It’s the summer of 2020 and you want to get out and enjoy the sun before we get put back in to lock down. Want to enjoy the local trails? Well there are a few things you should keep in mind before you venture out into the wilds of the national and state parks. First and most important to understand, the wildlife all around us and in the national parks live out there and you are in their domain. So be respectful like you are visiting the queen. Both will threaten your life if you are rude and disrespectful. Fortunately, the Queen only lives in one country and still governed by the laws she must uphold. A bear, cougar, wolf, badger, or even a snake doesn’t have any laws, nor do they have a single location where they live. You more than likely won’t know where a dangerous animal is until you stumble upon it. They don’t have gps. They don’t wear bells. And it is not their fault if they feel as if you have invaded their home. These types of animals will more than likely act aggressive to intruders, so be mindful.
Having multiple people with you helps you scare off predators with your sounds as well as keeps you from getting lost. The best way to make sure you are safe is to hike with a partner or a group. There are multiple online social networks where you can find a trustworthy hiking partner. You do not want to put an ad on craigslist to attract unsavory characters. The last thing you want while trying to enjoy your hike is someone planning your demise. Even hiking with another friend that is new to hiking is better than hiking with a Bundy type character. Having said that, I have met many great hikers that will invite novices out with them on easy trails to show them the ropes. And trust me you need to know the ropes.
Also, stay on the trail. Not matter the trail you choose or who you go with it is of upmost importance to stay on the trail. If you have lost the trail just go back the way you came until you find the trail again. Wondering into a bears living room is not fun and can be very scary to someone who doesn’t know what to do.
A few things that you will learn that helps is stretching and making sure you do a good work out routine (that is if you want to keep hiking after your first experience). Stretching will keep you from getting sore or spraining your ankles on an accident. You can google or youtube basic leg, core, back and arm stretches. Or you can go to your local gym and take a “stretching class”. My local gym has multiple times for stretching classes. I am not sure if all gyms do this so keep that in mind. If they don’t have a stretching class to learn from, I would suggest Yoga. It will also help build up lung compacity and endurance with doing a low impact exercise routine.
If you get winded walking up stairs or going out to your mailbox, you should think about working on your lung compacity. Especially if after your first hike you are beyond winded, it is important to know how to breath and how to not get winded. Again, you can google and youtube the basics to learn from or go to your local gym. When I have to work on my lung compacity, I do yoga and a lot of swimming. Both teach you how and when to breath. Trust me it helps so much when hiking up a mountain of doom just to have to walk back down after enjoying your view of astonishment.
You will also want to work on your endurance some. I’m not saying go out and run a five-minute mile. But maybe go to your local park and see how long it takes you to get tired. Going on daily walks is a good way to turn your couch potato into a lean crinkle cut fry. Also, I can’t say this enough, go to your local gym and take a class that helps build endurance. You can do stair steps, jog, or even cycle normally but when you are in a class it is so much more intense. It is a great way to learn what you need to work on.
When you think you are ready, you found a partner and did some basic workouts. Next you need to find a hike. Most of the time you can google hikes in your area and a ton of them will show up. You can also go to your local library or bookstore and find the hiking books in your area. For your first hike, I suggest doing something easy and under 3 miles. You may be able to walk or run more than that, but hiking is different. You will have an incline/ decline. It isn’t just walking on a gravel or paved path and in some areas the weather may be different than your local park.
While doing your research look at the reviews and comments about the trail. They can tell you more about the current condition than a book can. Also print a map out if you can. It will come in handy. Look into if the hike needs permits and make sure to print off hard copies just in case. Time is also something that to keep in mind. Hiking during the day is the best idea for beginners and try to avoid rain and storms. You don’t want to be caught on a trail when the sun is setting with no light and its raining (that was a miserable experience for me). Most hiking sites will also tell you the elevation and estimated time it takes, but I suggest adding extra time just in case.
Now that you have picked out a trail, have your partner, and are ready. Let’s talk about what you should take. Most people start with day hikes, which I do suggest. But you will still need basic supplies. You can use a basic backpack or a camel back backpack (your water is built into the bag). You should pack it with your map (preferable in a waterproof bag), a compass, sun protection (SUNSCREEN), water, first aid kit, multi tool and a flashlight of some kind. I would also suggest a dry pair of socks (or two) and a waterproof poncho. But most important of all is to wear the appropriate footwears and clothes. I do not suggest wearing jeans or “booty” shorts on a trail. It gets incredibly hot so your need materials that will breath, as well as, cover you legs to prevent exposure to insects, poisonous plants, or the sun. Some people suggest breathable work out pants and a cotton t shirt. If it is cold take a jacket that is easy to remove if you get too hot. Just remember you will have to carry everything.
When you are packed, ready and out enjoying the vast nature, there are some unspoken rules of the trails such as right of ways. When hiking and come across others, the hikers going uphill have the right of way. Also, sometimes these hikers will stop occasionally for breathers but ultimately the up-hill hikers have the right of way. When hikers come across bicycle riders, the hiker must yield. Same with a horse. Also do not approach the horse thinking you can pet it. Some horses will get spooked and can be bad for the rider.
Leave no trace while you are on the trail. This means do not leave trash or anything that shows a human has been there. No one goes on the trails to clean up your mess. This is not your momma house and we do not have a trail maid. Bears and deer don’t know what beer can is and may try and eat it. (ALSO DON’T DRING ALCOHOL ON THE TRAILS). There are countless accountants of wildlife dying from ingesting our garbage. So keep nature naturally beautiful and not covered in your trash.