The weekend that wasn’t

I blame summer reading.

After finishing some serious stuff like The Nightingale and Into the Wild, I needed something lighter. With perfect timing, a friend recommended The Tradd Street series by Karen White, and I dove in.

I should have known, dammit. As soon as I realized the heroine was a gorgeous 39-year-old singleton with great metabolism from Charleston, South Carolina – who just happens to attract the attention of the perfectly-flawed 30-something guy who loves every one of her various neuroses, but insists on pushing him away, because boo-hoo, she had no relationship with her mother – I should have known.

I should have known I’d find myself needing some adventure, since romance is, well…about as far from my summer as South Carolina. So, on Friday, I made the spur-of-the-moment decision to head West.

No, alas, not to Washington or Colorado or Utah. Western Massachusetts. I’ve got limited time and funds here, people.

Anyway, since hearing about a waterfall out there called Bash Bish, I’ve wanted to see it, but it’s a solid 3 hours one way, and that’s a long drive to do in a day, by myself, with a dog who hates the car.

But on Friday, as the minutes at work ticked away, by god, I decided I was gonna make it happen. I found a campsite in the “western mass region” (those quotes will make more sense in a moment) that had online reservations, and with a flourish, I booked it. I was consumed with delightful visions of hiking through the glorious Berkshires with my dog at my side. My lungs could almost taste the country air. I knew nothing more than I had a campsite and I wanted to see that waterfall. Surely that was enough for the perfect spontaneous solo adventure. Surely.

As you’ve probably guessed, it didn’t quite work out as planned.

The plan was to rise at a decent hour on Saturday (say, 8 or 8:30), pack up and go. ETA at campsite – noonish. Perfect timing to unpack then get a hike in before dinner. Early to bed, then up early for another hike, then back home to Boston in time to do the dishes, do some laundry, cook dinner, and get ready for the work week.

The reality: at 7:01 AM on Saturday, the construction workers outside my apartment fired up their hammers and saws, and Sadie leapt onto the bed to poke me, so I took her outside, fed her, and around 7:30, dropped back into bed for what I figured would be a few more minutes of sleep.

2.5 hours later, I woke luxuriously (yes, friends with kids, I know, go ahead and hate me), and glanced in horror at the clock. Cue the accelerated packing.

We were on the road by 11:08, only a couple of hours behind. No biggie, right? As we headed west under a gloomy sky, I started to feel a little nervous about the idea of camping in the middle of nowhere by myself. Strangely, I was more worried about the scenario where I was the only loser in the campground, the rangers giving heavy sighs when they looked up from their card games and saw me, than I was about being in a crowded campground with a bunch of strangers.

And there was traffic. So much traffic. It added at least an hour to what should have been a 2.5 hour drive.

Somewhere in this traffic, I realized that I’d forgotten my first aid kit, extra batteries for my headlamp, and my pocket knife (see previous accelerated packing), all must-haves for a girl (or anyone) hiking alone, so I decided to detour to the nearest suburb with big box stores. At Walmart, I discovered a Coinstar (I’d been meaning to cash in those dimes sitting in a tupperware container in the backseat of my car for weeks now!), and then raced over to Eastern Mountain sports to get a knife and a first aid kit. Thus equipped (and $30 richer), I headed back down the state, just a tantalizing hour away from the campground.

Keep in mind that my long-suffering dog, who hates the car with the fire of a thousand suns, was strapped in the back whining her version of “are we there yet?”

But finally, we arrived at the campground, a lovely, normal place, with lovely, normal people camping there, and my nervousness faded away. For a few minutes, I basked in the fun of putting up my tent, noting the red dust still clinging to it from Utah, and then I just sat for a few minutes more, watching the light filter through the trees and thinking I would be perfectly content to just stay this way for the rest of the night.

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However, our late arrival meant two things: 1) we hadn’t hiked anywhere yet, and 2) I had nothing but a PB&J sandwich for dinner.

We half-heartedly wandered the park a little, but really, I just wanted to sit, so we went back and I did and I read a little more of the Tradd Street book, which is quite good, if a bit predictable. And then, remember those normal folks camping nearby? Yeah, they included 4 dudes in 2 pickup trucks with music blasting, which kind of killed my zen.

Back into the car we went, and we headed north to see if any of the cute Berkshire towns had good takeout. Short answer – they don’t, or at least not the ones I visited. Each new idea I had for the evening got negated: oh, maybe I can sit on that beach for a while. Nope, no dogs allowed. Oh, how about we drive to the top of Mt. Greylock to watch the sunset? Nope, it’s more than an hour away. Despite all this, we took a lovely stroll through the town of Stockbridge, met some nice folks, growled at the lion statue outside the Red Lion Inn (Sadie, not me), and eventually wound up at a country store that had, naturally, JUST stopped serving sandwiches.

It’s worth pointing out at this juncture, particularly for those who live outside of New England, that even though MA is a small state, it takes forever to drive to places in the Berkshires – all those small country roads. So my campsite in the “western mass region” was pretty far to the east and nearly at the Connecticut border; thus all the driving.

A box of crackers and some chicken salad procured for dinner, we headed back in the fading sunshine. As we made our camp that night – the first time Sadie and I had ever camped out – I kid you not, somewhere nearby was shooting off fireworks. Sadie sat on me for a bit in terror, but they eventually subsided, and I fell asleep to the fading sounds of campfires crackling and car doors slamming and people settling in for the night.

I only woke a couple of times in the night – typical for me when camping – once at 3:12 am, and figured I’d catch another couple of hours and then be up and head out to Bash Bish, because, by god, at least I’d get that part of the trip right.

At 6:15am, I startled awake to the song of birds all around and Sadie snoring at my feet. That was pretty cool.

IMG_0851We hustled to pack up and headed out on what promised to be a lovely day – blue skies, a breeze, not too hot. In other words, perfect New England summer weather. I was mentally setting up my camera for the photo shoot that would come once we reached the waterfall, and we would be early, so the crowds would be light.

It took just over an hour to get to the state park housing Bash Bish Falls, and as I pulled up to the parking lot, I noticed that it was empty, and there were orange cones everywhere. Uh oh. A grim-faced ranger asked where I was going, and I said “well…maybe I’m in the wrong place?”

“If you’re going to the falls,” he said. “It’s all closed. They’re in search and rescue…er…recovery mode. Someone fell.” You could see on his face that it was bad, very bad. And just like that I could imagine the whole scenario – all the SAR folks, the family, the friends. I was glad I was wearing sunglasses so the ranger couldn’t see my eyes well up.

I turned around and left, and found a parking lot where I could google, and sure enough, a 21-year-old man went missing Friday night, and they still hadn’t found him as of Sunday morning. Ugh. How terrible.

Update: it’s now late Sunday night, and they found his body.

At this point, I couldn’t even be mad…all I could do was just shake my head and officially give up on my perfect Western Mass adventure. Sadie and I found a paved railroad trail to stroll along, because I had to get her some exercise before forcing her back into the car to go home. The good news was a nice couple told us it was ok to have her off leash, so she got to run a little bit, but that’s a long way to come to Western Mass to walk your dog on a flat paved trail for a few miles.

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And here’s the thing that gets me – the young man fell from the falls Friday night. I spent the whole weekend clueless to the whole drama. Those poor rescue folks were out there for 2 days looking for him while I was driving around and sitting around and generally taking up space with no purpose in mind. So of course I can’t be upset about my weird, nothing of a weekend. Clearly, there were other, bigger things going on in the southwest corner of my state.

On the plus side, I got over my nervousness at solo camping. Sadie and I figured out how to share a tent. I got lots of fresh non-city air. And, well, I have a new knife and first aid kit. Let’s hope I don’t have to use them anytime soon.