The Northeast has a certain high-falutin’ way of naming its suburban wilds that somehow elevates them to the level of Inaccessible. For months I imagined that The Poconos (did I dare breathe its hallowed name?) was an enchanted playground for the rich & famous… not the birthplace of the in-room champagne hot tub.
Similarly, I pictured The Berkshires to be the sort of high-class place that Mr. M & Charlie Mae & I would get booted out of, stat. Where rich folk sport tasseled loafers around their well-manicured summer homes. Kinda like The Hamptons, without the nautical flair.
A couple weekends ago, we three were in desperate need of an escape from Manhattan and realized we’d never seen The Berkshires. Would we need tasseled loafers and a schoolboy muffler to get in?
Day #11,285: Our first stop on the drive into the legendary Berkshires was Hyde Park in upstate New York. Hyde Park, as you may know from the recent movie Hyde Park on Hudson, is most famous for being Franklin D. Roosevelt’s country estate.
The FDR National Historic Home is more compound than mere historical house. I knew that the park included hiking trails; I hadn’t realized that in early March there would still be a good amount of snow on the trails.
The icy weather ended up working to our advantage: not a single other person was out on the trails. In its own, slightly frosty way, the winter wilderness had a touch of magic. We slushed through glittery snow, Charlie Mae bounding along like the foot-tall trooper she is, past froze-over ponds and deer tracks and all the wonderful things that the city makes us miss.
While we hiked, Mr. M & I talked business. Namely, about our escape plan if- no, when– we ran smack into a hungry, grouchy bear emerging from hibernation. Who would be in charge of fighting it off in hand-to-paw combat? When we inevitably protect ourselves by throwing Charlie Mae at the ravenous beast, will she be sufficient distraction? Or will she merely serve as an amuse bouche to whet the bear’s appetite for sweet human flesh?
Like long road trips, hiking conversations allow you the time & space to sort out Life’s Important Questions.
After crossing state lines and checking into our wonderfully kitschy motel in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, we hurried on to make use of the last rays of winter sun. The Ice Glen trail ended up being more snowed-in than any of us could handle: poor Charlie could barely leap above the snow drifts, and my leggings were icy-wet up to the calves.
But we recovered well with an impromptu stroll down a nearby (shoveled) country road.
Us humans had dinner reservations at allium restaurant + bar in Great Barrington, and after a long, cold day, we were looking forward to some vittles. In keeping with the day’s rustic tradition, Mr. M opted for a pine liqueur cocktail, which managed to be herbaceous and refreshing without tasting like Pine Sol. The restaurant also offered up the BEST chickpea soup I’ve ever eaten… and Mr. M’s hiking boots weren’t even close to being out of place.
As we settled in at the motel’s communal breakfast table the following morning, enjoying homemade scones & banana bread, big bowls of locally brewed Berkshires coffee, and freshly baked granola, it was more than clear.
Despite their grandiose title, The Berkshires are earthy, accessible, and genuine.
That smart old bloke Shakespeare was right again… what’s in a (stuffy) name?
Details of the Day:
Briarcliff Motel (506 Stockbridge Rd, Great Barrington, MA): We’re constantly on the lookout for cheap, pet-friendly lodgings for our weekend outings. The Briarcliff is inexpensive, loves your dogs, and is updated with kitschy yet modern outfittings. Richard & Clare are gracious hosts who make this a cozy home base, but be aware that- true to its motel roots- the building’s walls are very thin. You won’t be sleeping in late.
Hyde Park on Hudson: While the movie was disappointingly just okay, Bill Murray as FDR solidified his place as one of my favorite actors (watch your back, Jeff Bridges…), and it was really cool to see the actual Hyde Park on Hudson on this trip.
The grounds and parking are free, as long as you don’t plan to tour the actual house. Speaking of which…
Hiking at Hyde Park: For a lovely, easy 2.5 mile loop hike, follow the path south from the parking lot and past the museum. You’ll see signs for the Hyde Park Trail; follow the path downhill. Follow the fork to the left. When you come to the Y-intersection with Cove Trail, go left. You’ll pass a turn-off on the right for the Forest Trail- bypass it for now. In another ½ mile or so, you’ll come to a T-stop. Head right to circle back. Turn left when you reconnect with the Hyde Park Trail. This time, turn left to follow the Cove Trail back up to your starting point.
Hiking the Ice Glen Trail: Which is supposed to be beautiful, if you actually follow through. From Great Barrington, head north on Route 7, and turn right onto Ice Glen Road. About 1/2 mile down the road, you’ll see this sign on the left.
Park nearby (without blocking the driveway), and head straight up the gravel driveway to the left of the sign. The easy to moderate out-and-back trail will continue from there… best done when not covered in a foot of snow. :)