The great outdoors for beginners.
February 21, 2010 10:55 AM   Subscribe

How does a 35-year-old very urban dude living in New York becomes more outdoorsy?

After a years of extreme couch potato-ness I have slowly become more and more active for the past two years. Though I am not still I would call in shape, I am happy with my advances and motivated to you know, push forth.

And one thing that I'd like to invest on is more outdoor-oriented activities. You know: hiking, camping, etc. I was a boy scout when I was a kid (between 10-13 years old) and I caught myself missing that a lot recently.

But of course this is not something I am willing to jump headfirst without some preparation because: 1) I am 35 2) I am not in my best shape (yet) 3) I live in NY and as most Manhattanites don't own a car that can whisk me away to trail upstate 4) These things are not like riding a bike and everything I learned as a kid is buried under layers of bad TV and pop culture trivia.

So how does one go from the warm and cozy heart of the urban jungle to becoming Bear Grylls? :-)
posted by falameufilho to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (26 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: NY Mag had a feature a couple of weeks ago about Urban Woodsmen. I think you need to start by growing a beard; after that, follow their links, many of which are in the five boroughs.
posted by Frank Grimes at 11:05 AM on February 21, 2010

If you want to get used to hiking, start by taking the stairs wherever you go in your everyday life. Skip the escalators and elevators when you can. It's a small step but a good one.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 11:07 AM on February 21, 2010

Go on an Outward Bound trip.
posted by dfriedman at 11:09 AM on February 21, 2010

Best answer: Join the AMC. They have lots and lots of members in NY, many of whom have cars, or you can take the train and be met somewhere for the carpool. They also have a good list of things you can do from buses and trains from NY, and things in the city or on Long Island.

It's cheap - $50ish a year and then a couple bucks here and there for the activities, varied, with hiking, backpacking, canoeing, bicycling, etc. The people are super warm and friendly!
posted by foodmapper at 11:13 AM on February 21, 2010 [3 favorites]

You can take Metro-North to a stop called Breackneck Ridge that is along the Appalachian Trail.
posted by ofthestrait at 11:18 AM on February 21, 2010

Best answer: You can go camping in Floyd Bennett Field, in Brooklyn, once it gets warm. Campsites are $50 and you can get there by bike or city bus.

You can practice your archery at Proline Archery, an indoor range in Queens. $20 gets you a full days worth of shooting, use of a bow, and instruction.

You can go kayaking in the Hudson river. It's free. The Gowanus Dredgers will get you out on a canoe in the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn.

Cunningham Park in Queens has some great mountain biking trails.

Wildman Steve Brill will teach you how to forage for food in NYC parks. His guided walking tours are free with a suggested donation.
posted by boots at 11:24 AM on February 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

The Sierra Club's Atlantic chapter runs outings, hikes, ski trips and the like, many accessible by NYC transit, and carpooling is encouraged for the rest. I've only been on outings with the San Francisco chapter, but assuming Sierra Club members are pretty much the same everywhere, you will probably find them pleasant company.
posted by Quietgal at 11:30 AM on February 21, 2010

Check out these guys' trips.
posted by Aizkolari at 12:19 PM on February 21, 2010

Best answer: Maybe start slow by just getting outside in the first place. A few places I really love and always recommend: 1) Stone Barns farm, 2) Storm King, 3) Wave Hill. None of these is hardcore outdoorsy, but they're all wonderful and could prime you for more extreme pursuits. For Stone Barns and Storm King, take MetroNorth up to Ardsley, NY where you can very cheaply rent a car from Enterprise. For Wave Hill, there may be buses - or try Zip Car.
posted by cymru_j at 12:24 PM on February 21, 2010

Best answer: Join the NY/NJ Trail Conference, and check out their info on hikes you can do without a car.
posted by bink at 1:22 PM on February 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

I know this isn't technically "outdoors" but maybe you could join a rock climbing gym?
posted by kylej at 1:22 PM on February 21, 2010

Try orienteering -- you navigate a course using a very detailed topographical map to locate checkpoints in order . The "White" (easy) course is usually about a mile and mostly on path using relatively easy-to-find markers. It's a very pleasant hike that challenges the mind as well as the body. Courses get successively harder and longer as you move up.

This may be the club serving NYC, not totally positive:

This has been a great activity for post-C-section me to get back into shape and get outdoors more often. (I can even take the baby if I do the white courses!) We often go with friends and I'll do the easy course with the baby at a leisurely walk with other first-timers or kid-toters; my husband will do a harder course involving more running and mud with more athletic types. It's nice that it caters to many skill levels at once!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:46 PM on February 21, 2010

In a hibachi or grill, practice making small fires with fuzz sticks, bits of newspaper and kindling. One match = one fire.
posted by codswallop at 1:53 PM on February 21, 2010

I second foodmapper that the AMC is the closest thing to the Boy Scouts in adult life. Except with girls and going out to a restaurant after the hike. Check if there is a young members chapter, since "young" sort of means "below 50/60" in AMC terms.
posted by smackfu at 2:21 PM on February 21, 2010

Ride your bike more. Stick to the cycling routes if you feel uncomfortable on main streets. It will get you in shape, increase your mobility (being carless) and open up possibilities of bike tours.
posted by bread-eater at 2:58 PM on February 21, 2010

A lot of trails upstate are accessible via some form of bus or Metro-north train.

There are a surprising number of things right here in the city, though -- people have mentioned camping in Floyd Bennet field (something I'm thinking of doing) and kayaking in the Hudson (I personally like the crew that is at Valentino Pier in Red Hook -- it's totally free and very beginner-friendly). There are also a couple decent-sized parks in Staten Island -- I know of two that are accessible by taking the ferry to Staten Island and then a bus or the SIRT train all the way to the other end of Staten Island.

My own tangential question now --

Join the AMC. It's cheap - $50ish a year and then a couple bucks here and there for the activities, varied, with hiking, backpacking, canoeing, bicycling, etc. The people are super warm and friendly!
posted by foodmapper at 11:13 AM on February 21

I second foodmapper that the AMC is the closest thing to the Boy Scouts in adult life. Except with girls and going out to a restaurant after the hike. Check if there is a young members chapter, since "young" sort of means "below 50/60" in AMC terms.
posted by smackfu at 2:21 PM on February 21

Now I'm interested in this too, except for one thing: what exactly does "AMC" stand for?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:06 PM on February 21, 2010

Thirding the AMC. You can go on a few hikes to see if you like it, they are all listed on the web site. There is a 3 part code assigned to each hike that grades how hard it is. Its simple enough the first number is pace, the next letter is terrain and the last number is mileage. Mileage and terrain are as expected, but they seem to hike fast, so i would start with a two(which is apparently moderate.) There is also public transpiration to most likes, which again is all laid out on the website.

Be sure to bring water, and wear appropriate boots.
posted by ihadapony at 3:11 PM on February 21, 2010

What a lot of great suggestions here. I'll add a couple more.

I've just been getting into riding a bike around New York and I'm finding it surprisingly manageable. This is partly because so many of the streets are one way, partly because I've picked up a copy of the free NYC cycling map, and partly because I wear a high-visibility jacket which encourages cars to give me a wide berth instead of brushing my elbows. The NYC bike map is great and covers all five boroughs--pick it up at a bike shop (or, apparently, phone 311). It's good both for improving your commute and for planning urban and semi-urban leisure rides: these are especially nice as you can combine them with lunch or cake somewhere.

If you like it, I asked a question about bike routes recently that you can find in my profile--several people gave me great suggestions for rides in north Jersey and the Hudson valley. I was asking for longer routes, but all the places they mentioned would also be nice for shorter days of cycling. Anyway, it takes surprisingly little time to get into good enough shape to do a 20, 30, 40 mile ride without hurrying and without lycra (not that I've got anything against lycra if that's your thing, but expensive cycling gear is a luxury rather than a necessity). It always amazes me how surprised and impressed people are when they ask what you did at the weekend and you say you did a 50-mile bike ride.

You could probably drum up company for yourself with another question here, too, or on MeTalk. That probably goes for hiking and other activities, too, which also sound great (I'm checking out the AMC website now).

posted by lapsangsouchong at 4:55 PM on February 21, 2010

Nthing kayaking! I thought for years that it was some sort of thing that "sporty" people did, thus disqualifying me. Nooo. It's like hiking in secret watery places.
posted by desuetude at 4:57 PM on February 21, 2010

I'm surprised that no one has mentioned Geocaching. It's a great outdoorsy activity that takes you out for a purpose. It can be challenging, is free (except for the GPS unit - which your cell phone might be capable of already), and can be done anywhere - close to home, on the run, even out of town.
posted by whatisish at 5:11 PM on February 21, 2010

Sorry all, the AMC is the Appalachian Mountain Club. This is the page for their NY/North Jersey chapter. Here is the schedule menu for all of their trips, of which their are many! They are rated according to difficulty and also have codes for transportation, so you can figure out which ones are appropriate for your level and how early you're willing to get up to get on the train or bus, etc.

They are VERY active, with things going on all the time, with a huge variety of activities, exertion levels, time commitments, and urban/wilderness. They are really great at teaching people new things, and run instructional weekends specifically to introduce people to new skills and make sure they feel comfortable. This ranges from backpacking to paddling to sailing to winter camping, and so on. (I actually met my BF at a whitewater kayak instructional weekend).

All the trip leaders go through leadership and first aid training. In my opinion, this makes things a lot better and generally more organized than meetup group hikes that I've experienced due to these leadership pre-requisites, and mean that you can get organized for more complex trips because someone is organizing stuff. For me personally, joining the AMC solved the 'none of my friends want to go/ my friends are flakes' issue of people saying they wanted to be outdoorsy but things just not really happening, despite good intentions. You just look at the schedule, sign up, and show up. It's great!

As far as age goes, the NYC group I know best is the whitewater paddlers, who tend to be between mid-20s to late 40s. The 20's and 30's are strongly represented, too, not just a token 'young person' or two. Different groups might have different demographics, but all the AMC'ers I've met have been super awesome and friendly folks.
posted by foodmapper at 5:55 PM on February 21, 2010

Argh - There are many, not their are many. Please edit that mentally, thanks!
posted by foodmapper at 5:58 PM on February 21, 2010

I've never been there, but I though Manhattan is quite walkable - so why don't you just go on long walks in the city? I do semi-advanced hiking in the alps from time to time, and year-round weekly or biweekly 1-3hour walks through Munich are enough to keep me sufficiently fit for day-long mountain hikes. Just walking around might seem boring, but when you want to be able to walk long distances, the best training is actually to...start walking long distances. It's not like, um, killing a bear with your bare hands, but it's a start...

If city walks aren't "manly" enough for you, go out when the weather is really gruesome. This also helps you with finding the right rain/cold protection equipment for actual outdoors hikes.
posted by The Toad at 6:22 AM on February 22, 2010 groups! There are hiking/climbing groups in the city that day trips and provide transportation for a fee. You get to meet other people who are into the same thing, and have someone to accompany you and show you where to go and what to do while you're just starting out.
posted by KateHasQuestions at 6:40 PM on February 22, 2010

Best answer: For another way to go, there are a few outfits that run camping tours out West. Two I'm familiar with are Suntrek and Trek America. It's a great way to see the national parks. It's not true backpacking, more like car camping with day hikes. A vacation, not an ordeal.
posted by smackfu at 8:01 PM on February 22, 2010

Response by poster: Great thread, great responses, thanks a lot guys! I marked some answers as best responses, but I could have easily marked them all. Thanks!
posted by falameufilho at 5:47 AM on February 24, 2010

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