The Fourth of July weekend is coming to an anxious end, and with that , it’s only natural that many decide to head to their local parks/watering holes/sports stadiums to get one last bit of life in before work resumes on Monday. Thinking I’d use Sunday to visit a state forest I’ve never been to and hopefully check out some waterfalls, I instead found myself both threatened with arrest and injured — the latter of which occurred when a bear jumped out at me on the trails, causing a rather nasty sprain of the ankle. (That last part might be a lie.) Sonyea State Forest: A Stone’s Throw from a Local Prison Sonyea State Forest is located only a few miles away from the nationally famous Letchworth State Park, just outside of Mt. Morris, New York. The forest has a long history, starting many years ago as a colony for a local community of Shakers, before transforming into a retreat for those suffering from epilepsy. Following the advent of new treatments that effectively reduce the signs and symptoms of epilepsy, the retreat was finally repurposed by the state into the Groveland Correctional Facility. Groveland is a state-level high security prison for male offenders. Having never been to the forest before, I punched it into Google Maps on the trusty phone and sped on my way, the Tallest Man on Earth’s “Wild Hunt” trickling from the speakers, the gentle scents of honeysuckle and grass barely winning their fight with the country air (re: manure) as they pushed through my cracked windows. All signs pointed to a good morning. 40 minutes later, I arrived at a right hand turn Google demanded I take. A quarter-mile or so up the road, I began to notice more and more prison buildings enclosing the road. As I passed a sign reading “Training Barracks,” I realized that maybe I had been led astray. Coming to a stop next to the first person I saw, a lithe fellow with a tattoo in gothic script on his left forearm that stood out from green work clothes, I asked, “Excuse me, am I allowed to be here?”
“You looking to get arrested?” he replied quickly.
“I…no, I think I took a wrong turn.”
“Tell you what: I’ll let you get off the property before I report you.”
Speeding back the way I came, I finally noticed the signs reading “Authorized Personnel Only.” If there’s a lesson to be had here, it’s trust your eyes, not Google’s cartography robots. Operation Salvage: Letchworth State Park Finding myself defeated, I was back on the road toward Letchworth State Park and its throngs of holiday campers, drinkers, and other -ers. I didn’t really want to go where the crowds were, but after finding a spot a few miles into the park without any other vehicles, I parked, took out my pack, and pushed on. I was happy to find that no more than 200 feet from where I picked up the trails there was a set of waterfalls — small and not commanding of awe in the way of Victoria or Niagara Falls, but affecting and beautiful nonetheless. Getting to see a few waterfalls, the whole reason I’d gone to Sonyea in the first place, did a lot to get the bad taste out of my mouth after my run in with the groundskeeper at the prison, so I decided that rather than going home immediately, I’d keep trekking. Three miles and many hills and many different types of trees later, I came to the Hogsback Overlook, one of Letchworth’s most memorable scenes. Looking at it from just below a man-made viewing bluff, I found that taking it in from so far away wouldn’t do, and set off once again to find my way into the deep gully. I wanted that punch of perspective that comes with nature putting you in your place. It’s the sort of thing I’m used to doing from spending so much time on the trails with my dear friend the Beardless Farmer. Even alone, the hubris of those experiences stuck with me. Unfortunately, as I double-backed on the trail to find an easy descent route to the valley, I caught myself firmly in an outcropped Maple root, ankle twisting like pretzel dough. If I can paraphrase one of my father’s more colorful expressions here, “If you’d gotten your head out of your ass, you wouldn’t have hurt yourself.” So now, as a sit icing an ankle that looks deserving of its own gravitational field, I’m firmly reminded of one of hiking’s most basic rules: pay attention. If you do, you’re more likely to avoid the slammer, not to mention a sentient tree root looking to do you harm. — Has a lapse in attention ever gotten you into trouble while traveling or hiking? I’d love to hear about it in the comment section below.