A summer hike recalls summer vacation

Note: The following is a tweaked re-run of a post that originally appeared in July 2022. With the current heat it’s even more relevant today than it was when it originally appeared.

Tuesday afternoon I was driving back from a meeting in Oxford when I made a detour in Stem. Specifically, to the Tar River Land Conservancy’s Ledge Creek Forest Conservation Area. It was 98 degrees, with a Heat Index of 105, no one’s idea of ideal hiking conditions. Yet once I got under the canopy, the heat became less of an issue.

Why? I was reminded of being a kid.

Summer has long meant vacation, but never was the connection as clear as when we were kids. When it started to get hot, the school year ended. Nine months of being cooped up in an institutional building, then, freedom. Heat immediately became our friend. Good timing, especially since our schools weren’t air-conditioned. Besides, why waste such great weather indoors? So we spent the summer, the entire 12 weeks, outside. In the sun and the heat in the pursuit of happiness.

Typically, that happiness was found by heading to the nearest woods, hopefully finding a good water source. I’m not going to “back-in-my-day” you because that gets old fast. And frankly, I’m sure my recollections would be embellished with time. But I know it was great because every time I head out on a steamy summer’s day as an adult, I get that tingly feeling of being a kid with no worries in the world. Granted, I’ve had to make an adjustment or two over the years:

  • Clothing. As a kid, I remember wearing shorts. That was pretty much it. As an adult, Long pants to ward off ticks, long sleeves to protect from the sun, and shoes. All of which are small concessions. 
  • Sunscreen. Sunscreen as a kid was for the pool, not for adventures. Today, I seek out a high SPF (preferably with hydrating moisturizer) every time I head out the door.
  • Hat. One of the goals of summer vacation was to return to school in the fall with hair sun-bleached blond. Today, a hat covers the bald spot to prevent painful dome burn. 
  • Bug spray. A popular topic of conversation before a hike today is who has what kind of bug spray. You lose points if your active ingredient is DEET. As a kid, we used to run in the street behind the truck the neighborhood spraying for mosquitoes.
  • When we’d venture out. Today, we avoid the heat of the day by hiking before 9 a.m. or after 7 p.m. Back then, we’d head out after waking up after 9, and we had to be home for dinner by 5.
  • Having a plan. As a kid, the plan was simply to disappear. As an adult, I look for places near water (to cool off), with north-facing slopes (which are cooler), and with a lush canopy (blocking out the sun makes it feel 10 degrees cooler).
  • Hydration. As an adult, I always, always, always head out with at least a liter bottle of cold water for a summer’s hike. As a kid, we’d head out with no water bottle (plastic hadn’t been invented yet), but guzzle a gallon of Kool-Aid when we got home.

Oddly, despite being bathed in sweat on a summer outing, there’s a certain weightlessness that accompanies such a venture. You were never more carefree than you were as a kid on summer vacation. And it wasn’t the fact that you were always in “go” mode. It was the one time you were free to do whatever you pleased. 

Recapture that summer vacation verve as an adult: Take a summer hike.

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GetHiking! Guide to Summer Hiking

OK, so maybe it was a little easier to take the heat as a kid. But by following a few small suggestions, you can mitigate the heat. You can find those suggestions in our GetHiking! Guide to Summer Hiking, here.

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