The hiking group I belong to is for over 40s in northern New Jersey. Being over 60 I easily qualify. In fact I’m so far over 40, that if such a thing existed, I should be granted distinguished membership status. But that would be undeserving since I’ve just completed a paltry dozen hikes with the group, while many others have surpassed 100. So my seniority is merely age related. Nevertheless, there is some merit in that. Although the vast majority of those hiking are in their 40s and 50s, I’ve never had any difficulty keeping up, nor, on returning to the trail-head, do I appear to be any more fatigued than anyone else. Mind you, I’m fairly certain no one has more aches and pains than me.
If I’m one of the group’s oldest members, I don’t really see myself as that. My self-perception is that I still belong in the 40-50 age range. I guess perception is in pretty close proximity to delusion. As illustration: A middle-aged man visits a new dentist. When the dentist, looking old and delicate, enters the room, the man thinks there’s something familiar about him. He bears a strong resemblance to a guy who was in one of his high school classes. If it’s who he thinks he is, he’s certainly aged badly. Submitting to curiosity, he asks him, “Weren’t you in my class in high school?” The dentist replies, “Quite possibly. What did you teach?”
I can pass for a 50 year-old? Yeah, right! In my dreams.
The group has over 3000 members, but judging from the hikes I’ve been on, no more than about 150 of them are regular participants. As in all groups that meet regularly it has developed a hierarchy which can be broken down into four distinct levels. First, there are the leaders, numbering around six, but there may well be more. Then there are the long-time members, all very friendly with one another, and as far as I can tell, they attend virtually every hike. Next are the people like myself who have been members for over a year and show up at irregular intervals as time allows. Finally, the newbies who are there for the first time but, more often than not, are never seen again.
Each hike is limited to a party of 25. Above that number, you are added to a waiting list which could have as many as 20 or 30 people on it. As the date of the hike approaches these numbers seem to decrease by attrition, on both the hike and the wait lists. So if you are on the waiting list, when the day of the hike arrives there’s an excellent chance you’ll make the final 25, particularly if you are already known to the leader of that particular outing. Occasionally, someone who was not part of the final 25 will just show up expecting to be included. They are known as stowaways. It’s made clear to them that just showing up is frowned upon, but they won’t be turned away.
My most recent hike with the group was billed as the Post-turkey Hike, an annual event on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. I had done it last year under quite wet weather conditions, and it involved rock-hopping across several fast flowing streams. Memorably, the slippery rocks caused two of our party to slip, giving them a fairly comprehensive soaking. The weather this year was cool and dry with intermittent sunshine. As a result of northern New Jersey’s current drought conditions, seen graphically by the alarmingly low water levels in nearby Wanaque Reservoir, last year’s bountiful streams had completely dried up. So no risk of a “dooking”* this time out.
The route was through the northern part of Norvin Green State Forest, by way of the Hewitt Butler Trail, taking in Lake Sonoma and Horse Pond Mountain. In my view it’s not the most scenic of hikes, although there are a couple of decent viewpoints, and Lake Sonoma is quite pretty, making for a very pleasant walk around it.
Unexpectedly and in complete contrast, toward the end of the hike, deep in the forest, we passed two severely wrecked and abandoned old trucks. What happened to them and how they got there is a complete mystery.
Rather than for scenery, the trail was chosen more for the physical exertion required to complete it, a way to work off excessive calories gained in the course of Thanksgiving dinner. It’s over 10 miles in length with several steep ascents and descents along the way, so it does make for a very strenuous, sweat-inducing walk. All told, an excellent work out.
Afterwards, as is customary a few from the group head to a nearby hostelry for a mid-afternoon lunch. I usually go along, but rarely eat. For some reason, any sort of sustained hard physical activity kills my appetite. I’m only there for the beer. Two pints of IPA, and I wouldn’t call the king my uncle!
*An old Scots word. Go Google it!