Hiking is walking but a hike is not a walk. A hike requires physical conditioning, equipment and planning. A walk does not. A hike is something you do with a goal in mind; to reach a new height, to go a longer distance, or to penetrate the unknown. A walk is something you do with a dog.
To appreciate nature, one must know it. If you don’t know it, you didn’t see it. And if you don’t see it, a hike is just a walk in the woods. Knowledge of the flora and fauna of the forests and mountains is the essence of hiking. It is like coming home. You know you are there when the visual pattern fits the mental picture.
Nature is complex. It is overwhelming in its diversity. Pick up any field guide on flowers, trees or mushrooms and you will find hundreds of pages of things you will probably never see. The commonplace is lost in the cornucopia. This notebook is intended to provide an alternative. A guide to things you see frequently. Hiking is a prerequisite to the nature experience. It is necessary to get to the trail, to hike the trail, and to get back to where you started without injury. It sounds simple. It is. But only if one adheres to a few principles.
You must be in shape. Hiking is physically demanding. The trail is rarely flat. It is not like a sidewalk along a graded roadbed, where all of the hillocks have been leveled. It is almost always up and down over uneven, often rocky ground. To get in shape, you have to start walking, adding distance and elevation over the course of time. For the neophyte, this could take several months to a year. You are ready for your first hike when you can walk at least five miles without getting either cramps or blisters. If you try to hike without this minimum level of conditioning, you will not enjoy it and will more than likely give it up. Once you start hiking, staying in shape is a byproduct of the process. It is the one sport that you can do for the rest of your life. Physical health yields mental health.