Gay hiking

The health benefits of hiking

Maynard and Steven hiking in Cheesequake Park

Our health

Trail Head Entrance
Trail Head photo by Steven Russell

I like to be outdoors. As a kid growing up in a semi-rural suburb of Ohio, I remember waking up on a summer Saturday morning, going out as soon as I’d had breakfast, finding out who else was up , playing all day in the woods behind the house, perhaps coming home for lunch, definitely coming in for dinner, but then returning outside to play in the yard until well after dark.

I remember camping with my parents and sister in a trailer smaller than a closet, criss-crossing the country and spending the night in heavily wooded campgrounds, often without electricity. I am grateful that my upbringing gave me these opportunities. I have a connection to the outdoors that isn’t easy to come by. Being outdoors gives me an optimistic outlook on life. Standing on the ground barefoot, connecting skin to earth, and exchanging electrons with grass and soil must have immeasurable health benefits. These are things we should strive for.

It’s a little ironic that my last bucolic adventure was born indoors, in my gymnasium. I had been training with Bruce, one of the trainers at the gym, for a few years. He had recently gotten a new fitness supervisor, Maynard, whom I had yet to meet.

One day, when Bruce was encouraging me to do my tenth power pull-up and reminding me that without help I would only be able to do four, he said, “Maynard knows you! “Eh?” I growled. “Maynard, my new supervisor,” he continued. “He reads your articles. He saw your face on an exhibit at the Pride Center. “Oh, does he…?” I asked. “Well, I guess,” Bruce assured me.

Now I had to meet Maynard. He just happened to approach me while I was hanging from the bar at the Queenax. “Hey, Steven, he called me cheerfully, “I’m Maynard. I saw you around. “Nice to finally meet you,” I said. “There aren’t many Maynards I could confuse you with.” “My mom gave me the name of a jazz musician you’ve never heard of,” he told me.

I jumped up from my precarious dangling position, remembering to bend my knees as Bruce had advised. Maynard Ferguson? “Don’t tell me you know him,” he exclaimed. “Know him? I have all of his records. Yes, the vinyl ones. From the seventies. I saw him live at Fargo High School. Not a word came out of his mouth and his mouth dropped open in surprise.

Maynard and I met for an interview a few days later at Panera in Brunswick Square Mall. He had told me he loved organizing hiking groups for the LGBTQ community and was looking to connect with places like the Pride Center to start a group in central New Jersey.

“Young men in this community feel the pressure to be accepted and validated,” he told me. “You have to be the peacock all the time. I want to help people get back to simpler times. Help them eliminate distractions. Create new distractions. The outdoors does this better than anything else. Young gay men get such instant rewards from things like Grindr. It slows you down. It can help ease so much anxiety and give you clarity of mind. Immediately. Not only can you socialize with different people, but you can also feel less alone. You can talk to someone who understands what you’re going through and you can walk at the same time. It makes everything easier and more enjoyable. You are your authentic self, not an online personality.

Trail in Cheesequake Park
Trail in Cheesequake Park photo by Steven Russell

I asked him what to do to prepare for a hike. “You mean like the one you and I are going to do?” he asked mischievously. “Bring at least one sweaty towel, extra shirt, comfortable shoes or hiking boots, backpack, light waterproof rain jacket, and at least 24 ounces of water, maybe even one of these bags backpack with a drinking hose. And a phone, but only in case of emergency. Leave it in your pocket.

The next day, he and I met at Cheesequake Park for a morning hike. I’ve hiked these trails before but as I talked to Maynard the time slipped away. It hardly felt like a chore, even though we were going up and down some pretty steep hills. Suddenly he veered off the path, slid down a steep slope and soon hid among the tall marsh grass. “Hey, there’s a lot of mud out there,” I shouted. “Come on. Dirty your shoes a little,” he motioned. And so, I followed him straight through the muddy swamp and over another hill to the next leg of the trail. just cross the Rubicon.

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