Recently, someone asked me what one has to look out for when reading the description of a hike.
When a blogger or newspaper journalist writes about a hike that they liked so much that they bothered to sit down and write 500 or 1000 words about it, how can the reader tell whether he would enjoy it as much? What are the “giveaway” signs that this hike may, after all, turn out not to be the right hiking adventure for him?
The question was first put to me on Twitter, which inevitably restricted my reply to 140 characters. My reply was:
Make sure the hike is not too challenging;
Check for easy access, and
That says as much as one can probably express in such a limited format, but I think there is much more to say about the topic. Which is why today, I sit down and write 500 or 1000 words to fill in the gaps and help you find the answers to the question:
Is that hike right for you?
1. You will need to establish whether the described hike is not too taxing for you.
Which means that it must neither be too long nor too hard.The “too long” is particularly important for one-day easy hikes.
Be aware that the writer may have done the hike as one stage of a longer trail or that he may live next door to the trail itself. You, on the other hand, may have to travel for hours before even reaching the trailhead – and again on your journey home.
Can you realistically expect to do the entire walk in one single shortened day, from, say, 11 until five in the afternoon? You do not want to be stranded half-way down a trail at six o’clock in the approaching dusk with no plan B, believe me.
Also, check the text for any hints at steep inclines, mountains, hills and such like. Unless this is a specialized publication, the author will not give you a profile of the trail or indicate the height difference you are expected to master.
The average walking speed of a healthy person is about 5 km/h – on asphalt, that is – in a town. In the countryside, on uneven terrain, through forests and across hills, you will sometimes not be able to do more than half of that. Particularly if it is hot, late in the afternoon and you are tired from having walked all day already. Bear this in mind when making your calculations.
2. Determine the facility of access of the trail
Check how difficult it is to make an in and out – again, this is most important for day hiking excursions. Study train or bus schedules carefully. Very carefully. Some buses or trains may only circulate in the summer or on weekends, others only Mondays to Fridays and during the school season. When the last bus or train out of your destination leaves at around five or six o’clock, things can turn out very stressful if you run a little late. Inexperienced hikers always underestimate the logistic problems of getting around in the countryside and how much time it takes to resolve them.
If you travel by car, make sure the walk you have chosen is a loop or can at least be turned into one with a bit of imagination. Otherwise, you will have to walk back the same way you came. Or travel by public transport to the parking lot where you left your car. (More logistic problems you will need to address.)
3. Finally: Variety
This is where it gets a little more personal because that’s what I myself would want from a trail, and although I suspect most hikers feel the same way, I cannot simply pretend that’s a given. If, however, there are indeed hikers who love to trudge endlessly all day through forests or past corn fields, I still have to meet them, and virtually everybody I have ever talked to shares my preference for frequent changes in scenery, twists, turns and surprising vistas that suddenly open up.
Variety is what we are after.
But this is also where it gets a little tricky, because the writer – who has either liked the trail or been paid to like it – will not say: “the forest never seemed to end and had all of us bored to tears” or “thanks to the so-and-so trail, I know now what a potato field looks like and will not ever have to go near one again”.
No, they prefer to wax on about “majestic tree tops” and “sun-drenched meadows”, and you have to read those bits about the boredom and the monotony of certain stretches between the lines.
Use your common sense, and always remember, if the writer goes on and on about the beauty of the forest, this is probably because there is nothing else to write about.
Would you like to add your own pointers to determine if that hike is right for you?