Tons of folks will take to the trails for the upcoming long July 4th weekend. That’s a good thing, considering walking is the best exercise value available.
It’s even a better value for people over 60. And doing it in the outdoors is its own reward. Keeping that in mind, here are some tips for newbies and reminders for experienced older hikers who need to remember that “Glory Days” is a song, not a plan.
— Don’t rush. If you’re inexperienced, start slowly and select flat, shaded trails until your body tells you to move up a notch. St. Louis County Parks and Recreation has the 30-30 trails — 30 trails that take under 30 minutes to hike. Take advantage of them. The area has several clubs whose members try to hike all 30. The county gives out badges and cards for people who complete the system. Frankly, it’s quite an accomplishment.
— Practice for the big ones. Experienced or not, don’t tackle a major hiking project without practice and study. Try walking a couple of the long, tough trails around St. Louis before tackling 50 miles of the Ozark Trail. Ideally, six months to a year is about the amount of time to train for a major excursion — and live to tell about it.
— Take a friend. Hike with a partner and let someone at home know where you are and the time to start panicking when you don’t return or call. I have fond memories of soloing on trails, even camping trips in the Rockies. But even though older people don’t tend to get hurt as often, you don’t heal as fast. So avoid situations where it’s noon the next day before anyone misses you.
— Be realistic. Don’t overestimate yourself. You may be able to bench press as much weight as ever. But in the sixth and seventh decades, ligaments are prone to snap and cartilage can tear — especially for ex-tough guys. Lift sensibly. Know your pains; don’t ignore them.
— Carry a wide stick. Use a walking stick or cane with a wide tip. You don’t want a stick that’s stabbing several inches into the ground when you’re tired and need support on a hill or ravine.
— Don’t wear cotton. Hiking circles call it the death fabric. It holds moisture and can be a sponge in drizzle. A breeze can bring on hypothermia quickly. Older people are more prone to hypothermia.
— Water, water, water. Lug along as much water as you can and still have fun. Older people are more susceptible to dehydration. Sometimes it’s because we forget to drink. But don’t let it be because you’ve run out. Plastic water bottles are fine; no need to invest in indestructible canteens.
— Carry extra high-nutrient food. Even though you like a sandwich or whatever you made for lunch, check out the web or a runners store and get a few packs of high-nutrient, high-calorie food supplement packs. They taste like poorly made pancake batter, but they can be your best friend in the event of getting lost, tired or other things that can keep you from your car.
— Walk every day. Don’t save your walking for one day a week or twice a month. Even if you really get into it, which is likely, you want to make sure that your ankles, knees and hips remain accustomed to the wear and tear of a decent hike.
— Invest in shoes and socks. You don’t need a $200 hiking boot. But you do want to purchase some well-fitting shoes that you use only for the trail. Sporting goods stores have the best selections at the best prices.
— Get a good hip-hugger belt pack. You can carry weight more easily on your hips rather than your shoulders or waist.
— Wear suspenders. They work better than a belt alone. Snaps are undependable, so check the outdoor stores for those that hook to the belt. With suspenders, you don’t rub a rash into your belt line and you can breathe and your hip pack stays in place.
— Safety equipment. For the belt pack: cellphone (with GPS), small first-aid kit, pocket knife, insect repellent, small but powerful flashlight, a competent compass. Also, a plastic, hooded poncho can save your life in an unexpected cold rain. A lightweight plastic blanket can come in handy if you have to sit where the ground may be infested with ticks and chiggers. Water purifiers can range from iodine pills to $200 pumps.
— Map if you must. If you feel more comfortable with a map, most trail web pages have maps. Just print one out and carry it. Missouri and Illinois state park visitors centers have maps.
Distributed by MCT Information Services