Take a Hike

Ron Wayne

MOUNTAINS CAN MAKE you feel inconsequential and weak when you stand at their base, or important and strong when you climb them. Even a minor hike up their sides gives you a sense of power and pride in your abilities.

On a recent trip to California to celebrate my retirement, I went on more hikes than I have since I was a teen. Walking about 2½ to 3 miles almost daily for more than a year at home helped prepare me for the rigor. That said, Gainesville—like much of Florida—is flat.

There were paths in most of the places we hiked: Joshua Tree, Death Valley, Pinnacles, Yosemite and the Big Sur coast. But some can be rocky and twisty, and much steeper than the terrain of north Florida. Not so easy for a 65-year-old.

My only mishap was when I was descending a hill in Death Valley’s Artists Palette. I started to fall forward because it was steeper than I expected. Luckily, my son had gone before me and turned around when he heard me falling. He put out his arms and stopped me. I would have fallen on my face, but instead only twisted an ankle.

The author hikes the Big Sur coast.

Otherwise, I did well for an old guy. My son, an experienced hiker, complimented me. Of course, I had to rest more often than he did, but hiking is not a race. I also found it hard to navigate the rocky Mirror Lake trail at Yosemite. We walked about 10 miles that day on the trail and valley floor.

My biggest climb—500 feet in elevation gain—was in Mariposa Grove at the southern end of Yosemite, where you can find sequoia trees. The hike to and from the top was about four miles, and well worth it.

If you’re new to hiking hilly terrain and not in the prime of your life, here are some helpful hints I learned:

  • Buy hiking shoes. They aren’t cheap, but they provide more grip. I wore Salomon Outline Low GTX shoes, which cost $130 at REI.
  • Use trekking poles. They add a lot of stability and made me feel more secure. I used Black Diamond poles that I borrowed from my son. They were a great help and can be had for $99.99 on Amazon.
  • Angle your feet when descending a steep incline and walk as though you’re skiing downhill, from side to side.
  • Lean slightly back going down a hill and slightly forward going up a hill. This seems obvious, but our nature is to walk upright.
  • Wear layers of clothes. That way, you can shed some as it gets warmer.
  • Carry a backpack, so you can bring water and nutritious snacks. You’ll get hungry and you need to hydrate, even if it isn’t hot.
  • Wear a hat and sunscreen.

Hiking can be done anywhere, and I plan to do more of it. Park fees vary by state. Some are free, but national parks require a $30 admission. If you live close enough to one or more and plan to visit regularly, an all-year pass for $80 is a better value.

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