We are avid hikers for many reasons. Mainly, it’s a free activity that wears out the kids during which for the most part that can’t fight with each other. But we hike for many other reasons, too. The fresh air, the exercise, the closeness to nature, the being able to go where the average person doesn’t.
Heading to the trail is an engrained part of our life. I spent most of my childhood in the woods walking dirt paths and think nothing of a few miles off the beaten path. My kids feel the same way, or at least I hope they do. Or at least they pretend to like it when we fill backpacks with water bottles and granola bars and lace up our shoes.
Recently I asked some friends to join us on a little adventure. My friend told her daughter that we were going on a hike. This sweet kid, who I have known forever, looked at her mother and said, “what do you do on a hike?”
Her mother replied, “you just walk. In the woods.”
But somehow they were all agreeable to go on this wild unknown adventure on one of our favorite mile long hikes around these parts: a lovely loop with big rocks to climb, a cave to peek into, plenty of mud, and the dense beauty of an Ohio forest in full peak of summer.
We started down the trail and couldn’t have asked for a better day. The kids were running and jumping, talking and laughing. We picked berries along the way. Hopping from rock to rock the girl turns to me and says, “so is this it? Are we hiking now?”
The whole thing got me thinking about what the difference is between a walk and a hike. Some sources say that it is a matter of elevation change, but I bet that anyone with a hilly sidewalk might beg to differ. Some say that it has to do with the roughness of the terrain. And yet another source states that when you are hiking, you dress “like a hiker.” I think they are all a little bit right, a little bit wrong, and we all need to make our own definition.
For me, a hike is an exploration of the wilderness. It’s the texture of mud and rock, the smell of spicebush and creek water. It’s seeing a different plant that you’ve never noticed before and the toad that is resting underneath it. It’s laughing kids walking on tree balance beams and breathing in air so fresh you can almost feel the trees exhaling it right on you.
When I answered her question, that we were hiking, she nodded and said, “ok. I like it.”
Originally published 7.5.15