• Nicole Griggs

Paradise Found in the Catskills

Updated: May 24

We drove deep into the central New York wilderness to meet up with new friends on our first #vanlife trip and came face to face with a bear.

Panorama shot of a sunset in the Catskills with two people and a dog
Our Catskill hosts Luke, Sarah, and Alan

Paradise, it seems, isn't too far away from Massachusetts. Our home base, where we built our our van, Olivia, is nestled in the center of a tiny village in Cape Cod. With all the charms of a seaside tourist town, Cotuit still has cell service and, you know, people. As we drew closer to the remote wilderness of Denning, New York, it was as if we stepped into a wholly different world. #WizardofOz

Thank goodness for Google maps bouncing down to our phones off of satellites instead of cell towers. Although, it did tell us to go the wrong way (read: the bumpiest road known to van-kind).

New Neighbors, New Friends

Sarah, Luke, and their little dog too were waiting for us when we rolled into their driveway late in the night heralded by an astounding number fireflies. They had a lovely campfire going as they were planning on welcoming us earlier in the evening before Google got us halfway lost. But we managed to introduce ourselves in the flickering glow of the flames and giggle over how it felt like a Tinder date, considering how we originally met through Instagram. There were also several slightly breathless jokes about cults and murderers, for which each party was grateful the other was not.

It was hot and muggy, a true East Coast summer. Despite the heat, Luke and Alan showed Alex and Lucy a great long hike up a nearby mountain (Sarah and I had to work, unfortunately). However, the humidity eventually got the better of me and on my lunch break I followed the small parade of husbands and dogs down to a hidden spot on the river to dunk in the ice cold stream to cool off.

A dog looking out over a natural swimming hole with a man in the distance
Lucy wondering why Alex is enjoying such cold water

That night we had another campfire (Luke confessed he gets cranky without at least one fire per day) and cooked burgers and brats over the flames. To catch the sunset, Sarah and Luke took us up a (very steep!) hill and showed us to a special viewing platform. As soon as we had all caught our breath, Alan stiffened in Sarah's arms, quivering nose pointing to something in the dense woods behind our small group. I turned to peer around the back wall of the observation deck and lost my breath all over again.

There, standing completely still in the gathering twilight gloom of the lush forest, was a black bear. Not twenty feet away from me we locked eyes. It (She? He?) gave a soft huff of surprise as I squeaked out "it's a bear" to everyone frozen beside me. The bear gave another quiet snort before turning and taking off into the trees.

Against every natural instinct, Luke and Alex jumped at the chance to scramble after the animal and caught a glimpse before it disappeared into the woods. Awed by the moment, we all crunched happily back down the hill to end the evening with s'mores around the now smoldering campfire. As I licked sticky sugar off my fingers and watched Lucy and Alan dart between our feet, playing in the shadows, I looked at Alex and smiled. What a perfect way to begin our #vanlife journey.

Thanks for reading and see you out on the road!

Special thanks to Sarah and Luke (@ourhomeroams) for hosting us for those very awesome three days. Oh, and Alan the sausage too!

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