New Jersey is breathtaking

Deep (Woods) Thoughts

You know how golfers love to compare their sport to life? Heavy-handed metaphors about taking aim, working with the winds of change, etc.?

You know what I'm talking about.
You know what I’m talking about.

I’m starting to do the same. With hiking.

-Go Jules Go, 2013

I realized this weekend, while battling an unrelenting swarm of gnats for over 3 hours in the New Jersey highlands, that every hike this summer has provided a new challenge. If it wasn’t one thing, it was another.


Wet rocks.

Water shortage.


Hike-2-mapAs soon as I was sure, fitness wise, that I had a trail in the bag, something would come along to knock me off course. (See what I mean about the heavy-handed metaphors?) This past weekend, I thought the pests were going to do me in, despite toxic levels of bug spray coating my red, soaking wet, weary limbs. By mile 5 of one of’s most challenge trails, I couldn’t see for all the gnats.

I came to a crossroads.


If I went straight, I’d knock 2 miles from my remaining distance. By turning left, I’d have 3.6 miles -and another steep mountain climb- still to go to complete the originally planned trek. I stood there for 5 minutes, waving my arms in front of me fruitlessly, chugging warm water, studying the trail map.

I looked up at the brightly colored green and yellow trail markers painted on a sturdy oak.

“Fuck it,” I said aloud, wiping away the 8,000th gnat who’d suffocated in a pool of my sweat. “I’m no quitter.”

I turned left.

Solid choice, Jules.
Solid choice, Jules.

Why did I do it? Week after week, no less. Clearly this was torturous. Was I insane? A glutton for punishment? Just plain stubborn? Even Hub #1 had taken to calling me Forrest Gump.

I watched a video this weekend on why people hike. The filmmaker interviewed a series of hikers on the Appalachian Trail. Their answers to that million dollar question sounded familiar.

I needed to shift my perspective; it helps me let go of the day-to-day worries and focus on the immediate. You don’t worry about work when you’re trying to find a dry place to sleep.

I wanted to clear my head.

I’m trying to figure out what to do with my life.


That’s the thing about hiking. Walking for walking’s sake may seem a little pointless, but that’s exactly what makes it so powerful. For that time in the woods, however brief, the only thing you’re responsible for is staying alive. To again paraphrase what fellow hikers have said:

Hiking allows me to push myself farther than I think I can go. I bring that back with me into the real world.

It’s not about how fast or far you go, but just that you keep going. In the end, I may wind up right back where I started (at my car, hopefully), but I know I’m one step closer to who I want to be.


How do you recalibrate? What centers you?


89 thoughts on “Deep (Woods) Thoughts”

    1. See what it’s doing to me?!?! I blame the Fitbit, actually. Now that I have to count my vodka calories, I’m walking around in the middle of the woods AND I’m sober.

      This can’t be good.

  1. There must be something satisfying about it or you wouldn’t do it. Reet? You don’t touch a hot stove twice. Are you overwhelmed with the beauty of the Garden State? Hoping to bump into Chris Christie on the trail to give him some governing advice?

    The answers provided on the video can also be applicable to a good, healthy bong hit + a cupcake. Do you hike alone?

    We went to Sea Bright and sat on the beach last Sunday. There’s something mesmerizing about watching and listening to the waves roll in. I like the *cush* as they hit the sand, over and over and over. I wish it was a paying gig. Occasionally, I’ll be in a museum and a painting will knock me on my ass as well. Same result.

    VJC is right. The rainbow pic is surreal brilliance. A+.

    1. Oh, you bet your sweet bong hit there’s something satisfying about it: The Wendy’s cheeseburger kid’s meal I purchase immediately upon hike completion.

      I’m not sure what would be more frightening. Bumping into more bears, or Chris Christie.

      I hike with the ultimate companian and bear sniffer: Tio Jesse!

      P.S. – I’m with you on the beach. “We’re stronger than the storm…”

      1. Honestly, that’s why I do a little running on the weekends. Not for appearance’s sake. It’s because I want a scrumptious Hostess treat with my coffee in the morning. Is that so wrong? It seems you’re drawn to the earth. I head for the water. Do you know what else zones me out? Staring into a fire. Sometimes I forget to blink and my eyeballs dry out.

        1. I’d say about as wrong as the fact that last week, after work, I climbed up and down the stairs 30 times so I could have another drink.

          Just make sure you don’t let your marshmallows dry out.

  2. Gardening does it for me. It’s about pulling out the weeds, giving when you think you’ve given enough. It’s about the blossoms and the fruits in life. It’s about the volunteer plants that put their all into it, even though you never asked them to. And sometimes its about the wildflowers that pop up and should be pulled out, but they are just too pretty. Life is a garden.

    Nice post, Jules! I wish I could hike like that. I walked 17,000 steps yesterday, or so my Fitbit says, and I could hardly sleep last night because my ankles, knees, and hips were aching too much. Ah, age. Tread on, girl!

    1. High five for the Fitbit! 17,000 steps is awesome!

      And I feel guilty, almost, reading this comment – that first paragraph is pure poetry – unworthy of this here blog!

      Thanks so much. I think it miiiight be safe to say, at this point, I’m in the best shape of my life. But it sure ain’t easy.

  3. When I was younger, I used to hike a lot. Now that I have two cars, Yoko or Mitsumi (with the help of a tankful of 94 octane gas) pushes me further than my flat feet ever could.

    What centers me? Screaming past a radar cop at a felonious pace and noticing that he hasn’t noticed me. Either that or a rousing session on photoshop. Eating a nice thick medium-rare BBQed steak while watching a suspense movie is bratty good, too.

    1. HoaiPhai! Nice to ‘see’ you! These examples are fantastico!

      “Bratty good” – I’ve never heard that phrase before! I might have to steal it at a felonious pace and hope you don’t notice.

  4. Gnatnado! haha! See, that would have been the exact point I would have also said, “Fuck it” but I would choose to run away screaming like a little girl. In the immortal words of Martin Lawrence: You so crazy.

    But I get you, I do. I also like to center myself. I’m much lazier. I like to sit cross-legged and meditate in the sun, let my soul and spirit do all the exercise. Sometimes I even throw up rainbows and windmills so it’s all good.

    1. DP! Mind meld! I went back and added that caption about 15 minutes after I published this post, and thought specifically of you (and I think you’re the only person to comment on it)! Oooooh.

      You throw up windmills, too? I have so much to learn from you.

  5. I read this study where people who spent time in nature experience less stress, become more focused and have a sense of well being. For some reason I do not get this feeling when I’m in the Sims forest.

  6. Jules,
    People will comment on puking rainbows and recalibration, but really, you said “fuck”. Hiking HAS been good to you.
    Le Clown

    1. Le Clown,

      I did not want to compromise the artistic integrity of my blog by glossing over the truth.

      That is to say, I really do puke rainbows.


    1. Thanks, Lilykins! And I KNOW, right?! I just told Le Clown I had to put it in print to maintain my artistic integrity. ‘Twas the truth. ‘Twas spoken aloud in the New Jersey highlands this Sunday by yours truly.

      (I’m trying to see how long it takes before someone punches me.)

  7. I love a good hike like that. Like you I find it really helps calm me down. I love camping too. Good for you! Fight the bugs, the dehydration, the dangers! Getting “back to nature” as they say, always has been and always will be one of the best ways to recalibrate.

    1. Thanks, Steve! There’s always a moment of, “Why? WHY do I enjoy this?” but it’s just so SATISFYING to complete a tough hike.

      I felt like a drama queen saying “out there you just need to focus on staying alive” – but honestly, there are moments when my survival does not seem…guaranteed. LOL

    1. You know, rainbow flavor is highly overrated – I did lick it, then barfed it up.

      My Fitbit is such a trollop. I have this ‘trainer’ widget that still tells me I never meet my activity and calorie burn goals, even after a 13 mile hike. And it always underestimates the distance.

      I should probably look into that. But I’m too busy trying not to get eaten by bears. And Gnatnado.

  8. I love this post, Jules! Here’s why:

    1. You coined the term “gnatnado.”
    2. I learned that New Jersey has a beautiful view if you hike high above most of it.
    3. I am inspired to find my own recalibrate technique (right now it’s Shaun T and cooking – but sometimes those things stress me out, too).
    4. I’m enjoying how everyone is shocked by your use of the f-word. Do they even KNOW you? haha.
    5. You are my hero – a hiking goddess. When are we hiking together?

    1. And I love this comment, Rache! Look at youuuu, smack-talkin’ Jersey when we’ve been so good to you, what with our death peppers, beer and lackluster Mexican food!

      Monadnock. Fall 2013. Brace yourself.

  9. Oh man. You just reminded me that I have a long overdue post to write about a hike at Big Bend with my father (The Consummate Backpacker).

    I miss camping/hiking. The Mattadon and I were dealing with a Very Sick Cat for the last part of 2012 (we went camping in our backyard because we couldn’t leave home), and now it sort of feels weird? I guess? To go camping? I’m not sure why all of those were questions.

    1. I’m sorry to hear about Very Sick Cat! I hope you’re now dealing with Very Healthy Cat.

      ha That makes perfect sense to me. Camping is a head-scratcher unless you’re actually doing it. I can’t quite ‘get’ there. My dream vacay is hiking in a beautiful locale all day, but being able to come home each night to a gourmet meal and a hot tub.

  10. Total rip off of Robert Frost.
    Personally, if I need to recalibrate, I need to plan to do something and then do it. It doesn’t have to be much, just maybe a small family outing. But afterwards, I feel like I accomplished something.

  11. Hey Jules, your post reminded me of the time I went hiking through the Pine Barrens with someone I hardly knew, we got both lost and separated and ended up in some middle-of-the-woods bar where some old coot gave us a ride back to our car. Good times. Life changing for sure.

    1. And the best part is – you lived to tell the tale! I love adventures like those.

      I’ve never hiked in the Pine Barrens – I heard there weren’t a lot of ‘circuit’ hikes.

  12. That’s how I feel when I run (sometimes–when I’m not wondering if I smell or if I’ll make it another 10 feet). I never used to understand what people got out of it, but since I started making an effort to get better at it, I can see why people enjoy it so much. It’s a great release, and pretty awesome seeing yourself improve over time.

    1. Hear hear, Katie! I don’t know how I gave up hiking for so many years – it seems crazy to me now (I can almost hear my friends saying, “Oh, oh, THAT was crazy?” … Yeah, I have trouble finding hiking buddies.)

  13. Hi, I frequently need to shift my perspective too, but Dad doesn’t actually call it ‘perspective’ when, as a result of my recalibration, he has change my diaper yet again! You seem kinda nutty so I’ll pop over and read occasionally as I need a good laugh now an again.

  14. I truly admire your perseverance and energy to hike. I especially admire your willingness to continue in spite of the frickin 8,000 gnats! They are the worst!! For such little buggers, they can do a lot of damage. 🙂

    1. They almost did me in, Maria, for real. It was the first time, EVER, that I seriously considered bailing out early. Hopefully they’re good protein, though, cause lord knows I swallowed half.

  15. You know, my old grandpappy used to say that life was a lot like golf metaphors. Labored, superficially meaningful but ultimately unfulfilling, full of pretension and delusions of importance.

    Man, grandpappy hated golf. And Life. And motivation.

    1. Okay.. now that I have read the other comments, you don’t have to reply on the upchucked rainbow. And I hate gnats too. God made a HUGE mistake. So how can the Pope be infallible? Is he better than God? Now THERE’S a question in need of an answer!

      1. My walking woods wisdom tells me that the more answers you seek, the more questions you will have, Nancy.

        Hang on, I think I’m about to toss up another rainbow.

  16. What centers me? Writing is my sitting still way, and moving is my other way – be it running, hiking, or biking. This post makes me ache for the AT. I walked from Erwin, TN to Damascus, VA. Go, Jules, go!

    1. Whoa! You go, Laura Beth, go! Every time I hear about people on the A.T., I think, “I wanna do that.” (“A Walk in the Woods” by Bill Bryson is one of my favorite books. Actually, that’s what got me started with the hiking, way back when… I forgot about that!)

      But then I remember I’m me.

  17. I’m sorry, what did you ask? I got distracted by that awesome Gene Simmons-like tongue, presumably tasting the rainbow….
    Great, now I want some Skittles…

  18. I also hike to recalibrate myself. Except that I use hiking mostly to recalibrate my butt so that it becomes small enough that it can fit into my pants. And when my pant belt can make a complete circle around my waist – that’s when I feel fully centered.

  19. Your bodily functions are rainbows? Are you part unicorn? If hiking would make me part unicorn, or at least sort of friends with a unicorn, I would totally do it every weekend.

    Really, though, I run to check out and find myself again, which is pretty much the same thing. I’m outside, its kind of uncomfortable, but I’ve got no other option but to hang out with my weird mind and see where the road takes us.

  20. I just want to say I’ve been totally shamed into tracking my f-ing calories because of you. Only my FitBit doesn’t sync with my iPhone (cause I just got my first smartphone like a month ago and it’s a 4) and so I track the calories, but unless I’m in front of my laptop, it doesn’t have my steps. So it’s all like “You have reached your calorie goal for the day!!” at f-ing NOON and I’m all like, “Damn Jules! I refuse to hike!” Maybe if I could barf up a rainbow I could eat a cookie….now how do I log vomit?

    1. I’M SORRY, JM! I’ve got mine set now where you have to ‘earn’ calories, too, and it’s just atrocious. When I had it set to guessing my burn for the day, suddenly around 7pm, it would be like, “SIKE! You’re not burning that much so you’ve now gone over your calorie limit.”

      I honestly don’t know which one makes me want to punch a zombie more. …Hmm. I bet that’s a good calorie burn.

  21. Your rainbow picture recalibrates me> It’s sheer poetry in pixels. And so are your words (poetry, not pixels.) I’m really proud of you for forging this challenge and chasing it down. You are one, determined bad-ass hiker chick!

  22. Love this post, though have to admit that I first read, under the list of hiking challenges, ‘bears’ as ‘beers’, and wondered what was challenging about beer…

  23. Sometimes the pests win – especially at work. And then there days i feel like a high voltage bug zapper…

  24. I love hiking, really. So long as there are no big rocky cliffs near me, I’m totally up for hiking. I used to hike in Alaska and it was super pretty and all River-Runs-Through-It-looking. And about three different trails in the town where I lived were named Perseverance, which I found really motivating in a “Screw you, stupid trail-namer” sort of way.

    I think Darla from She’s A Maineiac said it best when she said, “I hate hiking.” Wait, what…did she really say that?!

  25. I too love hiking! In fact, I’m about to post about hiking a volcano on my trip. It was amazing and something I wasn’t sure I could do, but I did. I think that’s why I like hiking, or other physical things like construction or cleaning projects. You focus on the immediate, work hard, and can see your accomplishments. It’s very gratifying.

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