Pedersen on Sports

Our sports guy suggests you get outside and do some hiking in 2014

Me and the sun, we don't have that great a relationship.

Chalk it up to the reddish hair, the pale complexion that can get sunburned at night in a room with no windows, the overactive sweat glands. Whatever the case, outdoor activity that doesn't include plentiful shade isn't usually high on my list.

And yet, I love hiking.

There's something about trekking into the great unknown—albeit along a well-worn, designated path—that brings out the adventurer in me, which had been limited to video game simulations before I moved to Arizona in 1994. Maybe that's because in New Jersey, a slight rise in the terrain qualifies as a mountain.

So color me amazed the first time I visited this state. I couldn't wait to check out the Santa Catalina Mountains, which is like a theme park in itself with so many trails and untamed areas to explore.

I've gone on hikes of varied lengths and across different landscapes, loving each and every one of them. Whether they've been solo, with a special someone or in a group, the chance to experience this region's amazing nature (whilst sneakily getting some exercise) has always appealed to me.

Speaking of exercise: Odds are that some fitness-related resolution is on your New Year's list. It is for me, right along with cutting back on energy drinks (never gonna happen) and being more vigilant with vehicle maintenance (darn well better happen).

My goal is to go hiking at least once a month, with most of those journeys likely taking place in Madera Canyon in the Santa Rita Mountains. It's a 30-minute drive from my Sahuarita digs, and provides more than a dozen trails to pick from. My wife and kids like it, my dogs love it, and I'm going to do my best to make it a regular thing.

You should make this a goal, too. And as fate (and marketing) would have it, Arizona's state parks are trying to help you along this path, so to speak.

More than a dozen state parks are participating in a nationwide "First Day Hikes" event on Jan. 1. The promotion is designed to get people into the wilderness they may drive past every day without giving it a second glance.

Locally, you can find guided First Day hikes at four parks:

• Catalina State Park (near Oracle and Tangerine roads in Oro Valley) is featuring a seven-mile loop hike at 8 a.m., as well as an 8 a.m. bird walk and a one-mile "adventure walk" to the Romero Ruins at 10 a.m.

• Kartchner Caverns State Park (south of Benson, along Arizona Highway 90) is offering a 2.5-mile hike along the Foothills Loop Trail at 9 a.m.

• Picacho Peak State Park (northwest of Tucson, along Interstate 10) has a four-mile hike along the Sunset Vista trail starting at 10 a.m. The hike normally requires using cables on some of the steeper stretches, but the route is being modified on this occasion to allow families to participate.

• Patagonia Lake State Park (south of Tucson, along Arizona Highway 82) has a pair of hikes scheduled, both at 9 a.m. One is 2.5 miles long and follows the lake, while the three-mile Petroglyph Site hike is a little more intense and involves some scrambling over rocks.

Each of these hikes is included in the normal day-use admission at the parks. I'd be all over that, if I didn't have my other gig that pays me to stay home and watch bowl games all day on Jan. 1.

But I'll be out there again soon enough, tapping into that inner desire to get myself lost in the wilderness, then find my way back without the use of technology (however, I wouldn't mind if the cell service was good along the route, just in case I get a hankering for some Candy Crush while taking a break).

I'm more partial to mountain hikes than to those through the desert (remember: pale boy), though I should take advantage of the cooler temperatures and slightly less intense sun while the opportunity is there. Then it'll be back to the shade-heavy hikes or, my absolute favorites, the moonlight excursions.

The first time I did one of those was for an assignment to write about the Oro Valley Hiking Club's monthly moonlit strolls during the summer. I thought it would be a neat thing to write about, and it was. But it was even more amazing to experience.

If you've ever wondered what it must have been like to walk on the moon—or on a soundstage, depending on your opinion of that milestone of space exploration—this may be as close as you ever get. The full moon provided enough light to keep us from falling into a ravine, but at the same time it left a lot of what we were seeing along the way open to interpretation.

Since then, I've gone out on a few more moonlit hikes, and each time I've come back wishing that the next full moon wasn't four weeks away.