My first hike occurred when I was in the Boy Scouts at age 14 in the Los Angeles area. My troop's leaders drove us up into the San Gabriel Mountains to a trail head and we proceeded to hike six miles up into the forest. I hated every minute of it.
We set up camp for the weekend and then on Sunday, we broke camp and hiked back down the trail, a bit easier walk, but I was still not a fan. I had overpacked, which wasn't ever going to happen again. A few months later we hiked one of the Seven Peaks trails in the San Bernadino Mountains. That was the first time I had climbed to a mountain peak. Looking down over the valley below, mostly of which was barely visible through the smog, was exhilarating.
Health-wise, hiking is one of the best all-round activities you can do. Here are the Top 10 from Health Fitness Revolution and author of the book, "ReSYNC Your Life." Samir Becic: hiking increases fitness, allows you to take control of your workouts, tones the whole body, helps prevent and control diabetes, lowers blood pressure and cholesterol, and may improve the antioxidative capacity in the blood of oncological patients, helping to fight off the disease. It's a social activity that increases creativity, increases happiness levels and curbs depression, and allows you to commune with nature.
My own preference for hiking really stems from my vagabond spirit -- there is only so much of nature to see from the highway. On one of my hikes in the mountains when I was in my twenties, about five miles from the road we came across a car, probably circa 1920's, rusted nearly completely imbedded into the mound of dirt in which it was sitting. On another walk at Lake Mead, outside of Las Vegas, there was a dilapidated pleasure boat from the fifties or sixties sitting on the desert floor, in an area recently exposed from the lake's retreat due to drought. You just never know what you're going to see. Also, the farther you are from civilization, the more apt you are to see wildlife -- in the wild.
We in America are so fortunate to have city, county, state and federal departments that create and maintain hiking trails in all 50 states. You can hike in so many terrains, too, including sandy desert, rocky mountains, thick forests, alpine elevations, spongy tundra, dripping wetlands, lake or ocean beaches, and so much more. Although public abuse of those trails has begun to force some trail closures or additional fees, there still seems to be a commitment by the appropriate agencies to keep lands available to use. Also, there are many volunteer groups that periodically tend to trails and trail heads.
I received many great comments from friends and followers about this topic. Here are just a few those, with some paraphrasing or minor editing:
Hank and Shirleen- We like to hike. We love nature, but at our age it must be fairly level and not too long.
See Spot Run RV- I love to hike. If you listen you can hear the quiet and at the same time you can hear the breeze or the bird or other animal. Hiking simultaneously gives me peace and energizes me. I enjoy the different plants and trees and animals I see. I like to become one with nature so when I see an animal, we can just look at and admire each other. I enjoy hiking along a creek or river and seeing waterfalls and especially when I see things I don't normally see. Hiking is adventuresome and at times go to places most people never see. Wow, I could go on forever. Hiking is just wonderful!
Warren and Terry of NE PA- My wife and I love to walk, getting out there on the trails and seeing nature. Also, just about all trails have geocaches, so we can do some geocaching. I have a back problem and moving helps. I've also lost weight which helps not only my back problem but also with overall health.
Jessica H.- I was lucky enough to grow up living in the woods, and now that I have kids of my own, they, too, live and love playing in the woods!
Shelley A.- Hiking is very peaceful. I try to choose hikes where I don't have cell service. I don't have a care in the world when I am hiking. I don't think about my problems or work at all -- a complete reset for me. Hiking keeps me calm and peaceful, and it provides great exercise!
Ayub B.- Hiking is no less than a journey into self, soul searching, an exercise in self discovery and a return to pure innocence.
Nadyne H.- It seems to me that when Jack picks a trail, that trail will most likely include mud...
Gabrielle C.- I love hiking! This has been one of the best ways for me to get to know this country since moving here!
Sarah H.- I go hiking and trail running at least three times a week! Luckily, there are four or five great spots within a couple miles of my house and work.
John H.- Spectacular views spark imagination and inspiration. Whether you are a casual observer or a professional photographer, nature always provides an equal opportunity.
Bill J. and wife Diane M.- We look for trails at every stop and take the easy and moderate ones when we can, up to about four miles at a time. Right now we are taking sections of the Discovery Trail that runs from Ilwaco, Washington, through the woods and then along the the Pacific Ocean to the north end of Washington's Long Beach.
DeeperStill- I am in Ocean Park, Washington, for two more days. After getting repairs done on my brand spanking new Winnebago View, I will be hiking up at Ledbetter tomorrow with friends.
Theramblingquilter- We just spent a month in the Smokies and hike different trails there. So peaceful and relaxing. We also love riding the rail trails that are popping up all over the country. So much safer and relaxing than riding in the roads.
Peggy C.- My knees won't let me to anything but short walks and hills are out. Love looking at pictures though.
Brenda and Bob- Taking a Fork in the Road- I have a really different reason for hiking. I do like nature, but I also know nature provides great benefits, not just to the mind and spirit, but to the body, beyond the benefits of exercise, as well. As we traverse trails we kick up soil-based organisms (SBOs) that are inhaled and provide better immune functions and increase our ability to fight off disease.
I'll end with a quote American journalist Nicholas Kristof, who said, "Wilderness trails constitute a rare space in America marked by economic diversity. Lawyers and construction workers get bitten by the same mosquitoes and sip from the same streams; there are none of the usual signals about socioeconomic status, for most hikers are in shorts and a T-shirt and enveloped by an aroma that would make a skunk queasy."
Jack Huber is a writer, blogger, poet and photographer. Like many, he is concerned about the psyche of our planet's inhabitants and wants to try to improve his little corner of it.