Footprint in the snow

It’s OK to hike in the park down the street. It’s OK to walk a half-mile in the woods and call it a hike. It’s OK to take the kids car-camping in the state park and make .75 miles per hour because they keep splashing in the creek.

Sometimes I feel like regular, everyday hikers need permission to say they don’t feel compelled to sleep on the ground, explore ancient ruins or buddy up to Everest mountaineers. To read the magazines serving outdoorsy types you’d think the only things worth doing require $2K worth of gear and round-trip airfare to Tasmania.

That’s one extreme.

Take your pick

In the middle are regular, boring ol’ people like me who hike in state parks, wave to the backpackers and can’t remember the last time we stopped in a ranger’s station to get a piece of paper granting us permission to start a campfire. Some hikers have the nerve to buy cheap car-camping tents from China at Wal-Mart and sleeping bags containing none of the high-tech insulating fibers endorsed by people the gear industry pays to climb mountains for a living.

On the other extreme, tens of millions of Americans are getting fatter and sicker in an obesity epidemic that would evaporate if they simply took up day-hiking as a hobby. Sounds crazy, you say? Well, here’s my experience: walking in town is nothing like hiking in the woods, with all those hills to climb and creeks to cross. I have no hiking trails near the house; nor does 90 percent of the population, I’m guessing. I have to work out three times a week to stay in shape for hiking.

So, you get someone hooked on day-hiking and they want to get healthier. And as everybody with an REI membership knows, hiking is a gateway drug to those “adventures” that make the Outdoor Industry Complex all tingly. And along the way the the newly initiated will come to understand why wild places need to stay wild.

(If I keep this up I’ll have myself talked into believing hiking can change the world; or at least I’ll feel better about my blisters).