Purposeful Walking

I was lucky enough as a kid to have a father who owned a business in New York City and when I was a boy of fourteen, while other boys my age could not get working papers, because of a unusual exception in the law I was allowed to start working in our family owned business.  So, for the summer of 1975, for 85 cents an hour, I became a messenger in New York City, running envelopes and packages between my father’s office and various clients within a 10 block radius. 

We lived in New Jersey, and, like millions of others who worked in New York but lived elsewhere, I became a New York commuter taking the bus from near my home to the Port Authority Building in New York on Eighth Avenue and 42nd Street.  This is not the venue to describe the education I received at 14 years old from walking by 42nd street and 8th Avenue in the 1970s, but suffice it to say it was eye opening.  Every moring my father and I had a six block walk across town to his office opposite the Chrysler building on Lexington Avenue and every evening we walked back.  One of the things I remember most about these walks was not the prostitutes or the XXX theaters on 42nd street, nor was it the drug dealers in Bryant Park behind the New York City Library, but it was the pace at which my father walked.   For every two steps my father took, I had to take three,  and I never could keep up with him as he dashed across the city.

Sometime later I had the occasion to walk somewhere with my Grandfather, a curmudgeon of a man who was terrible with children but had a heart as big as the island of Manhattan, and found that he too had the quick pace of my father, but where my father was silent, my grandfather was not, and he said multiple times, “keep up”, and “walk with a purpose”.  It was here that I first heard that phrase and we talked about it later.  Purposeful walking had never occurred to me.  Wasn’t all walking purposeful, after all?  The answer of course is both yes and no.  Sometimes, the purpose of a walk is just to get out and stretch one’s legs, or to breath in fresh air, other times it is to meander through gardens and examine the flowers or inhale their fragrance, but in the instance of my cross town walks with my father to and from the office, or the walk uptown with my Grandfather from that same office, the purpose was to get from point A to point B in the shortest amount of time comfortably (meaning anything short of running) possible.

People often ask me how I am able to hike long distances in relatively short periods of time and I think, in all cases, the answer comes back to purposeful walking.  There are times one can, and needs to if they are on a long hike, move at very quick speeds across relatively flat or low grade terrain.  Many hikers climb a rise and when it starts to level off they slow down to catch their breath from the climb.  Your body will rest regardless of the pace you set when you have reached the top of a climb because you are no longer climbing, but now is not the time to slow down and catch your breath, instead, now is the time to pour on the gas and pick up the pace while your body naturally recovers from the climb.

There are times when you want to stroll leisurely and take in all that is around you, and I would never diminish the value of doing such.  We travel to these special places to experience this solidarity with nature, to capture the energy of the wilderness and let it rekindle things inside of each of us that are almost primal in their nature.  But when it comes to long hikes, we should all be aware that most of us can, if we put our minds to it,  hike at about three miles per hour on low incline trails.  One might be amazed at how far three miles will take you in the mountains.  Take advantage of the flats so that you can take your time when you get to the climbs and the places where you want to slow down and soak it all in.  I promise, you will like the results if you walk with a purpose and find you have more time to enjoy the beauty that surrounds you.


I remember a hill in the Ramapo Mountains of New Jersey that had a reputation for being incredibly tough.  I climbed this particular hill many times because our Boy Scout troop cabin was at the top.  In the winter months, our monthly overnight camping trips would be there, at the top of that hill, instead of some other more exotic locale, so that the troop leaders could stay warm and comfortable and, at the risk of ridicule from the other boys, any scout that got too cold, could have the relative sanctuary of the warm cabin to warm his toes and coddle his soul.

We called this little hill “Heart Attack Hill”, and we all would struggle to carry our loaded packs up this short climb, stopping every few steps to rest and catch our breath.  My fellow scouts and I all thought this hill was extremely challenging and yet, today, as I hike in the Whites, all of the hikers I take out would agree that slope would be very ordinary and the 300 or so feet in elevation that it gained, would be but a bump on a ridgeline.

 This weekend as I was hiking, someone in our group was really struggling and I told this person, just concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other.  As I told her this, all those memories of climbing that hill in the Ramapo Mountains came back to me.  I remembered too, my first forays into the Whites and how utterly daunting these mountains seemed.  I pressed on, one foot after another and hiked more, and climbed more, than I ever imagined I would as a kid.  For many years, I “endured” it because it was what one had to do.

At some point, never being one to let a situation go unexamined, my critical eye began to question why I was subjecting myself to what often seemed to be grueling punishment.  I came to accept that my love for the outdoors went hand in hand with the exertion required in getting there and that the two could not be separated.  If I were to enjoy being on the top of a mountain and looking 50 miles on the horizon to see the Atlantic Ocean , or if I wanted to look thorough the haze and see peaks in Canada, I was going to have to climb the mountains to get there.  It was not the understanding of this basic concept that changed me, but rather the acceptance of it.  With that acceptance, a transformation began and there came a point when I no longer dreaded the climb up the next peak or the scramble across the talus field that was right around the bend.  I hike; it is what I do, and sometimes it is hard, but I do not let the difficulty tarnish the experience any more.

Acceptance can buy us a lot in life but it wasn’t until I had made this transition that I even realized what had happened.  My pack is just as heavy as it was twenty years ago, and my feet get just as hot and sore.  I am pretty sure, my joints don’t work as well as they did back then and I doubt I have the strength I had at 30, but now, because of this change of mindset, this transformation of my attitude towards what I am doing, there are days I know I can hike three times what I could twenty years ago, and I have come to writing blogs that refer to “Heart Attack Hill” as just a little bump in New Jersey.

Here, hiking has taught me a lesson that I have applied to other areas of my life and you can make whatever analogies you like, but acceptance in this instance allows me to spend my hiking time appreciating the mosses on the side of the trail and the earthy smell of the woods instead of thinking about taking one step after another.


I have never blogged.  Indulge me, please.

As I sit and ponder the subject of my first blog, I think about the purpose of this endeavor.  There is no doubt that I have always loved the outdoors and it has beckoned me since I was a kid.  I recall a time as a young child, when the school system administered some testing that was supposed to guide a child towards a possible direction in life; or at least open up some possible avenues.  I think I was in fifth grade.  I had recently read a biography of John Muir as an assignment for class, and enjoyed it so much that I read it again.   (To this day, despite being a somewhat voracious reader, that is the only book I have ever read twice.)  For this reason, I think my results on that “test” were perhaps skewed, but regardless of the reason, the results pointed clearly that I would do well to pursue a life as a forest ranger.

My parents were horrified.

So, while my enjoyment of the outdoors was encouraged, a career based on such, was, from my early years, highly discouraged.  I now live in a small city, work for a law firm, and get my daily dose of outdoors from my half acre parcel of lawn and landscaping in a residential part of town.  I escape whenever I can, and when I do, the place I go most often is the Whites.  Relatively close, the Whites are real mountains and climb from warm humid valleys to treeless summits that experience weather at its most extreme. When I climb them, or hike them, I am transported to a world far away from my green postage stamp lawn back home.  My soul is re-energized and I am reinvigorated.  When done, I always return tired but refilled.

This endeavor, however, is not about what the wilderness does for me.

 A little more than a week ago, I took two women on a hike in the Northern Presidentials.  It was a hike I had not done in years, but a hike that was always one of my favorites.  We started in the woods, crossed a stream through those woods six times, then the trail went into the stream, and when it came out, we were in a forest with a floor of moss and trees so thick the sun barely reached the ground.  We broke free of that and climbed through the remnant of an avalanche.  We broke out above treeline and climbed big talus for hundreds of yards up a headwall to Edmunds Col below the summit of Mount Jefferson.  We went up and over the summit of Jefferson and down to the exposed spine of the Castle trail; twenty foot boulders laid bare and exposed from erosion of the softer rock around it.  It is geology unlike anywhere else in the Whites.

 It was on the Castle trail that one of my two charges for the day started saying over and over, “I have lived here all my life and had no idea this existed.  Our state is so beautiful!”  While the gorgeous views and scenery was making her smile, I was ear to ear myself from what she was getting from the experience.  She went on and on about the diversity of what she had hiked through that day and about what an incredible experience this hike had been, and it was there and then that I knew I had to start this business.  I need to share, if I can, the overwhelming joy I get from being outside and exploring the wilderness; what it does to me and how it touches my very soul.

I may not have grown up to be a forest ranger, protecting the forest from harm in all directions, but I can share what I have learned, and help others to experience something very special and, perhaps, imbue in them a sense of stewardship that will go on to protect the wilderness in other ways.  My parents might actually approve of this type of protection.

Enjoy my site.  Let’s go explore the Whites