When I began working in northern New Jersey, I missed my Florida sports (swimming, biking, waterskiing) during the winter months. Then I read Jon Krakauer’s stunning true-life adventure story (Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster) about the 1996 climbing season on Mount Everest.
Krakauer’s vivid writing awakened childhood memories of traipsing through wintery woods, hanging out on rocks, and otherwise having a blast in the great outdoors. Hiking is just walking, isn’t it? How hard can it be? I headed for the nearest outdoor store and stocked up on hiking boots and all the mod cons for hiking. Luckily, northern New Jersey and New York State are loaded with well-documented first-class hiking trails. (New York / New Jersey Trail Conference website)
A great workout
My first winter hike woke me up. I gained about 800 feet elevation within a mile of rough footing that ranged from loose gravel to granite to frozen clay. This scramble beat the stuffing out of me! When I returned home, my quads and hamstrings went into agonizing spasms. I’d never felt such painful leg cramps.
I loved hiking — especially in the wintertime, when there were no insects on the trails, or snakes, or tree leaves to block vistas, and most sensible hikers stayed home. I hiked almost every winter weekend. I learned two secrets to enjoying snowy wintertime hiking: dress in layers; stay dry.
I hiked the Catskill mountains, the Adirondacks, the Ramapos, the Shawangunks. A special treat was being the first human on a freshly snow covered trail; animal tracks laced the trails. I used snowshoes on deep snow, crampons on ice, and occasionally cross-country skis in open country.
Rattlers and mooses and bears! Oh My!
Hiking in mountainous backcountry gave me a needed break from technology. Everything about hiking is dirt simple. No computers. No networks. No electricity, even. It’s a thrill to hear wolves howling, rattlesnakes rattling, or to come face to face with a moose while hours from the trailhead. Hiking also introduced me to rich local history: Revolutionary war era mines, forges, tanneries and forts.
From freezer to pizza oven
Now that I’m back in Fort Lauderdale, where our summers are like living inside a pizza oven, I’m finding that summertime hikes also beat the stuffing out of me. It’s a different sort of punishment. The brutal summer sun, humidity, and temperatures in the 90s mean that I sweat like a pig. The footing couldn’t be easier. I walk the two miles or so on sidewalks to my fave swimming pool and two more miles back home. During a two mile walk I drink half a liter of water from my water bottle. My shirt becomes thoroughly soaked with sweat; it looks like I’d worn it in the shower. The walk along Fort Lauderdale’s easy paved sidewalks in the hot sun is a surprisingly tough workout.
There are no moose or wolves along my route to the pool; only large lizards. The other day the thermometer read 92 degrees F; the “feels like” temperature was 110 F — just like a pizza oven.
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© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695