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Mountain Home Magazine

A Walk on the Wild Side

I just got a new pair of boots and I’m looking forward to taking the time to go somewhere in them. I’ve been letting them and my feet get used to each other gradually—wearing them around to take care of the animals and to just wander about the yard. They fit, and that’s important, but I don’t really know if they are hiking boots or walking boots or work boots or some other kind of boot. All of which got me pondering: What’s the difference between a walk and a hike? Duration? Geography? Equipment?

I don’t know who said it but I agree with the statement that all hikers walk but not all walkers hike. Without delving too deeply into semantics, syntax, or other forms of language-related torture (although that would be fun), it is worthwhile to note that “ walk” and “hike” are both nouns and verbs. To walk is the physical act of putting one foot in front of the other; to hike is, well, that’s the question, isn’t it? A hike seems, at least to me, to connote something more vigorous than a walk, a ramped-up degree of difficulty. A hike also seems, at least to me, to indicate that the hiker is going somewhere—like from one end of the Appalachian Trail to the other. A hike could be a loop, certainly, as long as it is something of a journey, one that might call for a map and some fortitude (think Lewis and Clark), although a walk could be a journey, too (think Lassie Come-Home—her map was internal and her fortitude was exceptional). Taking a walk, especially if it’s on the wild side, suggests to me a dalliance rather than any sort of a long-term commitment. If someone tells you to go take a hike, though, the connotation is a little different, isn’t it? Not quite so friendly and perhaps a bit more permanent.

Do you see the definition dilemma here? And that doesn’t even touch on the question of whether certain kinds of clothing or footwear are essential to either a walk or a hike, or where strolling, sauntering, or trekking come into the picture.

Thoreau, of Henry David and Walden fame, had a lot to say about perambulation. “The walking of which I speak has nothing in it akin to taking exercise...but is itself the enterprise and adventure of the day,” he wrote. That makes me feel bad for those serious walkers. They’re focused, they’ve got their special walking shoes and special walking clothes, and usually some kind of plugs in their ears set up for their listening pleasure. They are not so much going somewhere as just going. What are they missing? “What business have I in the woods, if I am thinking of something out of the woods?” Thoreau questioned. And then he said that “every walk is a sort of crusade,” which makes me think I need to put on those new boots and go figure this out.

Or, take the advice of Kahlil Gibran, who said “Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet...”

Walk or hike, booted or bare, it’s all good. 

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