could say that I'm scooping the story since it won't be published until later in August, but I'll leave the history of Mt. Beacon and the plans for the return of the railway to the competent journalists and focus on telling the story about my hike in a more personal way.

I came to the hike only partially prepared with well-worn hiking boots, long socks, sunscreen, two bottles of water, raisins, backpack, hat and sunglasses. I had the sense that I would need a walking stick but had not previously purchased one at Mountain Tops in preparation. So I had a gnawing feeling that it could be my fatal flaw, especially when I saw that everyone except the photographer and a young athletic male had one in hand; Amanda got a loaner from the Mayor and there was one gentleman impeccably outfitted as per EMS for the hike who actually had two! In the parking lot, where the group assembled, I saw a table of t-shirts, shopping bags and caps for sale and mentioned how walking sticks might be a popular item to have available; it could even be a local craftsperson's handmade product for a homegrown touch. (Perhaps an idea for a Beacon cottage industry to supply hikers for the abundant, surrounding trails.) So I settled on purchasing a cap because my sunhat seemed to be less suitable for the occasion and it felt like another way of supporting MBIRRS in addition to my annual membership. When I mentioned my concern about the absence of a walking stick, I was reassured that sometimes one could find a suitable branch in the nearby wooded area or even find one that a hiker had left by the trail head. You can imagine my relief when that was exactly what happened; a suitable size stick  just right for my height was waiting for me right before the arduous climb up the steps that connect to the actual trail, a remnant of a ski trail from the Dutchess Ski Area that occupied this mountain for a decade in the 60's and 70's.

I remembered my encounter on my one and only trip to this ski area when I was in high school and came up from Brooklyn for a day of skiing in 1970 or 1971. The chairlift whipped around so quickly and I held on so tightly because of a precarious slope leading away from the landing that my hand came out of the down mitten; the distal joint of my left thumb was dislocated and it was perpendicular to the base. It was quickly corrected by the ski  patrol who popped it back into its socket. Ouch! I still remember that awful pain and my own first aid that doctored my thumb back to its full range of motion. Here I was, back on that mountain, climbing up where I had skied down; who would have ever guessed that forty years later, this hike would bring me back to this memory. I felt relieved that my right hand, tightly grasping the walking stick, would not succomb to a similar accident; unless of course, I slipped and fell on the gravel and rocks during the last steps of the ascent or during the descent, which somehow scared me more because of recent recurrent episodes of vertigo. But these thoughts were far from my mind as I chatted with new acquaintances, spoke to the Mayor about my hopes of having Beacon become a sister city with Bergen, Norway (because of the geography and the funicular connection), experienced the awesome sights of the 'river that runs both ways' -- the Shawgunks, Storm King Mountain, the surrounding towns and counties of the Hudson Highlands -- and saw why Continental armies used the mountain for fires to signal each other from Albany to New York City during the Revolutionary War.

Some food for thought: A mountain stands still in time, but only we can traverse its paths as we reflect on the past and move into the future. After this hike, I felt assured that the future of Mt. Beacon will reach its pinnacle as the MBIRRS pursues the re-development and building of the railway with the intended amenities for hikers and travelers (a restaurant, museum, viewing platform, all built for sustainability using Platinum LEEDS standards). Some people may think it will not match Mt. Beacon's heyday of the early 1900's with its casino, hotel and other entertainments for New Yorker's who could travel to and from the city for $1.00. However, some will acknowledge that the new railway will surpass the previous one by meeting the American Disabilities Act (ADA) accommodations, which will enable individuals to overcome the handicaps and obstacles that able-bodied people can surmount by simply using a walking stick to climb to the top of this historical and majestic mountaintop, in order to experience together with other sojourners, a shared perspective  when viewing this beautiful, ageless and expansive horizon in the Hudson Valley.

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