Monday, April 11, 2011

Remembering the Great Finger Lakes region of New York State

It has been almost 23 months since I left New York state bound for Romania. They say that you don't know what you have until it's gone. That idea brings back memories of sitting around the skate park, the lunch table, or the classroom during my high school years. "First chance I get, I'm out of here," so many of my friends would say. "What does Corning have to offer me? Its too small. Everybody knows your business. There's nothing to do here." There arguments were pretty convincing. Their dreams of bigger and better places would get to me at times, especially on those rainy days that we saw so much of in upstate. For me it didn't take leaving to realize what I had, just a bit of growing up. By the time I left for California in the fall of 2008, my first real move out of the region, I was fully aware of all the great things that my part of the world had to offer.

It was during the college years that I got out and learned to love the great Finger Lakes region of New York. In the summers I held various jobs. My last two summers in town were spent working in museums where I had the chance to speak with outsiders and promote the beauties of my small little town. Friends and I would eagerly await the weekend when we would go to some of the great bars on market street or take evening bike rides. Some of the best times were when we had a common day off to trip it to Ithaca where we would discover one of the state parks, sit by the lake, or walk slowly through the commons. I can't give enough credit to the grad student at Cortland that offered me my first backpacking trip to the Adirondacks nearby. My finger lakes places were Ithaca, Cortland, Watkins Glen, and Keuka College where I visited Colin on a number of occasions.

During my time in Romania memories of those beautiful state parks have come frequently to put a smile on my face. I live in a part of Romania that has much of its own natural beauty. When I moved in with my host in Targoviste I was prepared with a picture book of the Finger Lakes region to give to them as a gift. As my parents were putting together a box of things to send me and they mentioned giving something to Ernest, that Finger Lakes picture book was the first thing that popped into my head. He loves being in nature and taking pictures of nature. "Rain or shine it's a sin to stay in the house all day," claims Ernest from time to time. As the region I live in now sits at a higher elevation than the one I left in New York, my outdoor adventures typically yield different views and a different feel. This past weekend Ernest took me on a new hike. (After a year and a half of going on hikes whenever I get the chance, there are still new trails to discover here.) This latest hike reminded me most of those gorge trails that I saw so much of in my college years.

It started out like a lot of other hikes that we've done. Really the first half of the hike I've probably done 8 or 9 times. There was a bus to Lupeni, a quick spin through the piata (market) and a 3-4 hours of walking up hill to Straja. The hike up actually follows stations of the cross. The first station is right outside of Lupeni and the final one is at the small church up at the ski area. With a number of switch-backs along the way we would periodically enter in the woods to take a shortcut. Along the way we stopped at a spring that was covered in leaves from the previous fall. I brushed the knee-high pile of leaves out of the way to fill up my bottle. Like every other trip to Straja we entered the first cabana on the right where we sat, rested, and chatted over a drink. Up until that strawberry banana juice things had seemed just like they always had, aside from the strong wind gusts. This area of Romania is pretty well protected by the mountains and therefore we do not get a whole lot of wind. During this particular hike the wind was the strongest that I have seen it in the Jiu Vally.

After our drinks the adventure began for me. We entered the forest on a new trail, going in a new direction, and I was excited to see some new things. It wasn't long before I noticed that that particular trail was quite steep. Not many people know about that trail which it is evident, as it was not always easy to find our way even though it was marked quite well. It took about 45 minutes to get to our lunch spot. Just before the lunch area we climbed down a steep part of the trail where I was forced to use both arms and legs to ensure my stability. Those are the parts of the trail that I like the most. The lunch spot was marked by a wooden table and bench that, despite their weight, had both been blown over due to the strong wind gusts that day. We sat there bundled up, our plastic bags weighed down, eating our slanina, onion, and bread as the wind beat against our backs.

The couple of hours of hiking after lunch led us through the forest and back to Lupeni as we came out near the chair lift. During those couple of hours I was reminded of the Finger Lakes region more than I have been yet in Romania. There were no large lakes nearby but the trail ran along a steep slope parallel to the stream below. The steep rocky slopes running along-side the stream with its waters cutting through rocks and tumbling down into open pools all reminded me of the gorge trails of Rock stream, Truman, and Buttermilk. After our lunch break the trail continued down a steep slope and across a small bridge over a stream. A little further down the trail we stopped and looked back to view a waterfall. Looking back upstream there were two more waterfalls in the distance that we had already passed without realizing. Following that stream a little further we came upon a larger stream with an even larger waterfall standing at about five meters in height. The next resting stop was about 45 minutes of slow hiking away. The red point trail followed the stream but we were forced to move at a slow pace due to the leaf coverage on the trail. There were parts where the leaves were several feet deep with rocks and branches hidden underneath. Eventually we arrived at a spot where the red point trail turned uphill circling back to Straja.

After a short break of eating delicious kiwis we continued on as the trail followed along-side the stream high up on the slope. We climbed over rocks, under branches, along steep slopes and finally we passed through a tunnel to the finish. Periodically we looked back to see the stream with its pools and waterfalls each time taking me back to the great Finger Lakes region of New York State.

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