I grew up in the flat and marshy lands of south Louisiana, where I don’t recall anyone ever talking about “hiking.” Sometimes Daddy took me along on bird hunting excursions with his dog Duchess (a lifetime of dogs were all named Duchess or Duke). We crunched across the dried stubble of sugar cane fields, stopping to watch the dog run and point. But it was all about the hunt, not the walk.
I didn’t start hiking till I was in my ‘40s. I went to a spa called The Ashram outside of LA. They had a hiking program – a really hard hiking program – and I fell in love.
At first I signed up with group outfitters like Mountain Travel/Sobek and Sherpa. I walked in the Amazon, Morocco, Algeria and India with those groups…until I discovered “self-guided walking,” as the British call it. Much less expensive than organized group hikes, self-guided trip companies typically give you maps and directions for a specific route, make your hotel reservations and move your luggage every day. (While I’ve spent a good bit of time in tents, I’ve never been a backpacker.) You just roll out of bed each morning and get yourself to the next village by nightfall.
I’ve taken well over 50 hiking trips now, and one of my great joys in the late fall is combing through websites to plan my next year’s walks. So far for 2010 I’ve booked a summer walk in the Cotswolds with Contours, but I’m hoping for some time in Italy as well.
In airplanes, I always want a window seat so I can look out over the terrain. I can imagine what it would feel underneath my feet, and longing to walk on the earth washes over me. This past year I’ve had big problems with a gimpy knee. Now I hike wearing a knee brace with such a complex metal structure that I call it the Eiffel Tower. But I’m still out there.
What gets you out of the house?