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A road trip with my father to Watkins Glen

Location: Watkins Glen, NY

His answer to my proposal to go on a father and son road trip together was completely unexpected. Within two days I went from sending him an e-mail of a picture that I just had found online of Watkins Glen State Park and half-seriously commenting that we should go there together, to waking up one Saturday morning to begin our nearly four-hour journey.

Our adventure began at an ungodly hour, 4:00am to be exact. I should have known he’d suggest such an early time; it’s been his m.o. to leave extremely early when he has a long distance to travel for as long as I could remember. It’s just something that I haven’t witnessed in a while, since he became disabled a little more than ten years ago.

I realized that our chances were good that we’d never actually get to go together since it’s very rare that he feels okay to venture for too long outside of the apartment. Unfortunately due to his Ulcerative Colitis – a disease that’s very hard to treat, has no cure and at times is utterly embarrassing and demeaning, has left him unable to live a life outside of his apartment. Couple that with Type II diabetes, two conditions that do not play nice with each other, he’s been confined to living a life indoors.

Seeing him in that state has broken my heart for years. Not only to see what it does to his health, but to see him restricted to living within the boundaries of his apartment. For years he’d regale me of fond stories of his time in the US Navy where he’d spend time traveling and photographing all around Asia, to coming back to the States and taking road trips from New York to California and back again. I would see how happy those memories were for him, but at this point they were all but that – memories.

Amazingly, something had sparked inside of him when I sent him that photo. Maybe he wanted to relive his younger days when he was off discovering the world and living a life of adventure – or maybe, the more simple answer is that he just wanted to spend some quality time with his son to explore the world. Fortunately for both of us, he was feeling okay enough to take the risk to leave the apartment for a day and do just that.

But suddenly, there we were – in the car, with a cooler he had packed full of drinks and snacks, cameras prepped and tucked securely away for our trip. I almost had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t delusional from getting up so early that it wasn’t all just a dream. We were actually taking this trip together.

My motivation for wanting to go on this adventure dates back to when I was a child. I always had a passion for nature and travel; I would sit and read the stacks upon stacks of old National Geographic magazines that my grandmother had collected over the years. I would stare in awe over the amazing photography and I’d daydream about being at the far-off places that I’d read about inside. Also growing up in rural Upstate NY nurtured my natural curiosity as a child to discover the world. Unfortunately now that I live and work in a full-time office job in an urban environment like New York City means that it’s harder to satisfy that deep passion to travel and get back to nature. I still day dream about those places that I remember in those magazines and I make notes on post-its of places around the world that I want to travel to and photograph.

When I discovered that image of Watkins Glen on the internet – a surreal landscape scene of a waterfall flowing beneath a bridge – I was in love.  I was quick to assume that a place so beautiful had to be located somewhere in Europe, Australia or New Zealand and it would be yet another place that would go on a post-it to visit “someday”. After a quick search on Google Maps I was astounded to learn that it was located in the Finger Lakes region of New York State. Only four and a half hours from NYC, or three hours and forty-five minutes from my father’s apartment in Upstate NY.

Our nearly four-hour road trip seemed to fly by; either due to us chatting the time away, or maybe from my natural tendency to drive like former world champion racing driver Mario Andretti. Thankfully due the fact that we left so early in the morning, we arrived shortly before the park had officially opened to the public. The entire parking lot was empty and I quickly parked the car closest to the walking path to the waterfalls. Although my back was stiff from the nearly four hour ride, I jumped out of the car, grabbed my camera equipment and tripod, and cheered my dad to do the same. My excitement was tempered by the fact that I knew at any given moment he could start to feel uneasy due to his health conditions and need to go home.

I also knew that the park would officially open in only a few short minutes, so thankfully he was just as excited as I was to get moving. We both made a beeline to the walking path, snapping a few quick photos along the way. Thankfully it was only a ten minute brisk walk until we started hearing the rushing sound of the falling water, a sound that soothes me the same way that listening to the crashing waves at the beach. We walked around the bend and there we were, suddenly standing before the most serene and surreal scene I had laid my eyes on. It looked exactly how it did in that picture that I stumbled across on the Internet only a few days earlier.


To my delight, having arrived so early meant that we were the first ones there that morning and for a few brief moments, we were all alone. Across our view was a hand carved walkway out of stone, with the rushing waterfall underneath. The water pooled into a brilliant blue color at the bottom, and deep green moss clung to each side of the cliff face. The entire experience felt almost surreal; we both stood in silence as we stood in awe over the pure beauty. I imagined how ancient it felt, and how many years nature took to create such a scene. It was almost as if we were on the movie set of Rivendell from Lord of the Rings. We both turned to look at each other in amazement.


A few moments later, the pathway around the waterfalls was mobbed with people. I suddenly realized what a huge tourist attraction it was and that we weren’t the only ones with the bright idea of visiting. But even with the crowds of people swarming us and disrupting our moment alone, I considered myself so very lucky and fortunate; to have gone from first discovering that it existed only two short days ago, but more so to be experiencing it with him.


For years we’d talk about doing these types of things together, but due to his health, all it ever became, was talk. For the first time in a very long time, my dream to travel and do so with my dad came true. I have no idea what the future will hold for him and his health, I suppose it’s only a matter of time until old age and his health conditions get the better of him. But until that time comes, I will forever cherish the memories we created that day together.

A portrait of my dad (unfortunately slightly out of focus as I was still learning how to shoot with my camera!)

Note: My dad and I took this trip together in July of 2014.