Two Things Defining Easy Hiking
1. It is hiking or walking along a trail where you don’t need a compass and where the wildest animal you are likely to meet is a wild rabbit
(A fox and a boar, in theory, but in practice, you will never see them.) Where you can be confident that nothing that lies ahead of you could not be mastered by a sprightly pensioner. Where you have a signal on your cell phone most of the time, and where you often see – albeit from a distance – the signs of civilization: roads, railway tracks, villages.
2. An easy hiking attitude
Because you can approach even an easy trail in two different ways. Tents, campfires or even nights spent in a hut alone or with complete strangers are not easy. Sleeping in hotels or inns and rounding off your dinner with a glass or two of wine at the end of the day’s hike is.
In the short time that I have had this blog up, I have learned that Americans have problems getting their heads around this idea of easy hiking.
If you ask them : What is “easy hiking” and what it means to them, they first imagine something that they would consider a difficult hike in the Rocky Mountains involving wild river crossings and the possibility of an unfriendly encounter with a grizzly bear, and then they come down a notch, replacing the Rockies with a National Park somewhere east of the Mississippi and the grizzly with a brown bear.
I – and, I suspect, most of my fellow Europeans – would approach “easy hiking” exactly the other way round. I would not ask what is too hard for easy hiking but what is too easy. I would ask what could no longer be considered as hiking at all. And then take it up a notch from there.
In other words, my main point of reference is a walk in the park. Now, THAT is surely too easy even for an easy hike. Four-year old kids can do it, even pensioners in wheelchairs can do it. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but hiking this is not.
So, let’s take it up a notch and ask:
What is the difference between a walk in the park and hiking?
For me, hiking rules out the idea of turning around on a whim, of going home at the first drop of rain: you have a destination, and you are going to get there, come of hell or high water.
Hiking is equally impossible in a place where you could not get lost no matter how hard you tried. A little flirt with danger is part of the package.
And your attitude as well as your attire must reflect a certain level of awareness that you are leaving your natural habitat as an urban creature. You must wear something else than your every day clothes, the right type of shoes – and a backpack.
Beyond that, I am prepared to be generous.
Day walks? They are definitely not the perfect hiking experience, but sometimes you are on a vacation somewhere and that’s all you got time for, so the alternative you have is not between a day walk and a four-day expedition but between a day walk and nothing at all.
Hikes where some travel company has your luggage brought from hotel to hotel? Or where a bus ferries your group of ten or twenty people to the trail and back, mornings and afternoons? Again, see if you can do better.
But if you really can’t, it’s still preferable to slowly filling all your orifices with sand in some Mediterranean or Caribbean beach resort hell hole.