A New Yorker's Guide to Hiking, Biking and Fishing

The Awl: Joe Brown, you have spent a lot of time in New York City and environs and you have been commended to me as wildly outdoorsy, despite your indoorsy day job as features editor of Gizmodo. I would like to know your secrets without you blowing up any secret spots. So tell me: if I want a good hike within reasonable distance of New York, and maybe I lived a little, so maybe not too hard a hike, wherever would I go?

Joe Brown: Spent a lot of time in New York? I am a ****ing native!

The Awl: Spoken like a native!

Joe: Don’t undersell me, dude. I ooze cred.

The Awl: Definitely now I am using your Travis Bickle Halloween costume picture!

Joe: Oh man, you dug that up? So yeah, while the major outdoor activities in high school were setting fire to garbage cans and running in the subway tunnels, I found myself looking for something a little more rustic when I came back after college.

The Awl: When you became A Man. Ahem, as promised:

Joe: I went to college upstate (Cornell), and really had the lesson hammered into me that New York is a gigantic state with a lot more to it than just the little hangnail we call The City. Actually, after high school I took a year off and spent half that year working in a forest just north of the city.

The Awl: Oh wow, which one?

Joe: It’s called Black Rock Forest, and it’s a privately managed forest.

The Awl: Formerly owned by Harvard!

Joe: Yes, and now run by a consortium of institutions that use it as a teaching forest. We did acorn and deer censuses. We measured stream flows.

The Awl: That. Is. Awesome.

Joe: And every now and then, a class of 5th graders would come up, and we’d take them orienteering. It was a lot of fun. Even though the forest is private, it’s open to the public for hiking daily. You can’t fish or hunt in there, but you can take a stroll. The hikes are generally pretty easy, and it has some amazing vistas. Some beautiful ponds. And there’s a pizza place in the neighboring town of Cornwall that makes a SOLID slice, and serves sodas in those bumpy red plastic glasses.

The Awl: Oh WORD.

Joe: Yeah, legit. I love the forest, and not many people go there, so it’s never crowded.

The Awl: That is just a handy one hour and 20 minute drive from Manhattan!

Joe: Yes it is. Or you could take the Metro North to Garrison and take a cab to the forest gate.

The Awl: I am ready to go there right now and count acorns.

Joe: If you were gonna drive an hour-plus to hike, I would recommend the Delaware Water Gap.

The Awl: Oh! I have driven through, but I have never gotten out of the car!

Joe: Man. You know how beautiful it is when you’re going over that bridge?

The Awl: Yes!

Joe: It’s like 100X when you get off the highway. I mean, if you think about what the Gap is, it makes a lot of sense. That’s where a river cuts through a *******ing mountain range.

The Awl: Heh!

Joe: I don’t know what mountains those are. But the river makes them look like a bunch of ****es. And because of the way that terrain was formed — I think it’s technically a hanging valley — the topography is very severe and dramatic. You can get some really excellent and challenging hikes there, but my favorite thing to do there is get in the water.

The Awl: (They are the Appalachians.) I would do that!

Joe: You can canoe or kayak. You can rent boats in the park and you can even sign up for a tour, which I recommend, because it’s easier not to die that way.

The Awl: Oh that’s smart for the first time. And the second time you can get bold.

Joe: Right. Also, it’s a better use of your time. You spend less time figuring out where stuff is, and more time enjoying the greatest hits, which is important in a day trip.

The Awl: Right? Why spend the first three hours figuring out how to get into a boat.

Joe: Right. Or going to some lame sandbar.

The Awl: Ugh, I have been down this road. Yes.

Joe: The Delaware River is a really awesome river, actually. You can follow it all the way up into the northern reaches of the Catskills, and when you get up there, The D is one of the best natural trout fisheries in the north east. I am a fly-fisherman, and the D is where I learned. It’s a possible day trip, or a cheap overnight. And because the trout towns up on Rt 17 — Roscoe, Hancock, Deposit — are so tourism dependent there are a lot of outfitters who will take you. I love going up to Roscoe for opening day, which is April 1st. It’s a very big deal in a very small circle, the opening day of flyfishing season. Some famous lady throws out the ceremonial first cast.

The Awl: Niiiiice.

Joe: And we all stand shoulder-to-shoulder fishing the Willowemoc (tributary to the Delaware) and easily catching the stocked brown trout. The D, however, is a harsher mistress. Three fish is a great day on the D.

The Awl: Oof, that is harsh.

Joe: The west branch, where I like to go, is not stocked. It’s all native, tricky, smartypants fish, rainbows and browns.

The Awl: Evolution!

Joe: I like to stay at a place called The West Branch Angler. Good guides.

The Awl: Now I want to become a fisherman.

Joe: I recommend it! But always throw the fish back please! Catch and release. Only way to fly.

The Awl: Boooo. (Kidding! That is excellent. I don’t like killing things!)

Joe: You ever drive up 17 and notice those little wooden houses on the bank of the river, all neatly lined up?

The Awl: Oh yes!

Joe: That’s the West Branch.

The Awl: That is where I will sleep when I’m tossing fish back. (Back in the river, not in my mouth.)

Joe: Also, very good guides there will teach you how to fish. And very good food. If you’ve never done a night at a fishing lodge, I highly recommend it. Dinners are typically family style.

The Awl: And fish stories are traded???

Joe: Yeah. You eat with the other guests and lie about how many fish you caught. It’s amazing.

The Awl: I can see how one would WAY get into that.

Joe: Yeah. Also: the gear. Mmmm, gear.

The Awl: Hipwaders!?

Joe: Pshaw! Okay, closer to home. So if you aren’t the water type, and you don’t want to take a train or rent a car, there’s actually a lot of wilderness that’s closer. There’s a really dope park on Staten Island called Wolfe’s Pond Park.

The Awl: Never even HEARD of it! Oh wow, it’s not small!

Joe: No it’s a big ****er. And the cool thing about Wolfe’s Pond: mountain biking trails.

The Awl: Oh ho!

Joe: So you grab your bike, bring it on the Staten Island Ferry, and get warmed up on the way. Then, when you get there, nice, easy trails, some twisties, some hills. But mostly pretty leisurely. And it’s pretty. And, for most New Yorkers, Staten Island is pretty exotic.

The Awl: Plus it has a beach! And how often do you get all that?

Joe: Right! Also they have jumps. Like a terrain park for your bike. RAD.

The Awl: Oh what??? That is crazy.

Joe: Yeah, ****in’ fun. And if you eat it, nobody you know will be there to laugh at you. Because your hipster friends don’t go to Staten Island.

The Awl: They barely go to Manhattan Island.

Joe: There’s no pour-over coffee or artisanal string cheese down there. But! There is excellent pizza.

The Awl: You and your pizza.

Joe: I’m a New Yorker. What do you want?

The Awl: I want pizza now is what I want.

Joe: There’s a pretty good thread about Staten Island pizza on Chowhound. The makings of a day trip — at least.

The Awl: Hmm, we’ve been north, west and south: how do you feel about the Long Island area?

Joe: Oh I like Long Island. There’s Connetquot State Park. And you can flyfish there as well. You call ahead and reserve a stretch of river. And it costs like $8 and you can pretend you’re in “A River Runs Through It.” And you can get there by LIRR and walk from the station.

The Awl: And it’s close! Also that’s where the Southern State ends. Heh.

Joe: It’s cool. You can also go out to Montauk and surf.

The Awl: Isn’t that like, asking for death? Have you actually DONE THAT?

Joe: It’s really good surfing, actually. Problem is, with weekend traffic, it’s quicker to get to California.

The Awl: Seriously. Do not.

Joe: It’s not my sport. But Rockaway Beach is supposed to be really fun, when the wind is out of the north. Plus, far rockaway is pretty cool. It’s this weird little beach town.

The Awl: Yessss!

Joe: You don’t even need to surf to have a good time there. A train to Beach 90 St.: boom.

Joe: If you go east, you can get to PA and there’s some fun stuff, like Jim Thorpe PA, which is a very cool little historic town.

The Awl: Whoa.

Joe: It’s home to some historic mining **** I’m supposed to have heard of, and they have an opera house, which is supposedly pretty dope. Cool cafes and bars. Well, one of each. And there’s fishing there too. And. OH OH OH. RAFTING!

The Awl: That’s basically how I want to die.

Joe: You can go for like $50. I’ve done this and it was awesome. I mean, it’s not the Colorado River. But me and a buddy decided to do this on a Thursday. Friday we were in a rental car. Saturday we were rafting. Sunday we were at happy hour in Greenpoint.

The Awl: That is ideal.

Joe: It’s like a 2-hr drive. Hotels are cheap. And you can hit IHOP on 80 on the way over.

The Awl: Mmmm, carb-loading.

Joe: Oh, one more thing: fishing for beginners: bluefish off Point Pleasant NJ.

The Awl: Whoa.

Joe: Now, you get to keep the bluefish. A few things about bluefish. Fishermen don’t like bluefish, because it’s kind of an oily fish. But on a hot charcoal grill, it is very delicious

The Awl: I can work with that.

Joe: Yeah. The other thing about bluefish? They aren’t very big. Maybe up to about 8lbs. But they hit like locomotives

The Awl: Oh, scary.

Joe: A strong bluefish strike will bring a strong guy down to his knees. And you’ll fight them for a solid 5 minutes. After which point, your arms will be ON FIRE. But man, what a rush. And they’re easy to catch. Because when you go deep sea fishing — which means you are 10+ miles off the coast — it’s really fun and there’s booze on the boat

The Awl: I should certainly hope so.

Joe: Only downside is that it’s expensive.

The Awl: Getting a boat, you want to split that five + ways.

Joe: Yeah, which is a good number, because you can’t fish like that continuously. So it’ll cost you like $100/head.

The Awl: Right. BUT you do get dinner out of it.

Joe: Yup. So there you have it. That’s what I’ve got.

The Awl: You truly are the Great New York City Outdoorsman.

Joe: I do my best.

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