My much needed fall 2020 hiking adventure (Mt. Wittenberg)

Man, it’s been a while. I can’t tell you the last time I sat down in front of a tablet and started writing for my OWN enjoyment, but WOW, it’s good to be back baby! No long introduction today. Let’s get right to it. I went on a hike in the picturesque Catskill Mountains in New York last weekend that provided arguably THE BEST views this entire country has to offer. (Okay, I may be overselling you a little bit but hiking during peak fall foliage is AMAZEBALLS, especially doing one as fun and challenging I just did). Interested in what that experience was like for me? Keep reading. Not interested? Well fuck you. (lol, kidding obviously 😂).

Do your research and plan

Okay. If you are an avid hiker, you know that for some of these trails, if you are not there EARLY, you may not find a parking spot. And for this trail, it is and was no different. Doing my research beforehand, I knew that the parking lot for Mt. Wittenberg is big, but supposedly fills up before 8 am. This meant for me, that I needed to set my alarm extra early to wake up Sunday morning and hit the road long before the sun would be rising if I wanted to nab one of these sought after spots.

Just a bit foggy

Boom. 5 am hits and I’m in the car ready to go. Except my car isn’t. The temperature reads 32 degrees and for the first time this year my car had to defrost and warm-up. (Pause for 5 minutes. Re-check bag for all the essentials; loud whistle , first aid kit , two liters of water , fitaid , dark chocolate , extra socks , gloves , hand-warmers , and last but not least, Thor’s hammer 🌩).

Mood before hiking

Ok, the car is warm, windows are defrosted, directions are set on the phone, time to get this show on the road. Everything’s a full go. The first hour of my drive was meditative. No one on the roads. Traffic lights stuck on yellow. Street lights and gas stations lighting up intersections. The world is at a standstill. It’s like the universe is giving me this free pass to cruise through it’s roads and highways like a mystical path to the destination. It’s surreal. This is bliss. This is life. This is………..OH MY GOD I can’t fucking see!!!

OKAY OKAY, calm down Derek you’re ok. Relax. Deep breath. Observe the situation. What can you see?

Nothing! Not a damn thing! I can’t see 15 feet in front of me. I don’t know if the highway is straight, curved, one lane, two lanes, no car lights ahead of me, no car lights behind me, I just see FOG!?! Pure heavy, grey, thick, FOG! And I’m stuck driving in it on a New York freeway at 6 am in the morning. Wtf.

Yeah. I’m not overselling this part either. I probably couldn’t see 10 feet ahead of me. I put my hazard lights on, slowed down to 20 miles per hour, maybe slower, turned off my music, and just prayed that there were no crashed cars ahead of me and no trucks speeding behind me. I knew the road direction because of the GPS map on my phone, but that’s it. Thankfully my movie references helped pull me through this scary situation as I internally repeated, “just keep driving, just keep driving” as I imagined Dory swimming through an abundant amount of massive jellyfish. (If you seriously don’t know this movie reference please stop reading and cancel our friendship). If she can swim through that, I can drive through a little fog. Pss, bring it on.

It went on like this for 5 minutes. Then the fog began to get lighter. I could start seeing 50 feet ahead of me, then 100, then a few more hundred feet, until it was all clear. It was a nightmare. (Good thing it’s October 👻 ). But I got through it. No Freddie Krueger or Michael Myers either.

That sunrise and mountain backdrop tho.

Once I got through that fog episode, the rest of the drive was perfect. Yes, more cars seemed to join me on the roads, but at about 6:45, the sky started to create that faint orange tint that forms when the sun begins to crack on the horizon. The sky is still dark enough to still see the stars and the moon, but the orange is a nice little visual that shows you day is about to break. It’s wonderful. Driving that early in the morning and being able to see that part of the sunrise is magical. Now driving during this time to the Catskill Mountains? Breathtaking. I’ll take it a step further.

I knew beforehand from hiking at another Catskill mountain last year, that the last 25-30 miles of the trip, would be on scenic freeways and roads that visually lead you to the Catskill mountains. You see them get bigger and bigger as you drive closer and closer to your destination during the final 30 minutes of the drive. And I’m not talking just about big hills, okay. I’m talking about mountains that rise between 3,000-4,000 feet into the sky. Mountain ranges with peaks of different heights filled with massive amounts of reds, oranges and yellows against a faded blue/orange tinted backdrop of the sunrise. Words can’t do it justice. Shoot, even pictures can’t do it justice. I wanted to stop in the middle of the road and just park my car to stare at it’s beauty. But I didn’t. I just took mental pictures and slowed down to take it all in. I knew the hike itself would provide even more breathtaking visuals for me.

I arrive at the parking lot around 7:35. Total time driving, two hours and 35 minutes. Not bad. (No I did not beat my GPS and you’re lying if you don’t play that game with yourself on long drives). The parking lot was huge. And to my surprise, was already pretty full with only a few spots open. (The parking lot probably can hold 30ish cars, but offers plenty of parking on the street around it). I knew this was a possibility because the parking lot is the lot for three different mountains, so it didn’t mean all these people were hiking the same trail I was doing.

One more check before I head out. No more fitaid because I drank that around 7. 🚫Handwarmers were in both of my pockets. ✅ Phone was fully charged with my offline map saved. ✅ And Thor’s hammer was packed safely and secure next to my two waters and dark chocolate. ✅ I was ready to go. As I begun to leave the parking lot to walk over to the trailhead across the street, there was an orange sign saying “Heavy Black Bear” activity, with a list of things to do on the trail to lower your chances of seeing one. I can’t sit here and say that’s something I didn’t think about, but hiking alone does run an increased risk since I don’t make as much noise or are as big as a group of hikers on the trail, so if that describes you, please make sure you understand what to do when you come across a bear and how to make noise on the trail. ⚠️Safety is sexy⚠️ (I made that up, but kind of catchy now that I think about it).

Leaves and rocks and scrambling, OH MY! 

At the start of the trailhead I see the mileage to each summit and the lowest number is my trail to Wittenberg, a whopping 3.9. You can also take this trail to the summit of Cornell, which is 4.7 miles to the top, or Slide mountain, one of the 4,000 footers in the Northeast, which is 7 miles from the trailhead. I already did my research. I knew that Wittenberg was enough for me. Those who’ve tackled the Cornell and Slide summits did so on a full 8-10 hour day of hiking. (Thank you All trails app). I wasn’t prepared to do that. Plus the millions of reviews I read all said Slide and Cornell weren’t good trade offs for the time spent hiking. And that is why the internet is awesome. Off to Wittenberg I went. (Through the yellow brick road I go…actually leafs. Yellow leafs).

One of the first things that greets me is this perfectly made bridge. One of my favorite parts of trails are wood bridges. I love coming across a stream and then having to cross a perfectly executed bridge made out of wood. How lucky was I to start off this trail with one of my most favorite things? Score. After I crossed the bridge, I soon realized that it would be the last smooth and flat surface I would walk on for the remainder of my ascent.

The trail lines with tons of rocks and inclines up relatively quickly. The first 0.3 mile is a 30-40% grade. Then for the next mile you can say it gets easier? Easier meaning a 15 or 20% grade. It feels like the trail just keeps going up. And up. Luckily my views surrounding me were those out of a painting. The trail was overflowing with tons of reds, oranges, greens, browns, and yellow leaves, all clashing against one another as battling to show which one was the most vibrant. Trees in the front, back and side of me in those same colors. Crunch, crunch, crunch, crunch, as I made my way through the trail. The crunchiness of a fall leaf is ear porn on a quiet hiking trail. WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! Yup. I hope you screamed that like Ric Flair, because those were the screams I let out every 15 minutes in between the crunching of the leaves to warn off any potential black bears creeping kind of close. (I also had hikers and campers that I periodically came across on the trail who pointed out how good some of the “woo’s” were). Like I said before, safety is sexy.

As I kept making my way up, there is a point where you realize you’re already pretty high up. The forest begins to change around you, and soon begin to be surrounded by forest pine. At this same point, you also see the dynamic of the trail change. The trail transforms to big boulder type rocks falling on top of each other, forming huge sections of vertical formations to climb. These are called scrambles. (Vegan scrambles because no eggs are used…lol, get it?). The trail continues on with these scrambles for a good half mile. But it is a long half mile. Each rock scramble is different than the last, and once you feel like you’ve reached the top the mountain gives you another one. Until it doesn’t, and you’re there. Which was exactly what it felt like for me.

The summit greeted me at the top with no warning. It’s a bald summit, and gives you a good 200 square feet or so to pull up a seat and take in the view. There were a couple of people already up there, and I found a seat somewhere towards the middle. (Yes, Thor’s hammer was now beside me.) I couldn’t believe the views. All of those colors that I saw while driving, I can now see from above the skyline. I also had a panoramic 180 degree view of the entire Catskill mountain range. It was amazing. Windy. But amazing. I didn’t enjoy the summit by myself. Soon after, I was greeted by a group of 20 and 30 somethings that had also survived the hike up, and took up camp around me. Lots of excitement, lots of stories, lots of snacks being eaten, a dog!, and lots of pictures. I enjoyed the busyness of it all. It was a good contrast from the majority of my hike. I enjoy it being peaceful and quiet during the trail, but I loved hearing the stories and hearing about their hikes while on the summit. We got to share that experience together. And I’m grateful that presented itself to me.

Obviously I am worthy…
Solomon’s and Wildly good socks..

45 minutes later, (15 of those minutes spent stretching) I finally summoned up enough energy, thank you dark chocolate bar and RX bar, and laced up my shoes to begin my descent back down.

Even though you are going downhill, some can argue that the descent is actually more challenging.  On hikes with steep grades and touch scrambles, I agree with that statement. Going down was a challenge.  Descending rock scrambles meant crab walking on all fours or reverse climbing. Also, since the trails was marked with lots of leaves and rocks, sometimes if you did not have good balance the trail could continue to carry you down.  (Thanks a lot momentum and gravity). So you had to continue to use your core and leg muscles to slow you down and control each step so you wouldn’t go flying.   

The trail was just as beautiful going down as it was coming up. Like my hike up, I also hiked down in solitude. Periodically I passed hikers making their way up in which the common question was, “how much longer to the top?”. Hikers were polite, friendly, and very much enthusiastic to be on the trail. As I finally came across the wooden bridge to mark the conclusion of the trail, I stood in the middle, and faced the flowing stream. I watched and listened for a few minutes. So peaceful. So calming. So beautiful. My gratitude was overflowing. The hike did what I wanted it to do. I was recharged, mentally and spiritually.

The drive home wasn’t as exciting.  I knew I was driving back to home.  Driving back to reality.  The reality of lesson planning, emails, virtual meets, and virtual teaching.  Today was my get-away.  Mt. Wittenberg was my escape.  

Thank you Catskill Mountains for being so beautiful.   

Thank you Mt. Wittenberg for providing me the solitude and beauty to recharge my soul.  

And thank YOU for reading and following my Sunday hiking adventure.

I mean, had to leave you with one more view 😍

Peace and love yall, ✌️

D-rob

The quest for happiness (inner peace) 🧘🏻‍♂️✌️

Today’s blog won’t be long, I hope. I just wanted to write. You ever get that feeling and REALLY listen to it? You know, ACTUALLY give in and do it. I feel a lot of us put that feeling off because we get sidetracked with the regular demands of life, but simply forget that the number one demand in this life is US. Yes, YOU. That person staring back at you in the mirror (which is probably dirty, windex people 😝). What makes that person in the mirror happy? What drives them? Do more of that. For me, it’s a combination of being creative, and inner peace. That includes writing, reading, meditating, drawing, coloring, jigsaw puzzles, etc. I need to use the right side of the brain regularly or I drive myself mad. And you don’t want to see me mad? (Just take my word for it okay 😂).

What I wanted to write about is simple. The inner peace portion. How do we find it? How do we maintain it? All that good stuff. To some, it seems like mumbo jumbo. To others, it’s not. To me, it’s something I’m continuously seeking, finding, researching, and learning about. The search for happiness is a myth. But the search for inner peace is fact. Don’t mix up the two. You can be happy and peaceful or unhappy but still at peace. On the flip side you can also be sad and still at peace or sad and not at peace. We hold the cards. We decide where we fall. This is the part that people seem to confuse. Many of us are on this unreachable quest for something to make us happy. We’re looking at the next goal, the next day, the next job, the future vacation, the future accomplishment, whatever THAT is, DOES NOT EXIST. And do you know what happens when that future day comes? You don’t magically become happy. You just find another future event to mark on your little iPhone calendars (or Androids 🤦🏻‍♂️), and start looking ahead to that day. Which comes and go’s and now you’re in this cycle that is not making you happy. And notice how I said quest to make us happy. I didn’t say at peace. That’s because you can’t relate to it, yet. And that’s okay. This post is to help you get started on that journey.

Okay, here’s what I want you to do. Close your eyes wherever you are. Take a deep breath in through your nose. Expand your ribs and stomach so it becomes big like a balloon. Now exhale, let all of that air rush out of your nose and squeeze your stomach pulling your belly button towards your spine. As you are breathing really listen to the sound of the air going in and out your nose and throughout your body. Listen closely to any sounds around you. What can you hear? Really try to listen. Good. Now on your next breath observe how your body feels. Are you tense anywhere? Sore? What hurts? Try to pinpoint these areas visually in your head as you are breathing. Perfect. Now repeat this two more times. Open your eyes. How do you feel? Less anxious? More calm? I hope you do. If yes, congratulations, you just spent your first minute being at peace. If no, that’s okay too! Repeat again and again throughout the day until you get that YES!

The reality of searching for inner peace is simple, but not really. Confusing I know but hear me out. Yes, sometimes all it takes is a simple breathing exercise that we just did, which is called mindful meditation. Being mindful is being aware of your surroundings, your body, your breath, just flat out aware. You’re not a zombie in an endless search for your next meal of human flesh (sorry, I just saw Zombieland 2 and it IS almost Halloween). Snap out of your snooze fest. The minute you stop your brain from thinking in the past, or thinking about the future, you have won the battle for inner peace. Do more of that throughout your day, and watch what happens in your life.

There will be times where I will expand on this topic even more, but there are two books that I have read that I recommend to you if you are serious about finding inner peace. They are “The Untethered Soul” by Michael Singer, and “The Power of NOW” by Eckhart Tolle. Inner peace is a real thing. No matter what has happened throughout your life, you can be at peace. Or you can be happy. Whatever you want to call it, just stop searching for it. It’s already here. 🤓🧘🏻‍♂️✌️

When it’s time to be selfish

This summer has been amazing.  It’s been relaxing, exciting and fun, with some small periods of stress sprinkled in the mix.  Two bachelor parties out of state, two stags I helped throw, one wedding including the best man’s speech for my twin bro (yes, I have a twin, and yes, my speech was phenomenal), and to top it off, some serious improvements on myself.  Oh yeah.  BIG TIME improvements. To the naked eye, they may not be as big, but to me, they’ve represented a shift in my viewpoint of what being happy truly means.  And you know what that is, being God damn selfish (sorry Mom I know you hate when I curse). Let me explain.

My entire life I have been a people pleaser.  I am a “go with the flow” type person, super laid back, the type to want to just have good vibes and avoid conflict.  Growing up this turned me into a “Yes man”, always wanting to do the right thing, to never let the other person down, to seek that sense of approval.  I think this view also represents the current state of a majority of people who use social media.  We are always seeking some type of validation for our posts, whether its on our main feed, our stories, whatever the case may be.  I myself also fall into this mix, and throughout my adult life, I’ve restrained from some of the posts I may or may not have put because I was afraid that it wouldn’t get that “approval” I was subconsciously seeking.   I don’t know what finally switched, it could have been a variety of factors, but sometime during the last few months, heck even the last year, I started being selfish.  Selfish with my thoughts.  Selfish with my communication.  Selfish with my time. Selfish with what I would say “Yes” too. Selfish with what I would post. Everything.

Here’s what I started to notice.  Freedom.  Freedom from the people who would take advantage of me. Freedom from my thoughts of any self-doubt.  Freedom from the opinion of others.  Freedom from the forced validation and competition of social media.  I started actually LIVING for me. No fear. No competition. Just doing what was right and best for ME. And in doing this, some of my passions that have been “dormant” or almost “hiding” have started to reemerge.  New passion and career paths have started to motivate me to new goals. I’m excited at everything I plan to accomplish within the next five years.

Heck, even in writing this, I feel back to my true creative self. I started this small blog because one I always wanted to help people, but two, because I LOVE TO FUCKING WRITE (sorry again Mom but the “f” word was needed in that sentence). So here I am again, being selfish in not only this blog post, but in how I’m spending my Sunday afternoon. I’m eating a salad, I’m drinking a seltzer, and I’m sharing my thoughts with the world (or to the 20 people who actually decide to read this), and yes, I couldn’t be happier.

Peace be the journey,

-Derek

(Always have to throw in a movie reference) 🤙

Just a normal Sunday, or so I thought…

But if you push that anxiety and fear away for just a few minutes, the universe can surprise you with something special.

The universe works in mysterious ways.  It can truly work in our favor if we let it, and this morning was a perfect example of that for me.

Sunday morning is one of my favorite times of the week.  I sleep in, (which for me, and many other teachers, is to about 8:00 a.m.), then get up and drink a big glass of water.  I perform some light stretches to get my body up and moving then head to the gym where I dedicate a couple hours to mobility work, a full body workout, foam rolling, finished by a quick session in the sauna and hot tub.  This time is amazing for me.  I blast my music and get lost into another world.  Anyone who works out consistently can attest to the addiction of finding and staying in this zone.  What sets today apart is what happened and who I met after my workout was over.

Walking into the hot tub at a gym can be a scary experience for some.  The anxiety of sharing a tub of water and jets with strangers can be pretty intimidating, and I understand that.  But if you push that anxiety and fear away for just a few minutes, the universe can surprise you with something special.

Today as I was walking in the hot tub there was a man already inside, who smiled and greeted me, “hello” as soon as I entered.  I greeted him back with a hello, and a routine, “Nice and hot today!” before sitting down next to one of the jets.  The man continued to talk to me, including telling me his age, 75 years old, and how it wasn’t fun to be old while stating how much pain he is currently dealing with in his back.  If you don’t know me or my story, (scroll up to read “Heart of a Lion”, my first blog post about my health journey), I am also a person who has struggled and still deals with chronic pain.  Instead of writing this complete stranger off, I opened up to him and briefly summed up my health journey.  I then told him about chiropractors, physical therapists, massages, trigger points, mobility exercises, breathing, dry needling, cupping, anything I knew off that helped with back pain I was listing it off to him.  He was very receptive to my advice, and asked questions about people and places I would recommend to get these treatments done.  He went on to state that the only care he is receiving for his pain is from an orthopedic doctor, who is currently prescribing him pain relievers and possibly surgery.  I offered him more advice about seeking these natural treatments first before getting surgery, as I am a big believer that surgeries ultimately cause more harm than good.  (I’ve had four surgeries in my lifetime and two on my knee and shoulder that could have been avoided if I didn’t fall into the hypnotic spell of the orthopedic surgeon and sought other options myself). He was receptive to my advice and assured me he was going to try some of these treatments in the coming month. What he went on to say next is what led me to write this post about this experience.  He looked me dead in the eye, with a huge smile, and thanked me for talking with him.  He told me that countless times in this gym he has tried to start conversations with people and they wrote him off.   We shook hands, formally introduced ourselves with our names, and exited the hot tub.

The entire conversation lasted roughly 10 minutes.  It could have easily been 10 minutes of silence, two men just relaxing in the hot tub, completely oblivious to the world and each other.  But it wasn’t that.  It was 10 minutes of two people being human.  It was 10 minutes of two people connecting.  It was 10 minutes that I am so deeply and incredibly grateful for experiencing today.

As you go through the rest of your day, week, month, I simply ask you to be a little more receptive to what or who the universe drops in front of you.  As I learned today, there are no coincidences.

You’re alive…

Good morning, and happy Sunday! The sun is shining (in Connecticut at least), you’re alive and you’re breathing, life is good.

Sometimes it’s these little things you need to remind yourself to be thankful for. Today was one of those mornings in which I had to do the same.

It’s been a while since I’ve wrote about my auto-immune diseases and even though I’ve made great strides this last year, today was a morning which one hit me square in the face. Last night I ended up eating some small treats, and despite them being gluten and nut free, it had milk and lots of sugar. If you’re not familiar with certain aspects of nutrition, sugar and dairy are the devil for people with auto-immune diseases. They are triggers of inflammation, and can cause flare-ups with certain people depending on how their bodies react to them. This morning as I woke up I knew immediately that I screwed up. My body was so stiff it took me 15 minutes longer to get out of bed. Once out of bed, I quickly saw both the back of my hands, my forearms, arms, and back had a large rash. In appearance it looks similar to that of a heat rash or hives, but for me it was a common symptom with those who have psoriatic arthritis. (One of the two auto-immune diseases I was diagnosed with two years ago).

After dropping the kids off at the pool (get it? 😂) and washing my face I went downstairs and had a large glass of water. (Drinking water right upon waking has tremendous benefits, and I will write a post about that soon). Once finishing hydrating myself I went into my stretching, foam rolling,and mobility exercises. Sunday are my days where I love to go to the gym and devote myself to a full body workout and this morning wasn’t going to stop me from that.

As I went through my workout I devoted more time spent between my exercises actively stretching to keep my joints and body fluid. This past year I’ve been blessed with a great team of chiropractors (Damato’s in Newington, CT) and physical therapists (John Odriscoll at Symmetry in Portland, CT) who have given me the tools and strategies to get stronger while focusing on building the core and maintaining proper form.

Once my workout was over, I hit the sauna, cooled off in the pool, then spent 5 more minutes in the hot tub. This felt great on my body and am so grateful I go to a gym that houses these.

As I’m writing this, my body, especially my joints feel amazing. The rash on my hands, arms and back is almost all gone, and I’m ready to tackle the rest of the day.

The point is, we all have moments where we will have setbacks in life. We can look at them as roadblocks, or challenges, the choice is ultimately ours. I pray that anyone reading this, especially those with auto-immune diseases, to not give up, to keep fighting, and keep winning the day. Remember, you’re alive, and breathing.