Life Lessons The Mountains Taught Me

On April 14, I began a journey to get my Catskills 3500 badge. I started along the Devil’s Path at Hunter Mountain on the perfect April Day during “mashed potato season”. We spent the entire climb laughing and post-holing – our legs plunging below the snow’s surface. I’ve never been happier.

Three months later, I have officially reached the halfway point in my goal with 20 Catskill High Peaks summits and even hiked 90+ miles to dozens of mountain peaks across the United States. But hiking was never just about reaching the top. These trails became my home. They gave me a family. Hiking allowed me to grow stronger, more confident and more appreciative of both the small treasures and vast wonders of life. Hiking is a test for myself, an investment in myself and a gift to myself. 

Here are 35 things, big and small, the mountains have taught me (so far...):

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1. A liter of water weighs 2.2 pounds.

2. Always bring paper maps. Always. 

3. Most people won't answer you honestly when you ask them if you smell bad. 

4. Soft cotton, shower and filtered water should never be taken for granted. 

5. Deet can melt the plastic off your watch. 

6. People can talk about their gear forever. Seriously. It never stops. 

7. Your nostrils and lips can get sunburned. 

8. Electrolytes are very important. 

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9. Most hiking packs have built in whistles. 

10. Invest your money in a good rain jacket, and time in good people. They'll both give you the confidence to dance through the worst of storms. And that's invaluable.

11. Also, just go outside. 

12. Early morning miles are the best miles. 

13. Never assume you are at the top of a climb. 

14. Wet wipes are worth their weight in gold. 

15. Unexpected joy can come from sitting in the parking lot of a Motel 6 eating an entire bag of salad with a spoon. 

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16. Always err on the side of carrying too much food and water. 

17. Glissading is the act of sliding on your butt down a snowy mountain face to descend in a faster and more exciting fashion. And it's glorious. 

18. Always take more pictures of people than of landscapes. 

19. Patience, like a muscle, must be exercised to get stronger. 

20. Chocolate milk is the perfect recovery drink. 

21. Food always tastes better on a mountain summit. 

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22. Stop trying to find clever and graceful ways to cross a stream. Charge ahead - fearlessly. Because your hiking boots are waterproof anyway, right?

23. Happiness is finishing a 14-mile hike in torrential downpour and finding a friend in a lean-to with a hot cup of tea ready for you.

24. It takes 6+ months for an orange peel to decompose. Pack it out with you. 

25. Never underestimate the power of hand warmers. 

26. Women are the more likely than men to break their tailbones. I learned this after flying down a rocky incline at the Blackhead Range, followed by intensive WebMD research.

27. If you have the chance to summit for sunrise, do so. 

28. Dance a lot. Make it goofy. Poles not required. 

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29. Laugh frequently. No amount of pain medicine can make it as easy to get through the toughest of times as laughter. When it seems that just about everything has gone wrong, your best move is to laugh. 

30. If given the opportunity, your body can surprise you with how much it can do.

31. On the official Dreamgirls soundtrack, there is a dance remix of “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going,” and it’s just as ridiculous as you think it is.

32. “That skinny, white guy with a beard” is not an effective description when trying to find your friend up in the Catskills. 

33. Moments are better shared. 

34. Get an REI membership already. 

35. There's nothing to prove except how fun the entire process can be - especially with good company.