Training hikes at Turkey Mountain

The bright green of new, spring foliage has been intensely beautiful.

I’ve fallen into a pattern over the past several years where hiking fell into two categories: a short, leisurely stroll in the woods or all-out summit hikes high in the mountains. Missing in that group is what I’d call the really important middle: training hikes.

I’d long chosen to use a bunch of other forms of fitness to get me ready for the mountains — running, cycling, team sports, weight lifting, etc. But hiking? Curiously missing. The truth is, I became so invested in that weekend long run or Saturday powerlifting session that I couldn’t make room for something so basic as a healthy, hard-working training hike.

Frankly, this left me unprepared. Even when I was lifting hard or in marathon shape, difficult hikes were almost prohibitively hard. In same cases, a lack of “hiking” shape cost me a summit.

And it’s not like I didn’t see it coming. Any serious backpacker or mountaineer would tell you so. And a few years back, I went to a seminar by RMI where I asked their climbing guides what they did to get in Rainier shape. The answer: Hike a lot, with a load on your back, and make sure there’s plenty of uphill involved.

So this spring I’m making a point to do those “middle ground” hikes with some weight on my back on the weekends. No long runs, no barbell sessions. Just me, a loaded backpack, and some wooded, hilly trails.

I’ve discovered some thing that are really no-brainers, but were educational nonetheless.

First, even hikes between 4 and 6 miles are making me sore. That’s pretty telling.

Second, Getting these regular hikes in has me moving more fluidly and pain-free than I’ve been in many years. And the carryover into running and lifting has been positive.

And lastly, it’s helped me re-embrace the outdoors in a more thorough way. Yes, I’ve been able to enjoy my outside time running and cycling, but it’s different on a hike. The more deliberate pace (even when working hard) has allowed me to really soak it in.

Some images from my most recent hikes include some really spectacular spring scenery.

Wildflowers in a meadow at Turkey Mountain.
Singletrack through the green tunnel.
More wonderful singletrack with a healthy forest canopy overhead.

Unusual trees, scenic overlooks and more have also been a part of the journey.

An overlook with a view of the Arkansas River, which has been pretty fully this spring.
This large tree has sort of a broken arch feel to it. Anyway, it sticks out.
There are several ponds at Turkey Mountain, including this one dubbed Pepsi Lake. Many have fish, and at least one pond is home to a beaver, complete with a den.
I call this part of the trail the Cleft in the Rock. It’s a midpoint on a trail called Ho Chi, which has some pretty tough spots for runners.

It’s also important to remember that this place is wild, and as such, is home to wildlife. In my years of running and hiking Turkey Mountain, I’ve seen deer, owls, lizards, snakes, rabbits, armadillos and any number of other creatures. It’s our park, but we’re visitors. It’s their home.

An adult copperhead I saw hiking last weekend. Copperheads are venomous, so it’s a good idea to give them some room. But also, here’s a good reminder: When you see a snake of any kind, leave it be. Don’t kill it, poke it, move it, pick it up or throw things at it. Just give it room and leave it alone. They’re an essential part of the ecosystem, so it’s good to respect that.

It’s silly to me that I haven’t been more consistently hiking, seeing that it’s played such a big part of my life. But you know how it goes: Training for a race takes over, or some other goal crops up. Work or family obligations arise. Something’s gotta go, and too often for me that’s been a healthy hike. But as summer nears and the mountains call, I know I need to do more to be ready. And what’s more, I don’t need to rob myself of the benefits that a walk in the woods provides.

Scenery so good you can hear and smell it.

Bob Doucette

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