“To walk in nature is to witness a thousand miracles.”
There are people who like to hike, and there are actual hikers. You can tell the difference by looking at their gear. Actual hikers carry bigger packs, and they eschew the type of personal grooming often highlighted in Instagram tutorial videos. (Think: “Contouring with Drugstore Make-up”, and “The Perfect Eyebrow”). Actual hikers ooze confidence and the kind of beauty that radiates from a deep and abiding love affair with nature. In another life I’d be an actual hiker.
Over the course of our marriage, my husband and I have relished the opportunity to get out and experience the best that Mother Nature has to offer. We’ve hiked all over the United States, and can’t get enough of our National Park System. Most of our experiences have been really positive, and we’ve learned a lot along the way.
Our typical hiking adventures go from one to five miles, although we have done one or two longer treks. From my perspective as a woman, here are some thoughts and ideas I’d like to pass along:
- Show up Early: I know how painful it is to get up early while you are traveling, but getting to the visitor’s center and trailhead early yields a BUNCH of great rewards:
- You are more likely to see wildlife in the early morning and at dusk.
- Crowds and tour buses normally begin arriving around 10:00AM, so the early hiker gets the solitude and quiet of an empty trail.
- Speaking of crowds and tour buses: arriving early ensures that you won’t have to HIKE to your car after completing your HIKE. Parking is limited in most state and national parks, so the early-bird gets a closer/and possibly shaded spot.
- Rangers have a bit more time to spend with each hiker, before being inundated with questions and requests.
- It’s generally cooler and more pleasant to hike in the early morning hours.
- Know the Plan: I love to people-watch, and I’ve noticed that the men seem to be the ones to get recommendations and information about hikes, while women look around and shop. Here’s the deal. Four ears hearing the same information is better than two. So, if you are planning to hike, definitely be a part of the discussion and planning. I can’t tell you how many times my husband and I, after having heard the SAME INFORMATION ABOUT A HIKE, have had to stop and remind the other person where the ranger told us to go.
- Carry a Map: This one seems so obvious, but there is a temptation that a map is simply not necessary for the shorter, easier hikes. We typically hand the ranger a map, and have him or her write on it so that those notes can help us navigate once we’ve forgotten the details of where to turn, etc. In our experience, service is sketchy at best inside the national parks, and while you may be using one of the great trail/hiking apps, a map is a good back-up in case things go south.
- Carry Little Else: I’ve found that really limiting myself to just the absolute necessities makes the whole experience better. What seems “light enough to carry” might feel like a ton of bricks after 5 miles. (This list is by no means a recommendation of what to take. Just avoid taking extras that you won’t need. i.e. make-up bag, coin purse, charger cords, etc.). I use either a small Camelback backpack or fanny pack, depending on the trail. For me, I include the following for every hike:
- hair band
- two bandaids
- two sandwich zip lock bags
- Be Memorable: Even if you get an early start, you will surely meet other hikers on the trail. I always try to make eye contact and speak to them, because if the worst should happen, they might remember seeing me, and be able to direct emergency responders to our whereabouts more quickly. Wearing an interesting hat or t-shirt, or a brightly colored pack is also a good way to be remembered. Generally hikers are a friendly, helpful bunch, so look for opportunities to engage in conversation.
- Potty like a Princess: It’s SUCH a drag to have to potty on the trail. But it’s not ok to leave tissue behind when your are done with your business. I always include a pack of Kleenex and small ziplock bags for just such an occasion. Yes: I mean that you should put the Kleenex inside the ziplock, and stow it in your pack, once you’ve used it to tidy up after a potty break. It’s the right thing to do.
We just got home from California, where we hiked in Lassen Volcanic National Park, Redwood National Park, Mendocino and Marin county. Our hearts are full of beauty and our feet are ready for more! Soon we will be heading East to the Great Smokey Mountains, and look forward to exploring new and different landscapes!