After 7 years of Perkins road climbs, RRR member hits Bear Mtn. trails
By Bill Rowland
I started running at age 20 with a friend and ran mostly on the outer loop at Rockland Lake. We also went up to Bear Mountain on a regular basis and ran up to the top of Perkins Drive, using those runs as a sort of barometer of how our running was going.
At around age 30 I had a very bad fall and was unable to run for an extended period of time. Then there were other issues that kept me from running until Nov. 6, 2004, when I found out that I could run again, and I did run at Rockland Lake, outer loop, for the rest of November and December.
On Jan. 1, 2005, I decided to see what would happen if I tried to run Perkins Drive once again. I went up there with no expectations; I was having a hard time just running again. The run was very tough, but I did it and what a thrill. That run put into motion something I never could have expected. I started doing all of my runs at Bear Mountain, as I live only 10 miles away. In the very beginning it wasn’t easy, but every run seemed to have a mind of its own, and I was loving every aspect of the runs. I did runs year round in every kind of weather bar none, and actually love really bad weather up there.
On Jan. 1, 2012, I ran up the mountain at Perkins for the 1,000th time, something I would have never even dreamt of in 2005. I’ve kept a running log for the duration and at times it seems I’m more interested in my surroundings, and I guess I am, with the benefit of some hills.
There was about a three-week period a few years ago when I got concerned about running in lightning. I had seen a picture of someone’s sneakers that had gotten hit with lightning. He or she was fine, but the toe was burnt through. I had thought that with rubber soles I’d be grounded, right? I was a little leery until realizing that person was above the tree line, making them the highest point and the conductor of electricity. Then it hit me – not the lightning, but the realization – that where I run I’m not the highest point, not even close, and there are multiple antennas on top of the tower. I was confident I could go back to run whenever I wanted.
One of my first runs in a thunder-and-lightning storm was something else. As I was coming up Perkins, as I got to where you could see down on the Palisades Parkway, I saw one lightning strike to the west, going as far north and south as I could see. And then a bolt shot down, from the middle, to the ground, like over Route 6. There was more lightning that day than I have ever seen, and although I do still run in weather like that, I’ve never seen a day like that before or since.
As much as the running up the mountain is for fitness, being on the mountain really has its own entertainment. If it’s not the weather, then it’s the wildlife: I’ve seen bears, coyotes, turtles and turkeys, all of whom want little to do with us. I saw a bald eagle come down and snatch a fish out of the Hudson with ease. I’ve had to have seen, and run past, about 100 rattlesnakes at various times, and I’m not thrilled by them either, but almost all of them were crossing Seven Lakes Drive at Lemmon Road. Why there, who knows?
I’ve run Perkins countless times before dawn with a headlight, or with the full moon when available, and seen a ton of sunrises. Then there was “that day.” While running around the Perkins tower, looking south, I saw something I’ve never seen before. There was a brilliant shade of blue, out there beyond New York City. I stopped dead in my tracks, and after staring at it for a moment concluded it had to be the vast Atlantic Ocean. There are clear days, and very clear days, and then there was “that day.”
There was another day, a fall early morning with fog over the river, and going up the mountain I ran above the fog. The sun was just coming up and as I rounded the northeast corner, looking down, I could see that the sun was cooking the fog. What resulted looked like the largest meringue I’ve ever seen. There was also another sight that was just as cool. Coming down the mountain, at fog level, the sun’s action on the fog resulted in these reddish cones rising up into the atmosphere, hundreds of them.
Snow days are a lot of fun, and the most beautiful. They’re also added work, but who cares. Over the past two or three winters the parks department has kept Perkins Drive closed all winter and they just let the snow pile up. Running during a snowstorm up there is about as cool as it gets, and as the snow mounts over time it can get brutal. The north side of the mountain hangs onto the snow and ice and is often more tenacious than other parts. One year it had about 14 inches with an ice cap, which led to post-holing through the encrusted snow – about as tough a scenario as there could be.
I’ve always thought running up Bear Mountain would be an excellent base builder, which it is, and with more confidence after the first couple of years, I added doing repeats on the Perkins Drive part. I also started using the part over the inn and going across what’s called Woods Road, the path that connects the front portion with the rear. I am loving these runs so much that I’ve run up to 28 miles all on Perkins, which may sound somewhat boring to some, but everything to see is really adventurous.
On Jan. 1, 2012, after my 1,000th run up Perkins, a switch went off in my head and I’ve been running the trails up there ever since. After I switched to the trails, I found something I never would have expected – twice the incline. If the incline up the road is 900 feet in eight miles, the same eight miles on the trails might be a 2,000-foot rise. I had been apprehensive about trail running in the past, fearing an injury, having ventured out for short runs and never really feeling that I could run on the trails long before I got injured. I know other trail runners who are on the trails a lot and don’t seem to be prone to injury, and along with that switch in my head, the realization that all I had to do was watch where I was going, or stepping. I know what that sounds like, but it is just that simple. On the road, my mind and eyes could really travel, and they did. In the trails, though, my mind can wander but not my eyes. Once I realized that, I gained confidence, which means so much, and it has opened up a whole new world of running that is flat-out beautiful. I have never seen Rockland County look the way it does from atop those mountains by Bear Mountain.
We all live so close to Bear Mountain and whether it’s trails or road, it’s like nowhere else.
Photo was taken by Bill on Dunderberg Mountain (part of Harriman-Bear Mountain State Park) and is part of the never-completed Dunderberg Spiral Railway