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Testing Love on a Very Long Hike
Heather Houskeeper, of Milford, has hiked alone for a thousand miles at a time, fending off bears and healing her ailments and wounds using plants she found along the way as well as eating them. But would her two year old relationship with Hall of Fame blues man Scott Weis go the distance? That would be the 358-mile Long Path, from the 175th St. subway station in Manhattan to a state park near Albany. Her new book, “Love and the Long Path,” out on Aug. 5, from Betula Press, tells the story.
“In the book, I don’t hold back on the points where we don’t shine nor on the good points,” she said.
She recently talked about some high, low and illuminating points on the trail.
They chose the Long Path because, she said, “Few people hiked it, compared to the thousands on the Appalachian Trail. We would be the 20th and 21st to complete it. It was nearby and a reasonable length, not 1000 miles, and I wanted to study the plants.”
Also calling herself the “Botanical Hiker,” Houskeeper has been studying, blogging and writing books about the plants she encounters on her hikes, as well as leading hikes in the Tri-state area. She takes notes and photographs plants and looks them up on the internet when possible as she goes. She never uses what she can’t identify with “100 percent certainty,” she says. In addition to having a B.A. degree from Warren Wilson College, she graduated from the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine.
Highlights of the 2017 hike included “spending time with Scott and learning to work together when we were succeeding, crafting our own story and finding plants in unexpected places,” she said.
She noted that long distance hiking often includes several sweaty days at a time without bathing amid changing weather and terrain, and, with “nowhere to retreat,” becoming tired and cranky.
“You get dirty and stinky,” Houskeeper said.
At one point, they were in the middle of woods when her backpack straps broke.
“I threw down my pack and cried,” she recalled. “But Scott said, ‘We can fix this.’ He took a safety pin on his backpack that was there for a minor fix. I tried to use it twice unsuccessfully. Then he fixed it. Seeing each other struggle, we developed compassion and learned to comfort and neutralize situations.
She appreciated having a partner to “share the load” in ways she had usually taken on herself, like setting up a tent and hanging food in a tree, out of bears’ reach. But they had to negotiate the pace of their hike, given their different inclinations. They had given themselves 36 days, beginning Sept. 4.
“Scott’s 15 years older and likes looking at plants and enjoying vistas. There was a conflict between going further faster and taking time. We had time constraints,” said Housekeeper. “We had 94 miles through the Catskills, some rugged, creating anxiety and excitement. If we planned to go too far in a day, he would be cranky.”
A segment of that was on the Devil’s Path, known to be one of the most challenging hikes in the state.
“It’s a rock scramble sandwiched between peeks with beautiful vistas. We couldn’t do more than a mile an hour,” she said.
Less challenging was Harriman State Park, with its “spacious feel”—grassy, with big boulders and tall trees. Meanwhile, they ate packaged noodles mixed with plants found on the trail, like Virginia waterleaf. Hiking in autumn, greens were few. But they unexpectedly found mullein, prickly pear cactus and wild grapes, likely descended from errant cultivated ones, Houskeeper said.
They finished the hike in 32 days.
“Thirty-two days together can do anything,” she said. “But we still felt passionate about each other.”
Last year they hiked the 1100-mile Florida Trail. They were 800 miles in, on their 18th mile of a trying day, on a long monotonous stretch of sandy road and pastures by the Withlacoochee River, when they stopped for a granola bar. Weis wrote his proposal to her in the sand.
“It was Valentine’s Day, but it was unexpected on that monotonous stretch,” said Houskeeper. “But that would be my dream way for a proposal—on a sand road, in the middle of nowhere.”
Love on the Long Path is available online from Amazon, Barnes and Noble and at
Housekeeper will be leading plant walks at Mohonk Preserve on Sept. 18 and Oct. 18. To register, contact Lauren Borer, lborer@Mohonkpreserve.org.
She also does talks and walks in Pennsylvania, at Crystal Springs Resort and the Lodge at Woodloch.