This Thursday, November 17th,
is National Take a Hike Day. My husband and I like to hike, although for many years regular exercise was not a part of my life. Typically, we’d go on vacation and then my usually inert body would be shocked by the sudden increase in forward movement. In fact, my hiking problems have become quite legendary in our family. It all started on our honeymoon. We set out to hike in the beautiful Muir Woods in northern California. Although I tried to impress my new husband with my physical prowess, in truth I was dragging behind the whole way. When I returned home, I found a doctor’s report waiting for me that said I was borderline anemic. Aha, so there was a reason I was so slow….
The next summer found us in Washington State. We were wowed by the number of gorgeous waterfalls greeting us at every turn. Some of them were just far enough off the road to beckon us to get out of our car and follow a trail. My husband, the great planner, had an idea for us to hike a particularly scenic trail near Mt. Rainer. It was beautiful, but after climbing up the rocky slopes, I found the trail back down difficult to manage. I was surprised to find that my legs were shaking so badly that I thought it was dangerous for me to continue. Begging for a break, I found a boulder to sit on. My husband, worried about the approaching darkness, tried to urge me on, but I was being particularly stubborn. Finally a noise in the nearby bushes that sounded somewhat like a bear (real or imagined) got my attention and I proceeded down the steep trail, my legs continuing to shake. No message from my doctor was waiting at home this time. The diagnosis was pretty obvious – I needed more regular exercise.
These are just a couple examples of my fizzle factor. Somehow, I don’t think the thirty intervening years have made things any better.
I have a dream of hiking the Appalachian Trail in stages. Yes, I’m a just a little out of touch with reality, considering I barely made the three miles of it that we trudged when we found a stretch near the road we were traveling one year. Since then, I’ve even become less adventuresome – standing on the Pacific Crest Trail in Oregon just long enough to have a picture taken to prove I was there.
As I get older, I realize that moderation is the key to most things in life. It is better to set my goals on walking a couple miles in my neighborhood three times a week than dreaming about tackling a 2000 mile trail while I look at pictures at my computer desk. Sure, as long as I am physically able, I hope to find longer hiking opportunities on our family vacations. We love the national parks and my goal is to see as many of them as possible in my lifetime. However, I need to have my rubber meet the road now (in this case, the sole of my shoe). Plans for the future are fun, but today is the only day we can count on having.
If I’ve inspired you to think about taking a hike, here are some points to consider that could really affect how enjoyable it is:
- Dress for the weather – It is best to wear layers of clothing. I usually start off kind of chilly, but as I continue to walk, the layers come off. Tie the jacket around your waist, or better yet, carry a small backpack for your gear.
- Wear appropriate footwear – There’s nothing like a forming blister to divert your attention from the beauty around you and cut your walk short. I have walked plenty of times in shoes that squished with every step on a wet trail. There’s also the time in Zion NP when we had to duct tape my husband’s sandals because a strap broke before hiking in the river. You can imagine how well that worked!
- Use sun protection – Depending on where your hike takes you, this can be very important. Don’t bring a sunburn back as a momento of your trip! A hat and sunglasses also can be helpful.
- Bring water/snacks – I’ve heard that the biggest risk we face during a long hike is dehydration. Bring water and drink it. I recall reading that a large number of people who have hiked the Grand Canyon have come out with severe dehydration and some have even died because of it. Sadly, some of these people had water, they just were preserving it for when “things got worse”.
- Apply insect repellent – Speaking of food, don’t become food for the local insects. It is miserable to hike in an area with hungry bugs. Mosquitos can be annoying at best and both mosquitoes and ticks can cause debilitating illness with their bites. Consider bringing the repellent along in your pack, so that it can be reapplied. This became a hike saver on a remote trail we walked in Isle Royale NP.
- Utilize animal protection – Your problems could come from much bigger sources than insects. Consider carrying bear bells or bear spray in areas where bears are known to be. We once ran into a couple in the Tetons who cautioned us that they had recently emerged from a trail to find a female bear with her cubs in front of them. You may not hear them, but make sure they can hear you! Know the difference between how to act if you encounter a bear or a mountain lion.
- Carry a GPS/compass – Every year people get lost while hiking. Carry your mobile phone, but know that in some remote areas a phone won’t work. You may think you have good directional sense, but crossing trails and confusing landmarks can make finding your way difficult without a GPS or compass.
- Leave your plans – Always leave your hiking intentions with someone not on the trip. If you get badly hurt or lost, your life may depend on it!
Join me today in taking a hike. By the way, a hike is defined as a long distance walk, but distance is a relative concept. Maybe my commitments today will only allow me to walk for 15 minutes, but I’m still gaining benefits from purposeful movement. We might even surprise ourselves and see things along the way that bring fresh smiles to the rest of our day.
The next time someone says, “Take a hike!”, do it…and ask them to join you!