One Foot in Front of the Other

By Harold Stearley At Earthwalking

If you’ve read many of the posts on my blog, you know that I talk about hiking in Nature a lot.  This is part of my spiritual practice, to get out in the Natural World.  But a friend asked a reasonable question not long ago, so I decided to think about it and write something on it.  They asked:

“What’s the difference between hiking and walking?”

It turns out that is a bit more profound than it seems, because we, as humans, like to define and differentiate things.  To the extreme. 😊

The simple dictionary definitions would say this:

Walking is to “move at a regular pace by lifting and setting down each foot in turn, never having both feet off the ground at once.”

Humm, I wonder what it’s called if both feet are in the air – “flying” – LOL!

Hiking, on the other hand, is “the activity of going for long walks, especially in the country or woods.”

Now I’m not sure when a walk turns into a hike.  Is it at one mile, or two?  Or does it happen by increment of time?  At the one-hour mark?  One day?  One week?  Or when you leave the city limits and are officially “in the country.”

When does the magic dust get sprinkled on your feet that turns a walk into a hike?

Recently, I bought a book called “The Ultimate Hiker’s Guidebook.”  A very experienced hiker put together his reviews of all the gear, tools, and techniques you need to be a successful hiker.  In the intro of the book he had several definitions to distinguish types of hikers.  He essentially labeled these as “styles.”

There are apparently three styles of “backcountry” hiking and notice the slight twist to terminology.  Now we’re talking about “backcountry” and the term “backpacking” gets tacked on too, as opposed to just “hiking” or “walking.”

There is “backcountry hiking,” “backcountry camping,” and “camping by default.”

Ok, so backcountry hiking refers to backpackers just trying to cover distance, putting one foot in front of the other, in order “to experience as much terrain as possible within the limited free time they have and challenge their mind and body in a wild setting.”

In contrast, backcountry camping is where the “primary objective is a non-hiking extracurricular activity such as birding, botanizing, gourmet cooking, hunting, leadership development, or merit badges.”  If these folks wish to hike, they drop their gear at a base camp and explore from there.

Camping by default occurs when a person sets out to hike a certain distance and is not fully prepared or overly prepared, so they end up camping a lot along the way.  These folks didn’t adequately figure out what they wanted to do and brought the wrong gear, or incomplete gear, or packed the kitchen sink – absolutely everything one would need to survive in every “just-in-case” scenario.  They have to camp along the way to either compensate for lack of something or to get all of that weight off their backs.  Geez!

This is not the end of definitions, however.

We can also split hikers out by the relationships they are seeking.  Some hike to develop their relationship with Nature.  Some to develop relationships with fellow hikers – bonding and mutual dependence.  And some to further the relationship with themselves.  These hikers seek out personal challenges, both physical and mental.

I suppose one could hike with all three purposes in mind.  But there are still more terms . . .

In addition to analyzing hiking in terms of styles and relationships, there is speed.  So we have miles per hour (MPH), miles per day (MPD) and hours per day (HPD).  So, if you wish to increase your MPD, you can choose to increase your MPH, or the HPD that you walk, or both.

Fast hikers can supposedly achieve 40 miles per day!  Wow!!!

Now I get this type of thinking if you’re going to be taking on the challenge of a long hike.  The Arizona Trail and Trans-Alaskan Trail each cover some 800 miles. The Appalachian Trail, about 2200 miles.  And the Pacific Coast Trail extends some 2650 miles.

Now that’s some hiking.  Hiking I am in no way prepared to accomplish, physically or gear wise, at the moment.  Although, I think I’m mentally up to those challenges.

For me, when it comes to defining “hiking,” I am talking day-hikes.  Reasonable distances you can cover in a single day, enjoy and appreciate wildlife in all its forms, and return the next day if you wish without any need for hospitalization from extreme exposure, injury, exhaustion, or starvation.

And you can combine other activities if you want in my world of walking/hiking.  Like photography.  Or having a picnic.  Or fishing.  Or swimming.  Or bird watching.  Or anything else you can think of once you’ve walked a bit of distance into the Natural World.

I consider hunting to be a separate activity all together and that doesn’t fit in any of my definitions.  I would only do such if my survival truly depended upon it.  Fishing, I think, is more sporting and you can always catch and release if you don’t need the food.  It’s a little harder to retrieve bullets from animals and send them happily on their way.

While I’ve trained with up to a 40-pound backpack, I generally carry a small pack with food, water, medicine, first aid gear, and a camera – all toll, about 12 to 14 pounds.

My “limit,” or maybe I should say my “maximum achievement,” so far, has been 13 miles.  And that was a great day, a wonderland of beauty, and I was ready to hit another trail the next day after a great diner, some craft beer, and a good night’s sleep in a comfortable bed.

I was covering 70 to 100 miles per week, on average, in July.

If you want call that walking, fine.  I walked 13 miles in the backcountry (where you had to leave a notice with the US Forest Service in case you don’t return) and my senses took in and savored everything around me.

It was a magnificent walk.

In Metta


Photo:  One of the Alpine areas I hiked in when I was out in Oregon.  This wasn’t the day of my 13-mile hike, that one was my Green Lakes hike.  See my post Spiritual Consumerism for a couple of pics from that hike 🙂

10 thoughts on “One Foot in Front of the Other”

  1. For me, walking is anything on flat ground anywhere and hiking involves a climb in nature. I walk around the neighbourhood, or to the store, or on the flat nature paths near my house. Even if I walked on those paths for days and slept out overnight, that would still be a walk with a camping trip involved. But I hike in the Gatineau hills in Quebec or in the Rocky Mountains. Two of the trails we hiked at Lake Louise, Alberta had tea rooms at the end. That was a definite bonus!

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