Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Adventures in Urban Hiking

In a recent post, I mentioned that I've been exploring outdoor activities other than biking this spring and summer. While I enjoy riding a bicycle and I don't think anything can quite replace it when combining reliable, self-propelled transportation and speed, there are times when it's nice to try other activities.

Additionally, I'm still attempting to figure out the boundaries for my body and its injuries. While some things are obviously off the list in my mind, others seem to be more of a gray area, and these are the activities that I can undertake -- as long as I don't attempt too much at once (which isn't always as easy as it sounds).

One of these activities I have begun to call "urban hiking." Now, I know what some people are going to say... isn't that just walking? My response is both yes and no. In the sense that we can call hiking "just walking" as well. If one lives here in Colorado though, hiking is generally reserved for those who attempt the many 14ers (the term for mountain peaks that reach over 14,000 feet in elevation), but I grew up in California and we used to hike regularly and it wasn't nearly as strenuous as the elevation gain here.

Of course, one doesn't have to summit a 14er in order to call him or herself a hiker. That would be ridiculous as there are innumerable lower elevation trails, fire roads, and so on and I would still term these walking activities as hiking.
I would call this walking the dog if it was a short distance, only through residential neighborhoods, and I wasn't carrying a load on my back.
The criteria in my mind that has differentiated urban hiking from the act of simply taking a walk are the following:
* I (and sometimes the dog too) carry a backpack that contains hydration, snacks for the dog and sometimes the human too, poop bags, a towel, phone, extra leashes (if you've ever had a leash break while out, you'll understand this one), and any other necessities that we may require for our travels
* The distance must be greater than a usual just-walking-the-dog walk, which for me is currently falling between 5-7+ miles
* The hike transitions through at least three different types of areas (residential, commercial/retail, industrial, greenspace/trails, etc) and has me (or us) walking on at least two different kinds of surfaces (pavement, cement, dirt, rocks, gravel, grass, etc)
* There is at least one strenuous portion of the hike (such as a steep hill)

After hiking (For real hiking - you know, with forest-y stuff, mountains, critters and such) just recently with a friend and our dogs, I realize that the muscles used are a little different (Okay, very different, as my calves will attest) when it comes to regular hiking and urban hiking, but I also think there are some similarities - enough so that I have decided that urban hiking is an actual "thing."
On this particular day, the two of us set out for the post office. I had an item to drop in the mail (returning a pair of bib shorts for riding actually, that just didn't work out) and I figured we could make an urban hike out of it, even though the post office is only about 2 miles from home.
On our way to drop off the package, we continued through a slightly more industrial part of town. I'm always fascinated both by how close these areas are to residential portions of the city and by how much the feel changes as we move from one area to the next.
Before we were able to get too far along though, our Golden was getting pretty thirsty. Granted, she's a retriever, so she's almost always thirsty, but it was pretty hot and when her tongue starts hanging out the side of her mouth, I know it's time to find her a water source. Unfortunately, I forgot my own water (While I could use her water, she likes to lick the lids of the water bottles as I pour it out, so it didn't seem appealing at the time), and later regretted it as the sun continued to blaze. For anyone who may be curious, I usually carry about 3 liters of water (2+ for the dog, and 1/2-1 liter for me). I'm sure we lose at least half of hers on the ground as she's an entirely sloppy drinker!
Once the water was close by, the pup started pulling as she desperately wanted to swim in it.
After we dropped off the package, we found an even better water source... the river. Although it doesn't look like much in this photo, there were lots of spots to stop and let her dip her paws or outright swim in the water.
We even came across some fowl friends as we walked. The geese usually hang out near the lake and river areas of the city throughout a good portion of the year.
This gaggle didn't seem to be overly thrilled with our presence though, so they began making their escape into the water. As much as I'd have enjoyed watching our Golden swim after them, I wouldn't want to know what would happen if she caught one (I'm not sure if I'd be more concerned for her or the geese... some of the geese get pretty frantic when we get too close and start to hiss, and I definitely don't want her to kill any of them), so she begrudgingly stayed within reach.
One of the really intriguing things to me about an urban hike is getting to see so much of our city. We can go from turn-of-the-century houses to shops to trails and industrial settings all on foot over the course of relatively few miles. We can be in the shade, exposed to the sun, or switch back and forth depending on the area of the city.

What I also appreciate about urban hiking is that there is nearly always someone nearby if something should happen in regard to injury (unlike hiking in the mountains where it could be more difficult to get a rescue, if needed). I also enjoy that we can easily stop for food or water without too much disruption in our route (assuming that I've remembered my wallet, of course). We also come across others we know or don't and get to have random and interesting conversations since the pace is slower than riding a bike.

While I don't think urban hiking will be replacing regular hiking anytime soon, it's been fun to explore the city by foot instead of on two wheels and although riding a bike provides a different perspective from driving, using two feet can take things down yet another notch, providing time to really absorb my surroundings. It may not always be the most efficient means of getting around, but traveling via this manner has permitted me to appreciate both walking and biking a lot more.

Are you exploring any new-to-you outdoor activities this year or re-acquainting yourself with a past enjoyable activity? I'd love to hear all about it!


  1. In a strictly urban setting, there's nothing I could recommend that's better than this: The "Urban Ranger" (http://www.urbanranger.com/) -- used along with The "No 'S' Diet" (http://www.nosdiet.com/), it's a winner.

    1. Those are both perfect links, JB! :)

  2. I love the idea of urban hiking. I've definitely spent days exploring cities where I put on more miles than I would on a long day hike in the desert, but I never thought of it as hiking. I think you are on to something here.

    1. It's interesting to walk a city as opposed to even cycling the same city. I think we just notice different things... or at least I do! :)


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