I am a woman who hikes. And not just little weekend scrambles in the woods, but real, significant miles long hikes. Being a female of a certain age, the fact that I can say this with a straight face is amazing in and of itself. That it’s completely true is something else altogether fantastic. I never would have thought to find myself in this position at this point in my life. I have spent the better part of my adulthood, studiously and conscientiously, with deliberate forethought, avoiding any and all forms of physical exertion; no yoga, gym workouts, or pilates for me! Just the occasional jaunt around the block with the dog. My hobbies are largely sedentary; knitting, reading, and baking are great for mental health and binge-watching my favorite TV shows, but not for keeping fit or keeping the middle age spread at bay. I wasn’t really bothered all that much by it until….I got left behind.
Deliberately excluded from a family vacation, I was stuck at home, relegated to babysitting the dog, while the rest of my family flew to Tanzania, to hike Mount Kilimanjaro. Due to my “unfitness,” I was deemed a liability, a hazard even, the one least likely to be able to complete the multi-day trek. As this was a semi-spur-of-the-moment plan, with only a few months advance notice, there was no time for me to miraculously whip myself into a fighting fit hiking machine. So sadly, after packing their bags and waving goodbye, I was left in New Jersey. As this was in January, my New Year’s resolution for the year was to get in better shape.
Out went my twice weekly coffee runs. No more chocolate chip muffins on my breaks at work. Healthier food choices in appropriate portions followed. I dragged myself to the gym for thrice weekly walks on the treadmill, but nothing more than that because I am still at heart, a lazy person. I do like to read the reviews of the best treadmill in 2019, one day I might budget to get one at home and that might change my laziness at heart. Maybe not though, we’ll see.
And shock of all shocks, I started to feel, well, athletic. Who knew I had it in me? I certainly didn’t. And getting into jeans that my 30-year-old self once wore was a HUGE boon. All of a sudden I could go on 3-4 miles hikes like everyone else in my household, which quickly turned into 5-7, even 8-10 mile ones. No longer did I feel like my heart was going to pop out of my body or that my head was going to explode.
My overly ambitious menfolk decided enough of the little hikes, we should up our game and hike Mount Katahdin, the famous endpoint of the Appalachian Trail in Maine. So with some trepidation on my part, off we went. And this was a toughie as the trail is steep, with lots of rocks, scrambling, and hours of hiking. I’m positive I was the oldest woman on the trail that day, which was full of serious AT through hikers and other young things shouting words of encouragement as they zipped past me. But I plodded along. By the time I managed to haul myself to the peak and catch my breath, I would have done a little happy dance if I weren’t so tired. Today, as I write this, I can remember that afternoon so clearly; the beautiful, clear blue sky, the wind, the bright sunshine, and my feelings of exhilaration and sense of accomplishment. Even my massive fatigue and the fact that I still had to get down off the mountain, didn’t dampen my enthusiasm and new found love of hiking.
Now that spring is finally showing signs of arriving, it’s time to lace up my hiking boots and hit the trails again. This past weekend saw me back on the Appalachian Trail in southwestern Virginia for an easy 5 miler to get the season started. However, you don’t have to go as far as Maine or Virginia to find challenging walks in beautiful locales. A wide range of hikes for all levels of fitness can be found right here in our backyard. For trails around Princeton, check out these two books, “Walk the Trails In and Around Princeton” and “Discovering Princeton, A Photographic Guide with Five Walking Tours.” There are trails in the Institute Woods, Herrontown Woods, and Mountain Lakes. More strenuous hikes, like the hike to Sunfish Pond, can be found in the Delaware Water Gap area.
No excuses, the outdoors beckon. Happy Trails!
The title is from a quote by John Muir: To the mountains I must go.
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