I’m reblogging a “report” of what appears to have taken considerable time and has good data. I was surprised that the completion numbers were this low, and like the concept of the composite “typical hiker”. This is interesting for any long distance hiker.
Three long-distance backpacking DVD projects were released in 2013 while I was away thru-hiking the Continental Divide Trail: “Mile, Mile and a Half”, “Embrace the Brutality”, and “Tell It On the Mountain”. I’ve secured all three, watched them, and will review each on separate blog entries.
The first- “Mile, Mile and a Half”, is a gorgeous production by the Muir Project.
It’s their collective record of a 25 day thru-hike of the 219 mile John Muir Trail, in the heart of California’s Sierra Nevada Range. Lest one think that this 8.75 mile per day schedule was chicken feed, it’s important to consider that these individuals not only carried their own backpacking gear and food, but also their respective artictic tools. Some of these folks were packing weights up to 75 pounds. No joke.
Here is the trailer for the video.
The John Muir Trail is considered to be the premier hiking trail in the United States. The trail starts in Yosemite National Park, and continues 215 miles through the Ansel Adams Wilderness, Sequoia National Park, King’s Canyon National Park, and ends at the highest peak in continental United States, Mount Whitney at 14,496 ft. ( from http://johnmuirtrail.org/). With the exception of the first 9 miles at the northern end climbing out of Yosemite Valley, the elevation of the JMT seldom dips below 8,000 feet. The trail crosses seven mountain passes in excess of 11,000 feet; from north to south, they are: Donohue Pass, Muir Pass, Mather Pass, Pinchot Pass, Glen Pass, Forester Pass and Trail Crest. At 13,153 feet, Forester Pass is the highest point along the Pacific Crest Trail and the second-highest pass along the JMT ( -from WiKiPedia).
It is estimated that, when hiking north to south, the amount of ascent of the JMT is just over 46,000 feet and the total descent is over 38,000 feet, for a total of about 84,000 feet, or almost 16 miles.
I pledged financial support of this product as a Kickstarter project when it was in the formative stages, allowing me to receive my “Special Edition DVD”, as well as a drink flask and sticker for my bear canister.
Five hikers, who were also accomplished artists in their own disciplines, were inspired to carry additional video and audio recording devices, still photography tools, musical instruments, and graphic materials for the purpose of producing a multimedia production of their journey.
I have watched it twice to date.
The second viewing revealed details I didn’t recall from the first viewing- a pleasant surprise that is not often the case with lower budget productions of this nature.
These are not accomplished backpackers- all these individuals are primarily artists, who happen to be backpacking in order to carry out this unique task. For some individuals, it was their first time walking at elevations over 10,000 feet, or walking on snow.
These folks suffered- you will see the standard “horror-show-of-my-feet” images of tumescent toe blisters and gushers from strategically lanced areas of the foot with subsequent audience groans guaranteed.
There was one drop out- it was that tough. We see the punishing ascents, post holing parties, and experience the unique frosted terrain that greeted these hikers in 2011, where the snow pack was off the charts.
I hiked 160 miles on the JMT in 2010, where it shares the path with the Pacific Crest Trail.
The segments that show the group getting up over the high passes were definitely thrilling and possibly scary, especially my personal horror show at Mather Pass, the site of my most terrifying traverse.
The footage of the notorious Bear Creek ford will put a lump in your throat.
This is a five star production that will be interesting to both hikers and non-hikers alike.
In Maine’s Sunday Telegram.
Dateline: Spring Brook, Camden Hills State Park, Camden, ME
The normally staid water bottle, AKA Tiki- Man, barely survived a harrowing fall into the rushing, frigid Class V rapids along Spring Brook on March 16, 2013, in Midcoast Maine.
When Tenzing was getting refills for multiple water bottles near the bloated culvert containing Spring Brook, Tiki-man leapt from his hand into the raging torrent.
While Tiki-man remained collected, Tenzing became gravely distraught about the situation.Tiki-man was engulfed by the torrent that quickly propelled him under the multi-purpose road above. In panic mode, Tenzing scrambled up the embankment, only to become further frantic as he realized that the revered, purple, and ( at times) luminescent head was no where to be seen.
Glancing straight down the side of the road to the surface of the maelstrom below, Tiki-man was sighted, in an immobilized state within the backwaters of an eddy, but beyond human reach. Tenzing leaped into rescue mode, and quickly fashioned a three-pronged branch, that he used to dislodge and release Tiki man, only to realize that the valiant water bottle was facing yet another harrowing scoot down the icy water.
Tiki-man courageously traversed at a diagonal across the channel, where he eventually struggled to maintain a tentative hold on the far-side shore.
At this point, Tiki-man was clearly up against very thin ice.
The three-pronged stick guided Tiki-man past this last challenge into a still pool, where he was airlifted to safety by the selfsame stick.
Most importantly, Tiki-Man lived to tell the tale. He described his dunking as the most harrowing experience that he has ever been through.
Tiki-man is a seasoned, 6 year old water bottle. Tiki-Man has recently become increasingly despondent at his persistent failure to lose enough weight to qualify him as an ultralight backpacking accessory. He occasionally mumbles about being teased as “a bloated relic” by Platypi and even the young upstart plastic soda bottles.
The colorful character has risen through the ranks of backpacking water bottles through his persistent dedication to thru-hiker hydration.
A veteran of three National Scenic Trails, Tiki man has endured unparalleled adventures on the Appalachian, Pacific Crest, and Vermont’s Long Trails.
The closest the battered water bottle had come to the slag heap of also-ran hiker gear was in 2007, when he was dropped from a day pack on the AT and left for dead in a crevice between a rock and a hard place. Extracted from his impending tomb by a hiker named Big Sky, the revived Tiki-Man survived a dark passage through the US Postal Service, adorned with a mere one dollar and thirty-two cent stamp and a tattered Uncle Tom address label.
Undaunted by his early morning sub-freezing soak today, Tiki- man bucked up, and settled into place in the backpack, where the wizened vessel supplied his human partner, Uncle Tom, with hydration on a long winter day hike in the Camden Hills.
From time to time I post from other peoples’ blogs related to hiking, biking, and the outdoor experience. Here’s one with content that stands out above and beyond what you’d expect.
On October 5, I posted an entry about my disappointment with Fatbiking the Arctic- to date, an apparently failed Kickstarter project which I funded. This was in response to Outside Magazine’s Oct. 4, update on the project, which appears to have been halted in the town of Pink Mountain, somewhere near the southern start point of the Alaska Highway. That article is here- Fatbike Expedition Comes to a Quiet Halt.
Today I will highlight an hour long interview with another Yukon/Alaskan adventurer, but this trip was a resounding success.
Krudmeister is one of my online friends, and I know that I’ll meet him in person someday. This April, Krud completed a 4,700 mile human powered trip on bike, foot, and canoe.
Here’s the lead-in, from Trail Runner Nation- “Our second interview with Adam Bradley, aka Krudmeister, a record-holding long-distance trekker! The last time we talked to him he had just set a world record for a self supported Pacific Crest Trail trek. This summer Adam did a self-supported, human-powered trek over 4700 miles from Reno, NV to the Bearing Sea in Alaska. This is an amazing story of endurance. We talk “Krudmeister” about his 2 1/2 month journey through some of the American Continents most beautiful country, the wildlife he encountered, and his determination to keep going day after day.”
Krudmeister rode his bike from his doorway in Reno, NV up through Glacier National Park into British Columbia, Jasper, the Icefields Parkway, then Alaska’s Cassiar/Stewart Highways, all the way up to Skagway, Alaska, completing that segment of 2,847 miles ( in just 31 days).
He used a small wood stove for cooking, kept his supply packages to two only, and also managed to send himself a shotgun, which him behind a couple of days due to a regulatory hassle.
Enjoy. What really impresses me is that he did this solo. Krud not only put it out there, he delivered. If Andrew Skurka gets on the March 2011 cover of National Geographic for 4,679 human powered miles through Alaska and the Yukon territory, don’t you think Adam Bradley deserves increased national exposure?
Outside Magazine, HELLO ?
The following article was just published in the Oct. 2012 issue of the Communiqué, the newspaper of the National Association of School Psychologists. Online access is limited to members, so I have listed the full article here.
I failed math but excel at backpacking.
While sitting in a presentation at the National Association of School Psychologists Annual Convention in Philadelphia last week, I learned that the foundation skills needed for student mathematics proficiency are “conceptual understanding, procedural fluency, strategic competence, adaptive reasoning, and productive disposition”. Hold on there! Those skills that are critical to long-distance backpacking, not math!
I have been an active communicant of the “Church of Two Heels” since 2007, when I completed my 2,160 mile thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, where I acquired my alter of Uncle Tom. Since “A Trail of a Lifetime: Getting a Midlife Jump-Start From the AT” was published in Volume 36, #8 of the NASP Communiqué, I have been back at it again.
In 2010 I spent 5 months completing another continuous hike, this time over the Pacific Crest Trail, where I left the Mexican border in April and walked some 2,650 miles thru California, Oregon, and Washington, eventually reaching Canada in mid-September just before the early snows. Luck, my own “productive disposition”, and“Polish Power”, got me there.
In August, I spent another month thru-hiking the 272 mile Long Trail in Vermont, where I dealt with the devastation of Hurricane Irene before I was able to again reach Canada.
Why would someone subject themselves to such madness?
I treasure the stripped-down experience of walking north, where I trade in my school psychology routines for unexpected adventures. In thru-hiking speak, I do enjoy my periodic lapses into the “hiker-trash” lifestyle. Long-distance backpacking embraces the best that America has to offer: freedom, initiative, creative planning, challenge, and total immersion in the healing powers of the natural world for vastly extended periods of time.
Walking forward happens within a framework of much simpler goals, framed by more expansive views (“ I have to get way up on that ridge today, then see where I might end up tonight”.). So much happens in a day when you wake up with the first light and move though the woods, desert, or fields and come across animals, insects, plant life, as well as others who are also moving about the countryside.
Long-distance backpacking demands a conceptual understanding of an array of survival skills. Life on the trail is easy when it’s pleasant and sunny out, but what about when things get downright dangerous? In the desert, it can range from a broiling 110 degrees to below freezing on the same day. How do you stay warm and what is more important not skid off a 13,000 foot ridge while walking over 400 hundred miles of continuous snow and ice in the High Sierra? How do you even find a trail when it is buried under 20 feet of snow, where you might be post-holing to your mustache in the melting afternoon footpath? How about avoiding hypothermia when you are walking in the Northern Cascades of Washington and it’s 40 degrees out, on the fifth day of continuous chilling rain, with a sodden taco of a sleeping bag to look forward to?
There is often no time in a thru-hike to adopt a reasonable, sloping learning curve. Procedural fluency is essential, so that daily tasks are completed promptly. Walking on unknown paths is a primal, universal experience that ties the ordinary adventurer to Odysseus, Daniel Boone, Shackleton, and other explorers who inspire us to go places. I consider myself fortunate to be on the short list of individuals who seek encounters with nature on a twenty-four hour-a-day, all-day, months-at-a-time period. Cooking meals, setting up a tent, avoiding bears, getting out of bed, and walking all day, day after day, is only possible when these actions are competed efficiently so that the 24 hours that are allotted each day are not squandered.
I learned to deal with adversity thru adaptive reasoning to move ahead, even if it sometimes meant walking in circles or even backwards. I strive to reduce the time I spend in tension, indecision, and even pain, all of which sap energy and diminish one’s capacity to fully embrace the astounding panoramic beauty that one meets with on these National Scenic Trails.
Here’s an example of an adaptive skill, termed the “Daily Inventory of Pain”, which has yet to appear on the VIneland-II, that I learned from “The Burglar”, my Canadian hiking pal. Backpackers generally wake up either at first light or even just before sunrise, climb out of their sleeping bags, unzip the mosquito netting on their tents, and eventually right themselves to standing. Every long distance hiker engages in some degree, conscious or not, of becoming aware of body pain centers. For me it was generally a some combination of sore lower left back, forefoot numbness, fissured heels, tenderness or actual sprain of one or both ankles, tender shins, inflammation of one or both shoulders, a dull head, thirst, digestive distress, chapped lips, minor lacerations, sore or cracked fingers, and downright fatigue. The Daily Inventory of Pain would be a conscious accounting of the cumulative effects of all these sensations, which may be unconsciously endorsed on a Likert Scale, and assigned a General Suffering Quotient which might be framed in the following manner: “I feel like crap. I am not going to be able to hike 30 miles over what’s coming, I‘ll cut it to 20, and pray for that.” I might add that it would be an additional advantage to foster some measure of a “productive disposition” at this later stage of a thru-hike.
Cognitive flexibility and shifting mindset allow the thru-hiker to reap benefits from the unexpected “open doors” that present themselves at intervals during a hike. It’s has been said that the weight of an individual hiker’s pack reflects their personal fears. I used to be a hiker who was locked into over preparation due to expecting a cascade of worst case scenarios, but have relaxed a great deal in my fretting about what could go wrong. See that bunch of local campers off the trail over there who might be having a good time? I used to put my head down and avoid them. I now walk over to them, smile, and ask, “Hey, what’s up, what’s going on?” When people learn that you have just spent several months walking thousands of miles from Mexico, most instantly warm up, and often become a welcoming committee. Good things can happen. I have reaped many a hamburger, hot dog, cold drink, and more from these encounters.
There are two major approaches to dealing with a long distance backpacking trip. The “be prepared” school of thought is exemplified by hikers like Terrapin Flyer and Granite, whom I consider paragons of executive functioning. They possessed the energy and forethought to cook, dehydrate, and pack 30 boxes of nutritious food for 175 days of walking, that were shipped to themselves along the Pacific Crest Trail. While I wouldn’t go so far to consider it strategic incompetence, a differing approach is one taken by Richard Wizard, who shuns mailing himself food and supplies, and instead prefers the challenge of making do with what he can sift thru along the way. His choice is one that requires cognitive flexibility, making do with what he can find in gas stations and out of the way, understocked convenience stores. One of Wizard’s most creative food adaptations was first observed along the western edge of the Mojave Desert, where he transferred canned chili to a used paper coffee cup that placed on the outside mesh pocket of his backpack where the sun’s intensity cooked his meals to perfection. No water to wash out the cup? No big deal, that sun will fry those germs!
Hiking is a hardware and software reset that restores my health and vitality. Most of America is on some sort of weight loss program, with over 50% of Americans now considered obese or overweight..Losing weight is easy if you backpack enough. A thru-hiker program is unique in that weight continues to drop despite consumption of vast volumes of food, up to some 6,000 calories a day. I have lost as little as 17 and as many as 33 pounds on my long hikes. I can remember times when I have felt like a superhuman, throwing down marathon length distances on a daily basis for weeks at a time. It just doesn’t seem like it could happen, but it does.
When we were in northern California and General Lee told Axilla, Wizard and I that we would not complete our hike unless we increased our daily average to 25 miles a day. I was crushed. I never conceived that I would eventually backpack thirty plus and more miles a day, on repeated days. It happened. Lee and I even teamed up around Mt. Hood to walk 41miles in one 24 hour period.
Lessons learned on the trail extend to life off the beaten path. Sayings that may ring hollow chime brilliant when you are walking all day long. “Momentum helps”, “Just get moving”, “Stop and smell the roses”, “Share”, “Hike your own hike”, “Early to bed and early to rise”- the list is endless. All of these aphorisms have deeper truths that reveal themselves with increased visibility under travel conditions. Every one of them also applies when off the trail.
People make the trail. I started the Appalachian Trail alone, on my birthday, on March 27. That night, at a campsite, I met several other hikers who eventually became my best friends. We reached the terminus of the AT on the Mt. Katahdin summit together on September 16, 2007. Three years later, General Lee, Richard Wizard, and I walked together to complete the 2,760 mile PCT. General Lee and I thru-hiked Vermont’s Long Trail this past August. My deepest memories are replays of scenes where there are other people present. My favorite AT photo is a blurry one taken into the setting sun in Virginia, with two men and a dog hiking in formation up a lushly planted hill. MeGaTex is what we call ourselves, and we are planning another big one for 2013. My conceptual understanding, procedural fluency, strategic competence, adaptive reasoning, and productive disposition will accompany me, along with my iPod and a bottle of Advil.
I continue to blog about the outdoors on http://tjamrog.wordpress.com/ .
Uncle Tom’s complete daily PCT Trail Journal can be accessed on the web at http://www.trailjournals.com/tjamrog/ .
-Tom has been the Maine Delegate to NASP, and is past President of the Maine Association of School Psychology.
I was made aware about “Wild” in a very brief paragraph in Outside magazine, which stated that Knopf believed that they could sell 100,000 hard bound copies of this book. What was not revealed in the article was the extent of the media blitz that would accompany the book’s release. Within the next several days, I was approached by a half dozen people who asked me if had heard of the book. One woman I barely knew plunked down a clipping of a Boston Globe newspaper review in front of me. She knew me as a hiker. Next, I heard an interview with Ms. Strayed on National Public Radio. The publicity machine was cranking. When I went to Amazon to check it out, the book had not even been released yet, but there were already numerous positive review of the book on the web site.
Never witnessed before was this level of national publicity of a book about backpacking that preceded a publication date. The closest anyone came to generating this much hiker buzz was Bill Bryson, whose A Walk In The Woods account of his aborted thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail entertained America to no end. In that account , Bryson may have even invented the sidekick character Katz, who oafed along as a fat, unprepared, untrained, bad judgement machine.
I have read some half- dozen books about thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, and published my own thru-hike account of the PCT in 2010. I expected this account to be similar until a few details were laid out.
First, Ms. Strayed’s hike was achieved in 1995, and wasn’t a 2700 mile thru hike, but a section of 1100 miles, from Tehachapi, CA to the Bridge of the Gods, a metallic structure spanning the Columbia River between Oregon and Washington.
I expected to read about the perils and challenges of a novice hiker, beginning with her initial bad decision in picking the hottest and windiest little town on the whole PCT to start one’s hike. The book can be viewed as a compendium of bad decisions, but it is more than that.
When one reads an account of a long distance backpacking trip, it becomes quickly apparent that the author had better be exceedingly funny, perceptive, detailed, or else. The “or else” part is all the boring stuff that surrounds an activity where one wakes up in the morning in a desolate setting, puts on the same exact clothes that have been worn for the past several months, eats the same unimaginative meals, and moves along some 20-25 miles a day though repetitively picturesque countrysides.
Backpacking accounts are, well, mostly about backpacking.
A considerable part of this story invokes Ms. Strayed’s life before the hike, which focused on her mother’s premature death from cancer, failed marriage, divorce, sexual encounters, and heroin addiction, in non-sequential and revolving order. The book is a series of illustrations of what can simply be described as a woeful lack of common sense in a woman who is vastly superior at writing than she is at generating practical decisions. Ms. Strayed had changed her name to suit her style, but may Wanda Wild might have been a better fit for her.
The reader is advised to keep several historical aspects in mind. First and foremost is the fact that Ms. Strayed was hiking seventeen years ago, a time that was pre-iPhone, and pre-Facebook, when information about the PCT was limited and difficult to locate. Also, few people had completed the PCT, so there weren’t many folks to lead the way. The ultralight backpacking revolution had not yet taken hold, as Ray Jardine’s Beyond Backpacking had it’s initial release in 1993, and was just gathering momentum at that time. In it, Jardine’s throws out just about every commandment from the Hiker’s Catechism as he pares his own pack down to a seven pound load and launches a new way of doing things.
“Wild” takes some 50 pages to get to the first hiking parts when Ms. Strayed attempts to lift an 8 pound backpack that contains 14 days of food (28 pounds) and two gallons of water (16 pounds). That’s 52 pounds, before the saw, binoculars, folding chair, camera flash, multiple books, deodorant, and roll of condoms is stuffed in there. Add the clothes.. Got to be 70-80 pounds on her back!
Ms. Strayed shares with us periodic reports of her very own and inevitable blisters (upon blisters), pain centers, bleeding and bruised body parts, in intimate detail, as she moves, mostly alone, through a footpath that advances her toward her graduation from a school of some very hard knocks.
I found the book overburdened by the background story of Ms. Strayed train wreck of a life. Make no mistake, the book is brutally direct, Strayed’s observations are fresh and often funny, and she is an accomplished writer. Strayed’s description of the sanctity and solace of her evening retreats into her tent are among the best I’ve every seen conveyed in print.
However, I approached it as a hiking-obsessed male who truly enjoys witnessing the transformation of personality as one engages in step one and progresses to the five millionth step on that majestic path. So I read the book a second time, starting on page 50 to the end, skipping the frequent references to experiences with old lovers, parents, step parents, and pets, as I attempted to stick with the trail talk. That definitely shortened the book.
Did Ms. Strayed learn anything from her hike? I think she did. How could you not? She learned to push away fear, released buckets of pent-up tears, and focused on just moving forward. The wilderness is a truth crucible.
I trust she learned how to avoid bleeding from her shoulders to her toes so that her next backpacking trips would be easier.
POSTSCRIPT: Reese Witherspoon is slated to produce and star in director Lisa Cholodenko’s adaptation of Strayed’s “Wild: Lost and Found on the Pacific Crest Trail.” Chodolenko will write and direct, while Strayed will consult as the script is developed, and will be an associate producer on the film. From Rotten Tomatoes: “Lisa Cholodenko made her mark on the independent film scene with her moody examination of sexuality, ambition, and heroin chic in High Art (1998)”.
Seems like a good fit.
FSTPKR: BLC to the Bering Sea.—-< Click. Now!
You absolutely have to check out what Krudmeister is up to this season. It is practically inconceivable to me that someone has both the interest and the skills to undertake a solo excursion that combines bicycling to Alaska from Reno, then backpacking the Chilkoot Trail out of Skagway, then assembling a kayak and following traversing the length of the Yukon River, all the way to the Bering Sea! What is even more inconceivable is that in this day and age, there will probably be no one who will read about Krud’s adventure in the sport section of a newspaper, where we are exposed to the daily whining of multimillion dollar base and basketball stars.
Krud is one of my virtual friends. He figured into a couple of my gear acquisitions. I came to know him when he and Scott Williamson broke the Pacific Crest Trail Speed record, I think in 2006. I went to my local Patagonia outlet and showed them his blog. He was and maybe still is a Patagonia customer service employee. He was trumping up their Houdini jacket, and one of the employees gave me one, that I used on my PCT and Long Trail thru hikes. It is still as good as new.
Then he posted a picture of some wildly garish New Balance shoes that I tracked down through my brother Roy, who works for the company. They are a product that is sold in Japan.
I though of Krudmeister yesterday when I was aglow with the shoes on my birthday.
Krud, want a pair to wear when you get back?
Hiking has taught me many different things; none were formulated by lesson plans or by cramming for tests. Hiking did not teach me empirical knowledge more than it taught me a state of mind.
As a young boy, my backyard was an undeveloped endless tract of rolling Texas Hill Country in West Austin. The Austin Chalk comes to the surface there and is milky white as it outcroppings are exposed by the thin soil. Water quickly cuts the chalk limestone into fantastic shapes, creek beds with deep pools bounded by cliffs, natural amphitheaters and the ever present chalk. Miles of deer trails under the cedar breaks were the hiking trails. In the shade of the cottonwoods and sprawling live oak limbs I hiked the creek beds as far as I could go, grabbing crawdads and having them grab me when I was too slow or unsure in my movements. I was a troubled youth: I wouldn’t wear shoes, I was in constant trouble for coming home late after dinner, clothes I wore were often returned in tatters, and falls from crumbing rocks or slipping out of the trees that we climbed left behind broken bones and scars.
I enthusiastically pushed the boundaries of my world as far as I could, remembering every tree, each rock, where all the forts were and which creeks always held water in their tinajas in the Texas summers. I was proud that nobody knew those woods as well as I did. Hiking taught me all this.
In middle and high school my dad would take me and my buddies to State Parks like Enchanted Rock and Pedernales. We would walk in, set up tents, eat freeze-dried backpacking food, sleep on huge camping air mattresses, in the wildest wilderness imaginable to us. During the day my dad would relax in the tent while we boys took off to destinations unknown. Unlike our mutual friends, none of us were in Boys Scouts and it was great. No merit badges for knives, we just brought our own, to flick open and shove into the dirt around creek beds. No knots to learn, we just jury-rigged our own sorry slings to haul stuff into the crowns of Live Oaks. We were our own masters to learn about smoking grapevine, with nobody to tell us that rocks were too high or too dangerous to climb. If we fell off, we fell off. That was it. Hiking taught me this too.
Later on in college the same group of friends and I started planning our own adventures. We set our sights high, on lofty ambitions toward the North West. We started learning how to mountaineer by reading books and practicing with our new ice axes. We figured out what to do if members of a party fall into a crevasse, how to set up a Z-pulley, how to put on crampons for glacier travel and what the proper following distance and slack should be for glacier travel when roped up. Then we bought plane tickets and climbed pinnacles of rock and ice. Hiking taught me this.
I had first learned of the Appalachian Trail in my living room from a TV, of all things. Dad and I were watching PBS and they ran a special about the Appalachian Trail. That was it, I was hooked. Age 9. After graduating college and years of longing, waiting, and planning I quit my job, determined to hike the Appalachian Trail. I had felt drawn to the power of Mount Katahdin for all those years, with a burning in my gut that I could not then, and nor can now rationally explain. Now this would be hiking! In Georgia, two close friends and I entered the green tunnel. When we emerged from that green tunnel in Maine I had lost one friend, derailed by money issues, but I had gained many more friendships than I bargained for. It was one of the best times in my life despite losing a serious girlfriend, while on the hike. I saw everything that you would expect to see on the trail and our group eagerly sought out each new experience. I took in as much as I possibly could.
My old and new friends inspired me, taught me things and surprised me; I learned from new experiences, but ultimately it was the hiking that taught me.
Recently I hiked the Pacific Crest Trail with some of the same friends from the AT. My brother came along to see what long distance hiking was about. The Pacific Crest with its mighty shining mountains, the cold snow melt rivers, and heat wave over trackless desert. True wilderness it was, from the black twisted lava flows of Northern California and Oregon to the dense rainforest and glacier-clad peaks of Washington state. The Pacific Crest Trail had nowhere near the power that the Appalachian Trail holds in me, but I did it anyway. It was one of the best times I have ever experienced. Risk coupled with reward. The end lesson from the PCT was that hiking’s end result is not quantifiable. I don’t have to walk 2,800 miles to feel accomplished. When I walk downtown to revel in drinks and debauchery, I am hiking to get there. When I walk up the street I am hiking. Every day I hike to and from my car. It is the act of walking – hiking, the same processes are still at work. Hiking continues to teach.
Now what did hiking actually teach me? It showed me about life and it showed me life as it exists on Earth. It taught me, most importantly, to be happy. Happy with yourself, the knowledge of who you are, what makes you tick. Being happy with where you are at any given minute, even if you might be standing short of where you want to be. Hiking taught me the art of reflecting, introspecting, where life scenarios are played out before your bored imagination while walking, the wild improbable daydreaming dreams. You are trapped with yourself with no way out. To be comfortable in your own skin is paramount to the level of happiness one can achieve. Know thy self, and not the shallow surface because that will quickly be stripped bare, but the deeper knowledge of that self.
I have learned patience – not with people I dislike, or work scenarios that I wish would go away – but with life, with the pace of walking, the pace of a snail. Patience is a virtue that was taught to me by life spent in the outdoors. Calmness comes hand in hand with patience, and peace, an inner peace.
I observe the landscape before me and see its past and future; its current state of health. I have not studied forestry or geology in a classroom, but I have studied and kept my eyes open in the outdoor classroom. I have not heard, but I have listened, to people that know about a wide variety of subjects and kept my mind open to learning at all times. I experienced an intimate relationship, forged by geography and the time spent in its clutches.
When I am not using my MP3 player I listen to the forest and hear the sounds of the trees flexing their boughs, the birds in the air calling shrill tunes to each other. I feel and taste the movement of air. I smell the damp forest floor leaf litter, the ozone before the impending storm.
Hiking has taught me about diet and how my body works when pushed and how my body pushes back.
Hiking has taught me about pace, cadence, and the sounds of my own body enveloped in the outside world, to tune myself down so I am able to listen.
Hiking has taught me about suffering through the art and science of deprivation. It is the learned ability to swallow hardships coupled with grueling schedules and learning to enjoy it. While experiencing physical and mental exhaustion, and uncertainty for the future I figure out how to overcome and subdue any given situation. I find myself making the best out of a bad situations without complaining about it.
Hiking teaches me about exploration of the unknown. I know where the final destination is, yet the experiences along the way are what I look forward to. It is as close, in this day and age, as one can get to pure exploration; as if we crossed the plains in 1849, as if we were with Lewis and Clark, as if we moved with Cook and Sir Frances Drake, adapting to the ever shifting dilemmas of foot travel. Things don’t always go as planned and I practice the ability to change fluidly within the situation at hand without losing my mind. To embrace the unknown, while knowing that it will all end up taking care of itself is my lifelong lesson.
Hiking has taught two most important things, while living on and off the trail: how to enjoy the now and how to be happy.
(by Louis LeSassier)
Here we go for part three.
Blisters, hiking solo, and lightning-started fires marked the stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail from northern California through Oregon.