Hiking the Hudson Valley is curing mental and physical struggles. People find solace in nature. It’s a place where you can clear your mind, get fresh air, and connect with the earth.
The Hudson Valley offers some of the best spots to spend time outdoors, in particular hiking trails that provide a balance of a challenge and beautiful views that end in a sense of accomplishment. It’s nature’s therapy. Whether it’s tackling a rugged mountain like Mount Beacon or a stroll through the woods at Madam Brett Park, the terrain leaves you feeling invigorated both mentally and physically.
For Carlos Gonzalez, the stakes were a little higher. Since 2021, he’s been battling liver cancer.
He grew up spending most of his time outdoors: “Back then, our toys were our surroundings. That was our playground.”
Later in life, that translated into heading outdoors with his camera to dive into his interest of seeing ruins.
“When I’m hiking, I kind of envision what went on here hundreds of years before,” said Gonzalez.
That was before his diagnosis. He never stopped hiking, but those thoughts while out in the woods have changed.
“Every time I left wherever I was, I left there feeling better, and like there was hope,” said Gonzalez. “I didn’t want to just pack it in. It was difficult at times. The side effects from the drugs and the chemo kind of cramped my style a little bit. But I work with those issues and continue to get out there. My doctors told me that I was able to withstand the treatments better than others because I was strong.”
It’s clear there was a physical benefit to his hiking, even if it turned into more of just a stroll on his weaker days. But what really paid off were the mental-health benefits.
“Navigating the cancer and the treatments was kind of like navigating a trail,” said Gonzalez. “There’s obstacles you have to get around, but you have to do it. You can’t just say ‘I quit’ because, like if you’re on a trail, you’re in the middle of the woods. You have to get over that cliff, that fallen tree, if you want the view.”
When he’s hiking, his mind is solely focused on that task, and for that time the focus isn’t having cancer or what that struggle is like. It’s all about his next summit.
There are one or two of his friends by his side to enjoy it with. While he isn’t sure he will get back to his same hiking ability from pre-diagnosis, he still challenges himself more than most.
His next scheduled hike is a 6 a.m. start at Breakneck Mountain in Cold Spring, mostly to beat the crowd. A little further south on the same side of the Hudson River is Anthony’s Nose, which he’s done more than five times. They’re fan favorites, attracting tourists from New York City who come up on the Metro North Hudson train line.
When he’s trying to get a little further away from that, he enjoys the six-mile-plus Gertrude’s Nose hike in the Shawangunk Mountains in Ulster County on a weekday.
Similarly to Gonzalez, Beacon resident Stacy Dedring enjoys hiking because it gives her an opportunity to put her focus on something that she is ultimately benefiting from. She started really hiking when she began her sobriety journey almost three years ago. Since then, she’s summited 55 mountains in the last two years across the Hudson Valley, the Catskills and the Adirondacks.
She started hiking as a means to just get into nature and out of her own head. It also gave her a challenge: “I was putting myself in situations where I had to rely on myself to get through it.”
She hikes solo, which means it’s up to her to navigate the trail in a safe way. It leaves no room to think about anything else.
“It’s hard to stress and be anxious while I’m physically challenging myself,” said Dedring. “If I’m hiking, climbing, usually I’m so focused at the task at hand that it frees my mind up a little bit.”
When she started her sobriety journey, she found herself with new energy and more time to use in new ways. Her evenings became the time that she would plan her hikes, sitting down with maps, books and AllTrails.
She started with just doing the New York State Fire Tower Challenge, which encourages experienced hikers to visit the 23 fire-tower mountains in the state, including the ones on Overlook Mountain and Tremper Mountain in the Catskills.
“It was a way for me to look at different areas of New York, travel to them, read about the history of the places, and plan the hikes,” said Dedring. “It gave me a goal. It would take up my weekends. I felt so good when I was done. I had accomplished something, summated something, taken pictures — and serotonin and dopamine from exercising. I caught the bug at that point.”
It continued on from there. She’s been working her way through the Adirondacks and
the Catskills, going to whatever hikes catch her eye. “It’s given me the time and space to just get out and breathe,” explained Dedring.
When she’s not looking to travel as far, she spends a couple of hours hiking in the local area, her favorite being Lambs Hill in Beacon, which is reachable by climbing the Overlook trail from the Fishkill Ridge trailhead. For someone looking to travel a bit further, she recommends Bear Den Mountain in Lake Placid, which offers views of Whiteface Mountain.
Dedring continues her hiking journey by going up to the Adirondacks at least once year-round for three or four hikes over a long weekend.
“Connection to nature is a huge part for us all to keep our mental health where it needs to be,” said Dedring.
Alexa Rosales would agree with that statement. She’s been hiking in the area for years. Back in May 2021 she created the Body Liberation Hiking Club, where people in big or marginalized bodies are welcomed to do a group hike three to four times a month, depending on the season.
“It was an area in my life that I really was seeking for a very long time,” said Rosales. “I was seeking solidarity and living in a bigger body and wanting to do fun and adventurous outdoor recreation. That was something I had not seen pretty much my entire life.”
She created the group so that people with similar experiences could come together and turn off the voices of diet culture and the emotional distress that can cause.
“Being outside we could turn off those negative voices that we talk to ourselves with or the voices from the outside world that tell us what we should do,” said Rosales. “It’s taking all of that away and using outdoor recreation as a joyful movement without thinking about weight loss or changing ourselves.”
She likes to think of it as “talk therapy outdoors with people who all experience similar biases in the world.” Each hike starts with the group circling up, introducing themselves, and setting an intention for the hike.
There’s one rule: no diet or weight loss talk. The intentions range anywhere from “today, I’m going to listen to my body” and “I want to connect with new people” to “I want to discover different textures of bark on trees” and “I want to find a new bird species.”
“Throughout the hike, we keep our intentions in our mind,” said Rosales. “It’s not so much that we’re talking the entire time. It’s more of ‘Hey, I see you’ kind of thing. We really try to make connections with people.”
The group usually doesn’t repeat hikes, but they do have some favorites like the nearly-four-mile loop trail Arden Point and Glenclyffe in Garrison, which has a little bit of everything, including a waterfall, abandoned homes and river views.
In Ulster County, the group frequents the Sam’s Point overlook to Ice Cave trail. “It’s a magic experience,” said Rosales.
That’s just the Body Liberation Hiking Club’s Hudson Valley chapter. There are now over 25 chapters, and the club is looking to expand to biking and other outdoor recreation activities as well.
“We’re out there almost every weekend,” said Rosales. “We are creating community and support.”