- Candace Ahlfinger
Things I Have Learned about Hiking
Before a wonderful trip to Ireland that included lots of hiking, I loved “hiking” through cities and historical sites, not necessarily up mountains and through the countryside. (https://www.anywheregoeswow.com/post/twelve-days-in-ireland-and-northern-ireland for more information on our awesome trip with Vagabond Tours.) Thankfully, the trip to Ireland was well-timed, right before the pandemic, so we were prepared for hikes and social distancing when they became a necessity. Through the last few months of hiking, I have learned numerous lessons some of which were gleaned as I followed my husband up mountains which gave me plenty of time to think.
A great hiking partner is extremely important. Choose someone who goes about the same speed and makes the same number of photo op stops as you like, or at least someone who is patient with your differences. My husband grew in the hills of Georgia. He can go up mountains while I, a flatlander from Texas, am still looking at the top of the mountain and thinking that going up is impossible. On the other hand, I am fast on flat trails while he is not. We have both learned to compromise. At some point he also realized that he is in the lead going up mountains and I am in the lead on flat surfaces, so we are both challenged to move faster. (I’m not sure which of us is faster going down a mountain. It all depends…)
Take care of the wrinkled sock, twisted shoe, rubbing backpack strap, etc. before you start your hike. Once I start walking, I hate stopping; however, I have learned that halting immediately to fix a problem saves blisters, mental and physical irritation. Any minor irritation will become major after a few miles.
Those colored squares or numbers or arrows on trails mean something. My husband had many years of hiking experience, thanks to his Eagle Scouting. He has taught me many facts that I did not know and did not know that I didn’t, including how trails are marked, a very important part of hiking. I can now read an elevation map, although I admit, I would rather he just read the map and let me hike.
Good shoes are vital. Through the years I had hiked in tennis shoes. After all, they are good enough for walking in the city and through historical sites, aren’t they? But hiking boots make a big difference. I cannot tell you how many times I have almost twisted an ankle only to be saved by my boot. Waterproofing makes a positive impact, too. Tennis shoes quickly absorb mud and water and become very uncomfortable.
A good backpack that holds food, water, and emergency supplies makes hiking much easier. I love a backpack with water holders on the outside, so water is easily accessible. Also, I want something that is large enough for a rain jacket...just in case. I also carry sunscreen, bug spray (even though I apply them before starting a hike) and Benadryl lotion for bites in case I missed a spot with the bug spray. Moleskin and Band-Aids of various sizes are always in my case. My phone and/or camera never make it into my backpack since I have them in my hand ready for that surprising photo op.
Dress in layers. The day may start off chilly, become hot, and experience a thunderstorm, before cooling off. The raincoat that seemed ridiculous at the start of the hike can be the saving item when a torrential rain occurs. I also always wear a hat, rain or shine.
Carry water and snacks. Even if it is cool, I carry lots of water and make certain to take frequent drinks. I also carry snacks and, often, lunch. It is nice to find a scenic overlook and have lunch while watching hawks catching thermals above us. I have learned to stop for a break before I am hungry and before I am tired. I can get so caught up with the hike that I wait too long and get shaky--not a good idea.
Use a good mapping tool such as Map My Walk to keep track of where you are, where you have been, how fast you went, and your change in elevation. At the end of a hike, I feel even better to see that we have walked however many miles. It is a good excuse to feel tired, but it also gives a sense of accomplishment and helps set goals for the next hike.
I feel certain that my list of lessons learned will continue as we hike more, so I’ll leave Lesson 7 as my placeholder as I learn more of what I don’t know.