By Laurie Cleveland |
I have a standing date with a friend to hike once a week before work. This sounds pretty impressive, I think. “Hiking” calls to mind rugged terrain, snow-capped peaks, and backpacks. These early morning hikes require less gear and more coffee. Since we’re on a trail, I choose “hiking” on my Apple watch.
I began hiking as a safe way to exercise. I’m really not a person who enjoys working out – at all. I’ll only run if I’m being chased or need to catch a train. I believe that it’s healthier for me to avoid cycling. For me, aggressive drivers are scarier than the prospect of cardiac arrest, despite my dismal family history. Competitive sports may be good for my heart, but they can be damaging in other ways: personal relationships, property, wildlife. Golf, I have found, can be especially dangerous. So, I take to the trail.
Friends keep me honest. There are many days where I’d happily roll over and hit the snooze if someone wasn’t waiting for me in some remote parking lot – especially now that the mornings are getting chillier. When I make the effort to hit the trail before work, I carry a special feeling of accomplishment throughout the day – and sometimes onto social media.
I do enjoy meeting friends over wine or snacks, but hiking is a healthy way to maintain friendships without adding extra calories. Coffeeshops can be crowded and distracting, so a friend may be less likely to really open up. In the woods, no one can hear you swear.
Hiking with friends is a much different experience than hiking alone. For reasons stated above, my solo hikes likely occur after work. Some days I bring my camera to capture plants and animals. Often I bring my dog, because she loves to hike – and she helps pick up the pace. Getting out is good for her, and she has little patience for dawdling.
Zuzu has a sporty blaze orange harness for safety and style. She carries a cute little purse, so we can keep the trail clean (without me having to tote a fragrant bag). She does occasionally pause to pose.
I find the forest relaxing. I almost always arrive at the trailhead grumpy or harried from a busy day. As I walk, those buzzing thoughts drift away and I become more focussed. Like meditating or dreaming, sometimes I find that the answer to a problem seems to present itself while I’m walking. Perhaps the timelessness of the forest offers perspective, or the noise of the day dissipating in the quiet of the forest allows me to hear my inner voice. Perhaps I’m just listening more closely.
Sometimes I choose a challenging trail with slippery rocks, steep slopes, wobbly logs, and harrowing stream crossings. On these days, I feel a sense of adventure – and I’m pleased to make it back to the trailhead feeling strong, proud, and a little muddy. Some days, I stay on the level, and I’m pleased to head home with two dry boots and no burs.
- Make a date. You’ll be much more likely to find your way to the trail if someone’s waiting there for you.
- Agree in advance on the length of time that you will stay out (between school drop-off, meetings, and errands?).
- Make noise while you walk – unless you want to admire/encounter wildlife.
- Take a picture of the trail map before heading out. Cell service can be elusive in the Sourlands.
- Bring water – for you and your dog. Puddles may not be safe for your pup to drink.
- Wear bright colors. Many trails pass near (or through) private land.
- Keep your dog on a leash at all times for everyone’s safety – ground-nesting birds, fish, amphibians, and mammals including your dog, you, me…
Sourland Region Trail maps online. Print before you go or save a photo on your phone!
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