My musings on hiking, the outdoors and life in general. Enjoy!
Year 1, in the Books!
I’m a little late to the party with a year-in-review, but better late than never I always say.
Where to begin? I’m not sure. I guess, at the beginning.
When I started a hiking page on Facebook for friends and family back in December of 2018, I never thought it would become what it has in one, short year. I started Take A Hike! N.J. in January of 2019. On my inaugural hike at Jungle Habitat in West Milford, New Jersey, nobody came. I didn’t let that deter me. I hiked alone that day, and came across some other hikers and bikers. I loved being outside, breathing in the fresh air on a cold, crisp January morning.
My first official hike where other people joined me was at Ramapo County Reservation in Mahwah. We were a group of 5 humans, and 2 dogs. It was cold, and icy. We were all bundled up. Having other people join me was great, and I knew I had to continue doing what I was doing. I had to see it through.
Fast forward to late Spring. With the weather getting nicer, the groups got bigger. I consistently had double-digit attendance at hikes. Groups of 10 and 15 were commonplace. I guess everyone was coming out of hibernation. As we entered Summer, things exploded. We routinely had groups of 20 or more. I had to institute a limit for the number of people who could attend, which then, in turn, led to wait lists. I was in total awe.
I had lots of return hikers, weekend after weekend. Familiar faces became hiking family. I was so blessed. Never in my wildest dreams did I think what I’d started would become what it did.
And now, today, we are over 1,300 members strong! We enjoyed sponsored hikes by L.L. Bean. We became a recognized hiking group by the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference. We raised money for charity during a 9/11 hike. We made massive donations of clothing, shoes, toys and books to the Chancellor Avenue Elementary School’s Free Market that took place in Newark. We grew month over month, every step of the way.
On a personal level, my goal for the year was 52 hikes. One per week. I obliterated that goal. I finished at 104 hikes and nearly 700 miles traversed. It’s a mind-boggling number to me. A hobby became a passion. I got to share that passion with others along the way, and for that I am forever grateful.
But where do we go from here? For starters, we’ll be ‘Hiking for a Cause’ each month of the year. Throughout 2020, we will hold a charity hike each month to benefit a cause. January will be for the March of Dimes. February will be for Stomp Out Bullying. Later in the year, in September, we’ll hike for the Leary Firefighter’s Foundation.
In February, I’m going to be featured on the New Hiker Podcast. I was recently interviewed for over an hour about my love for the outdoors, what my group is all about and how hiking has helped me with my mental health. I was honored to be interviewed, and am very excited for the release of the podcast.
We hope to adopt a trail in 2020 through my relationship with the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference. We will continue the Hump Day Hike Series in Spring and Summer. We’ll have our first overnight trip in March. Kayaking is on the schedule for Summer. We’ll visit more parts of Jersey, as well as venture into New York and Pennsylvania.
It’s been a long time since I’ve been good at something. It’s been just as long that I’ve been passionate about something too. This group is my passion. It’s given purpose and meaning to my life, and for that, I am forever thankful to each and every hiker that has joined me along the way this past year. I couldn’t have got here without you all. The words ‘Thank You’ don’t seem to be enough.
As I look into 2020, I see great things upon the horizon. New friendships will be forged. New adventures will be shared. And hopefully, my passion for hiking will light a fire in each and every person I come across on my journey.
Life isn’t about the destination. It’s about the journey, and I’m happy that we’re on it together!
With LOVE and THANKS…Your ‘FEARLESS LEADER‘,
Matthew August Sedita
Peace, Love and Hiking
Right On Point
When the new executive director of the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference asks you to continue leading a group of members and delegates on a hike after the annual meeting, you oblige…even if you only intended to do the short version of the post-meeting hike.
Earlier, not knowing what to expect, I arrived at the Conference headquarters in Mahwah about 15-20 minutes before the annual meeting began. I’d passed the building numerous times but never stopped inside. I wandered about for a bit, and someone realized I was new and asked me if I needed help. I said yes, and asked for the only person I had interacted with, Kathleen Bezik, who I figured would be there at the meeting. The man by the name of Jim, introduced Kathleen and I. I then told her who I was and she told me to sign-in. I put on a name tag. I felt so official.
I grabbed some orange juice from the pre-meeting spread, sat down, and made some small-talk with a Conference delegate. He asked about my group. We spoke about hiking, where we liked to hike and whatnot. Then the meeting began.
It was more informal than I thought. I guess I envisioned people in suites and ties. Not today. Everyone was in hiking boots and shoes, myself included. I was dressed for the occasion.
The meeting covered various topics including finances, upcoming events, a few video presentations and an open forum. I was even given a green sticker, indicating that I was a voting member of the meeting!
After the meeting, the hike began at the nearby Ramapo County Reservation. I held point for the first mile til we got to our checkpoint. At that moment, some of the group went back to complete a short 2-mile hike, while others continued on for the Vista Loop, a 3.7 mile trek.
I was originally only going to do the 2-miler, but NY-NJ Trail Conference Executive Director Josh Howard told the group that some of the group were going to be led back to headquarters by Kathleen, while I would lead us ahead. I blurted out, “I was only going to do the short hike” but then looked at my watch and said, “Ok, why not!” We continued onward.
Continuing upon the Vista Loop, we stopped at a ridge and saw a red-tailed hawk soaring above us. What a sight to see. At that point, I asked the group if they wanted to take a group photo, and everyone said yes. I broke out the trusty combination selfie-stick/tripod with bluetooth remote, set it up and snapped a shot (which I later sent to Josh and Kathleen). It came out great and everyone seemed to like my gadget.
I slowed down a bit, as one gentleman was a bit slower than the rest of the group. I hiked with him for a bit, until we all caught up with each other on the home stretch. I held point for the last mile or so, and saw one of Take A Hike! N.J.’s members. I introduced her to the executive director and everyone. It was great to see her, as I had just hiked with her the day before.
I guess you could say the day was perfect, and I was ‘right on point.’
Until next time…Peace, Love and Hiking!
Keep Chopping Wood
Jack Del Rio is a former NFL linebacker who eventually got into coaching after his playing days were over. His team’s motto for staying the course in times of adversity was ‘Keep Chopping Wood‘. It’s something that’s stayed with me on a personal level. I even have it on a message board on my refrigerator.
No matter how hard things in life may seem, you have to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Keep forging ahead. Keep chopping wood as Del Rio said. And eventually, all that hard work will pay off. Today, I got to see some of that happen.
This afternoon, Take A Hike! N.J. officially became the 37th member group of the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference…and I couldn’t be happier. We are now listed on their website, which includes a link to our website, Facebook page and Meetup.com page. The exposure this will give our group is immeasurable.
Some special thanks are definitely in order. To Chris Coyne, my best friend, college roomie, road dog and brother from another mother, thank you for dragging me out of the house all those years ago to hike at the Delaware Water Gap. Little did you know at the time, but you ignited my passion for hiking, and I am forever grateful. To Lisa Russell, my former co-worker, who encouraged me to start my group on Meetup.com…thank you from the bottom of my heart. I probably wouldn’t have started the group on Meetup without you. To think, nobody came to our first hike, and now we have wait lists for just about every event. Not in my wildest dreams would I think any of this would’ve happened in less than a year.
To those who know me best, it’s been a tumultuous year for me to say the least. Peaks and valleys. Dark days and bright ones. But the good has outweighed the bad, and when I’ve found myself in times of struggle, it’s been a speed-bump, not a road block. Sometimes you gotta pivot and change directions, but whatever you do, keep moving forward. And that’s what I’ve done.
To end on famous quote from the great Vince Lombardi, who knew a thing or two about success (and coached at my father’s high school, St. Cecilia’s in Englewood, New Jersey)…‘It’s not whether you get knocked down, but whether you get up.’ Well, I’m up, and nothing can stop me now!
Giant Stairs, Giant Accomplishment
The weather Gods smiled upon us this morning. It was brisk, but sunny, and not much wind at the start of our trek. 22 strong today, with old friends and newcomers…and everyone kicked major ass!
Of all the places I’ve hiked, Palisades is the place I’ve visited the most. It’s close to home, and was very close to one of my old jobs, so I’ve visited just about every spot in this park at some point or another, but I never did the stairs. That changed today for me and 21 others!
We started with a quick trip to the Women’s Federation Monument as a warmup. Who doesn’t like seeing a mini-castle in the middle of the woods? Next time I’ll show the group the swimming pool remains.
We changed course and went down to the waterline. Didn’t see the remains of the car that was pushed off the cliffs in the 1970’s, as it was covered by leaves. Once we got to the shoreline, we took a break and began our approach to the stairs.
I told everyone to go at their own pace. It is a marathon, not a sprint. The stairs take endurance and agility. The temperatures crept up, the sun was shining, and it was a beautiful day for such a challenging hike.
Some of the group went ahead, some was in the middle and some in the back. Our group is truly a diverse one…young, old, American born and foreign, male and female…but we all have one thing in common, our love for hiking and nature. I couldn’t think of a better group of people to spend a Saturday with.
After I pulled up the rear, we reached Peanut Leap Cascade, where the group members who waited (some forged ahead) took our customary group photo with the cascade as the background. Time for our trek up and back to the start.
I was struggling on the ascent up. My legs were killing me, and my shoulders were hurting from my pack. But, I just put one foot in front of the other, and we reached the top of the Palisades. I jokingly pointed out the State Boundary Monument (circa 1882). Some of the folks took a quick photo. Nobody even noticed it was there except for me, but I had passed it countless times so I knew it was right there.
Continuing right along, we eventually hit the remains of Old 9W, and I admit, it was a sight for sore eyes (and sore legs!). We all rejoiced outside the State Line Cafe, gazed up at a turkey vulture, and agreed to meet for lunch at the Brownstone Pancake House on 9W in Englewood Cliffs.
In the words of O’Shea Jackson (aka, Ice Cube), “It Was a Good Day.”
See you on the trails,
Take A Hike! N.J. officially becomes recognized hiking group by NYNJTC.Org!
Today, Take A Hike! N.J. officially became a recognized hiking group the the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference! I’m beyond thrilled about this and wanted to share the great news with all of you.
Between my day job and the hiking company, I’ve been grinding 24/7 since I started this thing in mid-January. The hard work is paying off. It is my hope that being recognized and listed on NYNJTC.Org, that the group gets greater exposure and continues to get its name out there for folks who want to have a great time hiking in New Jersey and New York (and soon, Pennsylvania). Like a seedling that gets water and sunshine every day, we continue to grow!
But what’s next you might ask? I’m working on a deal with Merrell Footwear to have them join us for a hike in 2020, allowing members to try out their hiking boots. I should know more details in the coming weeks, but I did want to share that tidbit with everyone.
With November just a day away (it’s nearly Halloween as I’m writing this), I’ll be looking for a venue for our 1-Year Anniversary Dinner and Hiker of the Year Award Ceremony this coming January. The location will likely be in the North Jersey area. More info will be announced as it becomes available. Tentative date for the celebration will be Friday, January 3rd, 2020. Please RSVP if interested via Meetup.Com.
That’s all for now everyone.
Hope to see you on the trails,
Haunted Hike Re-Cap
With today’s 2nd Haunted Hike being a washout due to the ongoing rain in Jersey, I wanted to give you my thoughts on yesterday’s inaugural Haunted Hike, which took place at Wildcat Ridge in Hibernia, New Jersey.
The hike started with a stop at a bat cave. The closer you got to the opening of the cave, the colder it got. The cave used to be a mine back in the day, and the cold air coming out was intense. Had to be at least 20 degrees cooler than the outside temperature yesterday.
Anybody that knows me is aware that I’m not a fan of bats after a bad experience I had with one many years ago that tried to attack me. Long story. I’ve tried to mentally block it out of my mind. Bats are important to our ecosystem. They eat insects and small rodents, so they are vital in keeping the order of nature. On the path to the cave, we also saw a bat-box in a tree. Cool stuff.
We then hit our first incline, which got everyone’s heart pumping. I was sweating for sure. But, once we reached the top of the path, it was smooth sailing from there on the white trail. As we continued along on our hike, we saw Fall in full effect. Lots of different color leaves on the ground and all around. Didn’t encounter many people yesterday however. It was like we had the entire hike to ourselves.
I wasn’t exactly sure where St. Patrick’s Cemetery was, but knew it was off trail a bit. Luckily, I spotted a super cool guy named Mike who knew where it was, and he took us there. It was to the right of a rock cairn, which my group added a few rocks to.
St. Patrick’s Cemetery dates back to the 1860’s. We stopped for about a half hour, taking photos of the graveyard in the woods. It was interesting and eerie all at the same time. I did implore my hikers to be respectful and not touch anything. These are hallowed grounds that should be respected.
We then continued our journey, hopping back on the white trail where we had left off. There wasn’t all that much to see along the way. Just lots of trees, leaves and the occasional chipmunk running about. But it was pretty, quiet and enjoyable.
With daylight being a concern, we came to a crossroads of a woods road and our path. Instead of going back, we took the unmarked woods road for a bit, then hooked up with the blue/teal trail, which took us back to the parking lot. After we dropped our packs at our vehicles, we trekked back to the bat cave for our customary group photo…today’s had a twist however…we posed as zombies.
This was a fun hike, and a place I’d go back to next Halloween for sure. Some of the group hit the nearby Rockaway Barn for an early dinner, which was supper yummy. We all joked that we should hike somewhere in the area again just to eat there!
That’s all for now. Remember to be prepared on the trails. If you hike alone, let someone you know, know where you are going. Hike in, hike out and leave nothing but your footprints.
See you on the trails,
It’s been some time since my last blog post. I need to do more with it moving forward.
2019 has been a crazy year, full of peaks and valleys. But taking everything into consideration, starting this group/company has been one of the most fulfilling things I’ve done in my life.
We just surpassed 1,000 members. I’ve met terrific people. Made new friends and saw new friendships grow between fellow members. I couldn’t have envisioned what Take A Hike! N.J. has become in my wildest dreams. I can’t wait to see where we’ll be in a year from now.
On a personal level, I’ve broken my personal hike goal of 52. That’s 1 hike a week all year. I obliterated that number, and hope to achieve my new goal of 104 hikes for 2019. I think I’m somewhere in the 80’s around this point, but I have to check.
I’ve become an ambassador for Campmor in Paramus, New Jersey. I also brokered a handshake agreement with L.L. Bean to co-sponsor several hikes in 2019, and recently found out that they want to extend our partnership into the coming months. I couldn’t be happier. But, there is no rest of the weary.
I want to do more with our group. We have traveled to New York state to hike. Pennsylvania is next. I purchased 2 more web domains recently…TakeAHikeNY and TakeAHikePA. I hope to get them up and running by 2020. There are only so many hours in the day. Sometimes I wish I didn’t have to sleep.
Something a friend shared with me about my group’s growth and success has stayed with me. She said that “Of all the groups out there, people are choosing to hike with you.” Sometimes I just shrug my shoulders in disbelief of what the group has become. Members keep telling me that it’s success is due to me, my enthusiasm and personality. I just don’t fully understand all of it, but that’s okay.
In the end, I’m just happy that I get to hike each week, meet new and old friends, and get back to nature to, as Billy Joel famously sang, “Forget about life for a while.” I hope someday you can join us!
-See you on the trails,
For those who know me, I often preach the mental health benefits of getting back into nature, unplugging and recharging your mind, body and soul. Today, my old college copy editing professor Deb Woodell posted this article from Outside Magazine, about hiking in areas where there were no evident signs of civilization.
Here is a link to the article: https://www.outsideonline.com/2393049/nature-psychology-study.
What do you think? Do you agree with what the author wrote? After reading the article myself, I kind of looked back and reflected on my hikes over the past few months, and I totally agree. When I’ve trekked more desolate, uninhabited parks and reservations, with no sounds of automobile and airplane traffic, I feel a deeper connection to nature, and am able to really decompress and enjoy the setting more. I’m able to really ‘un-plug’. It’s totally understandable why, and personally, I don’t need any scientific data to show me why (though it’s cool to read that info).