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Man, my feet hurt!  A non-hiker guide to hiking
by: Captain Lance Valentine

Last year my wife Carol and I spent most of our vacation at Acadia National Park in Maine.  We fell in love with the park, the scenery, the early fall tranquility and color, and most of all the hiking.  We hiked a few trails, even getting the nerve up to take a long hike up the rock-strewn Cadillac Mountain Trail.  Our trip was so enjoyable, we returned this fall with stops in Vermont along the way.

Thinking we would try some hiking in Vermont, I purchased “Hiking Vermont: A guide to 60 of the State’s Greatest Hiking Adventures”.  With book in hand we set out for some outdoor adventures in this state on our way to Maine.  I scoured the guide, highlighted the trails I wanted to try and mapped out a plan.  Throw in some historic sites and the makings of a great vacation took shape.  Well, at least I thought so.

Unfortunately, I have not taken the best of care of my body in the 30-plus years since I played college hockey.  I am overweight, do a LOT of sitting, and even though my job as a fishing guide is outside, it’s not that physical.  A guy can only jog so far in a 20-foot boat! But this year I had started eating better, walked regularly in the neighborhood, and was ready to try some hiking for the fun and the exercise.

Upon reaching Vermont, I cracked open our hiking guide to the first hike on my list: The White Rocks National Recreation Area Ice Beds.  The hike is listed as “moderate” and is a 1.8-mile round trip up to the ice beds, an area in the mountains where snow is trapped, sometimes until August.  Sounded like a cool place to check out.  The description of the hike begins “Sooner or later every hiker wakes up to a day when a nice picnic and an effortless walk to a nice view sounds like more than enough to do”.  You would think this is the PERFECT hike for a short-legged, 53-year-old fat guy to get some exercise and start his hiking adventure.  Well, after about 20 minutes I knew I was wrong.

The trail was anything but an “effortless walk” as the elevation increased close to 400 feet on rocky switchbacks with poor footing and some tight trails on the edge of a steep drop.  We also encountered steep downhill passages, strewn with loose rock and poor footing on the first quarter of the hike.  Not wanting to quit, I soldiered on, feeling my lungs burn and upper leg muscles scream for mercy.  We made it to the Ice Beds, whereupon I realized these hikes are not one-way trips. So, we turned around and headed back.  With my head down, and with utter determination I made it back to the truck, feeling winded, sore, yet with a feeling of accomplishment and ready for our next hike.

As I was reading the hiking guide that night, looking for another “effortless walk” to try I realized that the author of this, and other hiking guides must think all their readers are experienced hikers.  Well, I am NOT, so I got thinking about helping other neophyte hikers with some tips that might just help them, and maybe keep hiking fun.  So here are my tips for beginning hikers.

First, NEVER buy a hiking guide, book or map from anyone with the nickname “Sherpa”, The Cat”, “Mountain Goat” or something similar.  Second, learn the language.  Trail difficulties are rated as one of four classes.  Here is my translation of typical trail ratings:

1) Easy – Man my feet hurt and it’s hard to breathe
2) Moderate – I can’t feel my legs and the air is REALLY thin
3) Intermediate – I’m pretty sure I’m going to die on this trail
4) Difficult – find a clearing for the chopper to land

Third, realize that 1-mile hiking on unstable ground is NOT the same as your 1-mile dog walking trek around the flat terrain of your neighborhood.  Fourth, downhill hiking is AWESOME, until you realize that at some point you must go back UP.  Fifth, nothing is as soul crushing as completing a hike you thought was a major milestone in your life, then being passed by a World War II veteran with knee braces, two hiking poles and a big smile on his way back down the trail you just took two hours to get up (this really happened our first year in Maine).  Lastly, tennis shoes are for tennis, not hiking!

Carol and I hiked every day this vacation in Vermont and are looking forward to the second part of our journey in Maine.  Honestly, the satisfaction of a completed hike, especially one that was difficult, is a wonderful feeling that makes you want to do more.  I enjoyed each hike more than the last and now look forward to all the hikes to come.  Maybe one day they will call me “Mountain Goat”.