Hiking For Empty Nesters
For Your Body and Soul
Looking back on the years when your time was taken up with children, work and home repairs... you ought to be an expert by now on adjusting schedules and arranging activities. You're no longer getting kids off to school, driving them to baseball and soccer practice or sitting in a freezing ice-rink while they work on perfect sit spins or slapshots. You aren't cleaning up after them or refereeing their wars. You don't have to get up to check the driveway in the middle of the night, or turn off lights, televisions or computers, before throwing a blanket over your exhausted teen. You probably aren't even shopping as much.
Before the kids and their young families figure out that you have more time on your hands, fill some of it with something good for your body and soul. Most communities, whether rural, urban or suburban, have open areas in, around or near them. There are likely opportunities for hiking very close to home. Some may be new to you, and some may be familiar to the child in you. Seek them out, and get to know them.
Look for reviews in your community newsletter or newspaper. You can often find great descriptions of the trail conditions and difficulty. Call your community education or outreach organization. They're frequently involved in establishing new trails, and informing the public about the various activities available in your area. Search the internet for trails in your area. You'd be surprised how many people write about their local hiking experiences.
Plan to Go and Plan Your Hike
Once you've settled on a trail option, plan a time to start. Don't start at or near a particularly hot time of day. Consider how much time you hope to spend hiking the first day (round-trip), and plan to start that far ahead of the hot part of the day. If the trail is close to home, investigate a day or two before your trip. Visit the trail head and look for a message board that might show you a trail map and up-to-date advice, and recent conditions.
The clothing you wear is important, even if you don't plan to eventually take on the toughest trails or the highest peaks. Not many trails are paved, level walkways (although those kinds of walking paths are becoming increasingly available in communities). Consider comfort, support, weight and durability when you shop for a hiking shoe. Take care of your feet and the rest of your body will benefit. Your legs, your joints and your spine have a better chance of supporting you (and becoming increasingly healthier) during a hike, if you take care of your feet.
The rest of your outfit is important as well. Again, even if you don't plan on trekking Death Valley or climbing Everest, the more you take care of your body, the more you will benefit from your activity-- body and soul. Look for clothing that is breathable and will "wick" moisture away from your skin. This will help protect you from extreme body temperatures, and will be more comfortable as you move. Layered clothing is popular. In cold weather, layered clothing provides warm air space between layers; and layers can be removed as the temperature increases. In any weather wear layers with functionality in mind. A wicking base layer (wool or synthetic) under an optional temperature-insulating layer (down or fleece), under a layer of wind or rain protection (if needed). That wicking base layer is not an option; so choose it carefully, and use it every time you hike, no matter the weather.
A hat and sunscreen are essential equipment in some environments. Quality, and comfort are important in both. Always apply a layer of sunscreen before going out.
Consider using a pedometer. There is a wide range of pedometer functions and price available to the hiker or walker. The basic model counts the number of steps you take on your hike. This can be helpful when comparing trails, and adding to or extending your hike. Average distances are easily calculated by multiplying the steps you've accumulated by your average length of stride; and this is a great way to evaluate your progress if you're keeping an eye on your level of fitness. Timex offers a great model called the Expedition Trail Mate. With numerous functions for the fitness hiker, it's warn easily like a wrist watch. Remember however, the more functions a pedometer has, the more expensive it will likely be. One thing the Timex model has going for it at the price of $50 to $60 US is that it really is a wrist watch.
For those whose children have left the nest but are still part of the family, a cell phone is a realistic carry-along item. Unless you're on a vacation get-away on a Yosemite trail, life goes on after your hike, and errands may be necessary on the way home. Take pictures on the trail; take a call or two from the family. The experience will rarely be spoiled because of a cell phone. On the rare occasion of a major injury on the trail, the phone could be a very valuable friend.
Smart phones offer very helpful options for hikers. Apps are available that track and log position, speed, elevation and duration. If you're hiking regularly, and you're serious about it. Put that smart phone to work for you. Look for apps like "My Tracks" or "ViewRanger" for Android, and "MotionX GPS" or "Gaia GPS" for iOS.
Advice For the Longer Hikes
Of Course... Water
Everyone should drink water regularly and intelligently, whether hiking or not. Our bodies are over 60% water, and without it we can't function. The first thing to know is that if you're thirsty, dehydration has already begun. So "hydration" should be part of your hiking routine. With that in mind, start drinking water before your hike begins, and take frequent small sips rather than big gulps. If you match your fluid intake with the amount you sweat on your hike, you're doing well. Sports drinks are alright, because they do replenish electrolytes. Just be sure to carry enough fluids.
There are many alternatives for carrying water while hiking, so shop around, and try them out. Carry a bottle in your hand on a short walk or hike; but remember that the interruption of the natural swing of your arms while walking, can be stressful on a long or strenuous hike.
Many serious hikers use and recommend "hydration packs". Basically, it's a light backpack which holds a drinking water reservoir or "bladder". Hydration packs allow the hiker to carry plenty of water while leaving the hands free.
Hikes You Can Do
Don't forget the non-physical benefits of hiking and walking. You've been on a trail from the day your children were born... constantly on the move... stopping for the necessary meals and rest. Well, you're still on the trail. Your kids have moved onto their own paths, but you need to keep moving on yours. Enjoy the often unseen life that is going on around you. Look and listen during your hike. Meditation is fine, but take time to experience the natural world along the trail.
Hike regularly. Take advantage of and maintain your increasing fitness level by going longer distances. Look for new, exciting or more challenging trails. Of course, be mindful of your limits and your health. Listen to what your body's telling you, and always seek your doctor's advice.
Share your hiking experiences in a casual way with friends and family. They may join you some day, but try not to scare them off before they get around to it.
Get out of your empty nest for a while and enjoy hiking. Your life is moving on, and the trails ahead of you are many. Pick one... and go!