One of the greatest perks about house and pet sitting in different states (or countries) is that you can explore new areas at will. If you decide to take on longer term sits, like us, these explorations can be done in-depth with destinations galore for weekends away. Mark and I only have about one month left of our 4.5-month house sit in Heath, MA and I feel that we are running out of time for my “to visit” list. Of course, this list is so extensive that it is humanly impossible to actually do it all, unless we could devote ourselves to our roaming ways every single day of the week, which we can’t, because of our business.
I had a few “to do” things planned for our weekend in SW Massachusetts: climbing two mountains, Mt. Everett (partly) and Monument Mountain (wholly), strolling around two historical towns, Stockbridge and Great Barrington, hiking to three sets of waterfalls, Bash Bish Falls, Bear Rock and the cascades of Race Brook, visiting Guilder Pond and driving back from Great Barrington to Lee on a scenic road, before heading home on Sunday. Oh, and as a back-up or if we had extra time, I had more waterfall destinations up my sleeve.
Preparing for a camping trip, even if only for two nights, takes quite some time. I had read up about interesting sites in Massachusetts on earlier occasions, but still needed to find a campground to pitch our tent. The closest state-run one to our intended itinerary was Beartown State Forest, a “limited facilities” campground with a mere 12 sites. When Mark checked its availability on Thursday, we discovered that there was only one site unoccupied for the two nights. Not people to plan ahead much or – the horror – reserve a spot and totally commit, this truly seemed to be our only way out to visit SW Massachusetts affordably. We paid a whopping $8 extra to secure camping site #6 for the weekend.
Friday morning was jam-packed doing laundry, making fresh bread, filling a box with food and utensils, compiling a cooler with breakfast, lunch and dinner items, collecting our temporary dog Jenny’s things, gathering camping gear and packing up the car. Mark was hoping to cut out of work a little early and we planned a 3pm departure. “The weather has made a turn for the worse.” Mark’s voice reached me from his office at 2:55pm. “What do you mean?” I yelled back. “It will start raining at 5pm on Saturday and won’t stop until Sunday night!” he answered. As I looked outside, it was raining steadily in the yard, but, according to online sources, not in Great Barrington. “This is an awful weekend to go camping. I learned my lesson. I am never reserving camp sites ever again,” Mark grumbled when entering the living room. “I just packed everything up,” I said, “I really want to go and do stuff.” “Have you forgotten what it is like to camp in the rain, with mud all around us and a dog that needs walks and bathroom breaks?” he objected, “How will I cook dinner on the wood fire grill when it is raining?”
I thought for a minute and came up with a great idea, “We can cook both meals the first night and then warm the second meal up Saturday evening before it rains, or we can eat it cold.” The positivist in me – or was it the naïve me? – did not want to give up so easily. “Maybe the weather will change again,” I offered hopefully. While I could tell Mark would rather cancel the whole camping trip, he said “You decide what you want to do.” “Let’s go,” I encouraged him, but more myself, “before we lose even more time on the precious nice days!” “Have you not looked outside?” Mark wondered, “This is not a nice day…” “But, it will be at the campground,” I convincingly uttered, while stacking the last items in our car.
The need to run a couple of errands on a detour, the determination of every traffic light to turn red just for us and the unavoidable Friday afternoon car presence on the roads had us arrive at our destination around 6pm. It was the second time we pitched our new tent in the dirt, so we are getting good at it. From the moment I had found out there was a trail around a little lake in Beartown State Forest, I wanted to do this of course. We needed some exercise after sitting on our butts the whole week. I convinced a tired Mark and a happy Jenny to walk the darkening Pond Loop Trail. Benedict Pond glistened nicely in the evening light, while the mosquitoes feasted on our blood and our feet stumbled across roots and rocks in the dimming light. Cooking on wood is never easy, nor fast, but the end-result was tasty and the stars sparkled brightly overhead.
Since our two days might be reduced to one, we had a big day in front of us on Saturday. An early start was desired, but… an obnoxious group of inconsiderate men ruined our good intentions. Until 2am (when Mark eventually interfered with a “Hey guys, shut the &%#%& up!”), they drank, laughed, screamed and played a loud game right across from us. Needless to say, when 7am came around, we were dead tired and fell back asleep instead of starting our cloudy, event-packed day. It was 9:30 by the time we readied ourselves. First matter of business: finding some reliable information about the weather. Mark jumped in the car and drove 20 minutes to get cell reception and grab the hourly forecast. When he returned, the news was not good: 60-100% rain for 24 hours starting at 5pm that day. “What do you want to do?” I asked my husband. “You decide,” he countered once more. “Let’s pack up,” I said without hesitation. I’d rather spend a rainy night and whole Sunday in a comfortable house than in a muddy campground, even if it means losing 20 dollars.
So, packing up we did. Breaking camp was easy and fast, but with all the distractions, it was already 11:30am by the time we finally started our day. We had to cut our program a bit shorter. The unsuitable “fancy” tires of our Prius braved an incredibly rocky dirt road up Mt. Everett, where the three of us entered the Appalachian Trail, direction South. Instead of climbing all the way to the top for a cloudy 360° view, we decided to hike for about 15 minutes of steepness and enjoy a cloudy view from an open meadow. Instead of walking around Guilder Pond, we had lunch at its picnic table (and forgot to take a photo), and instead of committing to a series of challenging hikes in order to see many waterfalls, we picked the best one out of the bunch.
Bash Bish Falls in the Taconic Mountains is the highest waterfall of the state. Despite its remote location, the site is extremely popular amongst locals and tourists alike. The parking lot was packed and groups of cheering people in bathing suits abound. Mark, Jenny and I descended the steep, rocky trail towards a viewing platform. The waterfalls – despite a dry spell – are a sight to behold. The emerald pool underneath is beautiful and the whole area extremely picturesque. Two uniformed employees did their best to keep tourists out of the (very enticing) main pool. Further downstream, people are allowed to swim. We admitted that the rules were a good idea (safety comes first and I also prefer an empty pool for the photos :-)), but we reminisced all the tropical waterfalls we visited in French Polynesia, where we had the most pristine, exotic scenes all to ourselves.
The strenuous, short hike up caused us to sweat profusely. We did it in one stretch, eager to leave this zoo-like place. It was 3pm and we were all relatively tired. Instead of adding another challenging hike to reach a second series of mountainous waterfalls to our dwindling day – two hours until the rain – we decided to stop in the town of Great Barrington for a short and easy stroll along the Hoosatonic river and through the center of town.
Saturday night, while sitting on a very comfortable couch, we watched the radar images of Great Barrington. The area was positively getting battered with rain (Heath was to follow early morning). As we thought about the extremely loud and insensitive hicks, we smiled at each other real big.
What are your experiences while camping? Have you braved rain in a tent? Have you been annoyed by other groups while trying to enjoy a peaceful camping experience?