William E. Welsh, Vienna

WHAT I DO Winter hiking on the rocky trails and steep bluffs on both sides of the Potomac River between Great Falls National Park and the American Legion Bridge.

WHY I find the great outdoors more mentally stimulating than an indoor gym. During my hikes, I practice tree and plant identification, which in some cases is more challenging in the winter than in the summer when the leaves are out. On the north-facing hills I can enjoy lush winter greenery provided by ferns, mountain laurel and hemlock.

HOW I DO IT I wear sturdy hiking boots, a hooded jacket and gloves. The Billy Goat Trail in Maryland has blue blazes to follow, while Scott's Run Nature Preserve in Virginia has maps mounted on signs demarking the trails. To keep warm during a short rest on the trail, I like to take a Thermos filled with coffee in a backpack.

WHAT I'VE SEEN Once while I was fording a stream after a fresh winter snowfall on the Billy Goat Trail, a fox came down off the hill, gave me a cool look and crossed the stream next to me.

PAYOFF Hiking steep hills strengthens leg muscles and provides a good cardiovascular workout. It's easy to stretch muscles by leaning against mature trees for support. In addition, the calm and solitude of the winter forest offset the more hectic part of my life commuting to and from Washington each day. Since I paddle on the Potomac regularly, hiking provides good cross-training and exercises different muscle groups than those I use while paddling.

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