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Healthy Trails and Nibbles of Bacon: A Smart Getaway How-To

Posted May 20 2012 8:49pm

Let me take you back to 1990, the first year I tagged along with my dad and brothers to Lake Taconic. I had just turned 3 years old, and although I can’t remember a single thing about my initial year spent fishing, I obviously enjoyed it enough to go back again the year after, and the year after that, and the year after that.

I’m not exactly sure how many years I’ve been coming up to this small, mosquito-filled cabin on the lake now, because I know I had to take a year off here or there for other obligations. But let’s just put it this way: I didn’t even skip the trip on the weekend before my bat mitzvah – that requisite right of passage most 13 year old Jews are subjected to. It was a particularly cold, bitter year – our hands frozen as we cast each line out onto the lake. When it was all said and done, I returned home with a massive fever. My mom was pissed.

Fortunately, this was not one of those freakishly freezing years. Actually, it was the exact opposite – freakishly warm. And so, while I wasn’t necessarily planning on joining this year so that I could spend a few leisurely days in the city hanging out, as we drew closer to the weekend, my desire to return to the dingy little cabin I grew up in grew too.

On Thursday morning of last week, I called my brother. By noon, I was in. We figured out a way for me to easily get back from the city to my parent’s house, where he was driving from, and with that, my decision was made. Yep, I’d be heading to Lake Taconic for the 20-somethingth-time.

Even as I sit here writing, it’s virtually silent all around me – save for a really annoying fruit fly. Living in New York City, where I can’t even shut my eyes at night without hearing the roar of a truck or the beep of a car, these small moments away from the hustle are few but precious indeed.

I arrived dressed for the occasion, wearing a t-shirt featuring my dad’s fishing logo (one of my brothers had a logo made for him on father’s day a few years ago, and now we plaster everything with the orange and brown icon). Within minutes of driving up to the lake, I was completely overwhelmed with a sense of calm. The Type A part of me may have an insanely difficult time leaving my work behind and taking “personal days” or whatever, but my inner hippie was indescribably content once I stepped out of the car to be surrounded by this.

We spent the majority of the weekend fishing all over the small, glistening lake. The weather was perfect—if not maybe even a little too sunny and warm, and by the end of the day my legs and arms were totally burned tanned.

On the first day out there, I caught a bunch of nice sized pickerel, and then the smallest guy in the lake.

Overall, I was surprisingly able to maintain a relatively healthful intake of food which, for a trip that I used to look forward to for the abundance of bacon, burgers, steak, chips, Froot Loops, Entenmann’s cookies, Yodels, fruit snacks and Yoo-hoo, is probably one of the most incredible feats of all.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m healthy. I’m just not a total health freak, and I certainly indulged in a bite of steak, a few nibbles of bacon, and many, many Marshmallows over the course of the weekend.

On Friday, I ate a nutritious lunch of sliced pepper turkey, grilled veggies and fruit salad, followed by a dinner of grilled chicken, grilled veggies, coleslaw, mozzarella, and green beans. I even picked at a little red meat. (I never said I was good at portion control.)

On Saturday, I ordered a whole-wheat grilled cheese with tomato at the diner followed by a dinner of more grilled vegetables, mozzarella and coleslaw. I had the option to finish off some chicken from the night before, but chose to keep it meatless at the BBQ. Instead, I made a pit stop at the local orchard to grab peppers, zucchini, and asparagus, and created a little freshly grilled food fest that I topped off with avocado. Even the meat-eaters got in on it.

I know: A few of my dietary choices may seem out of character, and they probably require a quick explanation. Red meat? Chicken? Turkey? I thought Stacy was a pescatarian.

Well, that’s only partially true. The quick and easy explanation of my dietary habits is this:

I don’t count calories. I’m not scared of sugar (um, my dad owns a chocolate store). I definitely love my portions.

Because of all this, I find that it’s easiest – and more importantly, that I feel strongest and healthiest – when I maintain a primarily vegetarian diet with a little bit of fish every now and then (i.e. at a nice restaurant, when my mom cooks it, when I feel like whipping up a storm in the kitchen, etc.). I’m definitely not an animal rights activist (though I support all you who are), and so if “staying healthy” on a weekend of camping means noshing on sliced turkey and grilled chicken (two very healthy items I just happen not to eat on a regular basis), and maybe indulging in a few bites of delicious red meat, then sure, I’m game.

Adapting to this type of meatless lifestyle from that of a girl who once ate fried chicken and steak on a constant basis was not something that happened over night; it’s been a slow transition that began when I started running during my sophomore year of college and has simply become a way of life. I don’t think about it. I just do it. And I feel great because of it.

For several years, coming to Lake Taconic and figuring out how to balance what the boys were eating and what I was eating (did I mention that, most years, I’m the only girl?) was tough! If all of a sudden I didn’t want a kielbasa or 10, the guys were confused. If I didn’t scarf down 12 pieces of bacon, it was blasphemous.

Now, the men comply – and very well, I must say. When I decided to join my family this year, my brother called and asked if I wanted him to marinate a chicken breast for me; my dad gave me a ring from the deli asking what I’d like for the picnic.

Besides being well-nourished (Entenmann’s cookies are perfectly allowed on a weekend in the woods, by the way), I was able to get a second go at trail running.

My first attempt on the Greenbelt Trail wasn’t exactly a nightmare, but it wasn’t a walk in the woods (literal or figurative) either. The vertical inclines proved to be monstrous, and I felt tremendously unprepared the entire time. Yes, I had a great day, and was in no way discouraged from continuing to pursue the sport. I did, however, realize that I have a lot of training to do if I ever want to run trails comfortably and with any form of physical strength.

The short but nice trials of Upstate New York were perfect for this type of training. In all, I probably only ran between 3 and 4 miles at a time (a far cry from my typical 7 to 12-mile weekends as of late), but they were strong, concentrated courses that enabled me to work on my footwork, my speed and my conditioning when faced with such rocky, uneven and hilly terrain.

I guess the fact that concerns me the most at this point is that, even with such relatively flat conditions, I had a lot of difficulty maintaining a steady breath. Again, the pavement was a welcomed addition to the course, and yet dirt paths are supposed to be that much better for your body. I’m just not quite sure I get it.

The obvious answer may be that 2 weekends of trail running will most certainly not render you a seasoned, well-conditioned trail runner. I know this much is true. It’s just that, after running nearly everyday for 6 years and, in the last year alone, completing 3 half marathons, I really thought that I’d be much quicker to pick up this new and exciting alternative. Patience, grasshopper. Patience.

Anyway, despite my frustration, the trail was certainly beautiful.

Between the lake…

…the woods…

…shady pathways…

…small marshy outlets…

…and the beach…

…I was in pure heaven. For a few days, I found my happy place.

I’m so glad I made this last minute decision to spend the weekend at Lake Taconic with my dad and brother and, with amounting work and responsibility, feel better equipped to handle a lot of the load ahead of me. My calves are also crazy excited to hit the pavement again after 3 straight days of running on the trails.

Onwards and upwards!

  • Trail runners: Did you find it challenging to make the change from pavement to dirt? What’s a good way to continue conditioning my body for trails? Small, easy to follow tips will be greatly appreciated. I’m all ears!
  • What’s your go-to at a BBQ? Meat? Veggies? Are you a marshmallow hoarder like me?
  • Do you have any annual trips you look forward to year after year after year?

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