What’s Out There: Seven Tips Beginner Hikers Should Know


tonya-m-williams-1By Tonya M. Williams

In June, a black bear strolled through an Opelika, AL neighborhood, a rabid raccoon attacked a child in Pike Road last month and, according to the social network app Nextdoor, two coyotes were spotted a week or so ago in Montgomery – one wandering through Wyndridge and the other on Wynlakes golf course. Clearly you don’t have to be in the middle of a forest to encounter wild life.

Human activities attract certain animals looking to score a quick, high-calorie meal. They eat our trash, get accustomed to being near us and quickly escalate from novelty to nuisance. Most times they wander off pretty quickly , if not, authorities step in. But what’s the best way to stay safe when you’re hiking in their territory?

If you relish the restorative powers of a wilderness retreat, animal sightings won’t keep you away from the woods. Quite honestly, I’ve never seen anything more threatening than a fox squirrel and that was about three years ago down in Gulf State Park. With the recent spate of neighborhood sightings however, now seems like a good time to fine-tune my woodlands strategy. Here are seven tips to keep in mind.

Research the Park

Don’t just roll up on a forest like you’re special forces. Study the area first. Most parks provide free trail maps on site as well as online so take time to look over it. Maps cans also be a deciding factor in trail selection as some can be extremely challenging, a fact that may not be apparent till you’re right up on it. Also, research the types of animals that live there. Remember, wildlife isn’t like zoo-life which means creatures don’t just hang out in tidy little habitats or enclosures. They can be anywhere. While it’s unlikely you’ll ever stumble onto anything dangerous it’s still good to know what’s out there.

Tell Somebody

Don’t be a knucklehead, tell somebody where you’re going and when to expect your return. Whether you’re hiking alone or with others,  always tell someone your location so they’ll know where to send help if anything happens.

Pack Sustenance

Water, pocket-sized snacks like nuts, dried fruit, and energy bars are a good idea. And by energy bars I do not mean “candy”. A Snickers bar may be satisfying but it can also cause your energy level to spike and crash, and who needs that on the trail? That doesn’t mean you should buy a lotta pricey stuff for a simple day hike either. Peanut butter is an inexpensive fuel producer and most of us already have it in the pantry. Bottom line – bring enough water and sensible, energy replenishing snacks to keep you movin’, plus a bit extra in the event things go sideways.

Be the Pharmacy

If you take prescription medicine, bring it.  Don’t play around with this one. Pack the next few prescribed doses just in case.

Check the Weather

Thanksgiving day temperatures in Montgomery, AL hit the mid 70’s. There’s no telling what it’ll be next week – 40’s, 80’s? Check the forecast and plan accordingly.

Choose Basic Gear

A communication device such as a cell phone or two-way radio, a light-weight backpack, rain poncho, weather appropriate clothing, closed-toe shoes that have been broken in, flashlight, lighter (or matches), compass, and pepper spray are a good start.

Know Your Limits

I haven’t hiked the Appalachian Trail (at least not yet) so the difficulty level in my outings is moderate at best. Besides, I know my limits. What about you? I suggest choosing trails that fit your fitness level. Translation? If you’ve done more couch surfing than exercising lately, keep it simple. Like wise folks used to say, “Don’t write a check your butt can’t cash.”

It’s good to break away from work-a-day living to escape once in a while to the serenity of the great outdoors. A day hike in the wilderness could do wonders for your peace of mind, but don’t let the prospect of solitude distract you. Traipsing  through the forest is more enjoyable when you’ve got a plan.  If you’re gonna go out, use these tips to go prepared.


If you take a hike, especially to any of the parks and trails I’ve mentioned in previous posts, tell me about it. I’d also love to see pictures and may even post ’em on the Sassy Puffin. Speaking of pictures, I’m featuring bird photos in my next blog that folks have shared with me recently. There’s still time to send in your bird sightings too. Email them to puffin1125@gmail.com.

About the author: See that woman out there with the binoculars? That’s probably Tonya. Follow her blog at www.thesassypuffin.wordpress.com where she shares her latest adventures and ruminations. Tonya’s a motivational speaker, creativist, and outdoor enthusiast pointing folks towards health and healing right where they live.


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