A Wonderful Time to Take a Hike: Some Tips

“Flora and the Zephyrs” -John William Waterhouse

The sociopolitical climate is anything but polite, and people’s tempers are raging. Self-righteousness, whatever the concern, makes for some interesting high-volume conversations. That’s not to say that those conversations don’t need to be had, that they aren’t important, or that the time isn’t now, but with mental health problems rising, big tech censorship, corporate media distortions, and poor-quality education in many places, the whole thing is a mess.

I do have good news though. If you are feeling angry, anxious, overwhelmed, or burnt out, you can take some time off from saving the world and engage in other activities. By taking some time to refresh your head space, you may find yourself better prepared to discuss and contribute to the causes you care about.

In Southern California, it is sunny and cool, a lovely sort of weather for outdoor explorations. For those of you in colder climates, the sunshine may be a thing of memory, but fear not, the sun will shine again.

Winter Hiking

During the last two years, hiking has become more popular in Southern California. For many people, it is a free way to exercise, and for some, it is a way to get some space from the city or the roar of social media. Because hiking is a trend right now, even amidst Corona Virus, the more popular trails are often busier than expected, but luckily there are a wide variety of trails to visit. It is worth driving an hour out to the wilderness to visit one you discovered online.

I am a self-admitted hiking enthusiast. Aside from finding a true source of happiness through the exertion of the hike, when I am in nature, I feel a deep sense of peace. My senses are filled with the glow of the sun upon the leaves or with the profundity of something as simple as the clouds sweeping through the branches. I wouldn’t say I am as hardy as those thru-hiking people, who hike all day, camp, and then hike some more, the types you encounter on the Pacific Crest Trail. However, I have spent years of my life consistently hiking multiple times a week in different types of environments, and those hikes have made my life more enjoyable regardless of the inevitable pains that are part of the human experience. That is why, even though my life is imperfect just like anyone else’s, I frequently recommend hiking, especially to friends who are miserable in some way. It’s an activity that is positive regardless of your background.

I plan on getting some time outdoors this weekend and figured some of you readers out there might have the same thing in mind if only because you want to escape for a little while. For those of you who need to escape but have been glued to the couch in a state of vigilant isolation, the last time you hiked may seem like a distant memory. Some of you may not go hiking at all, but maybe now is the time. Nature is a wonderful place to decompress and get one’s thoughts together.

Here are some tips for infrequent or beginner hikers:

1. Plan a route ahead of time. Determine the difficulty level based on an honest appraisal of your physical fitness. Read trail reviews to determine how much shade there is, if there are creeks, how frequented the area is, and so forth.

2. If you are planning on a winter hike, be sure to wake up early because the sun sets early.

3. Avoid hiking at dawn or the gloaming hour because mountain lions hunt at those times.

4. Eat a large breakfast with lots of protein. That way you are full and have sustained energy during your journey.

5. Pack enough water. Even if temperatures are cool, you will still need more water than usual if you are hiking. I usually fill up two liter size water bottles for my treks. You might fill one of the water bottles with an electrolyte drink or take some electrolyte pills if you are prone to dehydration.

6. Pack a lunch depending on how long you plan to be out. I don’t like to carry a lot with me, so I usually bring some jerky, trail mix, and a fruit if I’m only going to be out for a few hours.

7. Spray your clothing with bug spray before you leave. Spray yourself with bug spray when you arrive. Some people don’t have a problem with bugs or don’t like bug spray for whatever reason. Other people attract bugs, like mosquitos or gnats. Plan accordingly.

8. Have a hiking buddy or two. Truth be told, I go on hikes by myself, sometimes in new places, because I need the exercise to feel good. I do my research ahead of time, selecting hikes appropriate for my fitness level. Even so, accidents happen, and having a friend around can potentially save you from disaster. This is why I often invite people to hike with me even if I feel hiking by myself would be nice.

9. Use S.P.F. even if it is winter, regardless of your skin tone. I recommend non-toxic S.P.F. above a 30 rating. I reach for baby S.P.F. actually because I figure anything meant for a baby would have a low likelihood of toxicity.

10. I recommend wearing shoes designed for hiking with ankle support. I wear Lems waterproof boulder boot because they are super comfortable, durable, and waterproof. The boots last for about a decade. If you are strapped for cash, you can always get a pair of clearance hiking shoes at Big 5 or another sporting goods store. Now is the time to find good deals.

11. If you hear a shaking in the bushes, don’t run. Anything dangerous will view your attempt to flee as a sign that you are food. Maintain a confident stance and take up space. Most animals, unless they are sick, do not want to mess with humans. Do a little research ahead of time to determine the most appropriate responses to encounters with the local wildlife. Sometimes making noise is an appropriate response. Other times, it is slowly backing away without acting frightened. Part of the reason it’s a good idea to have a friend with you is because being outnumbered in a fight, so to speak, will make it even more likely for the animal to avoid you.

12. If you bring children or small animals with you, keep them close. Any sort of confrontational animal would go for the weakest or the most isolated of the group.

13. Set your phone to airplane mode, so your battery doesn’t drain looking for signal.

14. Wear long pants and long sleeves. Research what your local poisonous plants look like ahead of time in order to better avoid them.

15. Stay on well established trails, so you don’t get lost in the woods.

16. Greet your fellow hikers. They could potentially be there for you in an emergency, or if you go missing, they can volunteer information about where they saw you.

17. If someone is biking, especially downhill, move to the side, so they can safely continue on their way. When biking downhill, high speeds are reached. Rocks and holes are extra dangerous, so it is easier and more courteous for you to move rather than the cyclist.

18. Bring a bag with you, so you can pick up your trash.

19. Once you are there, take the time to enjoy the scenery. If you hike more often and brought a guitar, play some songs. If you packed light, perhaps you brought a notebook or something to read. Sketch what you see. Read your book. Play some cards even. The point is not just the effort but the feelings that arise as part of your voyage.

20. Have fun. Yes, there are animals and poisonous plants out in the wild, but I hope I didn’t scare you. Caution is a logical thing that can prevent the possibility of problems. Keep in mind that hiking on well established trails is reasonably safe. Plus, you get exercise, fresh air, and natural beauty. It’s good for the soul.

Picture updated 3.24.22

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