Hiking: A Sport for the Times
Wellbeing. Hiking not only enervates one's self, but binds families and couples. It can be adjusted in terms of difficulty so that women and children are as comfortable with it as men. Men admire the ruggedness of the landscape, while women appreciate the floral displays and children relish each new sight, smell and sound.
State. Along our hiking trails, the New World meets the Old World. New arrivals to America, accustomed to greater physical exertion, find along our trails a way to carry on the walking they practiced in the Old World. In the high proportion of Asian and South American people along our paths, we are seeing the future of America and witnessing an ancient and enlightened manner of recreating.
Internal Affairs. Hiking is the one sport avidly embraced by people from opposite political and social poles. A slender vegetarian from suburban Washington shares a mountain climb in Shenandoah National Park with an Operation Desert Storm veteran. A fundamentalist church group ascends a Blue Ridge peak because hiking "cleanses the spirit," and they meet an outing of Unitarian Universalists seeking an activity that "cleanses the spirit." They come from the right and they come from the left, and they all gain perspective along the trail.
What distinguishes a hike from a mere walk is its status as a trek during which something is learned. In Harper's Ferry National Historic Park, about 80 miles from Washington, D.C., the trail follows a steep mountainside where signs convey events from the Civil War -- the path where Confederate soldiers marched Union prisoners down the steep slope into the village below, the heaps of native stone piled up by soldiers defending positions. At the foot of the mountain, the trail incorporates the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal remnants, which once acted as the major trade route along the Potomac River. Entering town, it passes a marker commemorating a long-ago stop by Lewis and Clark.