Before I head down the trail with a batch of hikers, I do a bit of scouting. Even if I’ve hiked the trail before, the nature of things might have changed. If it’s a trail I hiked just last week, I might just scout the website to see if there’s been any flooding or tree falls. But if it’s been a while, and maybe in a different season, I’ll head on over to the trail and see for myself what’s new. Because, although it’s true that part of the delight of hiking is discovering new things, we don’t want to discover that a trail is impassable or there’s not enough space for overnight camping or there’s no water source for miles.
The lower temperatures and splendiferous colors of fall will entice many of us to take longer ventures into the woods in the coming days. This is a wonderful thing, but we want to remind you of a few things that will make your hike more enjoyable.
Eat. Do not look at a 10-mile hike as a crash diet, or crash you will. Just last week, one of our hikers suddenly went weak. Turns out that, in addition to a few other conspiring factors, she’d eaten only a fig bar for breakfast and had only a 16-ounce water bottle for a 5-mile hike in 85-degree heat. Calories are key to getting you down (and up) the trail. And we’re not talking HoHos and Ding Dongs, but the nutrient-rich calories found in whole grains, fruits, and nuts. Have a good breakfast, then pack up a lunch and healthy snacks.
Hydrate. In lower temperatures, when we might not sweat as much, we might think we don’t need as much hydration. Not true! Not drinking water is the fastest, surest way to stall your engine, even on a cool fall day. Some more modest hikers might be averse to drinking water because they don’t want to pee in the woods. But, you should embrace the idea that you’ll be ducking behind a tree once or twice a hike. It’s biology, people.
Start your weekend Friday evening in the Piedmont, learn how the woods once helped paint their own portraits at Elk Knob State Park, “sneak” into 10 nature programs at the coast. So much to do this weekend, and great weather in which to do it.
Monday — never an easy time for the outdoors enthusiast. After a weekend of adventure, returning to the humdrum work-a-day world can make one melancholy. To help ease the transition, every Monday we feature a 90 Second Escape — essentially, a 90-second video or slide show of a place you’d probably rather be: a trail, a park, a greenway, a lake … anywhere as long as it’s not under a fluorescent bulb.
Since launching the GetHiking! program in 2013, I’ve learned one key thing: being on the trail makes us better. It makes us better physically, emotionally and spiritually. Even on a hike where the weather turned vile, I’ve never had a hiker say, “That sucked. I’ll never do that again.” Granted, it may be a day or so before a soaked hiker comes around, but inevitably they emerge with a positive take on the experience and, more importantly, they return to hike again. Considering the main target of GetHiking! has been new hikers, that says a lot.
While GetHiking! has grown significantly since that first chapter opened in the Triangle — we now have more than 6,000 members in North Carolina (Charlotte, Greenville, the Triad and Triangle) and Virginia (Charlottesville and Virginia Beach), I’m always looking for ways to reach new hikers. So when BlueCross BlueShield of North Carolina approached me in August expressing interest in a statewide hiking program aimed at cultivating a new class of hikers, I jumped. In part, that was through a matter of loyalty: when I left The News & Observer in 2009, where I’d spent most of the 17 previous years writing about health, fitness and outdoor adventure, BCBSNC quickly moved in to sponsor the blog I had in mind (the one you’re reading). But truly, the opportunity to tap into their vast network of customers — they had nearly 3.9 million members in 2015 — was a proselytizing opportunity too rich to pass up.
In the ensuing month and a half, we’ve partnered with N.C. State Parks, Friends of State Parks, N.C. Recreation & Park Association, Great Outdoor Provision Co. and others to create Hike NC, an ambitious statewide hiking program consisting of more than 60 guided hikes. The program began this past weekend (with hikes at Fort Fisher, Haw River and Jones Lake state parks) and revs up with eight hikes this weekend, Matthew permitting.
Why should you consider signing up for Hike NC? Glad you asked.