When you think “health retreat” you might start having visions of wheat grass shots and lectures about toxins. Deerfield is a bit different, there is no talk about toxins and instead there is an “anything goes” mentality (except alcohol, that’s off the table).
It is day two of my health & hiking retreat and I wake up far too early thanks to a loud pounding on my door (for day 1, see this post). Debbie, another resident, is knocking to see if I am still coming out for the morning hike. I try to compose myself and pretend I’ve been up and am getting ready, when I am still crawling out of bed. Somewhat literally.
“Your coffee is in the car”, she shouts as she takes off along the hallway.
I hide behind the door in nothing but my pyjamas and tell her “5 minutes!” As quickly as humanly possible I throw some clothes on and leave my hiking boots untied as I pound down the stairs. I jump in the car and indeed she got me a coffee already, I try to wake up as I throw it back.
It turns out that GPS is entirely useless when you are trying to find the start of a trail. Even using points of interest that should be nearby, we drive around for about an hour. Get lost in the woods while Debbie’s Mercedes is risking scratches by flying rocks and low hanging tree branches. Eventually we find a place to park and we manage our one hour morning hike. All I know is that we were somewhere in the Delaware Water Gap. Getting lost, despite having GPS, made me really appreciate the expert knowledge and advice from the hiking guides at Deerfield. We had set out on our own that morning, if we would have gone on one of the organized hikes we would not have gotten lost. Nevertheless, it was a good one and it was nice to connect with someone else one-on-one and just had some girl-talk while taking in nature.
It doesn’t take nearly as long for us to get back to Deerfield but we’ve at this point missed breakfast. Or so we thought. We get into the main house and Joan loudly proclaims “Nobody misses a meal here!” as she ushers us into the dining room where my poached eggs and yogurt are served just minutes later. I don’t think my own grandmother even took this good care of me when I used to visit.
Hiking PEEC Two Ponds Trail
After breakfast there is a scheduled hike on the agenda, and we set out for the Pocono Environmental Education Center (PEEC) and take the easy and flat two ponds trail. You guessed it, you see two ponds along it.
The specs of the trail, according the the PEEC website, are:
- Easy Difficulty Level
- 1 hour (1.4 miles)
- Two Ponds begins by the Front Pond bird blind across from the main building parking lot and ends by the dining hall.
- PEEC’s most leisurely and flattest trail
- View towering pine plantations and two scenic pond environments.
- Watch for various birds and wildlife along this trail.
PEEC also offers a trail guide, with a lot of information on the local flora and fauna, as well as a map of the trail. You can download it here.
Lars is our guide today, and we are lucky because he is a fountain of knowledge. He points out different plant and tree species and tells us about them. When you look from afar, a collection of trees and plants along a hiking trail just looks exactly like that… a bunch of green. When you come closer and take a minute to really look, you see remarkable details. For example, a tree that grows a variety of leaf shapes.
It makes me think of McNuggets: they always come in a defined set of consistent shapes. Let’s not argue how chicken nuggets obtain those shapes (because I can keep going on the topic of food) and instead get back on the trail.
As we walk along, Lars points out more and more details and I stop a few times to take pictures. Followed by a brief sprint to catch up again to the group.
PEEC is an educational center, so we also stumble across a graveyard that is meant to educate us on how long it takes for various materials to decompose. Looking at those signs, I wonder how anyone wouldn’t start questioning our massive overconsumption.
We continue on our quest, and along the way I spot mushrooms, wild berries, and some wildlife.
All that fresh air made me hungry and when we headed back for lunch it wasn’t a minute too soon as far as I was concerned. It’s quite fun to know already what you are eating, because you chose it the night before. Lunch for me was a turkey salad, again lovingly decorated with a flower.
Afternoon hike: Dingmans Falls
Just like that it turned into a three hike day. New arrival to Deerfield, Maureen, was interested in a more intermediate hike and just like me she wanted to see some waterfalls. We had the option of going to Bush Kill falls, which does charge a fee to enter. Lars had said that the falls are quite nice, but he didn’t sound overly enthusiastic about the difficulty of the trail. We figured we could check it out anyways, and armed with bug spray, water, and walking sticks we set out on our quest to explore. Once we got to the parking lot for Bush Kill falls, we saw entire families with strollers, babies, and people wearing flip flops stroll towards the entrance. This was enough to do a full 180 and head out to another location instead. Both of us muttering that “we have nothing against people, but this was not the point of the trip”.
We were both fully decked out for a proper hike: boots, sticks, the whole bit. To be joining a crowded path of tourists carrying their children, SLR cameras, lunches, and wearing flip flops was not the nature walk we had in mind. The final blow was the fact that there were two (not one!) gift shops, and a funnel cake establishment at the start of the “trail”. The whole experience seemed far too American-Tourist-Trap to both of us. After this experience I kept referring to Bush Kill as “Buzz Kill falls”, of course affectionately. If I had a two month old in a stroller and nothing but flip flops to wear, I would go there too.
Instead, I had forests to explore and calories to burn. Buzz Kill wasn’t going to do either for me. Dingmans Falls seemed like a better option. Once we arrived, the falls were very easy to get to (think boardwalk). It is also an exceptionally short hike, unless you make something more of it. We upgraded our hike by first climbing all the stairs up to the top, where you can sort of look over the top of the falls. We then set out to explore a bit more, technically off the trail. The area out there is wooded but not densely, and there is minimal plant coverage on the floor, so it is pretty easy to hike along. As we continued, we had to go downhill again, and stumbled upon a group of people in obvious preparations of a marriage proposal (white rose petals, candles, champagne, etc). We made a bit of a joke of it until we realized the bride-to-be was almost right behind us so we fled the scene and let them have their moment alone.
It is not typically recommended to leave any trail, for your own safety and also to avoid causing damage to the environment. However, the area just passed Dingmans Falls was so easily walkable and had little to no plants that we felt pretty comfortable carrying on. Not too long after we found another path, one that probably hasn’t been in much use because we had to climb over some tree trunks to continue on.
It wasn’t too long before we couldn’t hear anything but the wind through the trees and the snapping twigs under our feet. I kept an eye on where we were walking, in lieu of spreading bread crumbs Hansel and Gretel style as we were veering off a fixed trail again. Better than bread crumbs was a river we could follow, which ultimately lead back to where we came from. As long as we kept an eye on the water, I figured, we were going to be fine. Walking along the water at some point Maureen grabbed my arm and pointed: it was a beaver! The little beaver took note of us and hurried off to the other side of the river where he was clearly in the process of building a dam. Unfortunately he was too far for me to take a proper picture.
We walked back along the river to where we came from. It was still gorgeous, but there is something to be said for trails that go in a loop, so you are not back tracking along the same path. Nonetheless, you always see something new even if you have just walked there. After the beaver we did not see any more wild life, so I just took pictures of the many different plant and fungi species I spotted along our hike.
We made it home in time for dinner. In total I covered 14km for the day. It doesn’t seem like that much, I’ve in the past walked over 20km just in London. However, going up and down trails and climbing over tree trunks did make it feel like a fairly productive day of hiking. Miraculously, I made it through the day with just one blister.
Dinner was again delicious, and it is getting me used to eating desert. This may prove to be a new habit I will not want to break with once I get home. Would you if your desert looks like this?