Though I’m a fan of the extreme hike – one where I end up drenched in sweat, or, better yet, injured – I’ve been going on more lackadaisical jaunts this summer.
I’d always preferred extreme hikes partially because they weed out most other hikers, leaving the paths unpopulated for my viewing pleasure. But then the pandemic came, giving the entire downstate area a murderous case of cabin fever. The city was boiling, and the natural release valve was the Hudson River. So hordes of downstaters sluiced up its length until they plopped out, blinking, at the trailheads of the Hudson Valley.
These downstate frontiersmen often go for the longer hikes – they aren’t driving four hours round-trip for a 90-minute activity – so this summer, the shorter hikes have been the obscure ones.
Thompson Pond is one of a trio of small lakes at the base of Stissing Mountain and Little Stissing Mountain in Pine Plains, Dutchess County. I met with my hiking buddy for the day, Ninette, at the trailhead of the yellow path.
The trail was crushed rock, which made me unhappy – if I wanted to walk on something anthropogenic, I could have just wandered around my driveway. I realized after passing a couple of handicap parking spaces the path was constructed this way so people with disabilities could experience the glory of nature. This made me feel like a bit of an asshole for poo-pooing it, but the gravel path split away before I could think about it too much and we were trekking on rougher earth.
The yellow trail at first kept its distance from Thompson Pond, wandering through forest at the base of Stissing Mountain before veering closer and giving us vistas of the marshy lake.
In the middle of the marshy lake, unfortunately, was a gold mylar balloon. Ninette first spotted it, but it took us five minutes of squinting to confirm it was a random party favor and not an extremely shiny plant.
We had a lot of questions: Who took it hiking? How did something that rapidly floats upwards get mired in a bog? How much money would it take for Ninette to wade in and retrieve it?
The answer to the final question was ‘much more than I had in my pockets,’ so we moved on.
The path became thinner – much thinner – and began running along farmland until we were just walking the fence-line of a cow pasture, wondering if we were still on the trail.
We were, and the trail led us close to a herd of cows, which we tried to pet. Ninette was enamored with the bovines and kept telling them she loved them as they chawed their cud, zenning out amongst giant piles of excrement.
The trail veered back to the lake’s shore, and I saw two painted turtles plop into the water from their perch on a log. I freaked out to Ninette about this, but she didn’t see them, so I freaked out all the harder when I saw another two painted turtles plop into the water a few yards later.
At the end of the hike, Ninette and I were chatting by our vehicles when two guys rode up on undersized bicycles. It was hard to tell what the connection was between the two: one was a tweaky dude in his late 30s while the other was a boy of maybe 13. One might assume by the ages that the elder guy was simply the teenager’s father, but they seemed more like undersized bicycle buddies than anything else.
After greeting us, the tweaky dude glanced around and lowered his voice.
“You guys wanna buy some shrooms?” he asked.
Seemed pretty haphazard, trying to sell drugs by randomly approaching hikers, but he pulled out a yellow shopping bag and began to untie it.
“Nah – not like, like shrooms,” the guy responded after we asked. “Here – look.”
The odd couple had been foraging for edible mushrooms, and showed us their gatherings, including a clutch of giant puffballs.
I guess it was even odder to be randomly solicited by someone with edible mushrooms as opposed to psychedelic ones, but the tweaky guy was great. We didn’t buy any of his products, but we chatted for a few minutes before he zoomed off, the kid trailing him.
The yellow trail at Thompson Pond is overgrown in places, but still made for an easy hike replete with swampy wildlife. I’m not promising you’ll be approached by someone trying to sell you foraged mushrooms, but I’d suggest it to anyone who wants an unpopulated trail during the pandemic