“In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous.”
A while back, I posted a couple of blogs where I talked about hiking, contrasted the differences between “hiking” and “walking,” and dissected the purpose of hiking; whether it be for camping or exploring some aspect of Nature in particular, or to just connect two dots on the map. And I also discussed the use of mantras for calling cadence, which can have miraculous effects on extending our endurance and the distance we can cover.
Our minds can overcome things our bodies cannot. And vice versa, our bodies can overcome things our minds cannot. Harmonizing both mind and body can make the difference between having a wonderful hiking adventure or facing a life versus death scenario.
Well today, I wanted to write something about the sheer mechanics of our bipedal excursions out into the Wilderness. Looking at the nuts and bolts of something may seem a bit dry, so I’ll try to make it as interesting as I can.
Here goes . . .
I’ve had my share of mishaps over the years. I hiked and camped in the Colorado Rockies during a snow storm having only carried with me summer gear. I hiked the Grand Canyon once with too much gear and wearing the wrong kind of boots – ouch! My brother and I went off-trail in the Canyon a couple of years later and were almost swept away when a Monsoon Rain snuck up on us. (See Torrent) And here lately, I’ve suffered a few falls – unlikely events that could have turned into real emergency situations rapidly. The Spirits were apparently with me.
Was I better prepared this time around? Yes. Would that preparation have made any significant distance in the outcome? Well, yes and no. It depends on the injuries and if you had someone else with you that could provide or seek help. (I’ll write more about the falls in a separate post.)
I was out early to take in the Sunrise on an 8-mile hike between two canyons in Southern Az. As I was walking, I ran into another gentleman who was also hiking alone and he sort of provided a mirror back to me of how I must have appeared because we were decked out in similar gear.
Broad-brimmed hat; day pack of about 15 pounds; light-weight and slightly loose-fitting clothing – full covering to provide insect and sun protection but not so heavy as to weigh you down or trap too much body heat; sturdy hiking boots; and a big smile – great attitudes.
A great attitude is essential.
By the way, the guy I met, his name was Buster.
And having this chance meeting, Buster and I had a nice chat. You could say we were excited to run into one another as it’s always nice to share wondrous experiences with fellow travelers. And this is one of the best ways I’ve learned to pick up great suggestions on new places to go explore. My list keeps on growing, no matter how much traveling I do because of these excellent viva voce sources.
Now there are so-called “rules” when you go out hiking.
You’re not supposed to just go out there haphazardly and count on dumb luck to get you home safely. And Buster and I were both violating one of the most cardinal rules. We were hiking alone.
Yep, you’re supposed to hike with a buddy in case you need help. Even if you’re on a heavily hiked trail. You can’t count on someone else showing up to save the day. I’ve also seen it recommended that you hike in groups of no less than three. That was in Yellowstone, and three is apparently a magic number that helps keep the Black Bears away.
Well, I’ve been violating this rule for quite a while now, and someday maybe I’ll have a hiking partner, but for the moment just know that whatever distance you hike somewhere, you have to cover the same distance out, and if you’re injured, and alone, you may be crawling out.
Similar rules are, always tell someone where you’re going and when to expect you back, and have some form of communication and/or GPS gadget with you so you can transmit your coordinates to the rescue party. 😊 Obviously, GPS can also serve as your navigator and I can’t tell you how many ways there are to get lost out there.
Now, there are many different types of gadgets out there so you might want to do a little bit of research before coughing up the cash for one. Here’s a good reference from REI to help you decide.
And speaking of getting lost, I recommend that you do lots of 360s. That’s looking all the way around you as you hike because I guarantee you that the return hike out of the Wilderness, in most cases, will look completely different from the hike in.
Or just the opposite.
I prematurely ended one hike in the Sonoran Desert when I quickly realized that all directions looked identical, and the trail was very poorly marked – a surefire recipe for getting lost. Another reason, perhaps, for getting that GPS gadget, a compass, and maybe even some good trail maps.* 😊
Continuing with my theme of breaking the rules, I’ve not only been hiking alone, but I’ve been very remote, sometimes the only person on a given trail, where I’ve had no cell connection, and I had no GPS device or a compass to guide me. And I never told anyone where I was going or when to expect me back.
Humm, perhaps I’ll get a little better about doing those things.
So, let me list out a few other hints for making your hiking experience care free.
Before you go, know the distance you plan to travel, miles in and miles out. And monitor time as well – time in and time out. Be flexible, you can always change your mind, especially if you find yourself becoming exhausted.
Buster and I were hiking in different directions, but both of us were on an East-facing slope of the mountains and that’s where we’d be all day on this particular trail. Thus, before noon at least, we were going to be baking in continuous direct sunlight, and there were only a few shady spots for relief.
It’s all about planning.
In this instance, hiking later in the day might have been wiser. Or earlier, before Grandfather Sun emerged and the temps were lower, which was actually how we both had started our hikes.
If you’re at an elevation, or gaining elevation on your hike, know how that will affect your body. Your ability to metabolize oxygen. And generally speaking, always know your limitations. (See the info on VO2 Max below.)
This ties in with any medications you may take. Know their effects on your body in times of stress when you need stamina. Some medications, like beta-blockers for your heart, will prevent your body from compensating when you need an increased heart rate or blood pressure.
It’s ok to take breaks, but if you start taking long breaks you can lose your desire and ability to continue. This comes back to your mental intention, which can overcome almost all physical barriers. Mental intention fades, though, if you’re not moving.
Pay attention to the condition of the trail your on. Watch where you’re stepping. Is the trail soft-packed dirt, or full of loose rock and/or tree roots? If you’re on rock, is it slickrock, talus, or scree? Will your feet be rolling over loose rock constantly, like walking on marbles, or will you be climbing and hopping around on boulders?
And remember, while you’ll be looking down a bunch to know what you’re stepping on, and what not to step on, don’t forget to look up and enjoy the scenery once and a while. Sometimes, the trail is so rough it’s best to stop before looking around. I have tripped and fallen a couple of times having made the error of taking my eyes off the trail to enjoy the scenery while walking . 😊
What belongs in your day pack?
Number one is Water. And know the signs and symptoms of heat stroke and heat exhaustion.**
Food – light-weight, high-calorie density. How much depends on how long you plan to be hiking, but I’m primarily a day hiker, so I bring enough for one day knowing I could stretch that to two.
Medicines – Bring at least a couple of days worth just in case you get delayed. And especially bring emergency meds like an EpiPen if you have bad allergies.
Other Stuff – Emergency blanket, fire starter, bug spray, safety whistle, multi-tool, first aid stuff, compass and/or that GPS gadget.
Protection – things like bear spray or fire arms. You’ll have to decide what best fits your situation, but I always default to the assumption that humans are the most dangerous animal.
And don’t forget a camera. It’s the only way to capture that perfect shot! And there will always be that one perfect shot that sums up the entire adventure. Oh BTW, cell phone cameras are great at taking landscape shots, but not so great at getting closeups, unless your object is stationary. If you want a nice pic of a bear, and still be alive to look at it, get a real camera and telephoto or zoom lens.
As far as first aid stuff goes, I can tell you from having gotten a few blisters, just having a couple of band-aids along can greatly increase your comfort as you continue down the trail. And if you get a blister, it’s best not to pop it. There is no better protection for you as this serves as a barrier to infection. The band-aid goes over the blister and will help stops the friction and hopefully keep the blister intact. It’s best to have more than just band-aids, though. Have an Ace wrap, and some 2 by 2s, 4 by 4s, tape, and triple antibiotic ointment.
Falls, even minor falls, can be really deadly. So know how to fall. Control your fall. Instead of going over the edge on a switchback to the one twenty feet below, if you’re falling, pull yourself towards the trail you’re on – towards the wall along your switchback. Fall backward on your butt, as opposed to falling forward on your face. If you can. This requires being in touch with your body so you can always sense what is happening in your orbit. And keenly pay attention to your balance.
Know the Terrain
And by that I mean completely. You should know what you’re getting into. Research ahead of time. Know all the harmful creatures you may encounter, like Mountain Lions or Bears or Snakes. Remember, you are the intruder here, and these Spirits may see you as being the threat, or a meal.
Whether you are in the Rain Forest . . .
Or in the Desert . . .
Know before you go.
Know if you will be straying into sacred Ancestral lands. If so, be highly respectful. Do not destroy ancient Artifacts, or Petroglyphs, or Pictographs. Take a pic of them. Hold them in respect and be thankful to have seen such mystical sights. Not everyone gets to be this close to the Ancestors.
What ever you pack in, pack out.
This all comes down to don’t be a lazy asshole and leave trash behind.
Resources on Gear
If you want the lowdown on hiking gear, I recommend National Geographics’s book, “The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide: Tools and Techniques to Hit the Trail.” This book was authored by Andrew Skurka, and he has made a living from hiking – and I mean long distance hiking. He has sampled all imaginable gear, putting it to the test in the field, and he ranks it all.
And I mean he evaluates everything: tools, clothing, footwear, sleeping systems, shelters, navigation, trekking poles, food, cooking systems, water, small essentials, and backpacks. And the cost of this stuff.
I got to tell you that at first I was put off a little by his suggestions because some of the gear is so expensive. But I was fortunate to meet an amazing hiker this past summer who showed me some of her gear, and I’ve got to tell you, as expensive as some of it was, it was worth every penny.
There is a lot of scientifically engineered gear out there to be light weight yet incredibly durable. But before you go spending your life’s savings on this stuff, evaluate what you have already and make do when you can. Field test it though.
There is one item, however, that you should never skimp on, and that’s footwear. You absolutely have to take care of your feet. Your feet are going to carry you everywhere, under every condition, and if you injure your feet, that alone can lead to your demise.
Skurka gives you comparisons between boots and shoes, and you’ll learn such things as the physics of foot wear. For one, I learned that wearing hiking boots, each weighing two pounds, is the equivalent of adding twelve pounds to your backpack. Ponder that for just a minute. You’ll be carrying that weight with every step you take.
What ever you do, and whatever gear you decide to carry, have fun. 🙂
“May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds.”
Other Prior Posts about Hiking:
* Good trail maps are topographical maps that not only help you with direction, but give you the elevations and terrain of your route.
** Warning Signs and Symptoms of Heat-Related Illness
It’s kind of funny. My daughter and her fiancé got me a Garmin watch for my birthday. It tells me that I take more steps than 70% of other users in my age group, I climb more stairs than 54% of those other users, and I get more sleep than 32% of other users my age; yet my “VO2 Max” shows my fitness age to be that of a 79-year-old. Humm . . .
VO2 Max is “the number of milliliters of oxygen you use per kilogram of body weight in one minute (ml/kg/min).” Its supposed to represent your horsepower — “the capacity your body (engine) has to use oxygen when exercising.”
Here are a couple of good sources to learn what this is all about. Heck, I might write something about it in the future.
But I can tell you this, I think they are wrong about the 79-year-old crap . . . Oh, and I did get the T-Shirt that says, “Hiking, Because People Suck.” LMAO !