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Take a Hike A very french take on an american passion

A very french take on an american passion…

If you’ve seen the recently released film Wild by Jean-Marc Vallée and starring Reese Witherspoon, or read the book by Sheryl Strayed upon which the movie is based, you know about the power of hiking.
Hiking heals the soul, wrecks the soles and is good for the legs, the heart and the health in general.

At least, that is what my American friends want me to believe. In all Frenchness, I beg to differ. Having lived many years in the Southwest, I have had my share of hikes and I developed a love/hate relationship with hiking.
I came to the conclusion that if it doesn’t hurt, if the sun is not burning your skin, if the cacti are not threatening you all spikes out, if the rattlesnakes are not in the middle of the trail, if you’re not dehydrating, hyperventilating, huffing and puffing, exhausted to the point of hallucinating, it’s not worth it… not my cup of thé!

The more dangerous, uncomfortable and painful, the happier the hikers seem to be. I am not.

Among my many hiking misfortunes, I can tell you about the day I was watching my feet so closely in order not to stumble on a rock and fall into a ravine that my head met the branch of a tree. Of course and since it’s humanly impossible to look downward and upward at the same time, I watched ahead of me and stumbled on a root. Never happened to me taking a walk in the Luxembourg gardens or the Vaux le Vicomte gardens where needless to say you may encounter some strangeness too but of a different kind.

The more dangerous, uncomfortable and painful, the happier the hikers seem to be. I am not.
Give me a walk on the beach or a walk in the woods anytime, but a hike? Heck no!

Like most French women, I favor heels over flats and I have been spotted several times by “fellow hikers” on a trail wearing my boots with heels…

I have many devoted hiker friends and I do admire them. It seems that a hike is never challenging enough.
They are always looking forward to the next one, the one that will take them to new extremes. I don’t like extremes.
I like to walk casually and calmly in the woods, hands in my pockets.

Also, and I know it may sound a bit shallow, but what’s with REI? All hikers seem to dress the same.
The same kind of REI sensible shoes (like most French women, I favor heels over flats and I have been spotted several times by “fellow hikers” on a trail wearing my boots with heels…), same shorts, same shirts, same water bottles, same caps.
A little army of khaki, beige and taupe people carrying heavy backpacks, water backpacks (weird devices with a plastic straw and a kangaroo-like pouch), and who sometimes wear their caps backwards to protect the neck and their sunglasses too.

I have to admit that I have been on many beautiful trails and have seen incredible landscapes while hiking.
And hiking IS the only way you can get there. No car, chariot, wagon, taxi or horse will take you to these places.
Only your poor little feet will get you there.

If you want a real taste of the Southwest, hiking is required.

If you want a real taste of the Southwest, hiking is required: try Sedona, Canyon de Chelley, the lost Dutchman trail, Chiricahua national monument trails (with an incredible view of the Cochise mountain)… There are hundreds of trails and possible hikes in the region.
Needless to say that it is better to plan it for the spring, fall or winter, and avoid the 100 + degree heat of a summer that can last for up to 6 months (spring, fall and winter are very short in the southwest).

For those of us allergic to “hikes”, warn your friends that any plan for a walk, a stroll, a promenade sounds lovely but a hike doesn’t!
No fashion designer has yet tackled the “hiker style” (or lack of it actually).
The hiker’s clothes have to be comfortable, sensible and practical… three things french people live very well without!

Francoise Hartman

Françoise Hartman is a freelance writer and translator. She lives in the Southwest.

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