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The Valuable Day Hike
by Norm Zurawski
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If ever you've been struck by the urge to get up and head to your local mountain and walk around for a bit, there's only one way to pacify this feeling. Go on a day hike. What better way to spend a free afternoon than to lace up your boots and get away from life for awhile than by heading out on the trail for afternoon of solitude? But one thing that many people don't realize is how useful a day hike can be. While it may be a great way to relax, it can be so much more. Learning how to make it such can be a valuable way to make yourself a better hiker.
The single thing to remember about a day hike is this: No matter what you do on a day hike, it will soon be over. In comparison, extended hikes can be ruined by a few falters in the waning moments of the journey. No matter what happens on a day hike, be it a sprained ankle or a bit of rain, it will only last for a few hours. (Still, this is no reason to ignore your local weather report.) While the nagging pain of the ankle or the memory of soggy shoes might not fade so rapidly, regardless of what happens, the day will only last until you get back into your car and drive home. Because of this, a day hike can be as simple as you like, or as complex as you want it to be. The day hike is a great place to get yourself warmed up for a weekend hike or a much longer hike. Use it as such.
There are, of course, two ways to look at a day hike. The first way could probably be considered a more traditional technique. The directions for this first method are rather simple: Just go. All you need for this is a place to hike and a little bit of ambition and you have yourself a day hike. While this method may be the preferred option for the spontaneous hiker, it doesn't utilize the potential that you get if you actually think about it for an hour or so. I've done exactly that. Before I go out for each hike, I consider what I'm trying to get out of the hike, other than getting out.
The nature of any hike will more often than not provide you with several things no matter what. Exercise is a big one. A place to think is another. A third would often be the scenery you get by being in nature for a solid afternoon. But there's more. For instance, it's the obvious place to truly get acquainted with your new boots. And if you're doing such, it's often times a good way to familiarize yourself with the methods of foot repair. This is when you'll realize Moleskin is one of your best friends.
A day hike can also be a place to learn about your body. By taking longer hikes, you begin to learn which parts of your body tend to hurt first. If, after 5 hours of hiking, you feel your lower back beginning to ache, it might be time to consider a new pack or at least an adjustment to your current one. Don't be fooled. Even a 5 to 10 pound day pack can make your back ache if you wear it incorrectly or walk with an arch. Other body parts such as your ankles and knees will always be tested on longer hikes. Learning where your body fails first is a good way to learn how to hike efficiently.
If you really want to know where your feet are going to fail (they almost always do sooner or later), hike downhill. There is no better way to wear out your feet than to walk a moderately sloping downhill. If there is even the smallest bit of space in your boots for your feet to chaff and blister (and we all know that there is) walking downhill will let you know exactly where those spots are. So when you go on a longer hike, you will know precisely where your feet are going to begin to scream. This enables you to avert foot disaster before it begins. It may sound trite, but believe me, ignoring your feet is a sure way to end your trip before it begins.
Something else to consider is testing a new stove on a day hike. You don't want to find out how much of a pain it is to warm up a nice lunch on the first afternoon of your ten day hike. There's no better way to test it than to carry it along on a day trip and make lunch somewhere along the way. Or, if it's been awhile, you can get back into the backpacking mentality by having just such an outing.
Another exercise is to hike on a rainy day. If you plan on going on an extended hike, chances are that it will rain on one or more of those days. Who wants to find out they forgot to seal up the stitching on their boots at 9:00 in the morning on their first rainy day? In addition to testing your boots for the crafty penetration of water, you'll be able to better get a feel for how you react personally to those endless rainy days that seem to be destined to mentally drive you into the ground.
The possibilities are endless with day hikes. The beauty of it is, you'll be coming back by nightfall. So if you forgot to waterproof your boots since last season or you purchased a stove that seems to want to tumble over as soon as you put a pot of water on it, you'll know right away. You'll be able to fix the problem before you get out on the trail. If you're really in the mood to test your gear, pack your long distance bags fully for the day hike. It may seem a little much to cart 50 - 60 pounds of a backpack up a trail that you only plan on being on for 5 hours, but it'll give you a sense of what to expect. You'll be able to figure out what you forgot to bring when you do head out on the trail for a longer spell. Just remember, each step of a ten day hike is a day hike in itself.
About the AuthorHailing from the wonderful locale of New Jersey, Norm Zurawski (normZurawski@yahoo.com) is a part time hiker, biker, walker, writer, and lover of things n
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