Having spent an entire day off campus this weekend, I realized that I just don’t get off campus enough. It’s so easy to become wrapped up in Vassar life and forget that the real world exists. And I think that’s true of a lot of Vassar students. The “Vassar Bubble” is a very real thing. For those lucky enough to do field work, there is a chance to see the Hudson Valley, which is really something everyone should do. Leaf season, anyone?
On my day off campus, I went on a hike with the Outing Club. It’s a beautiful time of year, and I thought that it would be great to enjoy nature. The day yielded a clear blue sky; the sun was shining and the birds were singing. It was an hour and a half drive up to the Catskills where we were hiking. It was a nice little drive and I could see from the trees that it was going to be a great view from the top of the mountain.
The hike was to the summit of Panther Mountain. It’s a 6.7-mile hike, which is moderately difficult, rocky and takes four and a half hours to complete. It wouldn’t be too bad; I’ve done longer hikes. I was still feeling under the weather from a rather bad cold, but I wanted to get some fresh air, darnit! Some sniffles weren’t going to keep me inside for another weekend. I was feeling good until we got to the first hill.
They said rocky. I had been picturing gravel or something similar. What they meant was giant boulders and rock slides. I was panting after not very long. I felt quite pathetic. After what felt like forever of clambering up steep ascents, we finally reached a flatter section and the first sign. It said that we had 2.55 miles before the summit. In other words, we had only gone .8 miles. I might have overestimated myself, but I was determined not to quit. I kept going. And going. And going. Would it never end?
We finally reach the first lookout, and I realized why it was worth it. The Catskills are spread out below us, stretching into the distance until they merged with the sky in a blue-gray haze. The trees had started to change color, and the reds and oranges were interspersed with dark green. We stood there and took pictures for a few minutes before setting off again. We were only half-way there, but I was more determined than ever to finish.
When we reached the summit after an hour and forty-five minutes, I thought it was one of the happiest moments of my life. The trees were shorter, and it felt as though we were enclosed in our own world. It was quiet; there weren’t even birds chirping, nor were there hikers. We got back to a rocky ledge a little before the summit to eat lunch. It was absolutely still and all there was to hear was the wind blowing through the trees and our own voices. We finally got up to leave and start the long descent back to the car more than 3000 feet below us.
Going down was easier and harder. It worked different muscles, which was nice, but it meant that I was now sore all over. Lovely. But we finally reached the car, moving much faster on the way down than on the way up, though we hiked quickly on the way up as well. We reached the road having finished the hike in only three and a half hours. We drove back to campus, stopping briefly in New Paltz for dinner, and got back to campus around six.
Despite the soreness and the aching muscles and the sickness, I’m still incredibly glad to have gone. There are things that you just can’t experience or appreciate unless you really get away from the civilized world and out into a nature environment. If nothing else, I am so glad I was able to get away from all of the academic stress that permeates Vassar life for a while. So get out there, go see something new, go find a place to be alone with your thoughts and escape reality for a while. Get outside the Vassar bubble.
—Lily Elbaum ’16 is a prospective independent major.