Summer is a great time to be getting away from it all. You can slip into escape mode the fast way with multiple margaritas, or you can slow down and figure out a plan to get back to nature, into the woods or on a lake, up a mountain or down a river — paddling, hiking, camping, fishing, whatever suits your soul.
Your fitness goal? Renewal of the spirit. Your health will benefit greatly from a sharper focus and a serene attitude. That's what a few days or weeks in the backcountry can do for you. It can also give you Lyme disease, spider bites and poison ivy, but we'll save those topics for another column.
Here are some tips to help you plan and enjoy your next hiking trip, especially if it's your first:
—Be Prepared. The Scout motto still works as your No. 1 line of defense when it comes to enjoying a hiking vacation. Think it through. Be prepared for the unexpected. Hiking in nature isn't like riding the tram at Disney World. There are surprises. Big ones — bad weather, broken gear, unexpected injuries. And little ones — mosquitoes, black flies, kids younger than 5. You can get lost. Your cellphone call can get lost. There are risks all around, but amazing rewards, too: the deep calm and wonder poets and mystics write about. Explore nature, allow your mind to settle, and your heart to open, and you can renew and heal in a profound way. Whereas by spending time in Wal-Mart shopping the sales — four hideous beach chairs for just $20! — your debt problem can only get worse.
—Be Realistic. If you've never hiked or camped before, I encourage you to sign up for a small group trip with a reliable outdoor adventure company. There are half a million of them. Do the research, don't overestimate your level of skill, and have your best time. If you do set up your own adventure with family and friends, then it's your responsibility to be realistic about your strengths and weaknesses. Have good maps and a compass. Know how to use them, even if you're depending on a GPS system to get you in and out. Learn basic survival skills: how to build a fire, make a shelter, and the most important survival skill of all, how to stay positive in the face of uncertainty or danger.
—Train Before You Go. To have your best time, do some targeted stretch-and-strengthening exercises two to four times a week, focusing on your back, torso, shoulder and legs. Walking the stairs, using a stair-climbing machine and water workouts are three great ways to get your legs ready. Don't overdo your training, or your trip might end before it begins.
—Check Your Gear. Gather up all your gear, and not at the last minute. Is your sleeping bag clean? Warm enough? Practice setting up your tent. Any rips or leaks? Be sure your stove works and that you have plenty of fuel. If you're backpacking, practice carrying your load. The weight should ride low on your hips, not on your back. Resist the urge to over-pack (you don't have to dress for dinner). On the trail, as off it, less is more.
—Boots and Blisters. Break in your hiking boots before you go. They should be comfortable, supportive and appropriate to the terrain. If you suffer hot spots on the trail, stop, take off your boots, dry your feet, and dress your wounds immediately with whatever combination of moleskin, tape and adhesive pads works best. Your socks are important, too. They should fit well and wick away moisture so your feet stay dry and happy.
—Stretch Daily. At the end of a long day of hiking, don't just collapse at the campsite. To help prevent soreness the next day, take a few minutes to cool down and stretch out your tired muscles.
—Eat for Energy. Hiking can burn hundreds of calories an hour. Yippee! Constant refueling is important. Your body will perform best if you keep it energized with healthy snacks: dried fruit, trail mix or energy bars. Get enough protein, too. And be sure to pack out all the garbage you create.
ENERGY EXPRESS-O! FOLLOW THE CROWD "Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over civilized people are beginning to find out going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity." — John Muir.
Marilynn Preston -well-being coach, Emmy-winning producer — is the creator of Energy Express, the longest-running syndicated fitness column in the country. She has a website, marilynnpreston.com, and welcomes reader questions, which can be sent to [email protected] She also produces EnExTV, a digital reincarnation of her award-winning TV series about sports, fitness and adventure, for kids of all ages, at youtube.com/EnExTV and facebook.com/EnExTV. To find out more about Preston and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.