In the early 1980s I lived in Loveland, Colo. On weekends, I would drive up U.S. 34 along the Big Thompson River toward Estes Park, into the Arapaho & Roosevelt National Forest. I would typically stop well short of Estes, sometimes not even making it to the tiny crossroads of Drake. I’d find a roadside pullout, get out and start hiking: there didn’t need to be a trail, as long as the terrain was passible. It wouldn’t be long, scrambling up the steep canyon walls, before I’d start fantasizing that I might be the first person to have ever made it to the ridge above. Hey, I was in my 20s. What did I know?
This weekend appears to be a carbon copy (here’s a history lesson, kids) of last weekend: lots of rain during the week, lots of sun on Saturday — and this weekend, Sunday, too. That being the case, some thoughts on how to spend a sunny first weekend of 2019:
The following originally appeared in October of 2013. We re-run it today, updated, with a tweak or two
“Uh!” Kathy groaned about three quarters of the way up the grinding march up to Moore’s Knob at Hanging Rock State Park. “I wish I’d started doing this when I was younger.”
“Better late than never,” her sister Judy offered.
“Yeah,” I added, “and hiking is something you can do for another 40 years.”
Kathy looked at me like I was nuts. “I’ll be 60 this fall!”
OK, maybe another 20 years. The point, as sis so eloquently put it, it’s never too late to start an activity, especially when that activity is health-friendly hiking.
According to a 2005 report (the most recent year for which I could find demographic information for free), the average age of a hiker was 38 and nearly a third of the nation’s 76.7 million hikers were 45 or older. That’s about 25 million hikers — 25 million smart hikers, considering a 2009 study found that the decline in our level of fitness begins to accelerate after age 45. Because of the constant impact of hiking, it’s especially helpful for women trying to stave off osteoporosis. The additional health benefits of hiking are numerous: hiking regularly can lower your blood pressure by four to 10 points, reduce your chances for cardio vascular disease, reduce your odds of getting diabetes, help you keep weight off, lower your cholesterol and triglyceride levels and, perhaps most importantly, clear your head and help you maintain your sanity.
And it doesn’t discriminate on the basis of age.
Take Emma “Grandma” Gatewood. In 1955, at the age of 67, she hiked the entire 2,180-mile Appalachian Trail. That was the first time she hiked the AT; she did it again in 1960 at age 72, and again, when she was 75, in 1963. Lee Barry became the oldest person to thru-hike the AT when he completed the trail in 2004 at age 81. The oldest AT section hiker was 86 when he finished wrapped up the trail.
Closer to home, Triangle hikers have been trying to keep pace with Rod Broadbelt since he started his monthly hikes, mostly at Umstead State Park, in the 1990s. Rod goes anywhere from 8 miles (in the dead of summer) to 22 miles (in the briskness of February) on his hikes, which often leave much younger hikers gasping for breath. On a hike in 2012 he said his goal was to continue leading the hikes after he turns 80. He was 78 at the time.
And lest you be an older hiker and think you don’t have the knees for hiking, we have two words of advice: hiking poles. For just as full-suspension bikes have extended the riding lives of many an older mountain biker, and the over-sized tennis racket meant more control and less darting about the court for aging tennis players, so have hiking poles made it possible for the weak-kneed to keep on hiking. Plus, with poles, not only do you still get a good cardio workout, but your upper body gets to share the toning benefits of a hike.
We can’t blame Kathy for wishing she’d started hiking sooner; think of all the great places she’s missed seeing. But then, think of all the great places she’ll visit in the next 20 years.
I’ll remember my three hikes over the weekend as such: long stretches of brown interrupted by flashes of the wrong kind of green, the less frequent wrong patches of white and one inspiring — but again, wrong — flash of yellow.
My objective on the trail this past weekend? Find signs of spring.
Ambitious, considering snow, ice and cold had dominated late winter until early last week. Then one 75 degree day, another in the 60s and — consarn it! — where’s spring? According to Carrboro naturalist Dave Cook and his “The Piedmont Almanac,” as early as the third week of February, “the first trout lilies and spring beauties might adventurously bloom” on slopes with southern exposures. By this, the second week of March, Cook writes, we should expect to see trout lilies in their “full glory.” Cook offers a caveat: your results may vary depending upon the weather.
Since second grade, I’ve avidly watched for the first signs of spring, though the cues have changed over the years. Beginning in early February I would rush home after school to rip open the sports section of The Denver Post, then an afternoon paper, and look for the first box score of spring training. Just seeing the early at-bats of Harmon Killebrew and Moose Skowran made me feel 10
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.