Sep 13, 2011 at 12:36 pm #1279305
Companion forum thread to:Sep 13, 2011 at 12:43 pm #1779180
@chrismorganLocale: Southern Oregon
That's an awfully heavy looking pack…Sep 13, 2011 at 12:54 pm #1779185
drowning in spamMember
OK, at the very least, you should be able to see the darn trail! Right?
You should check out Trevor Thomas.Sep 13, 2011 at 9:13 pm #1779358
– -K.T.- –Participant
Where there is a will, there is a waySep 14, 2011 at 5:50 am #1779410
That "youth" myth is the one that gets me the most. I can't remember which, but a recent Backpacker mag article mentioned that most thru-hikers are fresh out of college. Maybe. I don't have the data handy, but the ages I see most often on the AT are 28-45– yes, young, but hardly fresh out of college. And it seems like the most successful at finishing their hikes are the 40-60s age range. The ones who go the longest are the ones with the least to prove.Sep 14, 2011 at 6:09 am #1779413
@ktennessLocale: Bay Area
Excellent.Sep 14, 2011 at 11:58 am #1779533
Chris: That IS a heavy pack! That's Hawkeye, a fun thru-hiker that I met while walking southbound through Yellowstone. Last year he completed a "Triple-Double": he thru-hiked the Triple Crown twice (over 6 seasons). Someday he may lighten his load, but he certainly has the WILL! :)Sep 14, 2011 at 2:30 pm #1779576
Certainly willpower is the greatest common denominator. However, I would also suggest that one must have support at home and along the trail to get them through their hike – people who encourage and assist in some way – sending supplies, holding a job open, watching a house, apt, pet, or just someone who the hiker can call. Tough to do this all alone. also, the typical hiker can also rely on the support of his/her fellow hikers.
I thru-hiked the AT in 2006 at 54 years of age. Everyone who loves to backpack should try this bill support you! :)Sep 14, 2011 at 6:44 pm #1779664
@matthewbrownLocale: Blue Ridge Mtns
My friends got passed by a guy in Vermont who did the AT barefoot. While they searching for their boots in the shoe-sucking-off mud, he just plodded right past them.Sep 14, 2011 at 11:33 pm #1779739
Last summer, on a solo mountaineering trip, I met a guy (around 60, had almost completed climbing the Alps' 4000m peaks and, thus, had started to solo peaks between 3500 and 4000) who told me that mountaineering was by 70% a mental sport. Maybe, for hiking it's only 60%. Nevertheless, I firmly believe that will and determination are what gets you through challenging trips, be ita thru-hike or something different.Sep 15, 2011 at 8:43 am #1779781
I whole heartedly agree with Mr. Tapons assertion that the prime ingredient for a successful thru hike is Willpower.
In my case I started a Thru hike of the PCT in 1992. I had all this gear, all these dreams of sunshine and rainbows, a huge send off party by all my family, friends and neibors.
I quit at mile 43.
Yea, I had huge blisters and 9 of my toenails had turned blue and swollen up to twice their size due to ill fitting footwear.
But the fact remains, my will was broken.
In December of 2008 I woke up one morning and looked in the mirror to find a 39 year old man looking back at me with a soul burning desire to complete a thru hike of the PCT.
So in April of 2009 (and on my 40th birthday) I found myself at the southern terminus of the PCT and began walking north.
This time my will was unbreakable for i had forged it out of solid spiritual iron.
Things i did before the hike the second time that helped me steel my resolve:
Define my goal. ie.: I wanted a continuos line of steps from one end to the other.
Train, lose body weight, lose packweight.
Read books on mythology, the trail itself, learn as near as possible the realities of what I was attempting.
On the trail:
Accept each day on the trail, whether it is comfortable or not, as an absolute gift.
Long distance hiking is a lifestyle; a beautiful, difficult, fulfilling, painful, visceral lifestyle lived close to the earth, regulated by the sun.
The end was somewhere over the horizon and i thought about it sometimes but I kept my real focus on where i was that day, that moment.
It can be overwhelming to think about walking 2,665 miles so when I had difficult times (Giardiasis) I made my goal just to the next tree, then to the next hill, then to the next mountain.
I ended up loving the thru hike so much I was a little sad when i finally reached the end.
The clarity of purpose found on a long hike is a powerful ally to your will.
Realize that you alone can determine your "success". Your definition will be different than the next guy's.
If you "fail" to complete your goal remember: The trail will always be there for you.
I waited 18 years to go back.Sep 15, 2011 at 10:19 am #1779800
@swimjayLocale: Northern California
So often when we seek the defining element of an experience, the definition is after the fact, when what we really want is a definition before the fact, some way of predicting whether our attempt will be successful. After the fact, we say someone had sufficient will power to complete his chosen task; that's really just another way of saying he completed the task. In Matt's case, one could just as easily say the defining element of his successful second attempt was preparation– and an important element of his preparation was his first, failed attempt, and the time he spent reflecting on it.
The problem with "will" as a defining element is that, if someone doesn't achieve his goal, it's too easy to say "He didn't have the willpower," which, depending on your attitude, is either a tautology or a make-wrong, but either way not useful.
I think a more useful take-away from the article's examples is that there's something wonderfully mysterious about what allows for completion, some element that burns hidden within some, and by implication, potentially all, of us.Sep 15, 2011 at 4:26 pm #1779899
@tomclarkLocale: East Coast
"I quit at mile 43.
Yea, I had huge blisters and 9 of my toenails had turned blue and swollen up to twice their size due to ill fitting footwear.
But the fact remains, my will was broken."
Ouch!!! That was as good as the original article, and I bet that Francis really enjoyed a response like yours. Thanks for sharing your lows and highs, but even more so…thanks for sharing some great advice. I think that I have read a few thru-hiking books that said the same thing in 200+ pages.
TomSep 15, 2011 at 5:45 pm #1779920
@rcaffinLocale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Sue and I have just returned from 2 months walking the Red Route of the Via Alpina, from Trieste to Oberstdorf, in Europe. That's a bit of a thru hike. It relies mainly on mountain Refuges, btw. That means you will be doing at least 1,000 m of climbing each day. The biggest day was up 3,000 m and down 1,500 m, with a lot of steep scree on the way.
> Wealth: I figured you probably need the financial wherewithal
We lived on less than 100 euros a day total, which is a fair bit of money. You could do it with less. What 'wealth' does do for you is to remove a serious worry about food and accomodation. For instance, if you suddenly develop a craving for yoghurt (we did), buy some. If the weather is really bad and you need shelter for the night, book in.
> Good Gear: Those who travel with shoddy equipment are surely at a disadvantage.
> Wrong: A man named Spider thru-hiked the AT with the same old, decrepit gear
> he'd had for 35 years.
I am going to disagree here. Good gear removes another worry. Gear failure at 2,000 m is not pretty. Gear failure at 2,000 m in a snow storm is worse. Perhaps the gear Spider had was good gear, even if old?
That does not mean you need lots of expensive gear. You don't. What you need is gear suited to you and to the conditions.
> Superior Nutrition:
Hum … two aspects to this. If you are not getting enough energy, you WILL fail. A bit like running out of petrol in a car. You need carbos!
But how 'good' that fuel has to be … well, debatable. You are not going to suffer malnutrition in that sort of time. We don't want any more knodels though.
> Excellent Cardiovascular Conditioning: Thru-hiking is the ultimate endurance sport,
It is that, but if you are not fit at the start you soon will be! Enough energy and enough will-power…
> Disease-Free: Your body should be healthy and free of debilitating diseases.
Now this is a funny one. While running our bodies flat out we stayed very healthy most of the time. I think the increased metabolic rate had something to do with this. Any cuts or scrapes healed incredibly fast. But anyone can catch a virus for a day or two (you may recover very fast though), and a broken ankle is a broken ankle. On the other hand, walking with a sprained back or knee is just not nice.
> Youth: I initially thought that being young and strong was a common denominator.
Ha. I'm 66. In fact, we have found it quite noticeable that the older hikers tend to be the ones who endured steadily. The young ones went fast but often burnt out.
> Sight: OK, at the very least, you should be able to see the darn trail! Right?
It would be nice …
But having walked many of the days in a thick fog, we found that the views had to be treated as optional! For sure, they do add to the pleasure. And wondering what is over the next saddle is a good motivator.
Will power? Yep, no question at all. If one of us flagged a bit, the answer was always 'we are going to Oberstdorf". We had a goal.
CheersSep 15, 2011 at 5:53 pm #1779922
@sbhikesLocale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
First of all, I have never completed a thru hike or even tried to. At first I only wanted to hike California and that would be enough. But it wasn't, so I went back the next year and finished up the rest. So neither of my two long hikes were thru hikes. But I did hike the whole trail.
A friend of mine wants a pure thru hike but every time she tries, she quits. She starts skipping and then she feels that the thru hike is ruined and no longer has the will to complete it. Oddly, she asks me sometimes what the secret is.
Even three months of a long trail takes a certain measure of will. In my case it was not just will but flexibility and a desire always to see what was around the next bend. What a joy to have a trail so long that there was always a next bend!Sep 16, 2011 at 7:52 am #1780043
@ramblerLocale: On the AT in VA
A few years ago I hiked with a man the last few days of his AT two year section hike. He was 82. Guess where he is now? Last I heard he was in NH doing it all again. He is now 88! I finished my last section of my AT section hike this week. I started in 2000.
I am only 67. Yeah, it is will power, help and support from many including those I have never met, but learned from on sites like this one.Sep 16, 2011 at 8:41 am #1780051
@eugeneiusLocale: Nuevo Mexico
Right on, this was a cool read.Sep 16, 2011 at 11:13 am #1780092
drowning in spamMember
It helps to have an honest desire to suffer every day for months so that you're rewarded with days when the tread is too rocky, it's hot, it's cold, it's windy, there's not much water, mosquitoes are swarming, a detour forces a road walk or postholing occurs on every other step. I can totally understand why so many prefer to section hike instead.Sep 16, 2011 at 1:54 pm #1780149
Long distance backpacking is a funny thing, sometimes having all the apparent advantages is a disadvantage. I've seen lots of backpackers ending hikes early because they have houses, significant others back home, etc. to return to, and some of the hikers who appeared that they shouldn't finish due to lack of funds or crappy gear stick it out because they had nothing back home. If you've committed enough to sell everything, quit your job, etc., maybe it gives you more reason to stick it out.
That said, I've ended a thru-hike early due to lack of funds, and completed a thru-hike despite having a whole life waiting for me back home. Hike your own hike!
On long hikes, I keep a contract with myself – I won't quit unless I have 3 days in a row where I still want to go home, barring serious injury or family emergency. Typically, good days follow bad and sticking it out works for me.Sep 19, 2011 at 2:30 pm #1780951
During my PCT through hike in 2006, I experienced:
– Tendonitis (foot/ankle) – so bad I couldn't tie my shoe
– Tendonitis (knee)
– Staph infection (knee) – so swollen I couldn't bend it
– Staph infection (back) – multiple times – so painful I would cry every time I put my pack on
– Heat stroke
– Upper respiratory infection
– Horrible allergic reaction covering my whole back
– Quaternary blisters (4 on top of each other)
– A bruise the size of a grapefruit – from being swept down a river during a ford
– Indescribable homesickness (my brother was put in prison for 20 years while I was on trail)
– Mosquito bites
– Bee stings
– Lost my career
– Gave up my cats
– Broke up with my boyfriend
And I kept going. If I broke a leg, I would have bought a horse and rode to Canada. They tried to give me the trail name Tough Cookie. So, I totally agree Francis. If you want it bad enough, you will overcome almost anything.Sep 19, 2011 at 11:32 pm #1781109
spelt with a tParticipant
@speltLocale: SW/C PA
> The problem with "will" as a defining element is that, if someone doesn't achieve his goal, it's too easy to say "He didn't have the willpower," which, depending on your attitude, is either a tautology or a make-wrong, but either way not useful.
I agree that will is subjective and defies quantification. Yet there is *something* that keeps a person putting one foot in front of the other. I'm reminded of Dave C's post a little while back about knowing when to bail. I think the quality we're talking about might better be described as conviction. Not confidence, will, or even optimism, but instead a trust in oneself (conscious? unconscious?) that your decision is the best one you can make. The meaning of "best" is up to the individual (at least until the trip ends, people begin criticizing, and they suddenly have to justify themselves) b/c ultimately the individual is the one living (or rarely, dying) with their choice.
Deciding when to push, when to rest, and when to bail are all sides of the same die, I think. Deciding with conviction requires you to trust your assessments, and that in turn requires a level of self-knowledge that probably minimizes dangerous rationalizations. Maybe. The mechanism is wild speculation on my part. But I'm comfortable with "conviction." Whenever the end comes, looking back and knowing you made the right decision–that's conviction.
I think will comes into it for real when things go wrong. When the only "best" choice you have is staying alive. your level of agency drops, and people with less control over their lives can lose motivation quickly.Sep 22, 2011 at 12:52 pm #1782181
@nathanrainerLocale: East Coast
Though you are quite right that all those obstacles can be and often are overcome, but I've learned (mostly the hard way) that thru-hiking is a hell of a lot easier and more enjoyable when you do have the right gear, health, and financial backing. I suggest that any of these things should prevent someone from trying a thru-hike but they should do their best to avoid such obstacles.Sep 27, 2011 at 4:08 pm #1784119
@butukiLocale: Kanto Plain, Japan
Pesonally I think it's "superfitnessawesomesauce", just because I love that word!
I've never done a big thru-hike (though I've done 6 months of bicycle travel, which has a lot of similar elements), but I did do the Tour du Mont Blanc in 2007. It snowed and often had freezing rain for about half the time. Even in that short amount of time homesickness hit me (probably because of close relative was dying at the time) and I struggled to overcome that mental hurdle. I can imagine that a much longer hike would be a bigger mental hurdle.
On the Tour du Mont Blanc i met an 86 year old Italian man who wasn't fast, but he managed to steadily dynamo right past me. As he passed, he turned around, thumped his chest and said, in broken English, "86! Not young! 86! Hrumph!"Oct 1, 2011 at 4:07 pm #1785619
I enjoyed reading everyone's thoughtful comments on my article.
Two things to add:
1. I often tell people that after a couple of hundred miles a thru-hike goes from being a physical challenge to a mental one. In other words, if you can hike a 200+ miles, then there's a 90% chance that you can PHYSICALLY hike 2,000+ miles. At that point you've proven that your body has what it takes. Thus, the only question that remains is: can you MENTALLY do it? That's mostly a question of willpower.
2. Although willpower is paramount, increase your odds of success by lightweight and useful gear. Also, it helps to eat healthy calories. :)
Thank you for your insights and reflections!
You must be logged in to reply to this topic.