HURON NATIONAL FOREST, Michigan - Maybe it's our location up here in the North Woods of Michigan, or our current state of mind. But this week we're making a minor detour.
We were about to tell you all about our recent trip to the Republic of Ireland - about Mary Wall's scrumptious porridge and a mighty telescope we discovered in Birr, and a tea and biscuit session with Paddy and Julia Foyle in their exquisite boutique hotel on the Connemara coast.
But all that will have to wait, because we just got seriously sidetracked by a news item. Easy enough to do up here in Michigan's Northern Lower in the summertime.
In fact, sidetracking is actively encouraged.
Without any TV in the cabin (by design), our imported news is pretty well limited to the Detroit papers and NPR. As a result, there's always plenty of time to meander mentally, as the waters of Big Creek slurp through the fishing hole and the old black Labs snore noisily beside the dock, while high in the branches of a white pine, the chipmunks chatter on and a woodpecker rat-a-tats on some buggy tree trunks.
The all-important news item that we heard from the Big Outside was about obesity, of all things. The prevalence thereof. The causes behind it. And the various ways of getting rid of it - instantly, of course.
Atkins mustn't be working quite as well as advertised. And is the proven standby, WeightWatchers, too demanding? And that South Beach diet? Well, it's just passe, isn't it?
So, according to this news report, the latest obesity fix is simple: surgery. As in cut and staple.
What's this got to do with travel? Well, having just spent the better part of three weeks in the occasional company of a bunch of active long-distance hikers ranging in age from 18 to 80, quite a lot, actually.
That sort of experience - walking, hiking, or trekking, at whatever level - seems to us to a far better solution to weight loss and fitness in general than any cutting, stapling, or fad diets.
Now we know that any kind of voluntary exercise routine is anathema to many people. Totally boring, too hard, or too time-consuming in a nonstop society. And from a seriously overweight person's perspective, practically impossible anyway.
But what's needed to get things moving again is the next step beyond that popularly prescribed exercise regimen of 30-60 minutes a day of tromping through the neighborhoods or the malls, or cranking out endless miles on an indoor locomotion machine.
A long-range goal would give new focus to those daily exercise programs, a reason to keep going, an incentive - whether it's to take a very long walk or just prepare for the normal rigors of travel, which always require a lot more walking than daily routines at home.
The answer could well be an activity you probably never dreamed of doing, or ever felt capable of - a walking holiday, the kind advertised in the columns of glossy magazines. That week or two of hiking in some gorgeous location - the Catskills or the Cotswolds, the Pennines or the Pyrenees - with nothing but hiking boots and backpack and poles to carry you the hundred miles or more. Up hill. Down dale. Where automobiles fear to tread.
Having personally graduated from all those neighborhood training walks to occasional day hikes in the mountains of Switzerland and Scotland to three long-distance treks in the past five years, I fully appreciate the utter freedom and exhilaration and uplift that such endeavors produce.
I also know that extraordinary feeling of being able to look back over 20 or 30 miles and realize that I actually walked it all, without help or undue pain. Even if it was at only 2-3 mph.
And from my hiking buddy and mentor, Ed Danziger, who in his time has walked the complete 2,000-plus miles of the Appalachian Trail, I also learned the all-important lesson that no mountain is too high, or descent too steep - when taken slowly. One boulder, one gully, one outcrop at a time.
Walking holidays come in every shape and guise, of course, from independent to fully organized. And in every price range and energy level, from those up-market rambles with guides and catered lunches and luxurious lodgings to the basic backpacker special, in which you carry your own food and stay in tents and trailside cabins. Or even simple day hikes that return you to a base camp or comfy B&B each night.
But whichever walk you eventually start with - little steps or big strides - we suspect that active hiking holidays may well become totally addictive as you get a new appreciation for the great outdoors and your own unlimited potential.
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