Lifestyle, Living With Chronic Illness

Exploring the Finger Lakes National Forest

My sister visited from North Carolina this past week and having her–and her dog, Forrest–home was wonderful! We had many fun adventures together during her stay, but our adventure on her last day here was my favorite. We explored the Finger Lakes National Forest, and everything about it was magical!

Neither my sister nor I even knew that this National Forest existed around the Finger Lakes (Seneca and Cayuga Lakes). We’ve gone to so many wineries on the wine trails in the area, and yet, we still never stumbled across this gem. As two girls who love both nature and the outdoors, we knew we had to go explore it.

We walked the Burnt Hill Trail first. If you’ve ever driven through the rolling hills of meadows and farmland in Upstate New York and have dreamed about running through them, then you must walk this trail! A part of me felt like I was in Pride and Prejudice (aka, one of my favorite movies, ever), meandering through the countryside and all its untouched glory. 

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Burnt Hill Trail in the Finger Lakes National Forest

We didn’t get too far down the trail because it was very muddy, and I wasn’t wearing hiking boots. So, note to future self and anyone who wants to walk this trail: Wear hiking boots that you don’t mind getting wet and muddy! Although, Forrest sure enjoyed himself, stomping around in the mud and even rolling in it at one point (earning him a spot in the trunk for the ride home). 

You’ll also want to make sure that you’re wearing long pants with high socks to protect yourself from any ticks lurking around. I killed two birds with one stone and wore my Copper Fit Compression Socks under my leggings so that I was protected and benefiting from compression while we walked. 

This trail is a 3.8-mile loop that continues through pastures such as the ones pictured. There are also connecting trails to create a longer hike if you want more mileage, such as the Interloken Trail. Right next to the trailhead for Burnt Hill is Blueberry Patch Campground, so you can make a day of hiking through the trails in the area! Bring a tent and your camping gear to spend the night in one of their sites. This may be something I’ll try in the future once I’m better trained for long distances. 

Burnt Hill Trail in Finger Lakes National Forest

This is one of the fenced-off pastures we passed. The sights are really so beautiful here! I’m still mad I didn’t have boots and we couldn’t go farther…

The second place we explored in the Finger Lakes National Forest was Ballard Pond. Okay, we definitely only stopped here to clean Forrest off in the water; we didn’t expect it to be such a lovely spot! Once we walked the short trail (less than ¼ mile) to the pond, we were pleasantly surprised! Nestled among the fields and behind a patch of trees is this cute little pond with blossoming cherry trees, budding weeping willows, and sprawling views of the countryside.

This is a perfect spot to bring a picnic lunch or to just hang out and read by the pond or under the weeping willow. I could picture myself writing for hours there. It was so peaceful.

Ballard Pond in the Finger Lakes National Forest

The only thing that disrupted that peace was Forrest–but in a good way! He somehow found this giant branch at the water’s edge, pulled it out of the pond, and insisted that we play fetch with it. My sister had to chuck the branch as if tossing a spear! Then, Forrest started eating the branch and ripping it apart. He’s so funny. At least he got all the mud off his coat in the pond so he could reclaim his spot in the backseat. 

Ballard Pond is supposedly also stocked with fish, so if fishing is your thing, then this may be a location you’ll want to cast a line out into.

Ballard Pond in the Finger Lakes National Park

This is probably one of my favorite pictures from the day. I just love the look of endless country fields, peppered with dandelions blooming from deep green grass. Can you smell the air just looking at this picture? Fresh and spring-like, with that rich, earthy fragrance? I can! 

In the last week, I’ve been thinking a lot about finding joy in simple pleasures, especially during difficult times, whether it’s because of chronic illness or other life events (like a pandemic). I had a flare-up of sciatic pain in my hip the past week, and of course, it conveniently happened the day my sister arrived in town. 

My sister and I love working out together. I had been so excited to exercise with her during her visit. However, being in that much pain made running or any other kind of rapid movement impossible. I was feeling a bit bummed, not just from the disappointment, but also from the pain itself. If you’ve experienced sciatic pain before, you know what I mean! 

However, I started to realize that just because my vision of what I had planned to do with my sister changed, that didn’t mean that I still couldn’t do other things with her to enjoy our time together. Also, I realized that feeling down and being in a lot of pain made it even more important for me to find other things–small, manageable things–to bring me joy and lift me up through this flare. 

Joy doesn’t only have to reside in big, grandiose actions. Joy can be found in simple things, too. Like gardening. Playing fetch with your dog. Going for easy walks with your siblings. Sitting out in the sun to read or write. Listening to your favorite song. Someone on my Instagram even mentioned the feeling of the grass under your feet, and I love that example. Just the sensation of the cool blades of grass against your skin is calming and grounding, and there’s no better example of a simple joy than that. 

Exploring these trails in the Finger Lakes National Forest is another example that brought me simple joy. Even though I didn’t feel my best physically, I still felt whole and happy because being outside and exploring with my sister was still a form of exercising with her–just not in the way I had envisioned. There’s a lesson in that, too; sometimes in life, you just have to let go of the vision you had planned for something and adapt to life’s circumstances to create a new one. The outcome may not be what you had initially envisioned, but it can still be just as fulfilling.

Enjoying the Burnt Hill Trail through pastures in Finger Lakes Region, NY

This will definitely be one of those days that I’ll always remember. During times of stress, I’ll close my eyes and remember the peace I felt on this day, exploring these trails and the rolling pastures. I’ll remember the stillness and the quiet and the beauty of the endless countryside. Amidst the craziness, stress, and uncertainty of living through a pandemic, this day was truly a gift. I can’t wait to explore more of the Finger Lakes National Forest in the future (and go on another wine tour once places are allowed to open again!).

What new places outdoors have you explored recently? Do you have other examples of simple joys that lift you up on difficult days?

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