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Go Take a Hike! Advice from an Outdoor Expert

 

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My partner has on his bucket list a very lofty goal: to hike to Mount Everest base camp in Nepal. I was surprised to learn that this goal wouldn't require technical climbing skills, but rather just the ability to hike uphill for days in cold weather at high altitude. Long story very short—we’re going to Nepal in March to undertake this 22-day trek. (We're taking a slow route for acclimatization from our Florida starting point.) You may be thinking, “Wow, Emily! You must really be physically in great shape and an experienced hiker!” You’d be ridiculously wrong on both counts.   As March grows nearer, I’m packing in the cardio, but more importantly, trying to log some miles on my brand new (shockingly expensive) and inexperienced hiking boots to prepare. 

When I lived in my ‘sticks and bricks’ home, I’ll admit that the great outdoors was more of an abstract concept than a daily reality. There were many, many days that the only time I spent in ‘nature’ was the manicured palm tree-lined cement sidewalk in the parking lot from my car to my office. My car would then once again be returned to my garage, where I would go inside, make dinner, go to sleep, and then wake to repeat. 30, maybe 45 seconds of fresh air in an entire day! When it came to hiking, I would have  rather folded a hundred fitted sheets than go walk outside on purpose for "fun." 

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When I made the move into an RV full-time (and the move to remote work,) I was re-introduced to Mother Nature. In case you haven’t met her in a while….. she’s the best. I felt like a little kid again as I would shout out loud over and over again in the truck, and in the campground, and on the side of a mountain: “Wow!”   My partner would be searching the horizon for what remarkable thing I had witnessed, and then he would realize I was in awe of a single cactus or a pile of rocks. I had forgotten how magical it is to be connected to the nature around me. This newfound love of nature, paired with our Mount Everest trek goal, meant it was time to go take a hike, and often.  Hiking is just walking, after all! How hard could it be? Turns out… there are some things every novice hiker should know in order to have a safe and enjoyable time. Don’t take my word for it, though. I scoped out an expert!

200072372Haley Blevins, Author and All-Around Rockstar

Meet Haley Blevins. She has literally written the book on hiking, and has years of impressive experiences under her belt. After 14 years as an elementary school teacher, Haley took on a new challenge--tackling America’s longest distance hiking trails: the Appalachian Trail, Continental Divide Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, and Colorado Trail. She has walked over 10,000 miles of trail, and her mission is to share her love for the outdoors. When I contacted her to share her advice and wisdom with those of us attempting to try our boots at hiking for the first time, she graciously agreed! Her enthusiasm and passion for nature was absolutely contagious, and her advice will hopefully be useful to your families out on the trail!

Woman hiking through a forest in the countryside

 What advice would you give someone just beginning to hike?

Start! There are so many different types of hikes, from multi-day overnight treks to a light stroll in the woods. Hiking is for everyone, with so many different ways to enjoy the nature around you. Hike for exercise, or as a way to clear your head, or in search of a great photograph to take. Just start!

When hiking, Haley suggests trying to familiarize yourself with the area. If you’re hiking even a few miles with elevation changes, the weather could be completely different in the parking lot than where you’re going. Let someone know where you’re headed if you’re walking alone. Also-- take care of your feet! So many people begin hiking and have a negative experience, even on a short walk, because they aren’t wearing appropriate socks and shoes for the job. When painful blisters appear, they swear off hiking, when really it was an issue of footwear. Haley recommends wool socks! (I know what you're thinking, and I thought so, too... wool socks sound itchy and hot and horrible.) I promise, they cool your feet in hot weather, keep you warm in the cold weather, and are completely durable enough to hang tough as you rack up the miles. I love my Merino wool socks, and you'll be so glad you wore them!

Compass in womans hand in the forest

What should you bring with you on a hike?

This depends on the type of hiking you’re planning. Haley recommends sticking to the ’10 Hiking Essentials,’ which was developed in the 1930s by a Seattle-based trekking company, the Mountaineers. This list includes: 1. Navigation, 2. Headlamp, 3. Sun protection, 4. First aid, 5. Knife, 6. Matches/lighter, 7. Shelter, 8. Extra food, 9. Extra water, and 10. Extra clothes, (think dry socks). Of course, if you’re walking a mile down a popular path in a National Park, your list might look different than someone 46 days into the Colorado Trail. Ultimately, you want to be prepared to be on the trail for longer than you expect in case an injury or act of nature were to happen.

Most of these items are pretty self-explanatory, but Haley does add a bit of color for a few. For navigation, although there are many technological gadgets that she has used, Haley recommends building the skills to get yourself safely back home without your tech just in case the signal or power runs low. Having a compass and the knowledge to use it could prove to be invaluable if you are hiking off the beaten path. In the area of First Aid, she recommends bringing Benadryl (along with basic first aid supplies). She has been swarmed and stung by a hundred yellow jackets while hiking, and although that's the example she shared with me, I'm sure there are more swarming critters in her memory. Carrying Benadryl (she suggests dye-free, as she herself and many others are allergic to dye,) could allow you to help yourself or others you meet on the trail who are having a possibly life-threatening reaction far from help. For the water component, Haley recommends to get a good water filter so you don’t have to carry all your potable water with you if going on an extended hike. She has never been sick due to contaminated water even after drinking from some sketchy water sources, because she is sure to filter water before drinking. Here is a water filter she loves! It doesn't require batteries or much preparation, weighs only three ounces, and is collapsable to save space in your day pack!  If you do much boondocking in your RV, this couldn't hurt to have around as a backup anyway.

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Any advice about animals?

Again, she recommends doing a little homework before you hit the trail. If you are in black bear country, for example, you will react differently than in grizzly bear country should you come upon any furry friends. (I’m a Nervous Nelly who is always packing bear spray, but Haley brings it only in certain regions of the country.) Being prepared will keep you from panicking and thinking, “Oh, no…... was I supposed to run away from this kind of animal? Stay perfectly still? Play dead?”

Knowing the types of venomous snakes or insects you may encounter will help you be prepared and vigilant about your surroundings as well. Practicing good habits, like never sleeping near your food, will help keep you and your mates, as well as the wildlife, out of danger. Although it may seem obvious to most… don’t feed the bears, and all that implies. Observe and be inspired by the nature around you without crossing a boundary into being unsafe.

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What about time in nature with the kiddos?

Haley is passionate about sharing her love of the outdoors, especially with kids. Her book, Outdoor School: Hiking and Camping: The Definitive Interactive Nature Guide, is a perfect way to connect kids to the great outdoors. Although the interactive activities are geared for kids, I can promise you that the lessons are for all of us! This book would be perfect as part of a homeschool curriculum or a family activity, with write-in sections to journal about experiences and next-level adventures to challenge even seasoned nature lovers.

Haley knows firsthand that losing yourself in nature allows you to truly be a part of it. Your kids won’t watch the seasons change… they’ll feel the seasons change when they are immersed with all their senses in the great outdoors. Spending time in nature with the whole family can make lasting memories beyond what could ever be found on a screen, as well as building foundational skills that can be leveraged for life. Intentionally setting aside time to get fresh air and learn about nature is always a good idea!

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Any final hiking words of wisdom?

Haley emphasized a rule she has made for herself over thousands of miles of trial and error. When in doubt, don't go somewhere you aren't positive you can pass back through to get home. For instance, if there is a river crossing or snowy mountain path that you aren't sure you could come back through again.... skip it. You really don't want to be stranded on the other side of an obstacle with a new challenge up ahead and be in a position where you are uncomfortable going forward or back. Be open to changing the plan to a less risky path. I have been known to take a few risks and do a few things that make me later say, "Whew! I just got sooo lucky!" (Sorry, Mom, if you're reading this.) But if the lady with over 10,000 miles of trail hiking and professional tour guiding makes a rule for herself, I'm thinking it's one I should be sure to follow.

Couple hiking through a forest in the countryside

OK, Haley. Last question. What’s with the ski poles for walking?

Haley admits she was also skeptical of hiking with poles. If you are hiking over loose rocks and need your hands, it may be more convenient to fold them up and put them away. However, if you’re walking with weight on your back, such as a heavy backpack, hiking poles can really take the stress off your joints, particularly your knees. The added stability of poles can also save you from turning an ankle or worse. Also, as an added bonus, there are tents available that use hiking poles as part of the tent structure. Who doesn’t love double-utility?

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As Haley and I finished our conversation, she casually dropped mention of a night she was sleeping in a tent in New Mexico, where a screaming mountain lion and a pack of coyotes were in a battle throughout the night. She recalled the way their calls changed as they were likely battling over possession of an unlucky animal for dinner, and the way the coyotes' yips and yelps of defeat sounded as they cleared the area, leaving the mountain lion victorious. Haley considered being this close to nature as a true blessing….. and I love that she feels that way. I think, however, that I’ll choose to be blessed by nature from a safer vantage point for the time being. It’s good to know, though, that I do feel more prepared and excited to see what’s around the next corner.

What about you? Are you an experienced hiker? Just dipping the toe of your boot in? Coerced into hiking up a mountain to 17,598 feet while possessing no discernable skills? Just me? (Mostly kidding about the coercion.) We’d love to hear in the comments about your favorite hiking locations or where you may be on your journey. Until then…. One foot in front of the other, happy campers!

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Happy travels,

Emily


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