HIKING IS THE BEST BANG-FOR-THE-BUCK
We all know that exercise is good for us, but it’s often boring and/or annoying. To add insult to injury, gym memberships cost money. You’ve also probably heard that being outside can help mood, memory, and other brain function (if not, check out this article, for example). We can get both exercise and outdoor time cheaply, easily, and (for the most part) pleasantly by hiking.
MENTAL AND PHYSICAL HEALTH ACTIVITY
IT’S NOT HARD TO HIKE
Hiking is NOT mountain climbing or death marches that only fit 20-somethings bursting with testosterone can do easily. Hiking is nothing more than walking in the woods or other natural surroundings. There are hiking trails alongside beaches. There are hiking trails my 2-year old grandson can manage on his own two feet. There are both short and long hiking trails, flat and nearly vertical hiking trails, difficult and easy hiking trails. You also don’t need much in the way of skills to start hiking if you pick well-marked, well-used trails near civilization. And, speaking of trails near civilization, in Connecticut you can take a city bus to get to some hiking trails.
YOU DON’T HAVE TO BUY SPECIAL EQUIPMENT
Some people get put off by articles that tell them they must have special footwear or equipment to hike. It is true that in many situations that can be advisable. I once saw a woman hiking in sparkly dress sandals with HEELS on a multi-day hike up to Mount Washington in New Hampshire. I strongly advise you NOT to wear those on a hike, but some experienced hikers prefer to run trails barefoot or wear Teva-type sandals on long hikes. For easy hikes you can wear any pair of comfortable shoes that would work for you if you were doing significant walking on a dirt road or on unpaved surfaces in a park. If you get into hiking, a good pair of hiking shoes will improve your experience and help prevent injury as you do longer and more challenging hikes. To protect your knees, it is a really good idea to use a hiking pole or stick when going downhill — but you can find a downed limb along the trail to use or buy a cheap one at Ocean State Job Lot — they work just fine. A container of water is a must, but no fancy hydration system is required. Snacks like GORP (good ol’ raisins and peanuts) are advisable, but you don’t need expensive energy bars.
THERE ARE MORE THAN 825 MILES OF FREE TRAILS IN CONNECTICUT
The Connecticut Forest and Park Association, a wonderful non-profit, maintains blue-blazed trails (trails with blue markings — see picture at top of post) all over Connecticut. How can you find about those trails? Their wonderful Connecticut Walk Book, can be found in CT libraries (the Hartford Library has 4 copies available as I write this), book stores, and on Amazon. They also have a free, interactive map on their website.
In addition there are trails at nearly all our state parks and many towns have their own hiking trails. Did you know that CT no longer charges for parking at its state parks?
YOU CAN GET STARTED BY HIKING WITH A GROUP FOR FREE!
You don’t have to hike with a group, but it’s a good way to learn some basic skills and build your confidence. My recommendation is to check out the Connecticut Appalachian Mountain Club. Don’t worry about the “Mountain” in the name — they have easy hikes you can start with and they rate all their hikes to indicate the length of the hike, the speed at which they’ll likely be hiking, and the difficulty of the terrain over which they’ll hike. For example, a rating of C4D is the easiest possible hike. C = less than 5 miles, 4= leisurely, less than two tenths of a mile per hour, and D=easy terrain. For a list of all the rating codes for the Connecticut Chapter of the AMC, see https://www.outdoors.org/outdoor-activities/difficulty-ratings The Connecticut chapter lists their upcoming actvities at http://www.ct-amc.org/excursions/HikeListings.shtm. Most if not all are free. If you get into hiking and can afford it, joining this club is a VERY good idea.