Take a hike: Trekking through woods good for both body, spirit

Autumn in Indiana wouldn’t be complete without several forays into the woods to hike and enjoy the spectacular array of leaves. I feel that if I miss this important fall ritual, I cannot properly transition from summer into winter. I hope to inspire others to feel the same.

October seems to be the peak season, but even into November, the weather is usually mild enough to enjoy the outdoors. Of course, after daylight saving time ends, you do need to plan ahead to make sure you get to where you’re going with enough time to hike before it gets dark.

Later in the fall is a great time to get out in the woods because the bugs and snakes have retired for the season. Even in winter, it’s great to bundle up for a hike as you can experience a panoramic view on a hilltop when the leaves are gone. And you’ll probably have the whole place to yourself apart from any other serious outdoor enthusiasts.

I have a park pass that I got with my donation to the local public radio station, so all I needed to do was set aside a good chunk of time so I could relax and not be looking at my watch. I made several trips to Spring Mill and began to be familiar with the trails so that on future visits I was able to map out a route that would enable me to catch most of the paths with minimum backtracking.

I don’t have actual hiking shoes or boots; I was doing this in my mom’s old golf sandals. I thought the soft spikes on the bottoms would give me good traction for hiking — perhaps so, but I also found that wearing them without socks gave me blisters, and with socks, I not only looked silly but ended up with very dirty socks. Maybe I need to make an investment in hiking and actually spend some money to buy something appropriate for the activity.

On one of these trips I decided to eat in the dining room at the inn. It smelled wonderful; it reminded me of a grandmother’s house before Thanksgiving. It gave me a feeling of nostalgia for a time when people had family and friends over for Sunday dinners. I’d like to go back and sit by the fireplace, but then, they’d probably have to kick me out when they close.

As a good Hoosier, I feel the imperative to celebrate autumn by crunching through leaves as much as I can. (That’s why I get annoyed when I see people clearing the sidewalks — with a noisy gas-powered leaf blower, no less! If you have to do this, go with an old-school broom.)

I feel this is more about being outside in nature, and mental or emotional health, than about getting serious physical exercise. But that is definitely a bonus; after one trip, I was hurtin’ for certain. It must mean I need to go more regularly to build up those muscles!

I’m also thankful I have time off during the day so I can go when it’s not crowded (or dark). I find it hard to contemplate the beauty of nature with congregating people chattering nearby. I suppose that irritation on my part also shows I need to get out more often.

I encourage everyone to go leafing: take a hike in the woods, especially if you haven’t done so yet this season. Remember why you love living in Indiana — because of its natural beauty that is only a short walk away. You’ll be glad you did.

Stephanie Haines is a writer from Greenfield who now lives in Bloomington. She can be contacted through her website, www.stephaniehaines.com.