When I was a kid in Germany, my family went off hiking to the Black Forest or to the Swabian Alb, low mountain ranges close to my hometown, Stuttgart, on a regular basis. Either a newspaper clip or a hiking book was placed in my mother’s shoulder bag, and usually they were day trips. I was not sure I liked hiking at all, as it took me away from my books and set me apart from our neighborhood children even more. They were all non-hikers with parents who couldn’t have cared less about family activities such as that.
My parents always saw to it that the hikes held something special that we children would find enjoyable: waterfalls with bridges, little gorges, brooks to follow, old grist mills, caves, fortress ruins. If there was a village en route, we could be sure to be treated to an ice cream popsicle purchased usually in its only grocery store or Gasthof (pronounce ‘gust-hoh-f, meaning guest court, i.e. tavern). Our shortest hikes amounted to around nine miles, our longest were around 16. We sported hiking shoes and wooden hiking sticks. My father carried a rucksack stuffed with homemade sandwiches, cut-up apples, a thermo with herb tea, breaded and fried cold schnitzels, and a jar of my mom’s yummy potato salad. The load was topped off with a blanket for picnicking. Picnic places were chosen randomly around noon – it could be a bench by the trail, it could be in the middle of a meadow.
The absolute highlight of those hikes usually lay at the end of such a long walk. As soon as we had deposited our walking sticks and the rucksack back in our car, our family would head for either coffee and cake at a local café or for supper in a village tavern. Going out was very special for us, as it occurred very rarely. It was the carrot my parents knowingly or unknowingly dangled in front of my unwillingness to hike.
Years later, when I was vacationing by myself, I found that hiking was a marvelous way to explore the surroundings of my vacation spots. I walked all around the North Sea islands I visited, I hiked in the Bavarian Forest. I hiked on Crete and Corfu in Greece. I hiked the entire coastal path of the island of Guernsey, England. I bought special hiking shoes. I bought myself fancy rucksacks. I bought hiking books and maps. A vacation without any hiking didn’t feel much like a vacation in the end. I didn’t even need any popsicles in between anymore. A tavern at the end of a hike was still very welcome though.
When I moved over here, I was more than pleasantly surprised about the marvelous hiking opportunities that are offered in Western Washington (and probably in quite a few other places in the States as well). I was even happier that my husband turned out to be an avid hiker who always found a way to picnic in a comfy and cozy way – even when the ground was snowy! The trails in the mountains are lovingly kept. You find benches in places you’d not even expect. There are sign post at every trail junction. Special vista points are pointed out. Charts are available at any crucial point to see where you are and which options you might want to choose next.
Whereas in Germany the only wildlife I spotted during hikes were maybe a red squirrel or a woodpecker – the country is way more densely populated and tamer – here in Washington, we spot chipmunks and gray squirrels, marmots and mountain goats, deer, and even bears. There are waterfalls and brooks to my heart’s delight anywhere in this part of the country. I don’t really miss the fortress ruins – we run into old mine entrances and ghost towns every once in a while.
I sometimes wish for an old little village that throws itself into our path though. Or a mountain cottage-cum-tavern in the middle of the wilderness. It is these contrasts I realize today that make the memory of a hike even more vibrant. As to picnics – my husband is a marvelous provider of rucksack surprise feasts. And finding a fun place to eat at after a long hike has never been an issue either. Though we find – cooking together at home after a hike is even more fun!