The title of this post is a little deceiving, I thought I should say that upfront. I am going to write about a long walk I took last weekend. And it was the end of February, which still sits squarely in the winter season here in the northeastern US. But it was also a 64 degree day with strong, uninterrupted sunshine. For all intents and purposes, I felt like I had stepped straight into spring, and I loved it.
I never really stopped walking this winter, though the nature of my walks changed. I still try to get out to my local park but instead of hiking the soggy, snow-covered trails, I stick to the paved path. And I spend more time in my own neighborhood, racing to beat the setting sun as I loop through the streets. I bundle up in my long underwear and fleece headband and I rush through the hour-long walk and then hurry back inside to where it is warm.
But I’ve lucked out with a relatively mild winter, and last Sunday we were hit with that 60-degree day. I was just getting over a long and lingering cold and had been shut up inside for much of the past week, so my feet were itching to move, and I was craving fresh air and the outdoors and, more than anything, a bit of warm sunlight.
I headed to the Delaware & Raritan Canal Towpath, a place I discovered last year on one of my first outings with the Philadelphia Camino group. It is a 77-mile trail in New Jersey that runs mostly along- you guessed it- the Delaware & Raritan Canal, and passes through New Brunswick, Trenton (my place of birth!!), Lambertville and Frenchtown. There’s so much history along the trail; in the 19th century, the main section of the canal was used to transport goods to New York City, and other industrial cities. There are old mills and lockkeeper houses, as well as Washington’s Crossing (the place where George Washington crossed the Delaware River during the American Revolution… I just read that this marked a turning point in the war, so maybe this is a spot on the trail that I’ll have to walk to next).
There are also 5 bridges at various points along the trail that cross the Delaware and connect you to a somewhat parallel trail in Pennsylvania- the Delaware Canal Towpath (which is 60 miles in length). Basically, this means that there are lots of possibilities for good walking and good scenery and, if you plan it right, good coffee as well.
One thing that I really miss about my walks and hikes here in the US is the lack of villages and towns that conveniently provide coffee breaks. Multiple café con leche stops on the Camino were one of my very favorite things, and it was rare that I had a day of walking on the Camino that didn’t pass by at least one open bar.
So one of the greatest perks of walking along the D&R Canal Towpath is the chance to pass through quaint villages with their restaurants and markets and coffee shops. It’s perfect, actually: you walk along a sometimes paved, sometimes hard-packed dirt trail for a mile or two, surrounded by nothing but nature: gurgling water, tall trees, grassy fields. Then, all at once, you pass through a little town that is filled with Victorian houses and galleries and shops. This might not happen for the entire length of the trail, but it did for the section that I decided to walk on Sunday, a 12 mile out-and-back stretch from Lambertville to (nearly) Bull’s Island.
The path is totally flat, so this was an ideal late-winter hike for me. For the last few months my walks have been short, and they haven’t included many hills. So I need to ease back into my Camino-training (is there a Camino #3 in my future?? Possibly/probably, though I’m still trying to figure out my summer plans). In any case, a long walk on a flat and mostly smooth path was exactly what I was looking for, and for most of the walk I moved along quickly and easily. I was fueled, of course, by the cappuccino I bought at Stockton Market, an indoor farmer’s market in the village of Stockton, which was about three-miles into my walk. There were stands and tables filled with goods: fresh vegetables, bottles of olive oil, trays of cheese and rounds of bread, but I went straight for the coffee. I carried it with me as I walked, and it all felt kind of luxurious: warm air and bright sunlight, a cup of creamy coffee in my hand as I strolled along the canal.
All signs of luxury left, however, by the last two-miles of the walk. As I plodded along, I did some mental calculations of the last time I had walked more than 7-miles. And as I counted backwards, further and further, I realized it had been sometime in early December, nearly three months earlier. So it was no wonder that after nearly 12-miles, I could feel a small blister developing on the bottom of my right foot, and a slight ache in my left knee. But just as I was feeling rather grumpy and wishing that Lambertville- and my car- would appear quickly, I heard a small commotion off to the side of the trail.
I wandered over and it was a little oasis: three children were set up behind a tiny, make-shift stand. A white plastic table with a brightly colored cloth and a hand-drawn sign, advertising popcorn and lemonade. I could hear a fresh batch popping in the background, along with the clink of ice cubes as a little girl poured a glass for a woman in front of me. I stood in line and smiled at the woman, and we discovered that we both had the same ‘life rule’: if you pass a lemonade stand, you have to stop.
So I finished my long walk with a plastic cup in each of my hands: one filled with icy cold lemonade, the other filled with freshly popped, lightly salted popcorn. My entire body had that tired and satisfied feeling of exertion, and my spirit felt rejuvenated from the sun and the warm air.
It feels like spring is almost here. And it feels like a return to my favorite seasons of life, the ones that include long walks and vigorous hikes, fresh air and adventure and traveling. I can’t wait.