In general, New Year’s Day is seen as a time for renewal, for eating better, for exercising more, for simply being healthier and happier. In hiking circles, though, spring is the time to rediscover yourself: warming temperatures, the listless winter world stirring back to life, the overall sense of rebirth. Yup, now’s the time to start hiking. And here’s a peek at how that might look.
You arrive in the parking lot, a little nervous. You’re early, not desperately so, but enough to make sure you can find your group, maybe mingle a bit before heading out to make things less awkward.
You see people in spandex gathered near the trailhead. Runners, you think — and hope. Two women with dogs are nearby, as are a knot of energetic 20somethings. You keep scanning until you see ten, maybe a dozen people in hiking gear laughing and chatting near a Prius. From their gear — hiking shoes, pants with lots of pockets, fleece tops and day packs sprouting what look like feeding tubes — they look like they know what they’re doing. They also look like they’ve been doing it for a while, together. Tentatively, you approach.
‘Here for the hike?’
A smiling woman notices you and stops her own conversation. “Are you here for the hike?”
“Is this the group doing three miles?” you ask.
“Some of us are doing three, some five and a half,” she says. “Have you hiked with the group before?”
You say you haven’t, that you don’t have a lot of experience hiking, period. Worry not, you are assured: “We’ll take care of you.”
That’s a relief, you think. Maybe they have hiked together for a while, but they seem open to newcomers. You join the conversation, adding a bit of information about yourself — where you live, that you might like to hike with your dog, that you don’t like snakes, which draws a knowing laugh)— but mostly listen. There’s some talk of the impending hike, but mostly the group is catching up.
“Ruby!” your new friend yells to a woman who has just gotten out of her car. “We’ve got a new hiker!” Ruby introduces herself, asks about your experience, which you apologetically explain. “Hon,” she says, “don’t worry. We love beginners.”
The hike begins …
The hike begins. The thought of three miles on natural-surface trail makes you nervous. Twice a week you hike two miles on the local greenway, a relative flat, smooth stretch of asphalt. Here, there’s a lot of rocks and tree roots, a lot of quick ups and downs. Some of the hikers have poles, which somehow makes you more apprehensive.
You start near the back, not wanting to get in the way on this narrow trail. The group, which has grown to about 15, begins to separate after five minutes or so. As expected, you’re at the back of the pack, but you’re with five other people. You ask the man behind you if he’d like to get around you. “Nope! I’m the sweep,” he says. To your puzzled look, he quickly adds, “I stay in the back to make sure no one gets dropped. I’m like the caboose.”
The five of you stick together. You learn that two are a couple who met hiking. Two more are retired, a third hasn’t been hiking all that long himself. They fill you in on the group and about what to bring on a hike. Then the talk turns to life. About the new Lidl that opened on the north side of town. About a series of cat memes that some think are hilarious, some think not so much. About a member of the group who plans to climb Kilimanjaro.
“The highest point in Africa,” someone adds. “19,308 feet!”
Gosh, they must have been hiking for years, you say.
“Actually,” says the sweep, “she just started last year.”
… and just that quick, it’s over
The conversation continues, as does the run of non-stop scenery. It’s spring, and the trail passes clumps of newly bloomed spring beauties and trout lilies and periwinkle. Wild grasses blanket the lower-lying stretches, while the trees are starting to sprout a sea of pastel red and yellow and orange buds. Against the stark blue sky, they’re especially mesmerizing: it’s like being in a pastel landscape painting. The temperature is in the upper 50s, and you feel like you could go on and on, maybe all three miles! Then the group, the three milers, stop. You look around, and see your car 30 feet away.
“We’re back?” you ask. You check your Fitbit. Holy cow! 7,763 steps!
Your group reflects on what a great hike it was, then it’s time to head home.
“See you next week?” asks the sweep.
See you next week, you confirm.
* * *
Interested in hiking?
If so …
GetHiking! Spring Beginner Hiker Series, March 8 – April 26, various locations around the Triangle. Every Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m. we hike a different trail in the Triangle, starting with a slow pace on a short hike (1.5 miles) and building up over the course of the session to a 5.7-mile graduation hike. For more information and to sign up, go here.
The New Hiker. You can also check out a series of helpful posts we wrote for our friends at Great Outdoor Provision Co. aimed at folks just getting started hiking. Click on the topic of interest: