As the frosty, drab days of this year’s abominable winter stretched into April, you burrowed deeper into your couch cushions and waited for a spring you thought would never come. Now, after a few false starts, spring has finally arrived. You’re ready to move off the sofa—move being the key word here—and treat yourself to a little warmth and sunshine. Perhaps you want to shake off the winter doldrums by taking a hike on one of the state’s many nature trails.
Ready, set, go slow
“If you’re just starting out with a goal of hiking at some point, I’d recommend you find a nice flat, level spot where you can walk about a mile,” says Steve Heye, day-hike coordinator for the Pulaski Chapter of the Ozark Society hiking club. Walk in your neighborhood or on a designated walking path for 10 or 15 minutes every day for a week. If that’s easy, increase your time until you’re walking for an hour. “When you’re starting out, you just want to get your muscles built up and develop a little stamina,” Heye says. Before long, you’ll be walking a mile, then two.
So shoe me
Dan Hale of Takahik River Valley Hikers in Russellville says to keep in mind that the type of shoe you wear affects your level of comfort and stamina. “Your shoes can be your most important thing to consider,” Hale says. Shoes don’t have to be new—in fact, if you decide to go on a longer walk or hike, it’s better if they’ve got a few miles on them—but they must be suited to the specific terrain and activity. “It’s hard to believe, but I’ve had people show up for hikes in the woods wearing flip-flops,” he says. “You can’t do any serious walking in flip-flops.”
Hale and Heye recommend wearing shoes that are sturdy and supportive, plus have substantial soles, padding and arch support. “Spend a little more and get the best shoe you can afford,” Heye says. “Remember, you’re traveling on your feet, and you’re going to be miserable if your feet are hurting.”
Sneakers, cross-trainers and shoes made especially for walking are suitable for streets or flat, well-maintained trails. While running shoes can double as walking shoes, their flexibility can make you totter on rough, rocky terrain, so wear hiking boots that stabilize your feet and ankles for wilderness treks.
When people falter in their walking goals, it’s usually because they lack motivation, Hale says. “My wife would rather walk than hike, and her key is to always have somebody to walk with. I would suggest getting a buddy just to keep you going.” He suggests finding someone who shares your level of fitness and walking together several times a week.
Heye agrees, but says if you don’t have a walking buddy, consider that solitude has its own rewards. When walking alone, take the opportunity to enjoy the sights and sounds of your excursion. “Get your head out of your phone, take your headphones off, and listen to the birds,” Heye says. “If you’re walking by water, you’ll hear the sound of the water. It’s calming.”
Form a habit
“Be consistent,” Hale advises. “Don’t go for a one-mile hike on Monday, then do nothing the rest of the week. You need to create a routine. That really takes motivation.” If walking for fitness, try to walk at least 30 minutes a day at least five days a week.
Consistency pays off, and you’ll soon be in shape for a half-day or longer hike. “Once you start progressing, then you can go out on the wilderness trails and see things that 80 percent of people in Arkansas have never seen,” Heye says. “That’s when the real fun begins. But the main thing to remember is you can start by getting up and walking around the yard. Just take your time, do your own thing, and go for it.”