- Sep 21, 2011 at 6:28 pm #1781841
Mike MBPL Member
I have noticed that folks that have thru hiked, continue to thru hike. I've ran into several on various trails along the CDT, most have done the PCT prior, many the AT AND most already were making plans for the next big one :)
I'm fortunate that I live in a hiking rich state and doubly fortunate that my employment allows me to hike on the job, so I get a fair amount of hiking in. Having said that, there is definitely a STRONG desire to do a thru hike. It's going to have to wait until retirement, but that's not that far out there anymore.
Thanks for the article.Sep 21, 2011 at 6:52 pm #1781857
Dale WambaughBPL Member
@dwambaughLocale: Pacific Northwest
I don't know how you can go back to town life after spending that many months in the woods. I've had some sort of shock just coming back from three weeks in Europe– one day you are walking the same stones that Julius Caesar walked two thousand years before, and the next day you are back in the office with all the trivial stuff going on. EWWWWW!Sep 21, 2011 at 7:30 pm #1781877
My notion is that backpacking isn't the same as thru-hiking based upon one element: time. The longer you go backpacking, the more you become one with the elements. Once the transition takes place, coming back out of the elements seems strange and surreal. I agree that not everyone who backpacks can thru-hike and a number of you have expressed the reasons rather eloquently. Perhaps the principle "hike your own hike" applies here. Some backpack for a day or two and that keeps their spirits charged. Others need a more concentrated dose of the joys of the trail and do a thru-hike. What makes our chosen sport, passion and journey so special is that the continuum extends from camping out in your own back yard with your teddy bear to hitting the trail and never coming home again.
Shadow AT02Sep 21, 2011 at 9:09 pm #1781927
Paul MagnantiBPL Member
@paulmagsLocale: Colorado Plateau
>>There are the Paul Magnanti individuals
Short, bald, Mediterranean looking guys????
>>AND most already were making plans for the next big one :)
We are all making plans for the next big one. It is a burn that never goes away. At least for me.
I really need to update this document, though.
Three years later, I've had even more adventures, deepened my friendships, fell in love with and marrying someone next year….and still wonder when I can get out again. :)Sep 21, 2011 at 9:35 pm #1781938
I have never done a thru-hike and I would like to do that some day. Once you have children it becomes more difficult to get away for long periods of time; just making sure they have health insurance means working a full time job, at least for me.
The way I live makes it that I don't really need to get away from much; I just miss the mountains every so often……Sep 21, 2011 at 9:36 pm #1781939
Oh, and I did enjoy the article.Sep 21, 2011 at 10:20 pm #1781959
@dirk9827Locale: Pacific Northwest
I have to agree with Rainier, re-entry into regular society is the toughest aspect about thru-hiking. The fact is that thru-hiking is rather stress free compared to everyday living. There are fewer choices on the trail and the goal is always clear – move forward. "Regular" life the choices are seldom as clear-cut or result in as much satisfaction as a long hike to a beautiful vista.
I thru-hiked at age 38. Had I done one at 24, my life might be very different now, perhaps I would have become a part-time worker and thru-hiking junkie. I'd love to go again, but at this point in my life, there are other considerations including career, relationships, mortgage.
I often wonder if I could magically change my life and become mostly a thru-hiker and say, a part-time seasonal worker who saves enough money to go on a thru-hike every couple of years. Would that be enough? Would I hike down the trail with a light heart or a mind full of doubts and reservations? Everything is a choice, even the great thru-hiker Scott Williamson has addressed the trade-offs involved (retirement, medical coverage, some semblance of financial security.) Would it be still as meaningful if I knew I could go whenever I could scare up enough money to cover the trip? I recall how desire was a strong part of my PCT trip – I had this once chance, knew a lot of people sacrificed so I may have had this opportunity, and I wasn't going to quit unless it was due to a pretty serious injury.)
I'd encourage everyone to try a thru-hike, but would temper expectations. I am not a huge optimist, nor am I one of those people who see the good in everything. So consider my words with that in my mind. Thru-hiking is like life itself in one important regard: you have good days, great days, some ho-hum days and a few bad days. You hike for the long haul, relish in those sublime moments and when things aren't going your way, try to find solace in your trail friends, food bag and that tomorrow will be a new day. If you expect the trail to be completely captivating with every step, you are bound to be disappointed There are likely going to be stretches where you are bored, exhausted, frustrated, injured and dejected. The weather alone can make epic stretches of trail seem pedestrian and the most pedestrian of views seem epic.
But after it's all done, you will find yourself looking at old photos and trail journals and reveling in very sweet memories. You will share a strong bond with those you shared the trail, and you will wax nostalgic about the finest days and laugh at ridiculous tales from the trail. I miss it every day. I think about it every day. I would like to try it again, only to do it differently, with a lighter heart and pack, with greater confidence and with the knowledge that it really isn't the destination, but the journey that matters.Sep 22, 2011 at 9:45 am #1782098
@mzionLocale: Boulder, CO
Love everyones comments. I agree with just about everything said. Thru hiking is a drug and anyone considering it should beware and go ahead and mark 4 or 5 years off your calendar.
Like Mags I try to take advantage of the outdoors here in CO but I find weekend hikes lackluster and prefer a trail run or bike ride. Without hitch hiking, getting lost, kindness of strangers, new friendships, and an end goal weekend trips typically leave me wanting for more. More often than not my weekend trips are more motivated by keeping my 'skills' honed, testing new equipment and making sure my legs are use to the up and downs. To each their own but I think the complete thru hiking experience is what keeps people coming back and I hope anyone on these forums that is interested in doing one quits their job and goes for it.Sep 25, 2011 at 8:35 pm #1783554
That's a good way to look at this article. Many members here know most of this stuff. But, maybe they've not put it all together in the context of a thru-hike.
For me, thru's have always sounded romantic, but long day after long day, not so much. I like to hike a day or two in, then set up camp and day hike from there. Adventuring is what I really like.
In the end, it is best to know thy self. Then you can save yourself from some serious mistakes that look romantic but would be the worst job ever if you really attempted it.
BTW – Read some thru-hike blogs and you'll get some real perspective if that is the life for you, at least for six months or so.Sep 27, 2011 at 12:54 pm #1784051
Piper S.BPL Member
@sbhikesLocale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
I found this article from a link on Whiteblaze. So articles that don't preach to the choir are a great way to get more readers here.
Thru-hiking is a lot different from backpacking. It has been a harder lesson to learn AFTER my long distance hiking than before.
Not everyone you hike with after thru-hiking is going to want to push on for 20 mile days. Not everyone is going to want to eat a one-pot meal, fall asleep and get up really early itching for more. Adjusting to lower miles and less ambitious goals can be difficult. Plus nobody wants to hike with you anyway, thinking you're some kind of hiking god who they have to apologize to all the time for "holding you back."
I've had to get used to stopping for the day at 2 or 3pm again. I've had to get used to hiking trips where we didn't cover very much ground and possibly didn't cover much ground simply because we were there to cut brush or the trail was in such bad shape we couldn't just put our heads down and walk fast and far. It hasn't been a bad adjustment, but it has been one.
I've done a few section hikes on the PCT during thru-hiking season and been surprised how free I felt that I could take a detour and spend a few hours soaking in Deep Creek while the thru-hikers thought it was too much extra mileage out of their way (there was a detour this year). Or that I could look at a growing storm cloud and a snowy mountain ahead and feel really happy I got to go home and be warm and dry and not proceed into that mess.
I've even felt surprised how nice it is to toss in a few luxuries into my pack that I wouldn't have dreamed of carrying on my long distance hikes. The first luxury I brought was an insulated mug and some coffee. For crying out loud, that's not even a luxury to most people!
Distance hiking ruined me for almost 4 years. Now that I've gotten back into the swing of ordinary life, I sometimes feel bad that I would have to get used to sleeping on the ground without a pillow and being dirty again. At the same time, I'm grateful every single day that I look at my feet and see clean toenails. It took a long time to get used to just dayhiking again but I'm back to enjoying it like I used to. It took a long time to get used the the dry climate where I normally hike but I've started to see the beauty of it again. It was really hard getting back into work again but I did it and I can't believe it but I'm actually happy going to work each day. I don't know when I'll ever do another long distance trail. I would love to do another one but I don't know if I can do the whole reentry thing again. It was really hard.Sep 27, 2011 at 10:36 pm #1784279
Mary DBPL Member
@hikinggrannyLocale: Gateway to Columbia River Gorge
I am not a thru-hiker and never will be! 5-7 mile days are about all I can do, even with a light pack (with the packs I used to carry, I now couldn't backpack at all!). My hiking style has been and will continue to be "admire the views, smell the flowers, sit under a tree or wander around a meadow and take in my surroundings." I have no desire to set a record getting from (to quote the late Harvey Manning) "Bug Bog to Blister Pass." Or to go from Mexico to Canada (at 5 miles per day, it would take me longer than I probably have to live).
On the other hand, I greatly admire thru-hikers for what they accomplish. In fact, I admire them so much that I'm going to be at Cascade Locks tomorrow at 8 am. to ferry "Balls" and "Sunshine" up to Wahtum Lake to hike the 14 miles they had to miss due to the Dollar Lake Fire's blowing up while they were at PCTA Trail Days.
Talk about will–that 11-year old girl has overcome so much! The horrendous snow conditions, blisters, loneliness when the rest of the pack got ahead or behind… She developed an infected blister in Oregon and had to leave the trail for a few days. The doctor insisted she quit, and she cried! Contrary to what the doctor predicted, she was back on the trail, her foot doing fine, a few days later! They reached Canada Saturday night and I'm really looking forward to meeting them tomorrow when they finally complete the entire trail!
And as for preaching to the choir: Considering how specialized this forum is, there are a surprising of newbies with 20-30 lb. base weights who come and post here asking for help! We definitely do need articles for beginners!Sep 28, 2011 at 6:47 am #1784335
Mike MBPL Member
Piper- thanks for that insight, it sounds like a very real possibility after a thru-hike. With that said, I think I'm still ready to give it a go :)
Mary- you and my wife would get along dreamily :) ), but we make it work- she goes a little further than she probably would on her own, I go less- she feels proud of her accomplishments on the trail, I see a heck of a lot more than I would at my own paceJan 15, 2012 at 11:00 am #1825007
@dbagnallLocale: El Portal, CA
I have thought about this topic much since my PCT thru attempt in 2010 and I never once considered gear. New thru's – don't get side tracked by the gear discussion. The real insight is that walking 20 miles per day (almost) every day is a completely different sport than backpacking. You simply have no idea how your body will react to you asking it preform in this way. Like-wise you have no idea how much mental fortitude it takes to ask your body to do this day in and day out no matter what the weather and no matter how tired, hungry, or injured you are.
In my opinion, the major difference is the mental fortitude. Before your thru, spend time contemplating why are embarking
on this journey. Make sure you are highly committed, motived, and excited! Visualize your desired outcome. You will need every ounce of motivation.
Get in the best shape you can before the trail and spend the first two – three weeks hiking at YOUR pace (the pace your body wants to go). Then and only then start pushing.
The rest of the stuff you can figured out on the trail.Jan 15, 2012 at 1:46 pm #1825050
Nick GatelBPL Member
@ngatelLocale: Southern California
The author states that there is a difference in the opening, and I agree.
I have never done a 'thru-hike' but have done two 6-month backpacking trips, and many shorter ones over the years. I have been tinkering with the idea of doing the PCT when I retire, but I am not sure I will be happy living away from the wife for that long.
Thinking back to my first lengthy trip in 1971, here are some of the differences in my mind:
The goal – for me was to hike for a period of time, which was not defined. I figured that when it was time to go home, I would know it. There was one limitation, I was not prepared or interested in staying the the Sierras in winter. So the trip would probably end in September or October. I started in April. For a thru-hiker, the goal is point A to point B. So you set yourself up for failure or success from day one. On my trip there was no destination.
Time – a thru hike requires a detailed plan on how to get from A to B. It must include logistics for food and weather (snow in the Sierras, as this year) that can be obstacles. For me, I needed food every couple hundred miles, sometimes longer because I had the luxury to fish for trout almost everyday. Also, time includes stress to get back to a job, school, or other commitments. For me, I had just gotten out of the military, had zero obligations and had a couple thousand dollars in the bank, which is probably over $10K in today's money.
Planning – a thru hike requires a lot of logistics to meet the time and food issue. For me, I just needed a map to show how close the next town was when food got low, and I had no idea where I might be in two weeks, a month, or even longer.
Social aspect – for many thru-hikers this is a big part of the adventure. Thus, we have "trail names, trail angels, and hiker havens." My goal was to avoid as many people as possible, to leave the human aspect behind as much as possible. To be honest, when I started, I really knew nothing about the John Muir Trail, other than it was marked on my forest service map. Once I got around the Whitney area, I decided to go to Yosemite via the JMT. Once I got near Yosemite, the crowds turned me off and I turned around and went back, although with many, many scenic detours. I never had any desire to return to Yosemite until around 2004, when my son wanted to visit. And it was worse than I expected, other than the overwhelming scenery.
Spontaneity – not a lot of leeway on the thru-hike. There are time tables to meet. For me, if I found a wonderful place, I might stay there for a few days or even a week.
So I finished the trip in mid-September, because it felt like time to go back. And the trip was successful, because the only goal was to enjoy whatever felt right each day. Highly recommended approach.Feb 21, 2012 at 6:21 am #1842328
Excellent article! My wife and I did an 8+ mile backpacking hike yesterday and it was tiring. We are both in our mid fifties so things are not as easy as when we were younger. My wife doesn't like to carry a backpack so I carry most of our food and drinks on my back. I use a smaller day pack and try to carry plenty of water and drinks (we once backpacked a mountain in northern VA and ran out of liquids, not good). We also brought our 2 small dogs who have lots of energy (5 years old) and who drank a lot of our water. I'm discovering as I get older and still want to do some great hikes that I may have to get my gear weight down more and more. Maybe get a water filtration system (if its lighter) and get a tarp instead of a tent. Thanks again for the article and keep up the good work!Feb 21, 2012 at 9:06 am #1842374
@nigelhealyLocale: San Francisco bay area
LoL. Try doing a deskjob and concentrate on the work when your mind is thinking about needing to keep fitness, maintaining toughness of the human body and improving one's gear.Feb 23, 2012 at 4:45 pm #1843759
Not sure what it is about us Americans… but it seems we have a greater tendency than most to categorize our activities and ourselves!
(1) Must '"everything' be either one or the other? Backpacker or thru hiker? Democrat or Republican? Liberal or conservative? And so on and so forth… Obviously, labels are also used by others as well… but we seem to have this anal requirement to put everyone and everything into some neat box or another! When will we finally realize that people are multi-faceted, generally inconsistent and downright ambiguous?
(2) As well, many seem to have a mindset that operates like this: we judge people outwardly — by the things they own! What? You camp only with one pot? You're a thru hiker then! I might be "unfair" — people usually judge on more than just one possession — but you get the idea?!?
I am NOT a thru hiker — although I might just give that crazy idea a go one of these days. However, I do carry:
o just one ultralight titanium pot
o no extra clothes
o light sleeping bag (sleep with your clothes if it's cold)
o small, lightweight backpack
o neither camp shoes nor chair
o no gadgets — preferring nature's sounds or even just the sound of silence.
But I am not a thru hiker.Feb 23, 2012 at 5:04 pm #1843768
No Ben, no! This is giving me a headache. I need to file you into one of the two categories! I need things to be simple and you are complicating everything.Feb 23, 2012 at 5:23 pm #1843772
Hiking MaltoBPL Member
I completely missed this thread, likely while I was in my post hike funk….
What is difficult to appreciate is the difference between normal hiking and thru hiking. Prior to my hike I read countless journals, non of which would prepare me for the true difference, it's the lifestyle. To be able to truly "go off grid" for months at a time allows you to get in tune with your environment in a way that week long trips fail to do. It is precisely this lifestyle that I failed to understand prior to my trip and it is this aspect that I miss the most. All the talk of gear etc in the article is frankly irrelevant.
I do wonder though, if thru-hiking ruined me. I have only done a couple of trips since my return and those were very low mile social trips which are in great contrast with my typical prehike trips. I have been able to partially integrate back into society but I also know that I have my gear packed and a set of halfmiles maps in the basement that could allow me to hike the PCT again at a moments notice. Will I? Hopefully not, but it helps my mental health knowing that I have the option.Feb 23, 2012 at 6:09 pm #1843802
Nick GatelBPL Member
@ngatelLocale: Southern California
It is not necessary to "thru-hike" to go off the grid for months at a time. Actually you can get further away from the grid by wandering around for months at a time, with a little heavier load, which is more food and fewer re-supplies. If you do it right, you will also avoid most other hikers. But I think many thru-hikers actually enjoy the company of other thru-hikers. The social interaction is part of the allure, which for me would not be a positive. Nothing wrong with either. HYOH :)Feb 23, 2012 at 7:12 pm #1843847
What is difficult to appreciate is the difference between normal hiking and thru hiking… "
EXACTLY! Which goes back to my point questioning the wisdom (and even logic) of distinguishing the two activities based on the gear that people buy (or use)!Feb 23, 2012 at 7:37 pm #1843870
As mentioned, I've never done a thru-hike, but I "think" I can understand what you mean re. "lifestyle" and "getting in tune with [an altogether different] environment". I would appreciate your feedback to see if our perceptions have any commonality…
I went on a 7-month, solo RTW trip back in 2008. Prior to that, I have done many month-long trips. And initially, I figured the RTW would be a fairly similar experience — just longer. But a completely unexpected discovery from my RTW trip was the sensation of being completely at ease with wherever I was at any moment or place — my home (with all the feelings of belonging that one associates with one's home) — was simply wherever I happen to be!! The "lifestyle" of changing hostels every 1-3 days, of quickly learning and getting comfortable with new locations and street names and cultures, etc. and then moving on and repeating again, etc. — all became merely "the new normal"! This was much more than just feeling at ease. It was a "higher feeling" of actually belonging to a much bigger world (and also feeling I belong to whatever specific locality of the moment). It was both very macro and very micro at the same time.
I wonder if you felt the same when you wrote "lifestyle" and "environment" up above? That on a shorter trip, you might think about home or even doing post-trip scheduling… and then after a few months on a long trip, home is simply wherever you are at that moment — until you feel so completely at ease that the entire new environment becomes your home! Towards the end of my trip, I was thinking to myself that if my shipping company had called to cancel my voyage home… I really wouldn't / couldn't care less! I was 100% ready to go home… and also 100% ready to continue on — in other words, it made no difference at all where I was and where I would or should be heading to next — it was all good.
Obviously a trip entailing trains, planes and ships is "different" from one where your only transportation is your own two legs. But then, do differences in transportation modes really affect one's psyche from a thru hike or thru trip? I would say "no" — not much different than trips using different gear pieces!
Are your experience / feelings similar?Feb 24, 2012 at 8:13 am #1844074
Hiking MaltoBPL Member
You nailed it exactly. I actually suspect that your RTW trip is closer to the thru hike "feeling" than two weeks on say the JMT. Great summary of exactly what I was talking about!Feb 24, 2012 at 8:27 am #1844079
Great to know! :)May 17, 2012 at 8:10 am #1878582
Everett VinzantBPL Member
I looked up the common definition of thru-hike:
Thru-hiking is the process of hiking a long-distance trail from end to end.
Appalachian Trail beginning to end 2184.2 miles
Average daily distance for 180 days 12.13 miles
Average daily distance for 90 days 24.26 miles
If the goal is to complete a trail beginning to end, in a time period (say six months), there is a minimum average distance that MUST be covered daily. Since distance = rate X time, if you slow the rate, you have to increase the time to cover the same distance. Since the article clearly stated it was about FINISHING a hike (beginning to end), I assume you have some technology available to you that allows you access to a 48 hour day to make up the distance? At least I hope… I have kids and could REALLY use such a thing.
The absurdity above was just to illustrate that the point of this particular article was to finish a trail beginning to end. I TOTALLY agree with the idea of being gone for 90 days, even if I only get ten miles out. Maybe I found some interesting fungi to write about. Perhaps there is a scene that just SCREAMS "sketch me." Maybe there is a stupid squirrel that shows up every morning to talk to you, and you really enjoy practicing communicating with politicians (though you could practice that with the fungi too).
As much fun as all this would be, I don't see that it would be conducive to getting from the beginning to the end of a 2184 mile trail.
I recommend a new term to cover this kind of hike. Mmmmmmm, how about, Zen hike? The point is being there in the moment, not even where you end up. And when you decide you're done, you stop.
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