I’ve never been much of an athlete, although I’ve always loved to dance and take long walks. I grew up in a rural area and would often take walks down the country roads by my house. I found it a great time of solitude for thinking and processing life. Later when I married and our children were young, we’d often take them on hikes through the woods. We have found those times to be some of our most fond memories.
There’s just something about being in nature that soothes and replenishes the soul. In Nashville, Tennessee where I reside, there are numerous parks filled with gorgeous trees and plants and plenty of hiking trails. Some paved ones as well as other dirt trails through the woods. The paved trails are usually the easiest, however, they are much harder on the feet than the dirt trails. The dirt trails often have more up-and-down hills making for a better workout, but there is one danger to look out for. No, it’s not bears or snakes, but those deadly tree roots! Yes, those innocent-looking hunks of wood in the ground bringing nourishment to the trees. If you’re not careful, they can literally trip you up as I’ve unfortunately learned firsthand on more than one occasion.
My first trip up
On this particular summer day, my husband and I couldn’t decide if we wanted to go swimming for relaxation or hiking for exercise. It was an extremely hot day, so we wanted to go to the pool, but didn’t want to just lie around all day, so we decided we’d hike a relatively short trail at Radnor Lake and then go to the pool in the afternoon. It was extremely hot and humid that day which in hindsight was probably not the best day for hiking. The trail is just about a two-mile hike over a couple of hills through the woods. We were on the plateau when suddenly out of nowhere, I tripped over a root and face-planted on the ground before I even knew what had happened. I heard this weird sound in my head and my husband who was in front of me, came running to my rescue yelling “Are you alright.”
I didn’t know what had happened, but I knew I wasn’t alright, so I yelled back, “No!” He helped me up and saw my face around my eye was already turning black and starting to swell. I was dazed. He immediately took a picture and sent it to my daughter-in-law, a nurse practitioner. She said we needed to head to the emergency immediately.
We were just about halfway through our hike and had at least a mile to get back to the car. Then out of nowhere, it started pouring down rain! There had been no rain at all in the forecast, but here we were trying to get back to the car with my injury and the pouring rain hitting me in the face. Not a pleasant experience. However, I believe that the rain may have been a God send because the cold water probably kept my face from swelling so much.
When we got to the car we were soaked. Thankfully, we had packed some towels since we were planning on going swimming later. And for some strange reason, (I thank the Lord) Bobby had put an extra shirt in the car, so I was able to put on a dry one.
When we finally got to the hospital, they took me right back for an MRI and discovered I had broken my eye socket and had a slight concussion as well. Thankfully my eye wasn’t damaged, which can often happen with this type of injury. I’m also very thankful that I still had an eyeball since there was a big, jagged stump within an inch of where I had fallen.
My three blunders
There were three mistakes that day that contributed to my fall.
(1) It was very hot and humid, making me fatigued. When we get hot and tired, we don’t pick up our feet as we should.
(2) Since it was a hot day and we were on a short hike, I had worn tennis shoes instead of my hiking boots. Bad mistake. Hiking shoes with good traction are a must when in the woods.
(3) I was not using hiking sticks. If I had them, they could have broken my fall and possibly helped me recover from the trip. Needless to say, I ordered some right after this incident.
Oh no! It happened again
It took a while for my eye to heal, and I’ll admit it was a little scary at first to get back on the trails. But I equipped myself with good hiking shoes and new hiking sticks which helped boost my confidence.
Sometime later we were on a hike with my daughter and her husband. It was a new place I’d never been to but always wanted to go called Swanee. It was a beautiful fall hike and I had on my good hiking shoes but decided I only needed one hiking stick. The hike went well as I was very cautious going up and down the wooded trail. We were actually on the way back to the car and the ground was flat when I tripped again on a root! This time I was able to catch myself with my hand, but unfortunately, that resulted in a broken wrist! Again, it was toward the end of the hike, and I was hot and tired and therefore, not picking up my feet as I should have. I had the one hiking stick, but if I’d had two of them in hand, the story may have been different.
At this point, my kids were telling me that I should give up wooded trails and only walk on paved trails, but I’ve had bouts with plantar flagitious, and too much walking on paved trails can cause that to flare up. Even with my injuries I’ve decided that I’m not willing to give up hiking trails just yet. After all, hiking and walking are some of the best exercises for older adults, and for me, there’s nothing like being in nature.
But there are some general safety rules I’ve learned to adhere to. Below are six safety rules, some of which I’ve learned the hard way, to keep us safe and able to enjoy hiking for a long time.
If you haven’t hiked much in the past start with a short hike and then build up to longer ones over time. Most falls do come from being fatigued so don’t hike longer than you can keep up your concentration. You’ll be amazed though at how quickly your body will adapt to longer hikes. And don’t let those young folks who blow by you intimidate you. Remember their bodies are much younger and stronger than yours.
Check out your local parks
Stick with trails that are in the city, state, or national parks as they will be well-maintained and marked. These parks house some of the most beautiful areas in every community.
Know your limits
Be extra careful on the second half of your hike. This is when your muscles get tired, and your mind starts to focus on finishing instead of taking the next correct step. Be okay with turning back if you get too tired before you reach your goal. You can always come back another day and do more. Also, keep in mind that if it’s a one-way trail and you walk four miles one way, you’ll have to walk four miles back. My husband and I have been guilty of walking until we get tired because we’re having such a good time, and then we’re utterly exhausted by the time we get back to the car because we didn’t turn around sooner. Look at your watch or phone. If you’ve been hiking for one hour, for example, consider how you are going to feel after another hour. It might be time to turn around.
Bring proper supplies
Take water even in cooler weather. Water backpacks like Camelbak are great as they keep your hands free. Take a few snacks if it’s going to be a very long hike. Put some hand sanitizer in your pocket as you may only have access to porta-potties and a band-aid if you develop a blister. And don’t forget the sunscreen.
Wear proper clothing, especially shoes. Your body will build up heat as you walk, so that heavy jacket that feels great at the start may cause you to be hot later in the day. Unless it’s extremely cold, a light jacket that you can tie around your waist if you get hot is best layered over a tee shirt. Always, were proper hiking shoes that are in good condition. Boots with ankle support are recommended for trails and good tennis shoes with lots of cushion for paved trails. I include power step inserts in my tennis shoes for more cushion on the feet.
In my opinion, hiking sticks on dirt trails are essential for older hikers. Our bones tend to break easier if we fall and our balance may not be as good as when we were younger. I like using hiking sticks because they give me a little more confidence to walk faster and they keep my arms moving so my hands don’t swell.
Watch the water
Hikes around waterfalls and streams are some of the most beautiful but always be cautious as rocks here can be very slippery and, in some instances, water can rise rapidly. Pay attention to signs that warn of rapidly rising water and never turn your back on the ocean.
Don’t go alone
If you’re walking on a popular city trail with lots of other folks, you’re probably okay to go it alone, but if you’re on a secluded wooded trail and you get injured and can’t walk, you may need someone to go for help or help you to safety. Besides, walking is fantastic for relationship building, so grab a friend.
The health benefits
According to the National Park Service website, there are numerous health benefits to lacing up your hiking shoes and hitting the great outdoors.
Besides being extremely enjoyable and observing beautiful scenery that you’ll never see anywhere else; hiking is not only good physical exercise but there is also emotional and mental relief that comes from being in nature. Hiking is a whole-body workout. It builds stronger muscles and bones, improves your sense of balance, and heart health, and even decreases the risk of certain respiratory problems.
According to a study done by researchers at Stanford University, spending quality time outdoors reduces stress, calms anxiety, increases sensory perception, and can lead to a lower risk of depression.
Hiking improves your relational health. Some of the best conversations happen while on walks where there are no outside interruptions. It’s a great way to connect with your grandchild or another family member or friend.
There are over 400 National parks in the US and almost 2,500 state parks, not to mention the numerous city parks, for you to discover. Perhaps it’s time to Take a Hike and see what they’re all about.
Your body, mind, and spirit will thank you!
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature- have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.Romans 1:20