Featured image: Bev Martin – Tiagdahgton State Forest
One of the traits Thomas Jefferson loved about his young Virginia neighbor Meriwether Lewis was his love for “rambling”, or walking long distances. Although he owned horses, Jefferson thought that people in his day had become too dependent on them, much the way people need to drive automobiles everywhere in today’s society, even really short distances. Jefferson noted that young Lewis pursued game for long distances barefoot, even in the snow, and through his constant close physical contact with the natural world, developed extraordinary skills as a woodsman.
Lewis, from time to time, walked from Virginia to Georgia to visit relatives, all the while navigating by the sun, stars, and his internal compass. By 1804, the leather-footed, thirty-year-old Lewis was leading the greatest expedition in United States history; he, with his partner William Clark, would find his way from St. Louis, Missouri, across the Rockies, then on to the Pacific Ocean and back. His orders were to live to tell about it.
I think it’s the raw simplicity of the sport that makes it so attractive. Although nowadays you can find ways to complicate it with matching high-tech “trekking poles” or other “essential” gear, all you really need to enjoy hiking is the feet you were born with. Just pick a destination, put one foot in front of the other, and you’ve got it mastered.
Back in Jefferson’s time, hiking trails were the best routes from point A to point B and were located specifically because they offered the quickest or safest route. Today’s hiking trails, reflecting the relaxed nature of the sport, are more meandering and scenic than those of yesteryear. Three of the world’s longest and greatest hiking trails are here in the United States.
The Pacific Crest Trail, which runs from Mexico to Canada along the rugged spine of California’s Sierra Nevadas and Oregon and Washington’s North Cascades, is 2,645 miles long, and the world’s longest.
Perhaps the future champion (and a real bear) is the Continental Divide Trail, now about 70% complete, which travels the length of the Great Divide from Mexico to Canada and will be about 3,100 miles when complete.
Closer to home is our beloved Appalachian Trail. The 2,168 miles from Springer Mountain Georgia to Mount Katahdin, Maine is on the “must do before dying” list of many people, including mine. For regular people, hiking the shortest of trails is at least a four-month commitment.
Averaging about 15 miles per day, the Appalachian Trail can be completed in about 5 months. The fastest it has ever been done is just under 49 days (44 miles per day), but that’s obviously running, not hiking. But consider “Flyin” Brian Robinson of California: at age 40, he hiked all three trails in one calendar year, a total distance of 7,371 miles in just 300 days!
Fortunately for us, there are nearly 800 miles of designated hiking trails in Pennsylvania’s public-owned forests. In addition to that, there are many more hundreds of miles of local trails in our state parks and crisscrossing our beloved public forests.
For more information about hiking trails in Pennsylvania, visit the DCNR website at www.dcnr.state.pa.us.
Jim Hyland – Manager of Tioga State Forest District with the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR).