Hiking Philosophy: There is no right or wrong hiking philosophy. One's own personal hiking philosophy is simply who we are, how we hike, and why we hike. Comparing your personal hiking philosophy to someone else’s style is apples to oranges. Some people hike for vistas, some for accomplishment, some for camaraderie, some for solitude, some to appreciate nature, and some just for the physical effort itself. You will soon discover your own reasons for hiking and they will guide you to your own hiking philosophy. Shaping your hiking philosophy will likely be a work in progress. Goals change, new goals emerge, goals are achieved. It isn’t even necessary to articulate one's personal hiking philosophy. What is important, however, is that we think about why we hike and consider how our actions on the trail may affect other hikers or even the environment. Because there are as many hiking philosophies as there are hikers, the best advice is: Hike your own hike.
Hiking and backpacking are a means to being independent and provide an opportunity for solitude. But the approach that one can do whatever makes them feel free regardless of others on the trail is not quite correct. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic brings both of those ideas clearly into focus. Everyone misses the freedom getting outdoors brings, but at the same time it is irresponsible to put one’s personal desires above others who potentially may be negatively impacted by one’s actions. This is the core of Hike Your Own Hike. This expression is widely used within the hiking community, especially on long-distance trails like the Appalachian Trail. The core principle of HYOH follows: "Every hiker is entitled to hike their own hike up and to the point that it begins to negatively impact the experience of another hiker." (Howell, The Trek) Essentially, you should find what works for you on the trail and don't try to tell other hikers how to do it better, faster, cheaper or lighter – or safer. The key is to be considerate of the other hikers you encounter on the trail. And sometimes that means staying off the trail all together.
Hike Your Own Hike articles from The Trek:
When HYOH Does NOT Apply [Part 1]
When HYOH Does NOT Apply [Part 2]
Howell, Kenny. “When Hike Your Own Hike (HYOH) Does NOT Apply [Part 1].” The Trek, 27 July 2018, thetrek.co/hyoh-does-not-apply/.
Time always slips away when the timing of one’s goal is pretty indeterminate. My last entry was in September 2019 ruminating on the relatively few hiking opportunities of the past year. One phrase now seems quite predictive: “So much can happen in six to seven more years. A lot of potentially negative things, especially health-wise.” While the COVID-19 crisis has not affected my personal health, it certainly has had a negative impact on everything. Of course, that is no reason to not keep up with a journal. Certainly, my thoughts have still been consistently wandering to the idea of an eventual thru-hike. But with very little hiking activity since that September post, there hasn’t been a lot to write about that wasn’t just wistful rambling. So, what is worth mentioning? Well, in October, I discovered a decent practice trail very close to my house, which is a bit difficult since I live right on the Chesapeake Bay. The trail is in The Glendening Nature Preserve that overlooks the Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary; so, the trail is through a wooded area with a few terrain features. The perimeter trial is even called the Cliff Trail; although, that’s somewhat of a euphemism. Nevertheless, it’s a good 3-mile loop for stretching one’s legs on a day when there isn’t much time to head west to the mountains. There are also several trails that crisscross the preserve, allowing for some daily variety or even extending the hike if you do not mind repeating some stretches during the same hike. I also have had time to think about a Maryland AT section hike and I have discussed a family hiking/camping trip this summer (if we get the chance given restrictions) with my wife. This will be along the AT in Maryland and will give me a chance to share that experience with her and with other members of the family, including our grandson. More about that when the time comes.
In that September 2019 post, I mentioned reviewing my gear list. That pretty much became the focus of my off-season. I validated a lot of my clothing gear list. I refined my first aid kit, took kit, and essentials. I also ended up purchasing several new items; the end-of-season sales and online sales associated with the mandatory closing of brick-and-mortar stores like REI were irresistible. I picked up two of the Big Three: a new pack and a new sleeping bag. I will put more about those on the gear page. I also picked up two items from my thru-hike wish list: an REI Down Jacket 2.0 and a MSR Pocket Rocket 2 Stove Kit; both at greatly discounted prices.
So, that’s about it to get the journal rolling again. Summer is coming; we can go hiking again (in fact, I already hit the nature preserve trail again yesterday). There are still a lot of uncertainties, but for now I am lucky that I wasn’t one of those that had their thru-hike dream shattered this year. While the future and date remain unclear, the dream remains in focus.
And it appears to be a long
Appears to be a long
Appears to be a long time
Yes, a long, long, long, long time before the dawn
David Crosby, CSN 1969
The leaves are starting to turn. Fewer thru-hikers are celebrating at the summit of Katahdin. The primary hiking season is ending. I managed to squeeze in a very short day hike on the AT earlier in September, but that looks to be the last of the year. It’s looking more and more like I won’t even take the boat out again this season. So, what do prospective thru-hikers do in the off-season? In the “dreaming” phase – or even the planning phase – there are many trail journals to read. There are now fewer active adventures to read vicariously. The AT class of 2020 is starting to limber up their fingers with pre-hike journal entries and a few of those will be interesting. And I suppose there will be gear review wrap-ups of what was popular this past year or previews of new gear coming out for next year. But to be honest, gear research is getting mundane. Nevertheless, I will refine my gear prospectus.
This also should be a time to reflect on the reasons I want to thru-hike the AT. I have a list already, but I am not sure I am ready to share that list. So, my conclusion at this point in time, is that this point in time is tricky. The initial joy of starting this journal and even hiking a few miles on the AT has passed. An actual thru-hike attempt is still years away. In metaphorical terms, I made it to Neel Gap. Neel Gap is around the 31-mile point from Springer Mountain. I have hiked 25.7 miles on the AT this year. Many hikers get a “gear shakedown” at Mountain Crossings at Neel Gap. I will scrub my 2019 gear prospectus. I am not staring physically in the face of the 2000 miles left to go; so, it’s easy to say, let’s push onward. But it does seem daunting to still wait several years. So much can happen in six to seven more years. A lot of potentially negative things, especially health-wise. I haven’t really thought about my age being an issue. Because it isn’t right now. But in a few years, that could all change. The window is closing. What I don’t know is how big is the window. The things holding me back now seem out of my control. The irony is that is one reason I want to thru-hike: to get back control of my life. The “golden years” are supposed to be happier, less stressful. I seem to be at times the unhappiest I have ever been in my life and stress seems to keep mounting. Maybe a thru-hike isn’t the remedy. Maybe it’s the equivalent to a child’s wish to run away and join the circus. The warm summer south winds are giving way to the cold winter west winds here in Maryland. But the answer my friend, may not be blowin’ in the wind.
Like a sailor to a siren, like a moth to a flame, it’s difficult to resist these end of summer and clearance sales by REI. They certainly know how to market gear. In the last week or so, I’ve received emails from REI informing me of no less than four different ways to save money right now on gear. There are sale prices on the already discounted gear in the Outlet. There is the End of Summer clearance sale. There is the upcoming Labor Day sale. And the queen siren of all, a $100 REI credit for applying to their credit card. What makes it worse, several items on my thru-hike prospectus are discounted. The temptation is great. Even if I tell myself, a thru-hike is years away, I am tempted to buy gear that I think would make a good interim solution for section hikes. REI put a storm inside me; I wanna head for a safer harbor. The temptation is so great, I am not even looking at the same lures from West Marine, my favorite for boat gear. A logical head will prevail and I will resist, but only because I know that more sales will eventually come along. If nothing else, this has planted the seed that researching gear and waiting until the right moment - meaning sale - to purchase will be an effective planning strategy. (Credit: "Sailor To A Siren" song by Meat Loaf)
It’s been almost a week and a half since my son and I completed our short section hike of the AT in West Virginia. It took about two days for my legs to fully recover. The first day after reminded me of the day after a marathon, but we walked 6 miles less over 2.5 days - oh well, not really that bad considering I hadn’t hiked or carried a pack in over 20 years! I also captured several small lessons-learned to guide a future thru-hike. Every short hike hopefully will yield some useful lessons - or at least confirm some ideas. It is no surprise that the biggest lesson - I already knew this, but there is nothing like a practical lesson - getting pack weight down to its lightest possible is the goal. Really, getting base weight under 20 pounds and total skin-out-weight down to under 35 pounds remains my ultimate goal. A lot of experimentation remains with the Big 3 systems; however, I confirmed several small items on my prospectus that if I were going to commit to a thru-hike today would definitely be on the packing list. In addition to lightening the Big 3, food choice and weight needs a little experimentation. We ended up not eating over 3 pounds of the food we each carried - way too much! We never went into calorie deficit during such a short hike; so, thru-hiking might alter the equation, but consumables clearly are a huge variable that needs to be refined. To an experienced hiker, none of these lessons are earth shattering revelations; actually, even for me, they are not a surprise. Nonetheless, lessons are best learned from practical application - nothing like carrying a heavy pack for a couple days to push one to spending a little more cash for a lot less weight. TLDR: click here for specific comments/lessons for each piece of gear I carried during my August 2019 AT Section Hike in West Virginia.
I don't have a bucket list. At 59 years old, I have already had the adventures of a lifetime, especially with a 30-year Army career already behind me, a 35 year marriage still going strong, and four years into a second career as a high school teacher. But I still have this deep desire to thru-hike the Appalachian Trial.