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DeWitt column: Tell your spouse to take a hike

Michael DeWitt
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The Shelby Star

Columns share an author’s personal perspective.

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I strutted into my newspaper headquarters recently (during the pre-Plague days) and boasted about the 2-mile hike I had just completed. Naturally, the office ladies were very impressed. “Hiking?” Wow, that sounds neat! Cool!”

Later, at DeWitt family headquarters, my wife, Sparky, had her enthusiasm slightly more contained. “Hiking? Really? You mean walking. You went for a walk. You and that goofy walking stick of yours, Mr. Wannabe Outdoor Writer. Now walk yourself over here and take out this trash.”

Although I find striving to prove my wife wrong a childish act, Wikipedia took my side in the debate, stating that not only are walking and hiking quite different, there are several forms of hiking. In the Alps and the Appalachians, the term backpacking is often used. In the United Kingdom it’s called rambling, hillwalking or fellwaking. In Australia it is bushwalking, and in New Zealand it’s called tramping (and no, not the kind of tramping we all did in college). So basically that means that my spouse is wrong on several continents, but I’m not one to gloat and rub it in when I’m right, nor would I stoop so low as to write about it for a national audience.

So what separates the walkers from the hikers? According to a blog by Wendy Bumgardner, “Is Hiking More Than Just Walking Off-Road?,” hikers seek natural environments - forests, mountains, parks - while some indiscriminate walkers will walk anywhere, often in urban areas with paved sidewalks. Hikers are likely to encounter spring flowers in bloom, leaves blushing into fall, the occasional squirrel or bird hoping to get a tasty morsel. Walkers are more likely to enjoy an eye-witness view of criminal activity, unsightly litter, urban blight and decay, and the occasional bum hoping to get a handout of exactly $2.37 in change.

The most noticeable difference between hiking and walking is in the gear. Apparently, the only gear required for walkers are skin-tight pants that distract passing motorists, a smart phone with ear plugs so you can’t hear the car that hits you, and some type of device attached to your arm that will count your speed-walking steps and calories burnt before you suffer from cardiac arrest.

With hiking, there is much more gear involved. You are not truly hiking unless you wear some type of rakish, wide-brimmed hat and carry a hiking stick. The hat must be goofy enough to irritate and embarrass the spouse, but functional enough to keep the sun and rain off your head. The stick must be sturdy enough to potentially kill a snake with one strike if need be, and yet light enough that it will not cause permanent damage if your wife swats you over the rear end with it.

A good hiker worth his/her salt also wears hiking boots, a fanny pack containing trail mix and Slim Jims, and a backpack containing a water bottle, a fire-starter and a compass, just in case you get lost, which does happen to some addle-brained husbands who don’t listen to their wives. There is an easy way to tell if you have enough cool gear: if the spouse openly mocks you as you walk out the door, you probably have enough. If she takes pictures and posts them on social media with the caption #lookatthisidiotImarried, then you may have too much.

The water bottle is the most important item, however. A water bottle is totally useless unless it has several cool stickers on it, like “Smokey the Bear,” or perhaps “Sierra Club,” maybe even “I hike, therefore I am!” The more stickers, the better hiker you are. If you want, you can even put water in it, but I find that’s just showing off and being overly flashy in front of the other hikers.

Yes, walking is boring, so that’s why I hike and trek and explore with my magical walking stick in case there are dragons along my journey. Yes, my wife is one of those people who live in reality, and there is a place in this world for those folks. Folks like that get things done, help run this country and make the world go ‘round.

But I choose to live in a world of nature and imagination, where sometimes a walk is more than just a walk - it’s an adventure and a rare moment to commune with Mother Earth, who doesn’t judge you for looking goofy and carrying a big stick. This is my world, but you are all welcome to it. Come and join me.

You hear that, honey? Go take a hike!

Michael M. DeWitt Jr. is the managing editor of The Hampton County Guardian newspaper in South Carolina. He is an award-winning humorist, journalist and outdoor writer and the author of two books.