Like many folks who pass the age of forty, I became content, lazy perhaps, no longer engaging in activities of my youth.  A few years ago, my doctor told me quite bluntly, “You’ve let yourself get out of shape, you need to do something.”

I knew from my expanding waist line I’d packed on some weight, but hearing it from a medical physician really hit home.  A change in diet and time in the gym brought back the old me.  I said to myself, I want to parlay the new me into something, but what?  I had considered running a marathon or bike race, but neither stimulated me to try.

Someone I met through work told me how she had climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro and other spots around the world.  I grew fascinated in not only her stories, but that someone would truly do these crazy things.  I thought to myself maybe that’s the challenge I have been looking for.  I had another friend mention the Adirondack 46.  He explained that it was an ascent of the forty-six highest peaks in New York State.  I’d spent time in the Adirondacks before and always loved the region.

But what did I truly know about hiking?  I grew up most of my life in Long Island or Manhattan.  The closest hiking experience I’d managed in recent memory was five flights of stairs in a walkup apartment I lived in years earlier.

I did some homework, learning the essentials of map, compass and proper gear.  Yet, nervous to do it alone, I came across these Adirondack Mountain Club workshops, run by a group dedicated in preserving the Adirondack region and who also maintain both the Adirondak Loj, and Johns Brooks Lodge.

I signed up for a day hike, and found the experience so good I have done several others and have a few future dates scheduled as well.  In guide Seth Jones, I journeyed with someone who is clearly passionate about his work, which to me is a life lesson in itself.  Seth will plot a pace that works for the group and take breaks to ensure everyone is hydrated, fed, and fit to move on.  I have seen him attend to wounds of a member of our group as well as a bruised stranger on the trail.  His calm demeanor personally reassured my confidence to hike through a few tricky patches.  Along the way, I gathered knowledge on the local geology, botany, geography, and history of my surroundings as well as the tenents of Leave No Trace.

I also found the people that join these trips to be some of the most interesting people I have met in a long while.  People from all walks of life, different regions, different backgrounds, and different ages—people as young as twelve and as old as mid-sixties.  I have hiked with husbands and wives, and fathers and sons.  Some had causes such as raising donations and awareness for a fallen police officer.  But there was always one common theme, people who wanted to face a challenge and be in touch with nature.

I have spent money on all types of pleasure pursuits, vacations, plays, amusement parks, and countless others, but only one such venture left me with a feeling of accomplishment, and that was summiting a High Peak.  All of this was made possible by the Adirondack Mountain Club. Enriched by nature and these workshops, I have become a better hiker, and hopefully also, a better person.

Alex Mueck is the author of three novels.  He lives in Brewster, NY with his fiancé, dog, two tortoises and a snake.