We started the hike just after 7:00am.
Heading a short ways down Haverstraw, we parked the car in a small lot off the side of a quietly unused road at the edge of the woods near Diltzes Lane. This was the start of my fourth true hike and my first true test of endurance. My pack was not light, by any means. With the exception of my tent, sleeping bag, and mattress pad; I carried all that I would need for an overnight stay, which is a plan that will soon unfold.
Marking the starting point, I pulled my water tube out from my backpack and strapped it across my chest. In high heat with an expected high humidity, it is important to remain hydrated.
I wear the same outfit on my hikes. A pair of long camouflage pants with waterproof boots tied up tightly. I wear the same long sleeved, white t-shirt with the logo, “22,” on it to represent the 22 Veterans that commit suicide on a daily basis as a result of depression and P.T.S.D. (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). I put on my trusty old Notre Dame baseball hat, and then throw my backpack on, get set, and I go.
There is a reason for these items I wear. These items have all been sprayed with a heavy tick repellent (good for up to 1,000 washes) because in the woods, I am not afraid of the wildlife. I am not concerned with bears or whatever else may come. I am worried about ticks and Lyme’s disease. At least with animals, there is a possible way to safely avoid them. This is not the same with ticks.
As a novice to the hiking world, I am humble and understand there is much to learn. In addition to this, I am also working on myself in the sense that I am currently losing weight and finding myself on the path to a better shape.
One can walk on the treadmill for hours and miles. They can sweat and burn; however, the sweat and burn is nowhere nearly as rewarding as the feeling or burn that comes with walking up the trail. This involves stepping, balance, and core muscle.
Heading in through a small bushy opening of tall, tan colored grass, we left the graveled parking lot to begin our walk. Overhead, the sky was blue with white hints of soft, outstretched clouds. But once on trail, the canopy of green leaves that stretched outward from tall trees would allow us shelter from the strong and mounting sunlight. At the start, we entered the path at approximately 400’ above sea level. This elevation was about to change and change rather quickly as we made our way up the mountain.
Moving along a small pebbled and dusty path, which split between the tall, half-bent grass, we followed this quick stretch along the edge of the woods until we came to a man-made checkpoint. The checkpoint is three large stones that were arranged with one on top of the other. The base stone was largest, the middle stone, was smaller, and the top stone was the smallest of the three. This was a hiker’s landmark; it was sign to cut through the grass and enter the red trail. We were under the trees now and on our way up. The Red path began for us here.
Following the trail markings like directional arrows on the trees, we took the red path upwards and around. The trail was steep, and in some spots, the trail was steep enough for me to question my ability. This hike was only beginning, but my breath was already heavy.
The inner voice—the whiny kid side, the one that complains, and chooses to quit when life is less than easy was already beginning a tantrum.
It is hard to trust new equipment. And by this, I mean my own basic essentials. By new equipment, I mean my body.
No I am not young, fresh, or new by any means. I am simply new to this regiment of eating and exercising. I am new to my lifestyle change, which can be frightening at times. Partly because I am not used to this sort of work out, partly because I am not used to challenging myself, and partly because of my insecurity and fears of a poor physical performance; I have chosen to become fit and find myself in something I heard described as “Hill shape.”
Trails like the red trail are moderate in difficulty. To me, a novice, this was more strenuous than any other trail I have followed before. Moving up, the terrain ranged from dirt paths to rocky steps beneath the trees. The mountain is steep at times—almost nearly perpendicular in short brief spurts. But nothing was too drastic.Nothing was too strenuous that I couldn’t make it.
We were mindful of our direction, occasionally checking the map and our position on the GPS. The idea of this hike was not only to climb and see the beautiful sights of our country. It was also to find a spot for an upcoming overnight trip.
The series of trails we chose would take us up from 400’ above sea level to an approximate elevation of 1085’. At our highest point, we could expect an elevation change leading up to close to 1200’, however still at the beginning of the hike; I could feel my heart-rate climbing as steadily as the landscape.
I was breathing heavy and immediately regretting the heavy pack on my back. The inner voice continued to whine and ask to take a break. But taking breaks can make the hike harder.
Fortunately, I am a father, and as a father, I had to learn how to ignore loud, whining child-like complaints. As a commitment to myself, the hike, and to this journey, I pushed forward.
I climbed the steep sections of hill and negotiated my way through the red trail until we came to our next trail, which is also red, but marked differently on the trees.
From red bars to red arrows, the trail was less strenuous. The steep section was less critical at this point with only a few mild points of upwards and downward slopes. I was able to catch my breath a little. I made sure to drink when I could and I stopped on occasion, but only briefly enough to sip from my water hose that led to a 2 liter water bladder stuffed in my backpack.
More than one mile in, we came to the first intersection, which picked up the second trail. To me, this is a victory. This is something I use to quiet the whining child inside of me—the one that complains and says, “We can’t do it,” and “I just wanna go home.”
I drape this victory over the inner voice to satisfy it with the confirmation of achievement. And it works. Once we made it up this high, there are places or small clearings where one can look out from inside the tree-covered mountain and see the world from a much different perspective. It’s beautiful up here. It truly is.
Along the way, I noticed incredible landmarks. These were not man-made like the three stones that symbolized the start of the hike. These landmarks were made by God the Father, Himself.
Tremendous boulders of mountain rock placed between the trees and bush with millenniums of sediment layered up layer were placed in the middle of the forest. Large moss covered stones, the smell of the trees and the sound of a soft, early summer breeze passing through the branches were all company on this hike.
We hiked up the mountain at a good pace. Next, we followed the red arrow trail to find the yellow trail, which would take us between the Breakneck Pond and the second reservoir. Yes, I was tired. But I was also on my way. The success of my small victories by making each landmark, one step at a time, helped my determination to reach our destination—and when we did, I was instantly like a child seeing something beautiful for the first time.
Standing at the foot of the second reservoir, we passed a few spots to remember for our upcoming overnight. Then we came to another spot, which was perfect for our stop.
I took out my small, foldable camping stove, complete with my tiny fuel source that fit underneath. I poured some bottled water in my small camping pot, set the stove, lit it, and waited for the water to boil.
I never did anything like this before. I never set a campfire or prepared a meal in the woods. I never thought I could make a climb like this either. Not me; an out of shape, overweight, and unmotivated man who chose to ignore the obviously depressing signs of weight gain by masking emotions with excuses and comfort food.
The meals we prepared were far from gourmet. Dehydrated eggs with bacon are not on the top ten meals of all time. That being mentioned, sitting near a fire on a beautiful Wednesday morning after an hour or so of intense and physical strain, eating eggs freeze-dried eggs from a pouch with bits of bacon, and sipping from a cup of campsite coffee; I can honestly say in my 43 years of living, I have never eaten a breakfast more satisfying than this.
We looked around at the view, which in no other words, could only be described as peaceful and serene. And by “we,” I mean myself and one of my dearest and best friends.
Lonny is a longtime friend who has seen me through different parts of life. As luck would have it, Lonny is also a neighbor of mine near my place in Wesley Hills, New York. He has been walking on solo hikes through these mountains for the last four years. However, now that we are neighbors and since these mountains are in our backyard and now that I am heavily motivated and hooked into this—Lonny’s hikes will no longer be solo.
We ate and played in the woods as if we were 15 years-old again—setting up a campsite after navigating through a new world, and hiking through the woods to reach the top of a mountain.
After we dressed our backpacks and filled our stomachs, we cleaned our site and left no garbage behind. We returned to our walk that led us around and over through the fire-trail, which took us to the third reservoir. Each time we saw a place to camp, we swore it was better than the last.
I can assure you of this alone; there is no feeling like hiking up the mountain and coming up to a beautiful, untouched by man, and undisturbed lake. There is nothing like this place where a lake fits into the palm of the mountain, and where the sunrise and sunset can be seen from the same peak.
About two months ago, I weighed 215lbs. I was portly, at best. My blood pressure was high; my self-worth was low, and my depression was gaining momentum with over-eating, self-pity, and frustration.
Yesterday; I came home after the hike. My legs were tired from the 7.5 miles I walked in both uphill and downhill spurts. I say again, the treadmill is good, but it does not compare to the burn that comes while exercising the core and stabilizing muscles it takes to navigate through the trails.
In the end, my back was tight and my shoulders were tense. I showered to ease the tension as well as to make sure to wash anything from my body like poison ivy, or possibly oak. I cleaned up, dried myself off, and then I stepped on the scale
I weighed in at 180lbs.
(180.7 to be exact)
Life in relation to struggle is an uphill battle. Yes, I can say I climbed a mountain. I climbed it both figuratively and literally. Same as I made it to my destination by the second reservoir with an honest degree of difficulty; I will also make it to my goal weight of 175.lbs. This will add up to be a total weight loss of 40lbs. From there, I will maintain my weight and remain loyal to the choices I’ve made for a better self.
Same as reaching my checkpoints on the hike was a beautiful victory; this personal checkpoint is equally as beautiful and an equally important victory. Same as when I made it on the trail, this too is a victory that I can drape over the shoulders of that inner, insecure child in me; the one which only knows how to doubt and fail, and then I can say to myself, “See, I told you can do it!”
And if I can do it . . .
So can you!