The hike in to Beaver Fever Lake is not a long one, but depending on what route you take it can be quite punishing for the casual walker or the desk jockey who but walks the breath of Walmart to supply up or goes over to accounting occasionally to see why Mindy hasn’t processed that Purchase Order.
The primary entry point is a trail that is less a walk in the woods and more an open gravel road like a dusty drive way to a farm house of long ago, except this one goes straight up a mountain. This road more-or-less follows the old road up to the Overlook Hotel, the once great mountain house on top of the mountain of the same name. The long gravel trail was made ever steeper than the original designed for horses and carts with the advent of cars and trucks and serves primarily as a maintenance road for the microwave tower built at the top. Most recreational areas and amenities are there but for some ancillary outcome of industrial activity. Most nature areas in the Northeast are once-ruined lands left over from logging companies, mining concerns, smelting plants, or are currently occupied by radio towers that serve some Cold Waresque strategry, watersheds that allow entire cities to drink slightly less fluoridated water than usual, and a number of other interests. Were there anything value upon or under the soil of these natural areas, believe me the monied interests of the world will move Heaven and Earth to get at them and again level the hills or frack the very bedrock.
- steep as shit
- hot as blazes
But there is a reward at the top – the ruins and fantastic view of a good section of the Hudson Valley, and states beyond. If one needs more than a regular view, one can travel further up the path to the fire tower. A structure of dubious design and tinsel strength, it is currently open to the brave visitor to crawl up and take a gander at the mountains surrounding as well as those reaching in the distance since Overlook is but at the mouth the gaping and mysterious Catskills. Passing the Hotel and avoiding the fire tower spur, a road winds down the mountain. At a junction one can take the road farther, and by road this is an overgrown distant memory of a road, or you can take the turn off to Beaver Fever Lake. If one continues on the road continues for several more miles. It is a gentle path surrounded by trees. The last wheeled cart or truck rolled over this path perhaps an hundred years prior. It too is a remnant of the industrial age. The region was once the primary area for bluestone. Not small rocks for suburban driveways but huge slabs for sidewalks and other pavers for the major metropolitan areas of the nation, but especially Gotham.
On all sides of the trail there are suggestions as to structures. Small stacks of stone that were once ramps used to load wagons as well as foundations to worker cabins or other structures the blueprints and design have been lost to time. Then there are the huge piles of discarded stone. They at first seem to be part of nature, however, they are discarded materials, some higher than the temples one travels to Central America to view. Among these midden piles of living rock unseen hands, perhaps generations of yippies and creatives or just regular folks with the afternoon off and some imagination have formed structures, cairns, jigsaw obelisks, stone benches and what can only be called abstract sculptures. This is a simpler way to access Beaver Fever Lake.
My first trip to Beaver Fever Lake was with a group of friends. We packed in far too much food and drink and equipment and fireworks and other materials. Throughout the evening – because of the trip over the Overlook Mountain took up most of the day – we tired hikers would make camp, set up food to burn on one side and be raw upon the other, and managed to consume our share of wine, beer, or whatever we had brought. We did everything from cook an apple pie in a dutch oven created from stone, to make a camping version of chicken cordon bleu, to stuffed pork and any number of other improbable dishes fit for an expert kitchen and rather not typically seen about a camp fire.
Then there was the carousing that went on further into the night than the polite hikers from Northern European locations and serious nature buffs from Westchester, and Upper West Side professionals trying to “escape it all” with about $1000 of gear from REI would want for their dream weekend away from the bright lights of the city or noise of the commute. Part of this goings on in the night would of course include fireworks, chopping things with axes, fighting or good natured brawling, laughing louder than is currently legal in most of Post-Rudy Gotham, and sometimes falling in the lake and trying not to open one’s mouth because it was know that in these waters was the dreaded Beaver Fever.
Beaver Fever is whatever you get from the excreta of beaver in a stable body of water that then creates a condition whereupon one evacuates the guts through one or more body opening. The clinical term for this illness is actually Double Dragon, but locals and townies, and transplants to the Hudson Valley and Catskill Mountains know it as Beaver Fever and the lake is supposedly the most notorious spot for the weekender to contract this illness. Many a Monday morning was spent reviewing the Sunday Times Style section again and again since there was nothing else available and the victim could not leave the confines of the water closet in order to obtain a more substantial selection of reading.
However, I have gotten older now. I have each year returned to Beaver Fever Lake, now having brought a number of paramours and at least one now former spouse. I no longer carry on into the night as I once did. Which is not to say the people I hike with don’t provide the carrying on long into the night because someone had to do it.
My latest trip to the lake I packed in way too much pork that had been marinating in a taco/wing sauce, several containers of pico, and the other fixings for tacos. I did not communicate well enough that I had food covered, so everyone who arrived that night brought an amount of food as well as several bottles of [redacted].
The party arrived covering all possible ways to arrive at the lake. Some of us (myself included) took the Overlook Road, another party walked the bitter and steep hike past the ruined hotel, and the more maverick group bushwhacked up through the back country following the stream that originates from the lake (which is spring fed) and pushed hard through undergrowth and the many hazards of trespassing in and out of various properties held in private interests. Assembled we set about pitching tents and tarps and hammocks and got to the business of cooking, and drinking, and cooking more, and drinking. I retired at an early hour – still quite late for a camper – and did not stir until first light. Apparently I missed a great deal of activity.
When I awoke I saw the carnage of the night before. I cannot say what happened in the night for I slept soundly and deeper than I usually do but several versions were retold to me the next day. (I always sleep well in the forest – until a twig snaps or a worm turns around in a leaf and I wonder, “what was that” but having lived in Gotham in the more bouncy neighborhoods, I can sleep through gun-play, romping parties next-door, and various street altercations and early morning trash services.) Apparently one in our party was so offended by the goings-on that she vacated the camp, packed up her tent in the deep and sick darkness, and returned home through the pounding rain rather than spend additional time with the band of merry tricksters who in madness hacked away at logs and trees, dug up small meaningless piles of dirt, and pummeled one another or threatened to do so long after the stars had appeared. I can only wonder what the nice couple with the little dog or the German tourists visiting America to see the wilderness, or the other visitors from the lights of far away cities thought as they fought the urge to kill us or escape and wished ever so that there was cell phone coverage (reversing the “isn’t it nice the boss can’t email me conversation of an hour earlier) so they could call in an air strike.
It was, unfortunate for the other campers. People of a certain tax bracket, especially Europeans, will travel all over the world to see “natives” and always thinking that the natives are simple and polite people and the people who sell you hand crafted things and know a lot of lore. This is, for some native groups such as the one I am currently discussing, not the case. I do hope, in the night, some one of them was scrubbing anthropological notes into their pad or that later, back in the Eurozone, about a cup of coffee they will recount their night at the lake and the terrible echo that exaggerated the ravings of the natives as they beat drums and pranced around muddy and half-naked enjoying the twilight of their youth.
I woke up in the morning feeling invigorated by the simple morning sounds of nature. The heavy rain had ended and fog passing off of the lake that evoked in my mind the Lady of the Lake and all manner of Arthurianesque legends. Like the failed knights of the quest, one of our company had crumpled in the night under some plastic tarp and the hard rain of the night made pools upon. It was as if we staged our own mini Woodstock II concert. Except we were the audience and the entertainment. “Oh shit. We were ’those people’ last night,” one exclaimed. Yes, indeed we were. At least we are aware of our short comings. As the party came to we picked up the bits and pieces in order to leave only footprints and bag whatever rubbish we came across. In the stones of the campfire we found what looked like a dead lizard and had a discussion about whether it was a fishing lure or not. With the campsite cleaned and returned for the next group of revelers, I left for the Devil’s Path, a long and punishing trail over the mountains – the others returned via various routes back to our current version of civilization.
At the top of the trail before it split off to the Devil’s Path, a small group of well groomed and geared middle class hikers from the city asked me if I spent the night at the lake. I answered sheepishly in the affirmative. “Oh,” one exclaimed, “did you camp there with friends?” Well… I stammered, there were other people at the lake…. uh…. down there camping… Did you camp there last night? I inquired. “Oh no, we will camp there in two weeks but we’re just on a day hike.” Why… Oh yes… I was there with friends actually. Great place. Just sometimes a little noisy. You know, what with that echo.