Proof of my first hike exists publicly. Back in April 2009, I drove to Minnewaska State Park Preserve in New York because I wanted to shoot some hiking videos for my then-employer, the Times Herald-Record newspaper in Middletown, New York. So I got out of my car, clutched a bottle of water while wearing jeans and a t-shirt, and started walking while pointing my smartphone forward.
“Seems like a pretty simple trail … very moderate,” I said. “We’re going up steadily … some rocks …” came out of my mouth in between heavy breaths. I was 24, out of shape, but for some reason determined to shoot a video about hiking, even though I hadn’t planned my route, didn’t know anything about trails, and wasn’t sure what an actual hike meant. Also, this was in the Hudson Valley, a place that knows how to hike. Nobody needed an out-of-shape first-time hiker telling them how to hike. But there I was, panting and thinking I was breaking the mold. (Succinctly: It’s bad.)
Ten years later, my name is on the cover of a travel guide about hiking. Moon Drive & Hike Appalachian Trail is out in stores and online. I visited cities, towns, and communities from Georgia to Maine in putting together this book, chatting with several hundred people along the way and logging thousands of road miles. I also hiked several dozen trails, enjoying every last one.
I always wanted to be a published author, my name on billboards and bestseller lists. I wrote a full manuscript between 2007 and ’10, but it wasn’t very good. I attempted to re-write that novel between 2015 and ’17, but I ran out of steam. A few other unfinished pieces are on flash drives, sitting in my Google Drive, and hidden deep in the gmail inbox that I never purge. Old blogs exist if you scour deep enough, screenplays and teleplays rest lonely in folders on my desktop, and chapters of a ghostwritten autobiography of an ex-politician in Philadelphia are scattered about somewhere in boxes. While most of these writings are definitely trash, the ghostwritten autobiography received some press in the Philly papers, and I shopped the manuscript around to agencies. For a long time, that was as close as I came to saying “I’m a published author.”
Of course, I don’t include the fact that for the past 15 years I’ve been published by various magazines, newspapers, and websites, that I’ve probably written a couple thousand pieces for public consumption, and that today I’m on staff at a big-city monthly magazine. I get paid to write. That’s my job. It’s an honor.
But there’s something intoxicating about holding a richly formatted and bound book and seeing your name on the cover. It’s confirmation of your talents, bewilderment that you could do it all, and excitement that something like this exists for people to read. It’s also a little frightening, of course, because hey, it’s your name. But it’s your name. You did this.
I started hiking regularly in 2012 after meeting my now-wife. Our early adventures were piecemeal exercises – sometimes we didn’t know where we were hiking, and other times we had to stop several times just to know where to turn. We had a few invaluable sources of information back then, and as we grew more comfortable with our instincts and our knowledge of the Hudson Valley’s hiking scene, we began to knock out trails pretty easily. We also started hiking with friends who always brought beer to the summit, a tradition we adopted without a second thought.
Soon, hiking wasn’t just a thing to do on a Saturday morning but a necessary remedy, a chance to heal and breathe. When anxiety soared, when battles waged, and when I found solutions difficult to attain, I could always get outside, drive a bit, and walk a trail. Within minutes my mind would begin to clear. I’d take in the crisp air, the sting of the pine forests, and the peace of the gentle sway of a wildflower. A summit wasn’t simply a midpoint of an out-and-back, but another demon to conquer. In 2015 my wife and I honeymooned in Greece, and there, thanks to two specific hikes, my life changed for the better.
It was around this time that, if my wife was away or I was home alone, I’d hike by myself. That year, a long summer’s day hike of Brace Mountain in the Taconics, I confirmed my decision to leave full-time work to pursue my lifelong dream of writing a book. As the wind whipped my face and I glanced out at the painting of Connecticut and Massachusetts, the Appalachian Trail just a few miles east at Bear Mountain, tears streamed down my cheeks. Two weeks later I gave my notice.
Maybe it was meant to be this way. Maybe down the line a publisher wants my manuscript. Maybe down the line that screenplay reaches the right person. But this book happened because hiking helped alter my entire outlook on myself. It centered me and gave me another purpose.
Moon Drive & Hike Appalachian Trail is a travel guide, an informative tome to a sliver of America west of the big coastal cities and east of the Mississippi River. But it’s also a culmination of a love affair with getting out there, getting out of my head, and getting a better sense of the world. I’m proud to have written it, and I really hope it turns you onto something, too.
It’s here! Moon Drive & Hike: Appalachian Trail is available today. Think about it for your next road trip into the mountains!