Back in early October, my niece, Rebecca and I participated in the Mammoth March in New Jersey.

Mammoth March is an organization that arranges a long-distance hiking series across the country.   Most events consist of either a 20-mile hike with a goal of completing it in 8 hours or a 30-mile hike with a goal of completing it 12 hours.  They are in the process of developing a 60-mile hike with a goal of completing it in 24 hours.

Rebecca and I were participating in the 20-mile hike on this particular occasion.

I still can’t recall for certain how I ever heard of Mammoth March in the first place.  I think that it was sometime back in the spring.  I am pretty sure that I saw an ad on social media somewhere, but never-the-less the concept intrigued me.

Youk and I have been walking and hiking since he was a puppy and I always enjoyed walking our other dogs as well.  But, back in 2012, I would say that I started taking our walks and hikes to a new level.  It was at that point when walks and hikes became a type of stress relief for me as well as a way for me to tap into my creative potential.  I was also starting to experience a slow spiritual awaking during that period of my life and my walks and hikes would often allow me to have a deeper spiritual connection with God.  If I had to guess, I would say that Youk and I have probably logged over 10,000 miles with each other.

If I was having a bad day, getting outside and into nature was always a cure.  If I needed to find creativity or a solution to a problem, the outdoors and nature with Youk by my side was all I needed.

What originally started out as one-mile walks slowly turned into two-mile walks, then 5-miles, 8-miles, 10-miles, etc.  We slowly started spending more time on trails as opposed to just walking along the road.  Regardless of whether we were walking along the road or hiking through the woods, it was always a stress relief or creative spike.  The longer the hike, the better I felt.

So, whether a hike was to relive stress, find creativity, ignite spiritual awaking and a closer relationship with God, or all of those things combined, I knew that I would always feel at peace when I was surrounded by nature.

Although, I would certainly still consider myself somewhat of a novice up until we started living full-time in an RV, I am still far from an experienced hiker in my opinion, I do love to challenge myself.  Considering that most of my hikes are with Youk, I would say that they are of moderate technical difficulty for the most part.  Although Youk is always up for a challenge as well.

The idea of hiking 20-miles in a day was fascinating to me.  Like I said for Youk and I to hike 5, 8, or 10-miles is not uncommon by any stretch of the imagination.  When we mooch-dock at my Aunt Sally’s house in Florida, we always go with her and walk at Wickham Park every morning.  Initially, we would stay in the park and walk about 3-miles each time.  As time went on, we would start our walk with Aunt Sally and her friends in the park and then walk all the way back to her house as opposed to riding back in the van.  That would generally amount to about a 6 or 7 mile walk on most days.  As far as technical difficulty goes though, there was barely any.  We would venture off onto some trails occasionally, but we were in Florida, so there was no elevation gain and outside of the occasional trail, we were mostly on paved walkways.  But for distance, we could stretch it out a bit.

20-miles though, that would be a real challenge.  I had started following musician, Mike Posner back in 2019 when he did his walk across America and I was fascinated by the concept.  One of my bucket list items ever since I’ve met my friend Michelle Delloso has been to hike the Grand Canyon from rim to rim someday, just as she did.  That’s about a 23-mile hike.  It can be done in a day, but that’s rare.  Most people split it into a two-day hike.  Part of my inspiration for wanting to do the Mammoth March was the simple fact that I viewed it as a stepping stone to one day do the Rim-to-Rim Hike.  If I could do a 20-mile hike in a day, I could certainly do the Rim-to-Rim Hike down the road someday.

As I continued my research on the Mammoth March, I realized that the New Jersey event was something that we could certainly make happen with our travel schedule.  I knew that we would be in Wisconsin for a volunteer project in September and that we had to be back in Pennsylvania during October, so for us to take “the long way” back to Pennsylvania via New Jersey and toss in a visit to our grandson at his college in Troy, New York was absolutely possible.

So, I registered for the event.

In the meantime, I connected with the Mammoth March founder and managing partner, Michael Mitreuter and did a podcast with him that aired back in July.

At some point over the summer, the event came up in conversation with Rebecca, who lives in Staten Island.  A few weeks later, she decided that she was up for the challenge as well and registered for the hike.

The most technically difficult hike that I’ve done to date has been Picacho Peak in Arizona.  Youk didn’t go with me on that one as we knew the inclines would be too steep for him to climb.  It was the first time that I needed gloves on a hike in order to help navigate the climbing cables on the steep inclines.  I definitely pushed myself to the limit on that hike, but it was so worth it when we reached the peak.  The exhilarating feeling to stand on that peak and watch birds fly below you is indescribable to say the least.  On the way back, I split off from the group and took a longer trail through the desert back to our camp.  It was in that moment that I learned a hard lesson – always pack more water than what you think you may need, especially if hiking alone in the desert of Arizona.

Back to our Mammoth March experience.  My original plan for the Mammoth March New Jersey event was for Youk to hike it along with Rebecca and I, but rain was in the forecast on the day of the event, so although I still have no doubt that he would have physically been able to complete it, Sandy and I were not comfortable with taking the chance that he may get sick if we would have been hiking in the rain all day at his age.  He was not happy with that decision, but I think in the end, he understood.  As it turned out, it only rained lightly for about ten minutes during the hike, but we’re still glad that we erred on the side of caution.  Youk and I did do a 16-mile hike a few weeks later with my friend Keith.  The weather was fantastic that day and he did great, so that made him happy.

We arrived at the event site early in the morning and we were excited about the challenge ahead of us.  I was a little concerned once I saw the trail map thinking that perhaps I hadn’t trained hard enough going into the hike.  The course had quite a bit more elevation gain than what I anticipated.  Over the summer, Youk and I were able to get onto some challenging trails with significant elevation gain, but we were just coming back from a volunteer project in Wisconsin prior to the event.  I was able to walk every day during the project, but generally only about 3-4 miles and all relatively flat.  The last significant challenge that I had on a hike leading up to the Mammoth March event was back in August when Youk and two of my friends from high school, Keith and Duane did an 11.5-mile hike on Neversink Mountain, which combined distance, rough terrain, and a substantial elevation change.

Nonetheless, both Rebecca and I were looking forward to what was in front of us.

I think that one of the things that I enjoy most about hiking is how it metaphorically symbolizes life.  We started this journey of our Mammoth March the same way that we start every journey in life – by placing one foot in front of the other.

The first mile was relatively easy, our pace was good and we certainly looked as though we would be able to complete the course in eight hours.  However, mile two was quite the contrast.  Much rougher terrain and some very steep inclines.  It took almost twice as long for us to complete mile two as it had for us to complete mile one.  That was disheartening to say the least, but we kept moving forward.

The course had some flat level areas to it, but most of the terrain was rough with quite a few roots, so you really had to pay attention to your steps.  We just kept moving forward.

When we hit mile 10, there was a sense of accomplishment that we had made it to the halfway point.  We took some pictures in front of the mile marker sign and then started moving again.

For me personally, there was an even greater sense of achievement when we hit Mile Marker 13 because at that point it had signified my longest hike.  Every step that I took from that point on was one step further than any hike I had ever completed in my life at that point.

Between mile 13 and 16 though is when Rebecca really had to reach back for her grit and push through.  Her knees were starting to hurt quite a bit and I thought for sure that she would tap out at the Aid Station at Mile 16.  But she reached back and found her second, or maybe third or fourth wind and committed to the final four miles.

We hiked the last three miles in the dark with our headlamps on, something that I had never done before, and if I am being honest, hope that I never do again.  That added another level of technical difficulty to the hike that I was not expecting.  Nonetheless, we continued moving forward.

As we got closer to the finish line, regardless of how tired we were, we felt good that we had pushed our bodies and completed the challenge.

All-in-all, we hiked 21.28 miles in 11 hours and 2 minutes.  We battled significant elevation changes, rough terrain, and technical challenges.  Our mental toughness helped us overcome any physical pain and finished.

Again, those are the things that draw me toward hiking, the life metaphors.

In life, sometimes we will walk alone, other times we will walk with others.  We will have uphill climbs and we will have some downhill slopes.  Sometimes our path with be a little rough and other times it is going to be smooth and flat.  We may get some sunshine; we may get clouds and rain.  Sometimes we are going to have to navigate through the dark.   There will be times where we can pick up the pace and make good time and there are going to other times that we must slow down and carefully watch where we are stepping in order to not trip or lose our balance.  There are going to be times when we feel tired and weak and times when we are strong and vibrant.  We need to recognize when we need to take a break and when to push through.  But regardless of what our path throws at us, we just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other and keep moving forward.