Blog

My musings on hiking, the outdoors and life in general. Enjoy!

11-19-19
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!
-Matthew


11-5-19
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!

11-2-19
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,
Matthew

10-30-19
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,
Matthew



10-27-19
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,
Matthew

10-24-19
Reflections
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,
Matthew

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).