The story below is an excerpt from our Jan./Feb. 2016 issue. For the rest of this story and more like it subscribe today, view our digital edition or download our FREE iOS app!
The hikes my wife and I take used to be nearly all in the woods. Accommodations to family, time and weather, plus the addition of new trails to our town have resulted in more urban walks.
You look back over the 12 years that The Greatest Day Hiker Of Them All and I have been hiking every weekend (OK, we missed a dozen or so over the ‘07-’09 period), and you see a few patterns.
Like for instance in ‘04—the first year—we walked 565 miles total; and in ‘05, 505. And have hit the 500 mark only once since. Still, we’ve never averaged less than six miles a week for any year.
The other trend is that there are more urban walks. That’s where it’s rainy, or it’s really cold and really blustery, or there are family commitments all weekend or The Day Hiker (who would agree that her “Greatest” status has waned a bit since the days of walking through a foot of snow till beyond dark and putting in 15-mile-plus days), says let’s just take it easy this weekend.
Or to look at it from the positive side: Our town of Roanoke, Virginia has over those years become eminently more walkable. New greenways and new sections of the trans-valley Roanoke River Greenway have been added every year over that time, creating new destinations, new ways to get to old ones and new incentives to walk to places that might have never been thought of as ambulatory destinations before.
Yes, it is wonderfully rewarding to carry our lunch the 3.9 miles up to McAfee Knob (and the 3.9 back down) as we do several times a year; or to any other of dozens of great Appalachian Trail destinations around this small city.
And it is also a lot of fun, on that 80-percent-chance-of-rain day, to put the umbrella in the back pocket, walk out the front door and in less than a mile on sidewalks be on the Roanoke River Greenway; then stay on it nearly all the way to downtown, and then get back onto sidewalks toward the destination of a lunch or dinner as served in one of Roanoke’s many fine downtown restaurants.
The fine meal becomes the midpoint of a six-mile walk through our town. Other new trails over the recent years also now yield great greenway/trail/sidewalk treks in the surrounding communities of Salem, Vinton and Hollins.
And of course it is not just the Roanoke area that is working to accommodate walkers and bikers and runners better than it ever has before. As grandkid sports tournaments (yes, that’s another reality fewer in-the-woods hikes, as in 2004 we had two tiny grandchildren, and we now have nine with another on the way), have taken us to surrounding towns, we get to discover things like the Huckleberry Trail in the Blacksburg-Christiansburg area, the Radford Riverway, the Lexington-to-Buena Vista Chessie Trail, Rocky Mount’s Waid Park and others.
Yes, the forest remains clearly the purest form of walking, and the Appalachian Trail the highest manifestation of that.
But there’s lots to be said as well for stepping outside into a town or city that has made a good walk a genuine priority for its citizens.