This past Wednesday I woke up at 5:30 in the morning as I usually do on my day off. A map was folded over to Storm King Mountain near Cornwall, NY. The temperature was in single digits (even colder when the windchill was factored in). It was extremely cold, even for late December, so I planned for a short, 3-mile hike up about 650 feet to the top of Storm King Mountain as my final hike of 2017. Many layers of clothing, thick socks, and my hiking boots were laid out alongside my pack on the floor next to my desk. I shut off a few wayward alarms as I stared at the ceiling in the pitch blackness as the sun had plenty of time before it rose.
On my hiking days, the blankets usually get thrown right off and I hop up out of the bed onto my feet. However, as I lay there on this particular morning, I lacked the usual excitement, I did not jump out of bed, and I pulled the blankets tighter around my shoulders. I was suffering from an extreme case of laryngitis. The last time I had been sick enough to cancel anything was in 2007. I was actually sent home from work 10 years ago as I attempted to finish paperwork while my head wobbled and my eyes kept closing due to the flu.
After a brief period, I pulled myself to the edge of my bed and rubbed my throat. Yep, it was painful. I tried to ask my Google Home what the weather would be like but my voice agonizingly cracked at a whisper. Still, despite this, I thought and thought about just tossing my bag over my shoulder, sliding into my boots, donning a balaclava, and hiking the damn trail anyway. My brain though, tossing its weight around, forced me back into bed. I had to come to grips that I was simply too sick to hike. I was devastated. Ending the year on this sour note was definitely not in my plans.
Hours later I woke up, still feeling just as bad as I had earlier, and dragged myself over to my laptop. I opened the folder named "HIKE" and started to browse through the endless photographs of all of the places I had been in 2017. Each picture brought me back to the place where it was taken and, although it made me yearn to be out in nature even more, I became reflective. I thumbed through my journal to find an entry from a year ago, early December 2016. At that time, I was complaining to myself about not being active enough, being bored, and generally feeling unfulfilled.
I started to correct my situation by working out more in January 2017 and got back into my nightly yoga/core/meditation routine. A friend introduced me to an app called Sworkit which allows the user to create customized workouts. I instantly saw the app's benefit as it kept me focused and allowed me to create a number of routines at different intervals that I could utilize depending on my mood or energy-level on any given day. I am proud to say I am currently on a 44-week roll, which I totally intend on continuing. Despite my in-home routines, I had been anxious to partake in an athletic activity that I could direct my energy toward. Enter: hiking.
2017 reconnected me with nature and changed my life. The trails have made me physically fit, mentally well, and more optimistic than I have been in years. Where I would once sleep-in and meander through my days, I now find myself feverishly planning for my next hike. On a weekly basis, I find myself too excited to sleep (like a child on Christmas Eve) and with a sense of purpose when I wake up before the sun rises.
The satisfaction I found through hiking also motivated me to travel more than I usually do. Finally, after a decade, I actually started to make use of the great hotel discount I receive from my working for Hilton. Highlights of my travels included a trip to Maine where I traversed Rockland Breakwater (about a mile of stones, built the 1800's, that expand out into the ocean to a lighthouse), hiking in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, and the best cheeseburger I have ever eaten in Oneonta, New York.
One of my new favorite things to do is to pull out my set of New York/New Jersey Trail Conference maps and trace my finger along the different colored lines as I plan out my next hike, find a diner near the trail head, and look forward to conquering whichever trail I choose. I have spent hours just looking at maps and imagining how things look on the ground. I have found maps online and have picked up copies of some trails at the trailheads, but nobody's maps are as detailed and fun to read as the NYNJTC. Not to mention, their volunteer work and conservancy efforts in my region are unmatched.
I must also credit Alltrails.com with providing an invaluable resource for anybody interested in hiking. As soon as I started using their site and their app, hiking became a whole lot easier. Instead of wasting time trying to find accurate directions to trail heads and planning out routes, Alltrails provides an easy-to-use, all-inclusive interface that provides hikers with every bit of information that they could want while planning a hike. The directions to the trail head and parking, weather, routes, mileage, elevations, and more are all at your fingertips.
Between May and December, I completed 30 unique hikes, walked about 175 miles, found myself taking in views all over NJ and NY, and tested my physical and mental limits in the process. I only encountered 2 bears and 9 deer, but I fully expect to count many more as I start hiking earlier in 2018 than I did in 2017. I came across skeletons of old cars, an abandoned hotel, a forgotten graveyard, and countless ruins of old buildings. I also met a number of amazing people on the trails and have been so impressed with the friendliness and kindness that they have all displayed; not once (or yet, at least) have I met a rude hiker.
Out of all the trails I found myself on this year, the Stairway to Heaven in Wawayanda State Park was my favorite. To start, the weather on this August day was ideal: the sky was a bright blue with scattered fluffy, white clouds, the temperature was moderate with a comfortable breeze, and I got a nice, early start. The hike carried me over varied terrain through fields and forests and up a steep mountain. There were boardwalks and bridges and railroad tracks, among other things, leading to the amazing Pinwheel Vista. The views from this vista were breathtaking and I absorbed them with about a dozen other hikers who had made the trek that day. From the top, I could basically trace my path back to where I started. This is a hike that I would recommend to anybody looking to acclimate somebody else to the joys of hiking.
I was on the Appalachian Trail quite a bit in 2017 as well and have always enjoyed spotting out its white blazes as I passed them. At the start of the year, I did not truly understand the concept, the distance, or the legend of the AT. Now, after having read a number of books about travels on the 2000+ mile trail from Georgia to Maine, I am absolutely fascinated by it. "AWOL on the AT" by David "AWOL" Miller, "A Walk in the Woods" by Bill Bryson, and "Where's the Next Shelter" by Gary Sizer have been among the most enjoyable. In 2018, I intend on performing some "trail magic" by supplying thru-hikers with beverages, food, and rides in the late-summer/early-autumn when they pass through NJ.
The Stonetown Circular, a 10-mile hike near Ringwood, NJ, was the most daunting hike I undertook as I admittedly under-prepared. With 5 high peaks and a very uneven terrain, I mismanaged my water supply and found myself shambling to the end. However, by the time I made it back to my car at the end of this long day, my satisfaction levels were through the roof and I had truly felt that I was capable of anything. The views on this hike were also plentiful and beautiful, so it was definitely well worth it.
My 14-mile hike through Stokes State Park has been my longest so far as I tested my camping equipment by renting a campsite and hiking a long loop from the site to the summit of Sunrise Mountain and back. Despite being in late-November, the air was warmer than usual. The foliage decorated the surrounding forest beautifully and the route was easy to follow. 14 miles actually felt easy because I was enjoying myself so much. When I returned to the campsite hours later, I enjoyed a can of soup cooked on my pocket stove, took a brief nap in the tent I pitched, and I started a nice fire to warm my hands before heading back home as the sun set.
I currently have a very long list of hikes that I have planned for 2018 and I am sure the list will grow as the year progresses. The North Point/Stoppel Point trail in the Catskills has eluded me this year but will be one of the first that I complete when the conditions permit it. Otherwise, I don't want one week to go by without being on a trail, breathing in fresh mountain air, and following blazes of any color.
What I see for myself in 2018 is continued health, knocking off more goals such as publishing a book and recording some music, more traveling (trips are planned for Virginia, Niagara Falls, Montreal, the Bahamas, and Montana for my 32nd birthday), overall broadened possibilities, and putting pieces in place to improve my life and start my own business. I am absolutely optimistic that 2018 will by my year and that there are nothing but good things on the horizon. Back in 2015 or 2016, I would have never imagined that I would be in such a advantageous position.
As I have said many times, hiking is simply MY outlet for clearing and organizing my mind and getting my body into shape. This can be different for everybody and I am always happy to hear that somebody is partaking in a positive, healthy hobby. My hope is that whoever is reading this will be motivated to act on an urge, continue or accelerate what they love doing now, or try to make their dreams become reality. So as 2017 comes to a close and we welcome in 2018, I wish you all the best and hope you keep your eyes out for your next adventure.