Collapsible poles make for smooth, easy hiking

Posted: Friday, July 26, 2002

PACIFICA, Calif. -- Working out is hard enough without being mocked. Pacifica's Jayah Paley and Bob Haxo, though, are used to it. The self-described adventure buddies get teased when they hit Bay Area hiking trails because, in addition to backpacks and water, they carry hiking poles.

''People make skiing jokes all the time. Like we haven't heard 'em all before,'' says Haxo, adding defensively, ''In Europe poles are huge.''

In the face of ridicule, Haxo and Paley have not only hiked, poles firmly in hand, every weekend for the past six years, but together they created the only video dedicated to teaching hiking pole techniques, released in November last year.

On a recent sunny morning, Paley and Haxo returned to San Pedro Valley Park about 10 miles south of San Francisco, one of the locations used in their video, for a hike.

Both sport all the proper hiking gear. Haxo, his ginger-gray beard shaded by a tan hat, and Paley, with a brunette bob and visor, wear pants that convert from pants to shorts with a zipper; gaitors; biking gloves; and of course, poles.

The hiking poles they recommend have a rubber tip, three adjustable sections to make the pole longer or shorter, and a slightly bent handle made of a composite material called Cortec. Most poles cost between $50 and $120 per set.

The most common mistake people make with hiking poles happens right away, the duo explains. The poles have a strap at the top in which the hand rests, but it must be lying a certain way when the hand is inserted. When walking along a flat surface, Paley recommends that hikers use merely the thumb and index finger to hold the pole, letting it swing.

Hiking poles' real benefits are revealed on uphill, downhill and rough terrain, says Jen Cline, a camping department manager at REI in San Carlos.

''They're great when you're carrying a pack,'' she says. ''They turn you from a biped into a quadruped so you tend to be a lot faster. It helps take impact off the knees.''

Which is exactly why Paley, a personal trainer, first began using poles six years ago. After knee surgery, she wanted to strengthen her knees but was wary of strain or injury, so Haxo introduced her to hiking poles. It worked. The consummate outdoorsman, Haxo had discovered hiking poles years earlier, wanting to be more efficient with his exertion.

''I used poles cross-country skiing, and was mountain climbing using poles with snow shoes,'' he says. ''When I noticed my arms getting tired from using the poles, I decided that I should keep my arms in shape by using poles on more gentle terrain. Then I discovered that I could go faster and farther.''

Paley uses the hiking poles when she takes elderly clients out for hikes. She also asserts that hiking poles can be ''the great equalizer,'' making it possible for families, made up of different ages and abilities, to hike together.

She feels the poles have not caught on quickly in the United States because people don't know how to use poles properly. Once she was hooked -- she could not only strengthen her knees after the surgery, but discovered that using the poles provided both an upper and lower body workout -- she noticed that not a book or video existed demonstrating proper pole use.

So Paley went from personal trainer to producer, pouring her life savings into creating ''Hiking Poles: Techniques & Tips for All Ages and Abilities.''

The techniques are explained in several gorgeous locations, including Coyote Hills Regional Park in Fremont, Garin Regional Park in Hayward, Death Valley, Yosemite, and four parks in Canada.

''We're trying to get people to go out and enjoy the out of doors, and you can't do that by showing people the gym,'' Paley says. ''Getting people out there will help them want to save the environment.''

To reap all the benefits of hiking poles, though, how do you handle the ski jokes?

Says Haxo: ''Just ignore them.''

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