One of my greatest achievements in life was quitting cigarettes in 2014. This unhealthy habit, in addition to extremely irresponsible eating and drinking, led to overall discomfort, and in turn, a lack of physical activity. I was often sleeping in late each day and not truly making the best of my time.
So, in 2015, determined to better myself, I began doing yoga and light workouts as I tried to get myself back into decent shape. The progress was noticeable and I started to feel better and better. I had not consistently worked out since I was on the high school wrestling team over 13 years prior. Although I found yoga and working out (in the classic sense) to be very enjoyable, I had been longing for something that would be more engaging and interesting.
I attempted jogging locally in James J. Braddock Park, hoping that the trees, small man-made lake, and fresh air would stimulate my brain. However, this route eventually began to feel monotonous after only a few days; the act of jogging, pounding the pavement, was hard on the feet and provided little tangible results physically or mentally.
I tossed around the idea of joining a gym, but after considering the benefits of such a membership I had a tough time imagining myself making good use of much of the equipment on a consistent basis. Although I do enjoy using an elliptical or a treadmill when I can, it is not something I find ideal to stimulate the mind as well as the body. Plus, most equipment at gyms is centered around weight lifting and bulking up was not my intention.
Around this same time, I had also committed to reengaging with nature which I had enjoyed greatly as a child. My father, brother, and I used to go on fishing trips just about every weekend during the season and were quite successful fishermen. We would frequent Wawayanda State Park’s lakes and the reservoirs of Passaic County.
At times, when my brother and I found ourselves “fished-out”, we would take up to bushwhacking through the brush until we found a trail to walk on. In the most spontaneous fashion, we would find ourselves hiking. Generally, we would have likely been in big trouble if we ever got lost as we never thought to bring with us more than what we had in our pockets as we trekked through the sprawling forests, but we never went too far and always found our way back.
In later years, my friends and I would spend much of our adolescence in the very small patch of woods in the same park that I would later attempt jogging in, James J. Braddock Park. There was something about spending time among the trees and the plants that put us all at ease. After school days full of sitting down at a desk, we would jump at the opportunity to run around in the woods for hours until the sun set.
Sporadic hikes and fishing trips would take place from time to time for years until I eventually grew up and found myself with a career in the hospitality industry. Between 2007 and 2016, I neglected my love of the outdoors in exchange for working very long, erratic hours which led to my indulgence in a number of horrible vices.
It was in 2016 that I started taking more and more fishing trips as I began to repair my body and mind. I was consistently working out and eating much better so I was beginning to see results. However, I was surprised to find that the act of fishing was no longer able to hold my interest for more than a few casts. I used to have more patience I suppose, but suddenly I found it hard standing so still.
I had been considering going hiking for quite a while when unexpectedly I was invited out for a hike on Mother’s Day 2017. My best friend’s mother and sister, Lori and Tina, had invited another childhood friend of mine, Seany, and I to join them on a hike through the nearby Ramapo Mountain State Park. I saw it as serendipitous and accepted the invitation. This short, unorganized hike reawakened my true love of nature and set me on a path forward to truly exploring hiking as an activity that could satisfy my desire for both physical and mental wellness.
Unlike fishing, hiking allowed me to exert a lot of energy through vigorous physical movement, stimulate my brain through the endless plethora of scenic views and beautiful landscapes, and to find mental peace with the combination of the aforementioned.
I threw myself into researching as much as I could about hiking and found that there was more to this hobby than I could have ever dreamed. Even now, after many months consistently exploring the trails and reading and watching everything I could find on the subject, I know I have merely scratched the surface. One thing I am sure of is that hiking can be beneficial in so many ways and is such an easily accessible option for just about anybody.
After that first hike in Ramapo State Park, I set an arbitrary goal to complete 12 unique hikes by the end of the summer. On September 22, the first day of fall, I hiked almost 8 miles on the Elk Pen Loop Trail in Harriman State Park for my 12th hike. Since then I stopped counting and have simply made completing a unique weekly hike a necessity.
I am well aware that, in the scope of things, I am still a novice, a rookie, a newbie. I could hike every week for the rest of my life and still have not even completed a fraction of the trails on this planet, this country, or even my region. That is the beauty of this whole thing; there are endless options and every time I head out onto a trail I am expecting something new and different.
I am currently in the best shape of my life and have found a level of mental calm that I have not experienced in quite a long time. With my weekly expeditions into the wild, I have found that my motivation levels are up, my confidence is up, and my level of personal enjoyment is way up. I have never been as excited to share an activity with others and hope that I might inspire those who find themselves searching for something they can do to truly improve their well-being to take up hiking as a routine activity. I also hope to delve into other topics concerning adventure, health, and wellness from time to time. So, with that, on to the next adventure…