So you want to take a long hike, huh? If the answer is yes to that, then you have many more questions to ask and answer. This series of articles will cover the basics of taking that vague idea of "hiking the whole..." and refining it into a coherent dream, which then morphs into a plan and from there reality begins.
What is long distance hiking?
There are many types of long distance hikes. To clearly define what exactly makes a hike, long distance, is hard. It could be a five day, 100 or so mile trek along one of the long trails. It could be a month or two on the trail, making your way along as you can, until you run out of time or mileage. It could be doing a complete Thru-Hike of the trail, which is loosely defined as doing the whole thing in one year (just to keep it simple). It could also be a 35 mile hike on a long weekend. It's all relative.
I think, for the sake of these articles, I will approach it for what I will be doing next Spring. A long trek along the Appalachian Trail. We will be attempting a Northbound (NOBO) hike, starting in Georgia and making our way as far North as we dare. Katahdin, the home of Pamola would be our final goal for this hike. If you have read my other stuff, you will know that completing the Thru is a secondary goal. The Journey (with a capital J) will be the main goal. To get out there. To become an Outsider (with a capital O). To have an Adventure. (Yep, capital A)
Choosing the right trek
I have been wanting to tackle the whole of the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) for some time now. I had a vague idea of the A.T. as a kid, but didn't start walking on it until after the turn of the century, when I was stationed in Maryland and would travel under its bridged treadway as I drove back and forth on I70 on my way to and from PA. I would always wonder about those shadowed figures, with large packs on their backs, glancing down at us as we whisked by at 70 mph and they sauntered along at 3. How far were they going? How long have they been hiking? That peaked my interest and before long, I found myself walking the trail. Checking it out and feeling an idea, a need, a plan, start to take shape in my mind. I would hike this whole damn thing. One day I would.
So, for me, the right trek is to traverse the length of the A.T. That is how I choosed my trek. You may have read a book or an article. Maybe saw a TV special or movie about a trail and that spikes your interest. Maybe a friend had gone on an adventure and told you about it. How you choose your trek is based on how you feel when you look at the options in front of you. If it feels right, then give it a try.
Finding the time and money
This is a tough one and I think running out of time and money are right up there, (if not above), as the main reason that someone doesn't complete the full long distance hike they planned. If you wait for the perfect time, you may never go. If you don't have at least some money saved, you may be heading home earlier than you originally planned.
They say that there is never the perfect time to go on a long distance hike. You have to just make the committment to go out there and do it. For me, when I was young and stupid, I didn't really know about doing long distance hikes. My experience had been 3 or 5 days on one of the trails in Western PA. Even if I had realized that I wanted to do a long distance hike, I sure didn't have the funds to do so. I think when I decided to join the Coast Guard, I had about $800 in the bank. I still was paying off my car and a student loan and just didn't have the means to start hiking and staying out for months.
After joining the Coast Guard, I no longer had the time to take off and spend months hiking a trail. We only earned 30 days of leave a year and I usually used that to travel home and visit family. Before long I had a wife, then a child, then another child and then this thing called a career which held me in place. This continued for thirty years.
So, now that I'm old and stupid, I have retired from the Coast Guard and since I did 30 years, I get a decent pension for my service. I now have the time and the money for LoGear and I to do a Hike. Things won't be perfect as we still will have to maintain our residence, car insurance, health insurance, groceries for daughter and pets and the list goes on. But we like a challenge and this is so doable for us. More doable than it has ever been. So NOW is the time for us.
Finding a block of time that isn't perfect, but sufficient to do a hike, is paramount. Carve it out of your life anyway you can. Having a decent amount of funds saved (some say it costs about $2 a mile, but this is extremely variable) will be key to a successful long distance hike.
Understanding your "why"
To see my "Why", check out my other post Here. If that is TL;DR, then suffice it to say, that I want to hike to have an Adventure with my Bride. To become an Outsider for a time. To challenge and test my body and mind.
There are many reasons that hikers give when asked why they want to take on a long distance hike. It can be as simple as "just because", to as complex as "I want to raise awareness of _____ and will tell everyone I meet along the trail about it as I go", to somewhere in between. Finding and then understanding your "why" could be a long process and even after spending hours contemplating your why, it may still be very hard to explain, especially to muggles. Most people who have spent time "out there" will understand immediately. Others will wonder to no end why you would want to abuse your body and mind and get all smelly and walk for days on end, and will you carry a gun? and where will you go poop? etc. etc. etc...
The only person who needs to understand your why is you. Even if you can't explain it, if it feels right for you, then it is.
Rallying your team
Anyone who has spent time hiking, knows, that rarely do they do it all by themselves. There are so many people out there that help make your hike possible. From the trail angel who gives you a ride or maybe some food, to the people on the home front, that send you a piece of gear or a resupply box. All of them are making it possible for you to continue on. Just as no man is an island, very few hikes are truly solo. Having a team (or many teams actually) is very important in a successful long distance hike.
So your dream is becoming a reality. You know why you want to do this hike and you have found the time and saved the money to make a go at it. You have made sure all is good to go on the home front and your planning is well underway. Soon you will find yourself, with a pack on your back and your feet stepping amongst the roots, rocks and dirt, on a trail that goes far. You are on your way to becoming a Long Distance Hiker.
EarthTone and LoGear