Loc: Gateway to Columbia Gorge
I am a "go slow, stop a lot to admire the view, take pictures and smell the flowers" type of hiker. A 5-6 mile day for a backpack is just fine for me, although I have done more (near the end of the trip when the pack is lighter). I can do 2 mph on a level trail with few rocks, but if it gets rough or is going uphill or downhill (unless only mildly downhill) it's more like 1 mph or even less, with everyone else passing me. At least I do hike a little faster than our famous Oregon banana slugs! That's one reason I hike solo--I don't want anyone to have to slow down to my pace and I don't want to rush trying to keep up with others.
I always used to make fun of those hikers who, to quote the late Harvey Manning, try to get "from Bug Bog to Blister Pass in 4 hours flat." On the other hand, I have a lot of admiration (no longer envy) for those who can do the Mexico-Canada bit in a season. In other words, HYOH--enjoy your own hiking style and don't worry about others are doing. But please try not to mow us slugs down in the process!
Edited by OregonMouse (05/20/1012:27 AM)
May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view--E. Abbey
I think no one's saying any particular motivation is wrong - they're just all different.
I was trying to articulate this to a bunch of folks last night at a meeting for folks in our hiking group (dayhikers mostly) who want to start backpacking. They were all caught up in which tent to buy. I tried to help them understand that there is no wrong way to go, that people will do everything from an elaborate tent with "features" to a tarp and sleeping bag on the ground and everyone enjoys it. Suggested that they all rent for a while and get used to the idea of doing it first. I'm putting an easy overnight on our schedule for them to go play with gear in the sequoias at the end of the month. And then I encouraged them to find people of similar pace within the group to plan trips with.
I think I like that about backpacking. There is something for everyone.
"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities. In the expert's mind there are few." Shunryu Suzuki
OM- when I hiked the Lost Coast south of Shelter Cove the trail was literally covered with Banana Slugs. I tiptoed around them. I would never think of mowing down the slugs! (or slower backpackers).
I agree to each his own. I just do not agree with the blanket statement that 10 mile a day is speed hiking or that faster hikers do not "smell the roses". Through-hikers are on a different agenda, but that does not mean that they do not enjoy their surroundings.
To me the ultimate back-country experience is to really live out there - where mentally home is your tent. Unless you have been on extended travel trips, you really do not know what this feels like. When I taught at NOLS, it took my students about 3 weeks to really get to the point where thay felt the "lived" in the moment in the mountains. You no longer think about how many days left, civilized luxuries - you just become one with the environment. Regardless of speed of hiking or distance covered, I think everyone should do this once in their lifetime. Do not break the mood by going into town - have supplies brought to you by horse packers if needed.
Loc: Ozark Mountains in SW Missouri
Originally Posted By wandering_daisy
To me the ultimate back-country experience is to really live out there
I absolutely agree with that. My first real trip provided that experience for me. It only took me about 2-3 days to entirely forget I had to go back to live in the city in a couple weeks and I didn't even think about it at all again until the day before it was time to leave.
I don't think I've ever been more content in my life than I was in those few weeks. Also new to me was the fairly severe depression that set in on the drive back from the Sequoia Forest to Los Angeles. Didn't see that coming at all and it took a few more weeks to shake it off.
But honestly, I'm not sure I'd have really experienced any of that had I been on the trail the entire time, as opposed to the wilderness campsite we stayed at. Had I been hiking everyday on a trail the end of the trip would have been at the forefront of my consciousness the entire time.
But to be frank, I think what has irked me when talking with those who cannot hike without making it a foot race is that air of superiority they project as they make it a point to focus on the number of miles they did, as if it were a measure of their skill as an outdoorsmen, or even worse, their level of fitness, when really, it measures neither.
Consider who's more fit; a marathon runner or a weight lifter?
Could anyone that bench presses 350 pounds beat a competitive marathon runner in a long distance race? Could any competitive marathon runner lift 350lbs over their head?
The answer to both those questions is obviously "No". For me, as far as backpacking into the wilderness goes, the important question has been posed by W_D.
"Did you ever really live out there?"
If you don't know how hard it is to come back, I don't think you have.
Thru's see hiking a bit different when out there than the weekend hiker does. It is your daily job - to get up and hike to the next place. Your goal is to get done, one day at a time, until you reach it. As you get into the best shape ever of your life you realize you can do more and more. Long days become nothing, more that the more miles you do, the less days out there. You see it in people's journals - the first month they goof off, doing lower miles, spending time in towns. Then the ones that keep going go inside themselves and buckle down.
I watched my good friends do that last summer. By the time they hit Oregon they were ready to be done and were racing for home. 30 mile days were average for them. They didn't sit well, constantly fidgeting, ready to go.
The most I have done in a day is 20 or so miles. I noticed as I hit the bigger miles it became a mental game - I'd count as I hit halfway and once over the hump it was a race in my mind to get to the end.
Did I enjoy it? Yes. It didn't detract from what I was doing.
Freezer Bag Cooking, Trail Cooking, Recipes, Gear and Beyond: www.trailcooking.com
Loc: Washington State, King County
"Did I enjoy it? Yes. It didn't detract from what I was doing. "
Hear Hear. I suggest that folks try it before knocking it. Increasing the daily mileage isn't for everyone, but people can and do enjoy the scenery, get in touch with their surroundings, etc, without having to drop down to some low daily mileage to be able to do so. In fact, being in great shape and spending a lot more continuous time in the outdoors can allow a person to better appreciate this stuff, though of course there's a trade-off in how time gets spent.
I'm also doing the AT this year; I had done about 2/3 (1400 miles or so) as of a week ago but now I'm temporarily home fighting off some, I think, giardia-like cooties that are taking an annoyingly long time to deal with. A couple of older friends and I did a 30+ mile day just to do it in Pennsylvania, but the AT is overall fairly difficult trail (more ups and downs, lower quality trail surface) than the PCT and some other trails I've been on, so 30 there was plenty. But I'm over 50, my friends around 60 years old, and after getting up to speed on the trail and getting through the snow and blowdowns of the early parts our typical day has been in the low 20's.
This is not superhuman stuff, this is just figuring things out, losing weight and getting stronger in the early weeks, getting up early, not (having to) take a lot of breaks. And enjoying the trail and surroundings while walking through it.
I'd also say that some significant parts of any trail (and certainly the AT !) don't have a lot of really scenic or otherwise "I want to hang around here" places. So for a lot of days if a thru-hiker just keeps walking, it's in part because that's about all there is to do. At least some folks certainly do stop and smell the roses when roses there are to smell. On the PCT that's things like doing a side trip to climb Mt. Whitney --- at a point when you're in the best shape of your life to do that. On the AT it's a bit more varied, it might be walking 5 minutes off trail to see the monument to where Audie Murphy's plane crashed or to look at the original Washington Monument. Some places on the AT indeed have too much to look at for a thru-hiker; that's fine by me. I figure it's a kind of a survey, where I can note places I'd like to come back to --- Harper's Ferry historic town, for example.
Bottom line is that if you are willing and able to hike for months on end, you get into good enough shape and figure (or tough) out various things such that the experience is significantly different than for a section or weekend hiker. Sometimes section hikers make comments about how "amazing" thru-hikers are and I'm serious when I tell them that I think that what they're doing is in many ways harder: just when they start to get into shape and get mentally and "process" oriented to the trail, their trip is over, plus they have transportation logistics to worry about for each section.
I do admit to the "fidgeting" part though, I'm fidgeting a lot at home just now, knowing that folks I know are continuing to move north while I'm stopped here waiting to get my strength back!
Loc: Ozark Mountains in SW Missouri
Increasing the daily mileage isn't for everyone, but people can and do enjoy the scenery, get in touch with their surroundings, etc, without having to drop down to some low daily mileage to be able to do so.
That's pretty much representative of the attitude I'm referring to in earlier posts. My experience is that it's generally born in the office where the person saying it earns their living.
Most people I know work hard all day. Getting into shape is not an issue for them. Getting two months time to spend speed walking on a trail holds no enticement either, they've got other things to do. So, like them, I don't consider myself as "Having to drop down to some low daily milage". Nor do I consider myself a "Weekend Hiker". I'm in the forest nearly everyday. So are most of my neighbors.
For us, it's more a matter of getting to a quality spot and enjoying the area. And if you've busted your butt working all week long, for weeks on end, getting the chance to hike a few miles to a nice spot and then relax is a welcome change.
I can do that just fine without feeling a need to hike 20 or 30 miles, and I believe I'll be enjoying myself every bit as much as someone who's hiked as far as their feet can carry them that same day.
It's silly to assume that I, or others cannot hike 20 miles in a day, day after day, on the trails you do, just because we choose not too. But it's not so silly to assume that most hikers that do could not keep up with most of my neighbors who labor for a living, day after day.
I've hiked with them from Compton to Hemmed-in-Hollow in the Buffalo River National Park. That's only about six miles. But, as Tim Ernst said in one of his guidebooks, "It's a trail that will humble even the most seasoned of hikers".
Miles are important only if they are important to you personally. And I'll say this and stick by it too, if you come here and hike that Compton to Hemmed-in-Hollow trail, you'll be "dropping down" your milage for the day too. Anyone that comes here thinking they're going to do 20 miles a day on the OHT for 10 days in a row is likely to end up home in bed nursing their busted buns before they're half done. For no good reason, backpackers have even died on these trails trying.
I'm new here but I thought I'd chime in since two weeks ago I aborted a thru-hike of the AT at Fontana Dam.
The people on the blog are clearly interested in self-promotion. Drama and challenge help with that. I say Hike Your Own Hike, and get what you want out of it.
That being said, I enjoyed being a thru-hiker for the 18 days that I was one. My longest day was 21.7 miles. This was in the easy part of the Nantahala National Forest before getting to the NOC. It was not as tiring as a 16 mile day I pulled afterward, and the 16 mile day was not as tiring as the 13 mile day I pulled on the steep downhill to Fontana Dam.
I see thru-hiking as an immersion experience. For me it's:
- Mental challenge versus the terrain. - Physical challenge involving fitness and age. - Lifestyle immersion in the wilderness environment. - Lifestyle challenge to retain my principles and values. - Meeting other people with similar personalities and experiences as myself. This may not happen in the (un)real world. - The "Zen" experience of a self-imposed Sysiphaean (sp?) task. Also, the letting go of desire for comforts and laziness. - The "yoga of the thru-hiker" if you will. (I'm not really sure what I mean by that either ;-) but I suppose it's similar to how mountain climbers must feel.)
After quitting the AT (for financial reasons), I recaptured some of this "spirit" on the Laurel Highlands Trail, where I was able to make a 17.5 and ~18-19 mile day back-to-back.
For the reasons mentioned above, I only want to do the AT as a thru-hike, so on my next attempt I will be back at Springer, not at Fontana Dam. I *do* stop and enjoy the environment and views where I want (at least I think so!), but there is nothing to do out there but hike, and I really enjoy pushing myself as well. The views and the natural environment are the reward for the hard work involved in getting there. You can hike the AT to Wayah Bald or you can drive there and walk 100 feet on pavement. I got there the hard way, and because of that, I feel I enjoyed it more than the people I met there who hadn't.
In the short time I was out there, I met great people, had great experiences, and enjoyed myself tremendously. At the same time, I was trying to "bootstrap" myself toward greater fitness and longer mileage. In fact, I miss it terribly and will probably do everything in my power to return as soon as possible (next year or the year after). I need this sort of thing as a challenge in my life, it brings out the best in me. But that is true of other things I do in life, not just hiking.
Loc: Ozark Mountains in SW Missouri
Great post CamelMan!
As a personal experience, I understand high milage "thru-hiking", and I believe I get much (if not all) of what you're getting out of your experience.
I don't do trails much, it's bushwhacking that I really enjoy, and I don't ever really count miles as a necessary part of the experience.
I just can't think that this preference gives me any real advantages over those that thru-hike, or climb, or even ride horses on a trail. It's just a personal preference, and I believe the benefits you point out can be had by any of these means.
But in my experience, thru-hikers often (not always) use the number of miles they hike as a stick to beat down others so they can feel taller. What bothers me most about this, I suppose, is that it discourages others from hiking by making them feel incompetent when really, as others here have said before, "It's just walking".
I did my firt 25 mile hike when I was 12 years old. It was a "March of Dimes Walk-a-Thon". I did that each year until I was 14 years old, then I did a 23 mile hike in the Sequoia National Forest for several consecutive years in the summer.
So, when I was 14 years old I easily hiked over 100 miles between Late Spring and Mid-Summer, probably closer to 150 miles. And honestly, this is the first time I ever even tried to count them. I have no clue how many miles I've hiked since then, not even the slightest clue. But I know I have loved every moment I have spent on my wanderings.
For years I worked with people in wheelchairs. Most all of them knew I spent as much time as possible hiking around. Over the years I took quite a few of them hiking with me. Malibu Creek State Park was one of my favorite places to take them and these little hikes often opened up doors they thought were closed to them forever.
The great outdoors can be enjoyed by most everyone. That's what I want to impart when I discuss the sport. I believe you do that with your post.
Thanks for the complement. I definitely would not use my preference as a way of judging other hikers. We're all different people even though we enjoy the same activity. I've been humbled by much faster hikers than me, and did not question what they were getting out of it. One person was probably 10 days ahead of me when I left the AT, but I know she was working within a limited timeframe, so the choice was either hike 20 mile days right from Springer, or hope that you'll have more time in the future. There's always the problem that deferred dreams may never materialize.
Kudos to you for helping the disabled experience the outdoors. I think accessible trails are a great thing.
I section hiked in the smokies in mid April. My second night was on the AT at Ice Water Springs. The place was full of thru hikers. The milage you did from the git go is impresive. I was just getting back int backpacking. I did onle 7 miles a day and was at my destination bye noon. I talked to several thru hikes and most of them staretd out from Springer in the 8 to 12 mile range. They said bye the time you hit the Smokies you get your Legs! I have also been following several hiker blogs one couple I met at ice water and another girl as well. One couple is in there 60s and retired! They all do there own thing and are progressing at about the same rate. It is giving me insite to hike my hike when I retire at 55. Anyway I enjoyed your coments Happy Trail
Loc: San Francisco
I hiked the PCT in 2006--when I was 53------it is certainly possible to do those miles once you are in shape-----we averaged around 20 in areas w/o big mountains. Also note there seems to be alot of new math that goes on with thru hikers that comes from the attitude that huge miles are somehow desirable. I have to laugh but there was this group of young folks I saw on the second day and then again in Ashland--and they would go on and on about these huge miles but there they were at the same place at the same time----
If I did this again I would not push hard---I would just spend the summer on the trial and be good with wherver I managed to get---after all no one cares where you get
I have to agree. There was one hiker tbow who said, I am taking a light day around 9 miles. He said he had already saw too many hikers who push for big days and burn out. My quest will be to finish the AT. Thru would be great but if longer is required, I care Not. I will do it for me and me only. I hope I live long enough to retire and fullfill my quest? Happy Trails
I think you'd be surprised at our species knack for endurance. We may not run or walk fast, but we can run and walk for a long time. Google "endurance hunting." But yea, 26 miles in a day? That's actually not so rough. If you're doing 2 mph, that's 13 hours of walking. Throw in a few hours for breaks and steeps, so maybe 16 hours a day? It's not a cakewalk, but it's totally doable if you're in decent shape.
Love it. Indeed, hike your own hike. I'm a lot like you, I look at the terrain as a challenge, and coming back to the same places, I try and beat previous times. But for me at least, the scenery is more than just a bonus. It's the most magical, fascinating place there is. It's a reason for living, for existing, for life and love. I see beauty in every single leaf and water droplet. Or something like that
Originally Posted By Trailrunner
I've been a competitor since I was 10. I'm goal oriented. I like a challenge. So when I hike or backpack I "compete" against the terrain. That's what gives me satisfaction. That's what makes me happy. The scenery is just an added bonus. Yes, I suffer and I like the feeling of being totally spent at the end of a hard day. No one will ever make me feel guilty about this.
That being said, I can fully understand how other people feel that they see more by covering less ground. I will never take issue with anyone who does. There is no right or wrong way to backpack, just whatever suits the individual.
Loc: Central Texas
People on long trails either get into fantastic shape or start to break down somehow. The ones who get into super shape regularly do multiple 26 mile days on the AT. I've hiked with several before dropping behind after a few days. Not to start a controversy, but folks who have done the triple crown say the AT has much harder walking than the others, so I suspect higher mileages are practical on other trails.
My personal experience is that on the AT 70-year-old men and women will do 26 miles now and then and some 60+-year-old men and women do 20 miles almost every single day. Occasionally, someone will to something completely nutsoid such as crossing Maryland in one stretch or 50-60 miles in a day just to have bragging rights.
It is also true that folks who exceed their recovery limits don't do well the next day. But again, long trails can turn people into motor monsters.