It used to be an expression of disgust: “Take a Hike.”
But times have certainly changed, and now that phrase becomes something you say to indicate concern for someone’s health and well-being and is an invitation to treat them to the outdoors experience.
Author and hiker extraordinaire Jeff Alt takes every opportunity to preach the gospel of hiking. Alt sees a good walk outdoors as a potential elixir for much of what ails some folks, and also as a means to build a solid connection with nature while maximizing family time away from the distractions of life as we know it.
“The benefits are many, the cost is low, and the adventures are endless,” said Alt, a Sylvania native who will be making a pair of appearances in the Toledo area the next two Fridays.
While clearly walking the walk and living what he preaches — Alt has hiked the full 2,160-mile Appalachian Trail — his focus these days is on the youngest sets of feet out there: Kids. Alt’s latest book is titled Get Your Kids Hiking: How to Start Them Young and Keep It Fun!
It meshes well with other efforts intended to get kids back to playing outside, engaging in physical activity, and soaking up the wonders all around them. Alt said he hopes his book will give parents an easy path to accompany their kids outdoors.
“I think a lot of parents realize that we have a whole generation that is growing up indoors, on the computer, and they are legitimately concerned about that,” said Alt, a graduate of Northview who received his bachelor’s degree at the University of Toledo.
“They want to have an alternative, so they are looking for a route to get kids away from all of the electronics and outside in the fresh air. Hiking is a terrific way for parents and their kids to break away from all of the hustle and bustle and do something healthy and fun.”
Alt, a speech language pathologist in Cincinnati, has authored several other books on hiking. But as we see more and more long-term health problems associated with a long-term, sedentary existence, he places a big emphasis on getting kids started in what could be a lifetime endeavor with significant health benefits.
“With the rise in obesity and other health issues, exercise of any kind is essential, and what makes hiking so appealing is that it is a lifelong sport,” he said. “The littlest kids can do it, and so can folks in their 80s and 90s, along with everyone in between.”
“This is especially important for kids that are not athletically involved. If they get introduced to hiking at an early age and in a positive way, it’s something they can enjoy for a lifetime.”
Alt recommends keeping it simple at the start — short walks, relatively level terrain, and something close to home.
“That’s one thing with kids — you don’t have to try and impress them by taking them someplace where there is a great view. Everything is new to them,” said Alt, who recalls East Harbor, Maumee Bay, and Oak Openings as some of his favorite hiking/camping locales while growing up.
“Kids really like it when you get down to their level, see what they see, and what they are interested in.”
Alt introduced his kids to hiking as infants, taking son William, now 6, on his first hike at 8 weeks old, and carrying daughter Madison, now 9, on a 50-mile family trek across Ireland when she was just 21 months.
“When I speak to people, I tell them what I’ve learned and what I’ve experienced. This book is a ‘how-to’ that is both instructional and entertaining,” he said. “One of the keys is to help kids enjoy the hike every step of the journey. After they are old enough to walk on their own, you can let them lead so the pace is comfortable for them. Let them detour to anything they find interesting. Make each stop a lesson, play ‘I Spy’ or take what they’ve learned in school and apply it outdoors.”
Alt’s book covers the best footwear choices for kids, suitable clothing for hiking, and the appropriate backpacks for every age. He stresses the need for carrying sunscreen, insect repellent, and sufficient water and snacks for kids. Alt recommends taking frequent breaks and letting the kids explore every rock, tree, bug, or bird they find interesting.
Alt said he is deeply troubled by the number of kids who never experience the outdoors, or the many benefits of a simple walk down a trail through the woods.
“That happens far too often, and it’s sad. That’s one of the big motivators behind me writing this book,” Alt said.
“I know a lot of kids have both parents working, and it’s tough to find time for family activities, but this is just too important to miss out on. A good hike is quality time with teachable moments and no distractions. The conversations are positive, kids love it, and you build some powerful, lifelong memories.”
Alt will be speaking and signing his new book at Learning Express Toys at Fallen Timbers from 5-7 p.m. Friday, and again at Walt Churchill’s Market on Briarfield Boulevard in Maumee from 4-6 p.m. July 19.
Contact Blade outdoors editor
Matt Markey at: email@example.com or 419-724-6068.