I spent July, in a small little lakeside hamlet nestled between the Catskill Mountains and the Delaware Water Gap region of New York.
My life this past July in Smallwood, has been a very contrasting experience to mine in the Finger Lakes Region (Read about it here!). One day during my stay I walked out to my car after leaving it parked for over a week and found a cobweb on the tailgate. I had a lake mere steps away, a dog park within walking distance and a cute little Forest Reserve down the block. I could never find a reason to leave my little oasis.
So, I don’t.
At first, the weather really didn’t help support planning any outdoor adventures. In my first two weeks in Smallwood, I saw four days of complete sunshine, the rest were sporadic thunderstorms and bursts of pouring rain including a rather nasty bout of storms brought on by the Tropical Storm Elsa. It left the area completely saturated for days. For a while, fixed docks on Smallwood Lake were either completely submerged or had started to bow under the pressure of the rising water.
I booked this stay as a bit of a birthday treat to myself since it had many of the things I loved; kayaks, swimming, & hiking to name a few. This place seemed to be made for me, it was a “basement” two-bedroom apartment of a two family home, except it didn’t really feel like a basement, the kitchen and main entryway offered an large open-aired view of the backyard deck, where a small jacuzzi and barbecue area was situated around a faded green deck. There was a large table positioned underneath a gazebo, a fire-pit in the grass several feet away and another gas powered fire-pit on the deck.
There were four red 9-foot sit-inside kayaks, and, if I pull my passenger seat all the way down and positioned it diagonally across the back seat, one entire kayak would fit completely inside my car with the hatch closed. I know this because I did this exact thing several times. Once to transport a kayak to the private, residents-only boat launch and another to take a a kayak to Lake Superior State Park. (A different Lake Superior)
Nova and I had taken to our ritual morning walk around the lake, and, depending on my work schedule we had an afternoon walk and an evening walk as well. Sometimes, when the weather was warm enough I’d sneak over to the residents-only beach to get in a bit of swimming for thirty minutes or so. The beach required a pass to enter where a young teen was usually working a table and would check you in by writing down your pass name and number into a little sheet in a binder. There were two red life guard chairs at either side of the beach and a large roped off area for the deep end, with a diving area with a floating dock and a shallow section for younger kids the lead up to a sandy beach.
You were allowed to swim at your own risk in the rest of the lake so I did a few laps back and forth to the center of the lake so I didn’t have to navigate the games of Marco Polo and whatever other fascinating games the teen boys were playing centered around the floating dock. I never quite understood the games they were playing but even I could overhear their constant bickering about the rules from my spot on the beach.
The vibe I got from the community was that of a very, very large summer camp and the beach during the day was a great example of that. When I first walked onto the beach there was a group of older residents gathered under the shade of a large tree in a circle of a mix of collapsible camp chairs and beach chairs. There were groups of younger girls construction some large structure in the sand, while a group of the older teenagers lounged across the large floating dock they reminded me of a group of sea lions I’ve seen sleeping on the docks in the San Francisco bay.
On my morning walks, drivers in passing cars waved at me through their windshields. A random runner would tell me to have a great day. A neighborhood walking group started to greet my dog by name. Some of my friends told me that it’s fairly normal for everyone not-in-NYC to greet their neighbors but after so long in NYC I really got a kick out of the “howdy neighbor” culture. Even the deer were extremely friendly and would practically walk up to you.
I found another lovely coffee spot less than 10 minutes away from my stay in White Lake, NY. Java Love Coffee Roasting Co is Women-owned which was just a bonus. I picked visited there a few times and lived the vibe of the play. It was this place that helped me decide to try to find queer, BIPOC or Women-owned businesses in all my stays.
Looking back at some of my outdoor adventures
I did a Rail Ride through Rail Explorers, the experience took me along old train rails in the Catskills. I met up another New York City transplant I met off of Lex, A Queer community building app where you can post ads, think like old school New York classifieds but for queers.
My stranger friend, Betty, was new to the area and looking for a friend to do touristy shit with. We pedaled this very heavy red cart that ran along old abandoned train lines for a few miles. It was hard to make conversation over the sounds of the card against the rails but we made do, Betty told me she came to the Catskills region by way of Brooklyn but was originally from California. Betty and her wife had purchased property in the area. Her wife was still back in Brooklyn working in the IT world while Betty was up here getting the house ready and preparing to go to school for her masters.
As a part of this trip I wanted to make a habit of trying to meet queer locals and learn more about what it’s like to be queer in the places I’m visiting. I have spent all of my gay dating adult life in New York City and I’m am eager to learn what it’s like for someone in this area. While it was fun getting to know Betty and I enjoyed the time with here. I was getting a little frustrated with how many New Yorker I was coming across during my stay but what had I expected when I was staying just 2 hours outside of the city.
A couple of days after my Rail Ride, I saw that there was a stable near my stay so I decided to continue my tour of “trails by a different way” and decided that a trail ride by horseback was a good idea. I warned the stable that I had practically zero experience on a horse but they told me to come on down.
Riding a horse was hands down one of the most terrifying things. Horses are giant and they are powerful and I had a very, very short lesson on horseback riding and felt that I had zero control of this very massive and very powerful animal. I last rode a horse when I was maybe 8 years old and I don’t remember being NEARLY as terrified as adult me was but fortunately for me Jagger the VERY beautiful horse in the picture was also a VERY patient horse and I survived, which was the most important thing.
Though I rarely wanted to leave my little lake, I still managed to drag myself away for a few of hikes.
My first hike of the month was, Slide Mountain which I hiked before but I wanted to do it again since the view in incredible and you have to work for it. Unfortunately, it was a foggy day and the fog obstructed the gorgeous payoff view at the end so when Nova and I finally made it up to the top there wasn’t much to see besides clouds but the hiked had changed so much with all the rain that it felt entirely different from when I hiked it just last year. There was a very large but shallow stream crossing at the very beginning of the hike, which isn’t challenging unless you have a dog who hates water. Then most of the way it felt like I was hiking up a creek.
Another hike I did that I had done before was a waterfall circuit in the Neversink Unique Area. This is a simple circuit around the area but then there are little off-shoots that lead to a variety of water features. One is a large waterfall, others are small waterfalls that you can wade out into. It’s also a bit demanding of a hike, especially leading out to Denton Falls which is featured in the picture. The hike down to the falls is very steep and requires climbing down some rocks to get there but you are rewarded with this relaxing view and water calm enough to wade out into.
For my birthday I hiked a couple of waterfalls in the Delaware Water Gap.
After hiking a couple of miles to the boardwalk for the highly trafficked Dingmans Falls, a very nice National Park Services Park Ranger, Erin, told me that my dog wouldn’t be allowed on the boardwalk. I wouldn’t be able to see the waterfall. It was early in the morning and not a single person had entered the boardwalk or even entered the parking lot but rules are rules. There could be a danger to dogs on the trail or the dog could threaten the ecosystem or scare animals. I asked them if there was any alternative trail I could take to see the waterfall. That’s when they offered to watch my dog for me.
So I handed over my dog’s leash, calmly walked down the trail until I was out of the eye sight of the rangers and took off in a run
The boardwalk was much longer than I thought it would be but huffing and puffing I made it to the end of the trail and the waterfall. I was very surprised to see a couple already taking pictures at the end of the overlooking boardwalk. They were in very tight-fitting clothing that I had assumed were bathing suits but it turned out they were social media influencing acrobats who took pictures while performing. They asked me to take their photo with the waterfall in the background and took my picture in return
After I returned back to Nova the I saw one of the Park Rangers walking Nova who now had a officially looking badge on her harness. The Rangers proudly informed me that Nova was an official “Bark Ranger.”
My next waterfall on that same day was Hornbecks Creek Waterfall which was just down the road from Dingmans Falls. It was another fairly easy trail but this trail was dog friendly and you could even swim in the falls if you wanted to. Unfortunately, Nova hates water so there was no swimming happening on our side of things.
To cap off my birthday a few friends came to visit and it was fun to share a little view into my new temporary life in Smallwood. It also felt like the final goodbye since after this stop the training wheels are coming off and I’m heading further away from New York City into all new territory and visiting places I have never been. Originally, I had planned this trip for a ‘summer thing’ but it quickly grew as I started to realize the possibilities. It’s been useful to get my trail legs back into shape after neglecting them this past winter and getting myself used to a new way of living.
Some friends and even some strangers have asked me what my game plan is once this trip is over. They ask me where I think I’ll end up and if I plan to move back to New York City or if I plan on moving somewhere new but I don’t really have a plan. I honestly don’t even know if and when this trip will end and I couldn’t tell you where I’ll end up after all this is said and done. You can start a journey, without knowing the destination.