I started reading Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail earlier this week, and it’s got me thinking about what it really means to be a “hiker.” It seems to me that lately everyone thinks they’re one, including me — but most of us are not.
Earlier this spring I hit the internet and started researching hiking shoes after I slipped on a few rocks in the woods, and anytime I purchase an accessory for an activity it means I’m truly invested. So I started looking into more local trails. There are tons of options, but as you might imagine, wilderness in Connecticut is not always easy to come by and I have a new rule: if you see a stroller or a child under the age of 8 on a trail, it’s not hiking, it’s just a walk.
Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of places to just plain get outside, but if you go anywhere with a proper parking lot, you’re probably going to run into everyone else who had the same idea you did when the sun came out that morning. There’s nothing wrong with that really, but it’s just not what I consider to be hiking. There are signs about picking up after your dog and rules about leashes (all of which I agree with, but that pretty much means it’s not “wild”). When I’m out in the woods I want to feel like I’m really out in the woods…like any moment a bear might come shambling across the trail. I do not want to be run over by a stroller or mauled by one Labrador after another (or deal with my dog’s excitement every time we see those other dogs). So I’ve become obsessed with the Shenipsit Trail. There are at least three nearby entrances to the trail, all of which are kind of off the beaten path. Some of them you really have to go hunting for — and that’s the kind of place I’m looking for.
Now, being out on a trail like this has some…um…drawbacks. Much of the trail runs through state lands which means hunters. Not only do we often walk by duck blinds and deer stands, but you can hear guns in the distance. My dog is basically covered in furry camouflage so I’ve considered buying her a blaze orange vest so she doesn’t get mistaken for a coyote. I should probably think about doing the same for myself. The trail is so long that it often runs alongside private lands, so it can be confusing when you’re out in the middle of nowhere and stumble upon trespassing signs. (And when you hear gunshots, you start wondering what kind of nutters might be living on those private lands.)
After reading Wild I’ve kind of got it into my head that I want to try backpacking trip. No, I don’t want to spend three months hiking the West Coast only to have my toenails turn black and fall off. I’m just talking about a weekend where I walk out into the woods with my dog, a friend, and some supplies…really put those new Keens to the test.
I’m still contemplating that idea and what it would really mean, but I am officially ready to say one thing: There’s nothing wrong with a simple walk on a well manicured trail with easy access to a parking lot, but that’s not hiking! Who’s with me?