Category Archives: Outdoors

Meet New Jersey’s Biggest Polluter

Along the New Jersey Turnpike, it comes into view: a massive complex of tanks, smokestacks, and tangled pipes. This is New Jersey’s biggest polluter: the Phillips 66 Bayway Refinery.

The Phillips refinery releases far more toxic chemicals than anywhere else in the state, and more than twice as many as the runner-up (another refinery). Some of these chemicals may cause cancer.

Where do these chemicals go? Into poor communities in surrounding Linden, NJ:

“We live in a very low-income neighborhood, so we’re advocating for food, and shelter and everything else. I don’t believe we can get to the point where we’re able to advocate for the smells or the chemicals that are released in the air,” she said.

Despite its staggering environmental toll, the plant employees just 800 people and, even at full capacity, produces only 155,000 barrels of gasoline daily. This is less than 0.05% of the gasoline the US uses every day.

Even those far from New Jersey may have cause for concern: the plant sits two miles from Arthur Kill, the waterway that separates Staten Island from the Garden State and feeds into the Atlantic Ocean. I shudder to think what could happen in a natural disaster, to say nothing of a man-made one. Indeed, the refinery had to shut down prior to Hurricane Sandy.

We have a dangerous plant in the middle of one of the most densely populated places in the country, leeching out toxins. Its damage falls disproportionately on the poor and nonwhite. Its economic impact is modest.

Perhaps it’s time for a change?

More on New Jersey:

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Fundrise

This platform lets me diversify my real estate investments so I’m not too exposed to any one market. I’ve invested since 2018 and returns have been good so far. More on Fundrise in this post.

If you decide to invest in Fundrise, you can use this link to get your management fees waived for 90 days. With their 1% management fee, this could save you $250 on a $100,000 account. I will also get a fee waiver for 90-365 days, depending on what type of account you open.

iHerb

The only place I buy vitamins and supplements. I recently placed an order and received it in less than 48 hours with free shipping! I compared the prices and they were lower than Amazon. I also love how they test a lot of the vitamins so that you know you’re getting what the label says. This isn’t always the case with supplements.

Use this link to save 5%! I’ll also get 5% of however much you spend, at no cost to you.

Misfits Market

My wife and I have gotten organic produce shipped to our house by Misfits for over a year. It’s never once disappointed me. Every fruit and vegetable is super fresh and packed with flavor. I thought radishes were cold, tasteless little lumps at salad bars until I tried theirs! They’re peppery, colorful and crunchy! I wrote a detailed review of Misfits here.

Use this link to sign up and you’ll save $10 on your first order. I’ll also get $10.

Why Are There Cars Full of Bulletholes in Ringwood State Park?

As I walked up the beginning of a trail covered in red and orange leaves last fall, I saw a dark form to my left. What is that, a rock, a downed tree? As I got closer, I realized it was the shell of a vintage automobile.

Coming closer, I realized this was not your average junker. The car appeared to be from the 40’s or 50’s, and it had more than mechanical trouble. Along the side was a series of large holes that appeared to have been made by a powerful firearm.

Did the car belong to an old time mobster, perhaps rubbed out in some gangland dispute and then dumped in the woods? If so, was there also a body nearby? And are there more cars in this woods?

This interesting find occurred to me again last night, so I did some Googling this morning but was unable to find any information about junked cars or dumped bodies in Ringwood State Park. The park is under an hour from New York City, so it seems entirely possible that it could be a mob graveyard. But the secret may have died with whoever was in that car many years ago.

Mysteries aside, Ringwood State Park is a beautiful and accessible spot that I highly recommend. Its undulating terrain affords beautiful views any time of year but especially in fall. Despite its proximity to New York City, I’ve found it to be generally uncrowded and quiet. The trails are not always marked well, so I’d suggest bringing a GPS unit if possible, although we were able to manage without one.

If anyone knows anything about the history of this area and what’s going on with that car, please leave a comment at the bottom of the page!

Have a great weekend everyone!

Dig into these posts for more on the outdoors in New Jersey:

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Save Money on Stuff I Use:

Fundrise

This platform lets me diversify my real estate investments so I’m not too exposed to any one market. I’ve invested since 2018 and returns have been good so far. More on Fundrise in this post.

If you decide to invest in Fundrise, you can use this link to get your management fees waived for 90 days. With their 1% management fee, this could save you $250 on a $100,000 account. I will also get a fee waiver for 90-365 days, depending on what type of account you open.

iHerb

The only place I buy vitamins and supplements. I recently placed an order and received it in less than 48 hours with free shipping! I compared the prices and they were lower than Amazon. I also love how they test a lot of the vitamins so that you know you’re getting what the label says. This isn’t always the case with supplements.

Use this link to save 5%! I’ll also get 5% of however much you spend, at no cost to you.

Misfits Market

My wife and I have gotten organic produce shipped to our house by Misfits for over a year. It’s never once disappointed me. Every fruit and vegetable is super fresh and packed with flavor. I thought radishes were cold, tasteless little lumps at salad bars until I tried theirs! They’re peppery, colorful and crunchy! I wrote a detailed review of Misfits here.

Use this link to sign up and you’ll save $10 on your first order. I’ll also get $10.

A Hidden Castle…In New Jersey?

As you round a clear blue lake, a second, smaller path winds away from the main trail. Up this path, on a peak covered with flowers, lie the remains of a vast stone edifice.

This is Van Slyke Castle in Ramapo State Forest in Oakland, NJ, just 30 miles from midtown Manhattan. I visited with a friend last week and was mesmerized by the spooky ruins and the beautiful natural setting.

Van Slyke Castle was built by a wealthy stockbroker named William Porter at the beginning of the 20th century. After his death in a car crash, his widow Ruth married attorney Warren Van Slyke, who lent his name to the manse.

After Ruth’s death, the castle fell into disrepair, and burned down in 1959:

Ruth died in 1940, leaving the castle without an owner for nine years. It was finally purchased in 1949 by a couple who subsequently resold the property two years later to Suzanne S. Christie. She abandoned it shortly after. No one knows why she left the place, though it’s suspected it could have been the result of a bitter divorce.

After years of desertion, the mansion met its fiery demise when vandals broke in and set the place ablaze.

More on the history of the castle here.

The stone ruins are expansive. Though the structure is overgrown, the pipes are still visible and behind the house is the remains of a large swimming pool.

Beautiful flowers are everywhere. Perhaps Ruth Van Slyke planted them? From the peak, you can see the New York City skyline in silhouette in the distance, a marked contrast to the woodsy surroundings.

My friend and I lied on a rock near the castle and enjoyed the sun, flowers, and beautiful lake view. As we descended, I reflected on how amazing it is that inside this beautiful woods was a grand castle we could’ve easily missed.

If you haven’t been to Ramapo State Forest, I strongly recommend it! The scenery is beautiful and the hiking is easy. Add great views and the odd chipmunk, and it’s hard to beat!

Dig into these posts for more on the outdoors in New Jersey:

If you found this post interesting, please share it on Twitter/Reddit/etc. using the buttons at the bottom of the page. This helps more people find the blog! 

Save Money on Stuff I Use:

Fundrise

This platform lets me diversify my real estate investments so I’m not too exposed to any one market. I’ve invested since 2018 and returns have been good so far. More on Fundrise in this post.

If you decide to invest in Fundrise, you can use this link to get your management fees waived for 90 days. With their 1% management fee, this could save you $250 on a $100,000 account. I will also get a fee waiver for 90-365 days, depending on what type of account you open.

iHerb

The only place I buy vitamins and supplements. I recently placed an order and received it in less than 48 hours with free shipping! I compared the prices and they were lower than Amazon. I also love how they test a lot of the vitamins so that you know you’re getting what the label says. This isn’t always the case with supplements.

Use this link to save 5%! I’ll also get 5% of however much you spend, at no cost to you.

Misfits Market

My wife and I have gotten organic produce shipped to our house by Misfits for over a year. It’s never once disappointed me. Every fruit and vegetable is super fresh and packed with flavor. I thought radishes were cold, tasteless little lumps at salad bars until I tried theirs! They’re peppery, colorful and crunchy! I wrote a detailed review of Misfits here.

Use this link to sign up and you’ll save $10 on your first order. I’ll also get $10.

The Real Groundhogs of New Jersey

You look out onto a small grassy area in a nearby park. Surrounding you are tall brick buildings and in the distance, the New York City skyline. Wait…is that something moving?

A few days ago in West New York

This is how I discovered the adorable groundhogs of Auf der Heide Park in West New York, NJ two years ago. I’ve seen as few as one and as many as five or six, and they can be found reliably spring through fall every year. In winter, they hibernate deep in their holes, the way we sometimes wish we could!

Last summer

My favorite groundhog was an older gentleman I met last spring. It was early April, during the worst part of the COVID crisis. There wasn’t much to do really, besides walk. One day, I figured I’d bring up a few snacks for the little guys. They love fruits and veggies but don’t care for carbs. Perhaps they’re on the Atkins?

That’s when I came across an adorable Grandpa Groundhog. I fed him a few veggie snacks, and as he ate, I noticed his back right foot was severely injured and barely attached. I later spoke with staff from the Animal Medical Center in New York as well as animal control, but they recommended against trying to trap a wild animal for treatment. So I just kept visiting him.

He soon became so tame he would sit on my foot and eat like a dog. Then, after a week or so, I stopped seeing him. The other groundhogs weren’t very nice to him and tried to steal his food, probably knowing he was weak. But not too weak to give them a penetrating stare that had them backing off in a hurry.

Here’s a video of him:

I don’t know what happened to him, but I assume he may have passed away. I’m happy he had at least one friend in his last days, and I’m honored I got to be that friend. At that time, I needed a friend too.

Dig into these posts for more on the outdoors:

If you found this post interesting, please share it on Twitter/Reddit/etc. using the buttons at the bottom of the page. This helps more people find the blog! 

Save Money on Stuff I Use:

Fundrise

This platform lets me diversify my real estate investments so I’m not too exposed to any one market. I’ve invested since 2018 and returns have been good so far. More on Fundrise in this post.

If you decide to invest in Fundrise, you can use this link to get your management fees waived for 90 days. With their 1% management fee, this could save you $250 on a $100,000 account. I will also get a fee waiver for 90-365 days, depending on what type of account you open.

iHerb

The only place I buy vitamins and supplements. I recently placed an order and received it in less than 48 hours with free shipping! I compared the prices and they were lower than Amazon. I also love how they test a lot of the vitamins so that you know you’re getting what the label says. This isn’t always the case with supplements.

Use this link to save 5%! I’ll also get 5% of however much you spend, at no cost to you.

Misfits Market

My wife and I have gotten organic produce shipped to our house by Misfits for over a year. It’s never once disappointed me. Every fruit and vegetable is super fresh and packed with flavor. I thought radishes were cold, tasteless little lumps at salad bars until I tried theirs! They’re peppery, colorful and crunchy! I wrote a detailed review of Misfits here.

Use this link to sign up and you’ll save $10 on your first order. I’ll also get $10.

Is this NJ’s Most Beautiful Spot?

Our car wound into the hills along deserted roads. The scenery went from small towns to vast woods. We crunched down a gravel path to a secluded camp site along a lake. This was Stokes State Forest.

This weekend, I went camping with some friends in this beautiful spot in northwestern New Jersey. I can heartily recommend it for its varied scenery and peaceful ambience. Here’s a quick rundown of what to expect if you visit:

Location: About 70 miles northwest of New York City in the beautfiul Delaware Water Gap, just a few miles from the Pennsylvania border. If you’re in the NYC area, this is one of the more convenient campgrounds to visit.

Scenery: The most varied I’ve seen yet, after having been to Harriman State Park and the Catskills in New York and the Pine Barrens in South Jersey. We saw small mountains, ponds, lakes, marshes, and plains all within a 5 mile hike!

Wildlife: We saw squirrels, a beaver dam, and even a bald eagle circling above us! You’ll see a lot of signs warning about bears. Be sure not only food but anything aromatic like lotion, toothpaste etc. is inside your car or in a bear bag when you go to sleep. Don’t take chances.

Amenities: There are water spigots with fresh, cold H2O everywhere. The nearest was about 50 feet from our camp site. There were also nice, clean bathrooms just a couple hundred feet away. The only available showers, however, were in the Lake Ocquittunk area, which was so far from our campsite we had to drive. This was a definitive negative, but at least the water was hot when we got there! The fire rings and the campsites in general are beat up from heavy use, but functional.

Cost: $40 for two nights. Split between the three of us, it was negligible.

Unexpected benefit: Compared to the Pine Barrens, where we often camp, Stokes State Forest has fewer ticks, which makes it a good summer camping spot.

Watch out for: Fire bans. Because it had been windy the day we arrived, there was a fire ban that lasted most of the trip. This is a real problem: you don’t have a heat source or a way to cook. I’d strongly recommend bringing a butane camp stove. Ours is a Coleman and it’s great. It cost about $30.

We sat around the fire (once the fire ban expired) and gobbled up pork chops, sausages, and s’mores. When nature called in the morning, I enjoyed a beautiful sunrise over the nearby lake.

This is a beautiful spot! If you’re in the area, I encourage you to check it out!

For more on camping and the outdoors, check out these posts:

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My Camping Essentials: The Basics, The Wishlist, And The Things I Never Thought I’d Need But Can’t Live Without

Getting involved in camping since the spring has done a lot for me. I’ve developed new skills, found greater relaxation and mental clarity, and become closer with friends. But, to get those benefits, first I needed a tent!

There are certain pieces of equipment that are non-negotiable must haves for camping. Other things are nice to have, and some things you’d never even think of as camping equipment but are extremely useful in the woods.

The Basics:

  • You need a tent. Why? The tent traps your body heat and keeps you warm. It keeps insects and rain out. Just get one. Here’s the one I have, from Ozark Trails, the Wal-Mart house brand of camping equipment. I highly recommend this brand for the new camper who isn’t sure if they’ll go often…or ever again. The cost is rock bottom and the quality is surprisingly good, better than comparable products I’ve seen from Amazon. If you wind up going often, you’ll likely replace this stuff with higher-end equipment.
  • Sleeping pad. You have to have this because it insulates you from the cold ground and provides cushioning. You’ll freeze on the lumpy ground without it. Mine is similar to this (my model is no longer sold).
  • Sleeping bag. Without a sleeping bag, you risk hypothermia and death even in relatively mild weather. A friend of mine tried to go bagless once and woke up shivering uncontrollably in what was likely a full-blown case of hypothermia. We cuffed him, dragged him to Wal-Mart, and forced him to buy a sleeping bag for the 2nd night. I started out with an Ozark Trails 40F sleeping bag, similar to this. I’m keeping it for warmer weather trips. Note that because a bag is rated to 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees celsius) doesn’t mean you’ll be comfortable at 40. Overshoot some on the sleeping bag. You’ll be glad you did.
  • Safety whistle. It’s dirt cheap and you’ll need it to scare off bears, find others if you’re lost, etc. DO NOT blow it unless it’s an emergency, as it is very bad for the ears. I didn’t have this for my first few trips and I really wish I did. It would’ve given me peace of mind when a buck walked through our campsite at 4:00 am in the Catskills and I first thought it was a bear.

Recent Additions:

  • The beast of all sleeping bags: Coleman 0 degree mummy sleeping bag. Strongly recommended. Very comfortable, soft, high quality zipper. This is a mummy bag, unlike the conventional bag I linked above. The advantage is it heats up from your body heat dramatically faster. I’d recommend you just go with a bag like this from the outset if you’re going to be camping in the cold. A weak bag will make you a miserable person in the morning. This bag is heavy so it’s not good for backpacking.
  • YETI cooler. Not mine, not even my friends’, but their parents’ cooler. Shockingly expensive but incredibly effective. They kindly let us borrow it. Ice takes a long, long time to melt and you can eat tastier, fresher food on the campsite. There are certainly cheap coolers that can do a decent job.
  • Larger knife. This was an early Christmas gift from a friend and more advanced woodsman. Mine is not a Mora but it’s similar to this (I actually don’t know what brand mine is). It’s great for food prep or cutting sticks to make a firestick (used to start camp fires). Don’t walk around town with it unless your local laws allow.
  • Headlamp, much easier than a flashlight because it’s hands free. You can substitute a phone flashlight but I’d recommend this. It’s easier to use with a longer battery life. I have this one.
  • Inflatable pillow, huge help in getting a good night’s sleep at minimal cost, size, and weight. Mine is here.

  • Tent footprint. Just bought this for my most recent trip, which was last weekend. It’s a plastic painter’s drop cloth. It stops moisture from coming up out of the ground into your tent. I also found it kept me dramatically warmer despite being a mere 2 mm thick and costing almost nothing. Definitely recommended, especially if there’s rain forecasted during your trip. Here’s how to use that plastic sheet to make the tent footprint. It sounds complicated but is actually quite easy.
  • Uniqlo down jacket, a wonderful gift from my mother in law that seals in your heat like nothing else.

Things I Never Thought I’d Need But Can’t Live Without:

  • Necessaire eucalyptus body wash. Kindly provided by my wife. I wouldn’t have known about it otherwise. If this is a little too pricey, anything with essential oils like eucalpytus or tea tree oil should do nicely. There are many cheaper options but this stuff is divine, assuming you have showers at your campsite.
  • Electrolyte packets. I experienced dehydration and electrolyte depletion on a recent trip, which was a difficult experience. I strongly recommend having some kind of electrolyte supplementation on hand, just in case. Pedialyte might be an even better choice.
  • Weekender bag, another lovely gift from the missus. The rectangular shape makes it easier to find things in the weekender than in a backpack, and the extra pockets are handy. My electrolyte packets go in the tiny one.

Wishlist:

  • Warbonnet hammock. Expensive but awesome and the one exception to the “you need a tent” rule. Should last many years. The experienced camper I mentioned above has it and swears by it. This is made in America by a small company and the quality is very high.

What items do you guys love for camping? What questions do you have about camping gear or camping in general? Let me know in the comments!

How Camping Is Improving My Life

In April 2020, I did something I never thought I’d do: leave my warm, comfortable apartment and sleep in a bag in the woods.

When I found out friends of mine were organizing a camping trip, my brain immediately started manufacturing excuses why I couldn’t go: too cold, the gear’s too expensive, etc. But with lockdowns removing most of the things I normally did, it occurred to me it might be time to try something new.

So I bought the essential camping equipment and we rode up to the Catskill Mountains, which I see have 255 Google Reviews with a 4.5 star average. (Who reviews a mountain range like it’s a 7-11?) I expected the trip to be something I’d simply endure. Instead, I took to the woods almost right away.

Since then, we’ve gone six more times plus numerous day hikes, and I’ve become a Junior Woodsman. I almost had an attack the first time I had to put up my tent, and a kind friend wound up basically doing the entire thing for me. But I learned, bit by bit. Last Friday, when we went here (highly recommended although closing for the season tomorrow) I had my tent up in about 5 minutes.

What do I get from being in the woods? The removal of the typical stimuli lets my brain work better. I see things more clearly and come to certain realizations. For example, this weekend, it became clearer to me that the next step for my investment business in 2021 may be to rebalance from stocks into more commercial real estate, given the relative valuations of the two asset classes.

Being with friends all day, every day, solving problems and undergoing challenges together is very different from just hanging out for a few hours on the weekend. You get closer as a group and come to know each other better. Some times, you barely need to speak anymore, because you know you’re already understood.

Your existence in the woods is very simple. You need water, a fire, some food, a basic shelter and your friends. And not much else. That time can inform the rest of your life once you’re back home.

With many campgrounds closing for the season, we will likely be transitioning to more day hikes and trying to find some cabins for rent from time to time. However we do it, more time in nature is bound to be a positive for us.

Give it a try!