Give or take, it's been roughly 45, maybe 50,000 hours since I started PROACTIVE. I've been looking back on those hours for the past few months as I've rifled through footage and photos to make videos, collages, and galleries commemorating PROACTIVE's 5-year anniversary. There have been many takeaways from all the rifling...
1) Practice makes better. I hardly noticed it happening really, but the progress I've seen, both personally and in others, is nothing short of amazing.
I have vivid recollections of my early days on the trails, getting out once a week on a day off and feeling sore for days until I could walk it out again and reset the cycle. I would do very minimal research, but chose hikes of a distance I felt I could do, visiting many of the popular spots in our area. I wound up at places like Beacon, Breakneck, and Tammany and was pleasantly surprised and challenged by their unique characteristics.
(Mount Tammany - 2020, 2019, 2017)
I can remember losing the trail near the end of my first Stonetown Circular, winding up in somebody's yard with their children playing in the pool, and bushwhacking to the road where some generous firemen gave me a warm bottle of water out of a cooler in their truck.
I can remember making a wrong turn on Storm King, tripling the amount of miles I would hike that day...in the snow...on one of the coldest days I can remember. I actually wound up cutting a very tight angle up at the top of Butter Hill and I wandered out of Black Rock Forest just down the road. Long story short, a cop wound up driving me about 3 minutes down the road to my car after I told him, and believed, that I had parked on the other side of the mountain.
Alternatively, I remember finishing my first 15-miler, beginning to run on the trails, finishing the Devil's Path for the first time, and on and on. All along, I got faster and faster, my feet became more autonomously aware of the ground, my threshold got higher and higher, and my knowledge of these places (any many more) expanded to the point of intimacy.
With some consistency, the progress comes fast, but each little change isn't always all that apparent at the time.
2) We're fortunate to live where we do. There's something really nice about having options. From where I live, I can reach several unique hiking spots within about an hour (the Palisades, the Wyanokies, Harriman, and the Hudson Highlands). Add another hour to my trip and I'll unlock a whole different set of places (Schunemunk, the Catskills, the Shawangunks, and the Taconics). Add another two hours or so and I can be up in the Adirondacks!
Now, yes, I'm sure I'm biased, but other states I've visited have big differences. Either their outdoor areas are spread out across much larger spaces or they don't have as many unique options to offer. In any event, other places aside, I feel very satisfied with my ability to have so much to pick from when I'm figuring out where to go.
Not to mention, it's very nice to be able to be on a mountain all day, still find restaurants and shops open afterward, and get home in relatively short order. Looking back on our records, there have been a lot of instances in which we hiked in multiple different parks and on many different mountains on back-to-back days, and the diversity in the landscapes tells the story for itself.
(Hudson Highlands/Pop Torne, Catskills/Devil's Path, Harriman/Claudius Smith Den, Palisades/High Tor, NJ/Norvin Green)
4) Stories build up fast. A lot happens in 5 years. There are so many little inside jokes or single-word abbreviations that can conjure up images of a particular hike or trip. For those who know, "Todd" means a lot: icy driveways, weird Airbnb messages, treacherous Phelps, and baby socks. "Laser Tag" reminds us of Big Slide and a big compound in the Adirondacks. "Dix" yells "wrong turn" and "late night." There are the big achievements (Devil's Path and Breakneck Quad), the perfect days (Gothics and North-South Lake Circular), there are the rough ones (Westkill and GOTH). The same goes for every group, but there's just a lot that you can do in a day, a week, a month, and a year, and the stories really build up. I'm grateful that they do. One day, hopefully, I'll sit down and write them all down.
(Anybody on these trips can definitely tell some stories from each of these days...)
5) I may have never hiked, if not for...my friend's mother, Lori, asking me to join them on a hike on Mother's Day 2017. It wasn't as if Lori was a hiker, she was merely kicking around some fun ideas to celebrate the holiday. I didn't really know what I was getting into, but I pictured the flat, short trails I used to walk on as a child when I went fishing with my father. At the time, I was figuring out how to get into shape and was auditioning different exercises, so I agreed to join them.
As soon as we arrived at the lower Ramapo Mountain State Park parking lot on Skyline Drive, I felt a pull into the woods. When we walked through the trees and onto the trail, my eyes immediately darted to the trail blazes, the rocks and roots protruding from the packed earth, and the gradual hills out ahead. I was fascinated.
Long story short, we didn't see any views, got off trail, and bushwhacked back to the parking lot. I would probably call that an unsuccessful trip nowadays, but it sparked my imagination and got me going. It helped that as we arrived back at the car, a man asked us if we had seen the [Van Slyke] castle. We had not, but it got me researching and I knew I'd be back to find it.
So, it's amazing to me, so many years, miles, and feet later, that if Lori never invited me that day, I might have never actually set my foot on a trail...
(Sean, Tina, and I - Lori taking the picture - I'm holding a stick and wearing a Met's poncho...Mother's Day 2017.)
6) This changed my mindset. I know that PROACTIVE has helped a lot of people overcome some of their inhibitions and push their boundaries, but I can easily say that the person it has benefited the most has been myself. I started this group about 1 year after I started hiking; I had gotten around a bit and felt comfortable on the trails, but I hadn't really tested myself yet at that point.
Over the past 5 years, as a natural evolution, our events have gotten incrementally longer and more challenging every year. With that, I found myself jumping headfirst into progressively harder and harder hikes. Not completing them or bailing out was never an option for me as an organizer of the events and so once I scheduled something, I made it a point to complete it.
Just as some people find it easier to push themselves in the company of others, the responsibility I felt to the group helped keep me on point and motivated to always keep going. Without them, I'm not so sure I would have progressed as much as I feel I have.
7) There's so much more to see. Even with the hundreds of places we've visited in our region and all the other states and countries we've traveled to (both with the group and solo), it's only tip of the iceberg. With so many state and national parks spread across the country and the countless locations across the globe, the places we'll evidently get to explore in the future endlessly excites me. This group is guilty of trying to plan more than we could possibly coordinate, but we'll definitely have time to coordinate some and I can't wait to see where we might wind up...
Thank you to everybody who has supported us over the past 5 years!
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