Last fall, I tried to venture out to my local state park more often and I have continued to regularly visit this year for hikes. But I have tweaked my hiking necessities a bit since those earlier adventures last fall. I broke down and bought myself a hiking stick.
You see, when my husband and I were reviewing my hikes from last fall and early this year, we realized that I had fallen on about 50% of my hiking adventures. Not exactly a great track record. I’m clumsy, but this seemed a little excessive.
It rained quite a lot here last fall and it made for some muddy trails. The first time I fell, I was filming some video of the Duck River and walking along the muddy bank and I got a nice shot of myself slipping and falling.
I really tried to one-up myself on a New Year’s Day hike by falling multiple times. I honestly lost count but think I hit the ground on three separate occasions. The really embarrassing part of this is that my husband and I were on a ranger led hike with several other people. My previous falls, I had been alone with only woodland creatures around as witnesses. I wasn’t the only one to fall that day though. It had been raining the better part of the morning before we went out and the trail that we hiked was a new trail that was still in progress at the time, so there were some particularly muddy spots on slopes with nothing for traction. By the time we got back to our car, I looked as though I had been mud wrestling and my husband and I were looking at each other like, “This was supposed to be a nice little moderate New Year’s Day hike.” On this hike, there were families with small children running, elderly people stepping quite easily through the mud, and even several small dogs on leashes navigated the trail just fine.
So I began to consider that what I might need was a stick to take with me on those muddy days. My grandfather had used carved hiking sticks that he had bought while in East Tennessee on hikes and my mom has one of his fancy sticks that she will use when they go for walks. One day, when I went out for a short hike, I picked up a random stick along the trail that was a good length and decided to give it a try as a hiking staff as it was a little muddy. I immediately felt the difference in my balance and knew this was the only way for a clumsy individual such as myself to hike.
I went out and purchased a sturdy hiking stick. I had been a little resistant to the idea of a hiking stick at first as I was afraid it would make me look and feel like an old woman. Turns out, it makes me feel like an old man named Gandalf. And I’m pretty okay with that. My car of the last eight years is named Shadowfax so perhaps it has been inevitable from the beginning that I would end up with a staff in my hand.
Gandalf used his stick to fight off the Balrog. I thought I was going to have to use mine one day to fight off something that kept rattling the underbrush along the trail. I was envisioning some sort of mountain lion stalking me but it was probably just a squirrel. But you never know when you might have to fight one of those guys off either.
I am happy to say that I haven’t fallen once since I began taking my stick along on hikes. Even this spring after all the rains we’ve had, though my boots have slid all around on the trail, having my stick has kept me balanced.
On our New Year’s Day hike, my husband kept telling me the reason I slipped and fell was because I was trying to take too big of steps. Basic physics backs up the idea of taking small steps on slippery surfaces as the best fall prevention, but even though I know this intellectually, I still get in too big a hurry. I am so eager to get to the destination that I hustle through the journey in getting there, not paying enough attention to where I am placing my feet. Seems like there is a lesson somewhere in that for me.