Every year I will at least once a) take the 60 mile bike ride from East 10th Street to the foot of the Tappan Zee Bridge on the New Jersey side – and back – and b) ride the train to Cold Spring…hike the 3 miles to the trailhead…climb Breakneck Mountain…and take the trails back to the Cold Spring station. Both take a considerable amount of effort – geriatric standing or not.
So yesterday was the Breakneck expedition. Silly me, I thought the temperature and humidity had moderated some. And maybe it had. But you wouldn’t know it by the way hikers (me included) sweated their asses off going up that ridge. It was hot! I must have mopped my brow 200 times in the course of the hike.
As noted before, lone hikers like me will occasionally happen up on other wackos and join up for a spell. That didn’t seem like it would happen yesterday until the end of the journey – which traditionally (for me) climaxes with me finding a spot in a rushing brook in which to dunk my body. In fact, I’m just about the only person I’ve ever seen do this owing to a) the shallowness of the brooks involved, b) the temperature of the water (very cold), and c) the bathing suit and towel required for the dunk. But I will find the one spot big enough to submerge my entire body…can take the cold (it’s part of the experience)…and come equipped.
To my chagrin, I found that my usual spot on the Breakneck hike was no longer viable. Either nature or a human being had rearranged the rock formation at my usual place rendering it useless for the purpose. But I backtracked and found another to suit my needs. Unfortunately, that spot is located at a trail juncture and virtually underneath a footbridge that connects the two. The point is that my new spot is relatively well-traveled.
Not a problem initially. I did my change and dunked my dumb ass in the frigid flowing water only to return to my rock to enjoy the nature and solitude when I heard voices approaching in the distance. The voices of many children.
With a little luck, they might simply walk over the bridge and continue on their way I hoped. But not to be. At first, they eyed me warily. And I tried to look aloof and forbidding so they wouldn’t invade my space. Then soon enough, one kid ventured down the slope and before I knew it, I was surrounded by 10 tweens and teens – all male – and all marveling at the rushing water. I guess I could have growled but I figured “What the hell!”
“Ya know I saw a Jaws-looking mother fucker swim by just five minutes ago,” I baited the boys. And it went like that from thereon. The kids decided to jump the brook from one rock to another that was far enough away to be challenging. And it wasn’t long before one of the schlubbier ones fell in the brook with an iPhone in his pocket. Why their counselor was so slack escaped me. This little rock jumping caper was a sprained or broken ankle waiting to happen.
Now picture all these kids (who by the way were all white and had an air of good boys about them) wore baseball caps with different logos. One had a Jets cap…another a Yankees cap…and a third a Cubs cap. The kid closest to me decided to stick his feet in the water. And for this operation, he carefully removed his Jets cap to lie it down safely right beside me. And in the interior of the cap, I saw it! A yarmulke! “Aha! These kids are religious jews. Now I know why they’re so civilized!”
The counselor (for lack of a better word) arrives (finally) but stationed on the bridge looking down. I figure he doesn’t know what to make of me (nor do the kids who were a little wary – God knows what predators lurk in the woods) so I tell him “Not to worry. I’m a jew myself.”
With that, he tells me with excitement that it’s prayer time and they need a minyan (whatever that is). I should join in the prayer. So the next thing I know I’m up the hill with the boys saying “amen” and davening as if I’m doing the Atlanta Braves chop (when it wasn’t politically incorrect). Daven! Not only do I not know how to do it…but I had to Google the word so I could spell it! I mean…I felt like I was back in temple! The only thing different was I was in a bathing suit and not a pair of scratchy wool dress pants! Seriously, it was ridiculous. The whole deal was about as familiar as if I were in the midst of a bunch of cabby muslims bowing to Mecca. I had no idea what the fuck I was doing!
It didn’t really matter. The boss was most appreciative. And I was happy to oblige. Not knowing Hebrew, I of course had no idea when to say my amens. So I had one of the kids cue me every time. At the outset, he didn’t really give me enough preparation so my amens sounded more like an echo than an homage to the Great One. But by and by, he got the knack and by the end of the prayer, I was right on time! Thankfully, the boss initiated the short program as he was unfamiliar with the new member’s attention span.
As the boys gathered to depart, I took another dip and looked up to see each and every eye in awe of my courage. And as they left, the kid whose iPhone got dunked said “May God bless.”
I know it sounds stupid…but the rest of the way home, I couldn’t help but snicker at the ridiculous as I sang “I Am a Majer In the Shul,” a quick ditty I’d composed to commemorate the experience. Man oh man! The last time I did this hike, it was an English lawyer and a Midwest medium security corrections officer I hooked up with. And this time, it was a bunch of orthodox day campers from Monticello. What next? Maybe a hot flatbacker. Yeah, right. That’s about as likely to happen as one of those self-absorbed squacks volunteering at a soup kitchen. Or to put it another way…ho’s don’t hike!
But I digress. This morning, I googled the word “minyan” (that’s how it’s spelled) and “day camps in Monticello, NY.” And I found that a minyan is actually a quorum for jewish prayer (I made the quorum). And Camp Rominu (one of the kids wore a t-shirt which said such) is a highly-rated summer camp from the boys’ neck of the woods. And as you might imagine, all the reviewers’ last names were Goldberg, Silverstein, Rosenbaum and the like. No surprise there – even if I found them on a serious hike not generally associated with seriously religious people of any persuasion.