The Joy of Walking
I once enjoyed having a good run. But as miles of pounding the pavement—and the years—were tacked on top of the other it became clear that to soothe my aching knees and back, running would have to turn into walking.
The transition has been easy. Striding along with less impact during a brisk walk still gives me a nice workout and an hour or more of solitude to gather my thoughts and get away from the cell phone and computer. According to the website www.statista.com, the number of people (aged 6 years and older) in the United States walking for fitness amounted to approximately 110.81 million.
Since man first stood erect and inched one foot in front of the other, walking has been as natural as swinging from a tree (if you believe the evolutionists). Today, millions of Americans walk for pleasure and exercise. Like running, walking has a number of health benefits, both physical and mental.
According to the website www.prevention.com, taking a 30-minute walk each day can help you lose weight and lower your blood-pressure, as well as reduce your risk for a number of chronic diseases. Walking can improve your mood, reduce the risk of injuries to your joints, help you sleep better by reducing stress, boost your immune system, help with digestion and burn calories at a surprising rate.
A rule of thumb is that walking burns about 100 calories per mile for a 180-pound person and 65 calories per mile for a 120-pound person. Speed matters less than a distance. Those numbers are almost in line for calories burned during a run.
A word of caution about thinking that all you need for walking is comfortable clothes and a pair of tennis sneakers. As in running, proper footwear is crucial to avoid discomfort and even injury to the feet, legs and back when walking. Running shoes can also be used for walking, especially if you plan to hoof it for a number of miles at a brisk pace. Another option is a pair of shoes actually designed for walking. These shoes have more padding and sturdier than lightweight running shoes, allowing you to traverse woodland trails comfortably and safely.
“Walking shoes have a little more stability than running shoes with thicker uppers,” said Kent Lemme, who along with his wife, Shiobbean, owns and operates Berkshire Running Center in Pittsfield MA. “A key when considering a shoe for walking is to make sure you get proper pronation. And even though walking doesn’t have the same impact on your body as running, there is still a fair amount of impact involved because it’s a repetitive motion and you want stability and cushion.”
Lemme, who reported that a number of individuals have come into his store looking for walking shoes, said to expect a good pair to last for about 500 miles, or 100 hours of wear, before they begin to break down. Quality walking shoes can cost between $120 and $160 a pair.
“I would advise that people get a fitting when buying either walking or running shoes,” said Lemme. “Many people are shocked when they find that a shoe that they feel is huge is actually a perfect fit for them. They are used to having tight fitting shoes that aren’t correct for their feet.”
A few of the top walking shoes include those from New Balance, Vionic, North Face and Adidas. The shoes offer breathable mesh uppers, durable soles, comfort-focused midsoles, heel support and traction for on and off-road walking.
Of course, the Berkshires and Litchfield hills offer a plethora of venues for great walks, whether along small town roads and through villages or trails in the multitude of nature preserves and parks that dot the landscape.
Here are some of the best places to walk in the region, according to the website backroadramblers.com.
Stevens Glen is a 1.25-mile loop takes you through a hemlock forest, across two footbridges, and through a birch forest. A spur trail leads to a viewing platform with a bench for relaxing.
Bartholomew’s Cobble encompasses 329 acres through many different ecosystems, as well as five miles of well-marked hiking trails. Consider hiking to the top of Hulbert’s Hill, which provides views of the surrounding mountains and valleys.
How about this factoid? Great Barrington alone has 35 hiking trails. These trails range from 0.4 to 30.1 miles in length. The most popular are Monument Mountain Reservation and Monument Mountain.
Pittsfield State Forest has 30 miles of trails, some that follow the crest of the Taconic Mountain Range separating Massachusetts and New York. The Taconic Crest Trail is a 35-mile long hiking trail. The paved three-quarter mile Tranquility Trail is popular with those who favor its smooth surface.
Bear Mountain in Salisbury has the tallest point in Connecticut at 2,316 feet. There are several trails to the top and all are categorized as strenuous. Undermountain Trail rises straight up for two miles and then meets the Appalachian Trial.
When you reach the large wooden trail sign as Undermountain and Appalachian Trails meet, turn right onto the Appalachian Trail. Walk another mile to the top of Bear Mountain; there is a short, steep rise the last few 100 yards. This is a five- to six-mile round trip.
Sharon Audubon Center Nature in Connecticut has trails that take you through gardens, woods and around ponds and Campbell Falls State Park in Norfolk CT is a natural area where visitors enjoy a hike to a small waterfall on Ginger Creek.
Farther afield, Pine Cobble Trail in Williamstown MA takes you to the Pine Cobble summit at 1,894 feet, before hooking up with the Appalachian Trail. From the summit, there is a 360-degree view of the surrounding mountains, as well as of Williamstown and North Adams. The trail is a steady climb, with one small section that is relatively flat.
The trails at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown meander through meadows and manicured woods, and take in views of the Berkshire Mountains. There are several trails here crisscrossing 140 acres that can be combined to create a long walk. All of the trails are easy on the legs and well-manicured.
The Cascade Trail in North Adams MA begins at the end of a small, residential street and follows the Notch Brook to a waterfall. It is just minutes from downtown North Adams, and the trail can be completed in less than an hour. The walk is an easy one, save for a bit of “scrambling” near the brook.
Sunset Rock in North Adams is 1.6 miles in distance and features some stunning views of North Adams and the surrounding valleys. The hike to the rock is part of the longer Hoosac Range trail which leads to Spruce Peak and totals six miles. The Hoosac Range trail ascends up a series of switchbacks to Sunset Rock.
The walks listed are just a few you can enjoy in the area. You can always create a personal walk and trail, likely right in your own neighborhood or backyard.