The Knees May Creak; the Brain Should Not

Having not-as-limber-as-they-used-be creaky knees is not the only problem I have when it comes to hiking. Having a creaky brain can be a problem too.

 

I am the King of the Ill-Advised Hike. The common-sense, follow-them-if-you-want-to-live guidelines that Northwest hiking guru Seabury Blair Jr. emphasizes in the Be Careful section of all of his Day Hike! and Creaky Knees guides are things my friends and I always ignored when we set out on hikes. An adequate supply of water? Nah, no need—there will no doubt be a drinking fountain along the trail. First-aid kit? Only dorks carry those—do we look like klutzes? A topographic map of the trail? Hey, up is up, down is down, and well remember the route we hiked in on . . . etc., etc.

 

The result, predictably, has been a number of hikes that were unpleasant at best, and injurious or life-periling at worst:

 

One hike in the hills of Berkeley, California, ended with me stepping in a ditch I couldn’t see in the pitch blackness because we thought we don’t need a light source—it’s not dark now when we started. I endured two days of excruciating pain and torn cartilage in my left knee to show for that one.

 

Another time, only a tense argument followed by a triumph of democracy (two of the three of us voted to turn back while we still had a bit of daylight) between the hikers saved us from getting lost in the darkness far from the main trail on a brisk winter evening on Mt. Tamalpais in Marin County, California, when we had, of course, zero provisions. I suppose we would have survived the night, but to this day, I can still visualize the headline that could have appeared if we’d made the wrong decision: BODIES OF THREE HIKERS AIRLIFTED OFF MT. TAM.

 

I don’t even want to think about the time a family member urged the others to hike from a vista point at the Grand Canyon to the base of the canyon on a whim one very hot September afternoon—again with absolutely no plan, map, or provisions. (For once, I wasn’t that family member.) Fortunately, that whim passed or the family threatened to throw the one who suggested the idea into the canyon; I forget which.

 

The belabored point I’m trying to make is merely that tired or aging limbs are not the only obstacles to invigorating, enriching, safe hikes. The biggest obstacle is often the muscle located within the skull. And the deft, entertaining way that is addressed is one of my favorite things about Seabury’s hiking guides, the latest of which is The Creaky Knees Guide Oregon. It’s the second of his books offering shorter, less-punishing half-day hikes for those with physical limitations that make longer, more challenging hikes impossible—or who would rather take a lighter stroll that emphasizes beautiful scenery and other visual rewards instead of mountain goat–like climbing skills.

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