Jim O'Leary

Waverly Star

By Jim O'Leary

An e-mail newsletter for and about Waverly people, used with permission in the HLW Herald and on this web site.

July 7, 2003

Hiking trails offer extraordinary experiences

"Take a two mile walk every morning before breakfast."

- Harry S. Truman

"Walking is man's best medicine" - Hippocrates

There is a sentence completion psychological quiz that goes: "I am happiest when. . ."

My answer to that one is: "I am happiest when . . . I am hiking on a trail."

Most recently, I have been on miles of trails in Colorado and New Mexico. What started me off was retirement, and senior citizen passes to state and national parks.

I also was motivated by meeting up with a fat friend who had open heart surgery. When I saw him, I told him how well he looked after his surgery and his weight loss. I wanted to know how he did it. He said, "I have discovered the secret of the two mile walk."

I didn't have the heart to tell him that it takes three miles to walk around Waverly Lake.

A hike is an extended walk just for pleasure. Besides allowing the mind to wander in many soul soothing ways, hiking offers an opportunity to happen upon little details that can make the experience extraordinary.

No two trails are alike. Plenty of animal tracks and droppings mark the trail. Be sure to stop and take in the considerable silence: no people, no highways, nothing but birdsong and the faint sound of wind through trees.

It's impossible to hike without a sense of well-being and gratitude. It is hard to be an atheist on a hike. The combination of scenery and exercise is free and available to everyone.


There are trails which accommodate wheelchairs. There are also trails for the blind. Helen Keller, who was blind and deaf from birth, said, "The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched; they must be felt within the heart."

She didn't seem to leave room for the idea that "the best and most beautiful things in the world" can be smelled and can be touched and they can still be "felt within the heart."

There is a trail for blind people on Colorado State Highway 40 in the White National Forest. I tried it out by closing my eyes and trailing my hand along a wire that ran the length of the trail.

Every now and then there was a legend in Braille to explain the surroundings that made it a nature trail for the blind. The smells of ponderosa pine and fir and flowers and the songs of birds were still all mine even with my eyes closed.

I don't have a favorite trail. The one I like the best is always in the present, the one I happen to be strolling or climbing at the time.

Getting lost only adds to the adventure and I have gotten lost several times. The experts tell you never to hike alone. They say one should always walk in a group of four: Two persons to go for help and one person to stay with you if you should fall and break something. Try never to leave an injured hiker alone.

They tell you always to use a hiking stick. I know this to be good advice because I have met people on the trail who told me they have fallen and broken legs, hips, arms and ribs in the past. Now they always carry hiking staffs. Don't buy one of those. Ski poles work. So do tree branches. Any stick will do.

The experts also tell you to bring a water bottle: "Contaminated water can give you dysentery and spoil your visit." (I'll say!)

"Do not feed any wildlife. This is not healthy for them." (Nor for you)

"Bighorn sheep, marmots and porcupines may seek sources of salt such as leather boots or perspiration soaked packs and clothes. Watch for silent and unexpected animal visitors during rest breaks. Leave pets at home. They can be considered by some wildlife to be dietary supplements."

The experts also recommend whistles to blow in case you are lost.

One time I got lost without a whistle on a Superstition Mountain trail near Apache Junction, Arizona. I had missed a turn coming down the hill.

My wife had gone on ahead of me looking for birds. It was getting towards nightfall when a party of Mormons, who were attending a convention in Apache Junction, saw me looking around as if I was lost, which I was. They brought me down to their parking lot and drove me to the parking lot where Jeanne was waiting. I told them I would never again speak ill of Mormons.

I must have broken my promise because when I got lost the next year, in Peru, near Macchu Picchu, it was a Mormon who found me and walked me back to my hotel in the pitch black dark.

He couldn't speak English and had never traveled to the United States but he did tell me he was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints ("La Iglesia de Jesu Cristo de los Santos de los Ultimos Dias.")

He refused the money I offered him after he had walked me back safely to the hotel. I forced it on him for his grandchildren, though. He had 23 of them.

Here is a description of a wonderful trail near Longmont, Colo. where my 88-year-old brother Henry lives:

"The Longs Peak Trail begins a mile off Highway 7, nine miles south of Estes Park. It is a difficult but extremely popular 1.5 mile round trip trek that rewards the hiker with stunning panoramic views at the top of one of Colorado's Fourteeners (14,000 foot plus peaks).

For a less strenuous but still challenging hike, split off from Longs Peak Trail at Mount Lady Washington and follow the trail to Chasm Lake. An 8.4 mile round trip, the trail rises over 2,000 feet and runs through rugged terrain past Columbine Falls and ultimately to Chasm Lake and an ideal view of climbers scaling the side of Longs Peak."

There are over 50 trails for day hikes in the Santa Fe, NM area, beginning with a trail along the railroad tracks of the Santa Fe Southern.

The guide book gives this advice: "The Santa Fe Southern is a working railroad which is one of the charms of this hike. You are quite likely to see either the regular run or a chartered trip pass by. The train moves slowly and whistles a lot, but observe caution when crossing the tracks.

There are great vistas and it's almost impossible to get lost. [NOTE: Not funny. I did get lost on Santa Fe trails.] You are likely to see hikers, bicyclists and an occasional horse."

Here is a description of a Santa Fe hike I didn't go on: "Hermit Peak is moderate in distance but strenuous if you are not used to steep climbs.

You will be challenged by 27 stream crossings. An extra pair of sneakers and socks, a walking stick and mosquito repellent might be helpful for this adventure. Hermit Peak is a rugged granite peak named for a hermit who lived in a cave near the summit in the 1860s."

Maybe next time.

The great environmentalist John Muir (1838-1914), a Scottish immigrant who was the inspiration for our national park system and was most closely associated with Yosemite National Park, had hiked thousands of miles in his time.

He was a shrewd observer of nature and, as the pioneer of the environmental movement, said one time, "When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe."

Even an amateur like me could see this played out on every hike I have ever done. The trees, the bees, the butterflies, the plants, the animals, the birds and the air itself all need each other. We human beings, for good or for ill, are part of this. We need them and they need us.

John Muir was not just a scientist. He loved what he saw. "These beautiful days . . . do not exist as mere pictures, maps hung upon the walls of memory to brighten at times when touched by association or will . . . They saturate themselves into every part of the body and live always."

He said, "Walk away quietly in any direction and taste the freedom of the mountaineer. Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees.

The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energies, while cares drop off like autumn leaves."

These prophetic words still ring true: "God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches and a thousand straining, leveling tempests and floods; but He cannot save them from fools. Only Uncle Sam can do that."

Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;

And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;

And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil

Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;

There lives the dearest freshness deep down things.

Glory be to God for dappled things

All things counter, original, spare, strange;

Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)

With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;

He fathers forth whose beauty is past change; Praise him.

- Gerard Manley Hopkins

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