Editor’s Note: ‘Along the Trail’ is a weekly column written by David Hewitt of Switzerland County; and covers all things dealing with the outdoors, from hunting and fishing to woodsmanship.
The blackberry bushes have flowered and the air is heavy with the scent of honeysuckle.
The woods are thick and full from the constant rains and warm temperatures. My chest heaves as I breathe deep and catch my wind. Sweat beads across my forehead and my pulse pumps. The hill seems steeper than it looks. My breathing slows down and my heart rate settles a bit, “Ten years ago, you could’ve ran up this hill”, the little voice in my head whispers as I start my march uphill again.
Getting older isn’t for the faint of heart. I’m not an Olympic athlete by any stretch, but for my age, I’ve held up okay. A little weathered and leathery, a little more round and a lot more bald, but overall, still plugging along. My family tree has some genetic issues going back a couple generations and I’ve made exercise a regular part of my routine trying to counteract my genes and, hopefully to give me a fighting chance of making it to a ripe old age. My pending trip to the Rockies has added a sense of urgency to my workouts and over the last several weeks, hiking with a weighted backpack has become my go to choice in exercise.
My uphill hikes aren’t fun – in fact, there isn’t anything fun about exercise in my eyes.
It’s a chore for me, a means to an end and in this case, I’m hoping that end is me standing over an elk that I’ve taken with my bow and arrow in September. But, there is something satisfying about working out, even at 48 years old. During my exercise routines, whether indoors at the YMCA or hiking along a trail in the woods, I always feel better after the fact. When it’s over, there is a sense of accomplishment. I not sure why, but it feels good to know that the burning muscles and shortness of breath came from an honest effort.
But, aside from the aches and pains my hikes and work outs give me from time to time, they give me something else- time.
Time to be outside, to be alone with my thoughts. Time to clear my mind of all the junk that clogs our heads everyday. Along the trail, my pace slows down a bit and I begin to notice things. The shapes of different leaves, the color patterns of bark on the trees, the way the shadows bounce back and forth. Hiking along, I hear hawks shriek and crows call out. Being outdoors, in the woods, my senses heighten and I hear better, more clearly, more distinctly.
I begin to be able to separate the songbirds from one another and hear individual voices, warblers, phoebes, finches. The smells seem more intense, the soil more earthy, the wildflowers and bushes smell sweeter.
There really is something therapeutic about exercise and being outdoors and the way I see it, combining both together can only be a positive thing. Will my backpacking the local trails and back roads get me in shape for a marathon or chiseled for the cover of a magazine? It’s doubtful, especially given the fact that I like Yeungling with pizza chased down by ice cream; but, I have managed to lose a couple pounds, I can pack 45-pounds on my back for three or four miles and hopefully, I’ll be able to breathe in the thin air of the mountains this fall.
I guess the point of this column is to encourage the readers out there to get outdoors, get active and enjoy it. We only get a certain number of days here on earth, so make the most of them.
Set a goal:
Today it’s walking a 200 steps, tomorrow it’s 300, look for encouragement. Take pride in the small victories. A little exercise, a breeze in your face and the sun on your back never hurt anyone. We weren’t designed to sit indoors and be dormant, get out there while you can at whatever level you can and soak up every minute you have.
It might not be fun at first, but you’ll be glad you did.
– David Hewitt