Tuesday, August 09, 2005

"Urban Hiking..." What?

I began my fascination with urban hiking in the mid '80s after moving in with a room mate whose middle-class neighborhood home was located near a recreation, wilderness greenbelt in Roseville, CA.

I was starting an overall health improvement kick, which then included a few miles of alternate running and power walking. Looking for a route to execute my every other day session of the "then" unnamed exercise I found a trail leading into the adjacent greenbelt that meandered for a mile and a half through an isolated wooded area and along shallow Linda Creek.

The RPW exercise, soon to be coined "urban hiking," was transformed from a grueling routine into a looking forward to, peaceful and mind-expanding activity over the next few weeks. I was steadily increasing my physical endurance, lowering my heart rate and finding the quiet solitude a positive break from my hectic, inner city business day. Wild life and interesting insects flitted in and out from between the Valley Oaks and Cottonwoods as I maneuvered the ups and downs of the crooked trail, occasionally crossing the creek or jumping a storm fallen tree.

Thus was born my love of urban hiking. To make it even more fun, I soon began inviting my girlfriend to share in the adventure, continuing the tradition with several following "loves of my life." Great discussions ensued on the trails and neighborhood sidewalks, worldly problems were solved and intrigue was just around the next bend or over the next hill. I've done lots of hiking and backpacking in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Yosemite, and some in the Tetons of Wyoming, but urban hiking has its own flavor and a comfortable night's sleep at the end of the day.

I don't know if the term "urban hiking" had already been invented at that time, but every time I introduced it there after to friends and relatives they were hearing it for the first time. I thought up the term after reading an article on urban pioneers of which I was later to become one among many in the nearby city of Sacramento. "Urban pioneers choose to live in the city. They choose the places they inhabit. Unlike the poor natives of the locale who are kind of stuck and have fewer options. Like the Wild West or the early American Plains, there are Indians. The areas are inhabited, unless the area is some industrial park that had been deserted, most likely there is already life where the urban pioneer sets up stakes to make a claim," says Mari of Washington, D.C. It worked for me!

Later, after I moved into my newly built home in the equine-historically rooted community of Hagginwood of Sacramento, CA., I expanded the hikes to a number of different suburban and inner city areas, and the distance to 3-8 miles. The hikes were sometimes spontaneous and at times deliberate; routes were sometimes planned and often developed along the way; the area I hiked was usually centered in a 5 mi. radius around my home.

I used Microsoft's MapPoint to workup the "deliberate" hikes, calculating distance and shortcuts, and finding new challenges to surmount. My new home was also adjacent to a one mile long greenbelt and a reclamation area with a year-around creek, Arcade Creek, that flowed West into the American River just three miles away. Other than MapPoint, I used nothing else for the hikes nor did I take anything with me but my house keys to encourage a sense of freedom and separation from responsibility.

Besides greenbelts and reclamation areas, I have hiked the city streets of Roseville, Sacramento and San Francisco. On the way I have stopped to visit art galleries, checked out commercial building projects, dropped in on outdoor community events, talked to and waved at lots of people lounging or working in their front yards. At times I stop in at a friends home on my way to chat about what I observed that day. For those friends, I'm sort of like a human newsletter that is temporarily delivered to their homes.

In the last twenty years of urban hiking I have increased my awareness of people in general, disproved irrational conclusions of outsiders (as well as those of my own neighbors) about indigenous natives in so called "rough neighborhoods" and, at the same time, increased my physical endurance, endorphin level and view of inner city life. I figure I have traveled over 6000 miles on foot, which would have been enough to get me to New York and back home.

Now, that's one BIG urban hike!