Saturday, August 25, 2012

Do You Have What It Takes?

For the past few years, I have read, with great interest, the trail journal of an AT thru-hiker (someone who hikes the trail from Georgia to Maine (northbounder) or the reverse (southbounder) in one hike). Last year I read the journal of "Portrait"; most long distance hikers adopt trail names.

Portrait on Katahdin at sunrise- the end of his journey.
Portrait is one of the most poignant writers I have read. He is obviously very intelligent and his writing reflects that. He comes from a family of thru-hikers- he mentioned both his brother and his sister had done the AT in previous years. He also is a pretty good photographer, taking one my favorite hiking photos ever.

This year, I read Dos' trail journal. Dos has been a great read as well, but for different reasons. She is older, and has done the hike carrying some baggage; she is suffering from PSTD, which has reared its ugly head a couple of times during the hike. Dos just finished the hike a couple of days ago, so, "Congrats, Dos!" I like to think I have what it takes (physically and mentally) to do a thru-hike, but who knows?

Here is what I think a thru-hike would take:

Patience. An AT thru-hike takes an unsupported average hiker between five and six months. You walk until you are done, eat, go to bed, wake at dawn or thereabouts, and do it again.

Patience. I don't think there is any way to really train for a thru-hike. Sure you can be fit, but there is a difference between training and thru-hiking. My plan for a thru-hike would include a good long period of building up the mileage; going too far, too fast seems like a great way to fail at a thru-hike.

Acceptance. You gotta be willing to accept the world outside of your head. You are gonna be real dirty- accept it; you may be in a shelter with someone you don't like- you can't change that. Some nights sleep is going to be elusive- so what, for tomorrow you walk.

Joy. The trail will present incredible opportunities. There will be physical beauty, there will be human kindness and selflessness. There will be a good showing of Nature's awesomeness. There will be solitude and great camaraderie, sometimes at the same time.

Mental fortitude. You hike and then hike some more; even when it is the last thing you want to do. You are gonna hike through rain and possibly snow. You are gonna get cold and wet. You may have to hike at night. You are going to have aches and pains, but you are going to have to hike through them.

Flexibility. One of the most alluring things about a thru-hike to me, is the way that thru-hikers develop the ability to go with the flow. If the day is hot enough to be dangerous for hiking, they hang out in the shade of a culvert during the day and hike in the cool of the night instead.

Selfishness. At the end of the day, you have to hike your own hike. You will hook up with other hikers and hike as a group, perhaps for weeks on end. But, the time comes when your paths separate- they want to go into town and you want to hike on- and you leave the group to go about your hike.

I am certain that for most people, the thought of hiking for six months non-stop sounds crazy. I am equally sure that for many people who start the hike, the romance of the trail quickly dims, and they leave the trail (a very small percentage of people who start, finish). For me, the grittiness of the trail draws me; the physical and mental test. At the moment, life's responsibilities prevent me from going, but eventually, I hope to create a way to go test myself on the trail.

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