What’s a Hen Hike?

As many of you know, I go on a hiking trip each October with a group of women friends, half of whom are blind. We call it the Hen Hike, (HH.) What made this year’s HH extraordinary for me was first, that it was in northeastern Ohio, at Punderson State Park, so I didn’t have to fly, and secondly, that I was able to walk after having spine surgery just six months before. This year’s hike was different from all the 18 previous HH events because two of us brought our dog guides. We knew that the trails would not be as narrow or demanding, such as the ones we’ve hiked in the New England states, where using a guide dog might be a little trickier, considering that we sometimes had to cross streams on a log, hold onto a tree to keep from sliding down a steep hill, or climbing over trees that had fallen over the trail. Ah, those were the good old days, but our sighted guides were always successful in getting us through those challenging spots. Sometimes they had to coach us on where to put our next foot while crossing a creek by stepping from one rock to the next. But this year, while we did have some rocks and roots to negotiate, our biggest challenge was the ankle deep mud we had to slog through, because there was no way to get around that part of the trail. Of course, the dogs loved it. What dog wouldn’t love tromping through muddy water? I guess we had a good time, because each day, we’d come home to the inn, wet, tired, and dirty.

Now I must admit that I only hiked 2 of the 4 days on the muddy trails. My dog Dora had never had this joyous experience before, and she was so excited that she pulled with all her 73 pounds of might, and since we were on trails through the woods, and no sidewalks, I simply could not keep up with her. Furthermore, it was not good for my back to be pulled with such force. I felt pretty beat up those first 2 days, simply by trying to hold onto her and keep her from pulling my arm out of its socket. I tried every command I knew to slow her down, but she was hell-bent on being first, as all guide dogs are, in the line of hikers and one other guide dog, tromping through the woods. The weather was perfect, except for the mud, but that was to be expected, given the heavy rains from the aftermath of Michael.

On the third day, we had my favorite hike of all, 3 miles of walking through a nearby outlet mall. Oh joy of joys, to have ready-made shopping helpers. When we arrived, we set a time and place to meet for lunch, and then 2 by 2, we set off in all directions to hit the stores of our choice. This part of the HH has become a tradition only in recent years. In the beginning, we had some very serious hikers who didn’t even want to stop to buy maple syrup as a souvenir from Vermont, let alone spend an entire day hiking through merchandise. When we met for lunch, we showed each other what bargains we had found, which turned out to be the best marketing strategy there is. We quickly ate our sandwiches and downed our cappuccinos and headed over to get the same treasures for ourselves. that evening, when we showed off our new duds to each other at Happy Hour, we exclaimed that after hiking the next day, we just had to go back one more time for one more chance to buy those jeans, that shirt, those shoes, and even that amazing underwear. On that day, I opted not to hike, as my shins were killing me, so Dora and I relaxed in my room. After a quick lunch in our Happy Hour room, most of us took off again for the shops for that one last deal.

Over the years, the makeup of the HH has changed. We had me, the one who has back issues even now, and then we have Jill, our youngest Hen, who hiked the Grand Canyon with Patty, one of our guides. I suspect that as we age, our hikes will become tamer, but because we are healthy and hardy women, who love to be active in the out-of-doors, we are already planning next year’s hike. . The photos accompanying this post include the sweetest picture of Dora and Delta as they relaxed after a vigorous day of hiking.

Mary Hiland



Author of “The Bumpy Road to Assisted Living A Daughter’s Memoir”

Available at Amazon.com


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