By Connor McCausland
Driving up into the mountains and feeling the temperature get warmer and more dense as you ascend is as uncommon as it is unwelcome, but once in a while, it happens. Unluckily for me, I was there for that “once” while hiking Minnewaska State Park in the Shawangunk Mountains of New York State; three nalgene bottles, an already sweat-saturated bandana, and some smelly socks all stickily attached to me as I tried to remain sane and excited at the start of the trail.
“This is gonna suck,” said my hiking partner, to which I nodded my already-exhausted head. I signed our names in the logbook and we got going.
When a dome of low pressure finds its way over the northeastern US, sometimes the tropical air can station itself high in the mountains, counteracting the intuitive thought of cooler air chilling high altitudes. It is jarring to experience the opposite, but I imagine not as jarring as some other residue from climate change in other parts of the world. Still, when I closed my eyes in the midst of the pines and birches and felt like I was in Miami, I couldn’t help but feel uneasy. So I took a sip of water. It always helps.
As we kept going, drenched with salty sweat and tasting it with every step, we stopped in the shade to take one of many breaks. In the stillness, we heard something that sounded like a choir: a babbling brook, and singing stream, a ringing river. We quickly went off the beaten path (much easier literally than figuratively) and headed towards the sound, and soon were in front of a healthy stream running through the trees.
We dipped every body part we could find into the water, which was warmer than we wanted, and let it evaporate on our dirty skin. It felt fantastic. We stayed there for what felt like four seconds until another trio of hikers joined us ten feet away. We left after making light conversation. How dare they.
We kept climbing, and the hike became very steep and difficult. I personally wanted to quit, but my partner made the smart point that we may as well see the summit, we’re already gonna die.
The flora became less dense, lighter in color and shorter, and we could tell we were reaching the tippy-top of the mountain trail we’d chosen and were very excited to be able to be almost done forever. When we made the clearing, we looked out, and there was so much haze than one could barely make out the cute towns below filled with granola, Grateful Dead memorabilia, and craft beer. I tried spitting off the ledge. Dust came out.
What we could see, however, was a massive, dark cloud approaching like a black ghost ship on a placid, misty ocean.
As we quickly turned around and made haste to avoid being fried by electricity, we passed the group who intruded our stream-session, and hinted that there was a storm brewing. Their glazed-over looks told us they were foreign and also too hot and tired to talk. We kept going.
Thunder clapped the air for the first time, and that small jolt of energy that flows through the humid air tickled us a bit. We knew we’d make it down barely in time. The air was getting more dense and the sun was filtering through the wispy pre-storm clouds like they were a bunch of giant microscopes, burning us like ants on a hill.
My partner and I both were running on oil we didn’t know we had at this point, wheezing, aching, and losing our minds.
Just as I started hallucinating a bit, the sun went away and the wind picked up. It felt amazing. I was tripping!
When we spotted the parking lot from the trail (I was 80% sure it wasn’t a mirage), it began to storm so hard it felt as cathartic as crying. I might have been crying, actually. My clothes became soaked with a different fluid from the salty stuff, and I felt like I was being born again.
We found our way to the car in the downpour, looked at each other, went over to the grass, and lay down. We’d made it.
Hiking in the heat was a lesson: don’t! Unless you want to.