RED HOUSE, NY — I’ve traveled around the world, but the list of local places I’ve checked off my bucket list is lacking.
The famed Western New York winter has faded into a slew of sunshine-filled days and, with temperatures crowding the 70-degree mark, I recently felt inspired to make the 27-minute drive from St. Bonaventure University to Allegany State Park.
I stuffed cheese puffs, chocolate Teddy Grahams, a digital camera, a poetry book and my travel journal into a backpack before driving west on the I-86 toward Salamanca. For the first time in five months I opened my Subaru Legacy’s sunroof and let the wind tousle my hair on the interstate.
Twenty-five miles and two U-turns later, I pulled into a rock-filled parking lot in the scenic, northeastern half of Allegany State Park, called the Red House Area. The opposite side of the park is called the Quaker Run Area. The combined acreage of the entire park is approximately 64,800 acres, boasting almost 79 miles of hiking trails, 375 rentable cabins, two beaches and various bike trails and pop-up camping areas.
I planned on hiking a segment of the 18-mile North Country trail tucked in the Allegheny Highlands forest during my free, four-hour visit. From afar the trail seemed flat and roofed with massive evergreen trees. Anxious to muddy my shoes with adventure, I swung my backpack over my right shoulder, waved to a handful of fishermen in a nearby brook and retreated into the forest.
I walked a mile, maybe.
The combination of towering trees, spring peepers and an abandoned vehicle mesmerized me into taking photos rather than trudging further on the dirt path. I spent an hour changing apertures and shutter speeds, trying to capture the nature surrounding me. Then I turned back, thinking the brook near the trail entrance would suffice as a quiet spot to read poetry and write in my journal.
Again, I was distracted.
A fisherman had caught a bite just as I was walking by, and I stopped to see what he reeled in. The man effortlessly pulled a small trout from the water, unhooked it and placed it in the white, 5-gallon bucket beside him. The man, garbed in jean shorts, a T-shirt, ball cap and black sunglasses, saw me watching and motioned for me to check out the rest of his catches.
He introduced himself as Randall.
In his bucket Randall had three trout that he had caught throughout the day. He said they were between 2 and 4 years old.
“Want to see if I can catch a big one?” Randall asked me with a smile.
I told him, “Sure.”
As Randall cast his line, and then another, he told me he is from Pennsylvania, is 70 years old, that he enjoys hunting deer with his two sons, has a family friend my age who is studying in Greece, likes Miller Lite, doesn’t like cell phones, enjoys fishing and on, and on.
I did not stop smiling the entire time Randall told me his childhood stories, political beliefs, life advice and opinions. His furor for life seemed as contagious as his laugh. In fact, I would have spoken with him longer if one of his sons didn’t need to be picked up at the end of one of the park’s trails.
Randall wished me luck in my future endeavors and offered a handshake. I gladly shook his hand and thanked him for allowing me to crash his fishing outing.
I drove to Red House Lake to write in my travel journal about the day I had. Finally free from distraction, I wrote an entry more about the unique person I had met rather than the actual place I had traveled to.
My day-trip to Allegany State Park inspired me to believe that although I may search for adventures each day in new destinations, sometimes I am meant to enjoy the experience rather than the place itself.