Originally posted on The Trek on October 4th 2016
I’m sure upon mentioning to friends and family about your decision to attempt a thru hike (or even a long distance section hike), or simply uttering that it’s something you’re interested in, you got responses like the following:
- “You’re crazy, I would never do that!”
- “How are you going to carry six months worth of food?”
- “Are you taking a gun?”
- “What about the bears?”
- “Where will you sleep?”
- “The trail is HOW LONG?!”
- “Seriously, are you taking a gun? There’s a lot of weirdos out there, and the BEARS!!!”
And you will answer more than a million times, “No I’m not, you can resupply in town or use drop boxes, No, Bear attacks are rare, in a tent, about 2,190 miles (if referring to the AT), and No, there are more weirdos off the trail and I don’t plan on antagonizing wildlife.”
The question you may ask yourself though, and possibly not even have a strict answer to is, “Why am I hiking?” Some answers are more or less complex than others, but I thought it would be interesting to explore the reasoning behind why so many people ditch the securities of society to walk into the wilderness to live and sleep there for months on end.
I’m Hiking While I Have the Opportunity:
This is a popular justification for people of all ages. According to the ATC, over half of all successful AT thru hikers are in their 20’s. A lot of young men and women want to conquer this goal prior to “adulting” whether that be prior to starting or finishing university, or entering the workforce. Some others may want to tackle a thru hike prior to a significant life event. For example, I met a number of hikers who had babies on the way, had plans on settling down, or planned on making a career change after being miserable in their previous one. A lot of older adults on the trail are out there to conquer a goal they never got to during their youth, or to conquer it again upon setting foot into retirement. Life is short, so why not scratch it off the old bucket list?
I’m Hiking for the Thrill:
Any thru hike, or long section hike for that matter, are huge accomplishments. It’s no easy feat! So perhaps you’re in it to fulfill something big! For some, hiking a particular trail or more may be a calling; a dream since they were first acquainted with the idea in the first place. Maybe you have a family member who has succeeded and want to follow in their footsteps. Maybe you read a book, watched a film, or heard of the challenge in some other way and got inspired to follow suit. Maybe you’re just into adventure and engaging in new experiences, and thought it would be fun to try!
I’m Hiking to Heal:
I met many inspiring individuals who shared their stories of struggle during my last thru attempt. Some seek to recover from military action after leaving the call of duty feeling unsettled. Others may be battling different demons from within, such as those struggling with their sobriety or mental health. Still others may be battling or overcoming cancer, or some other illness that has left them feeling the need to head towards the trail. Perhaps you’re troubled by loss, whether that be the loss of a loved one or a marriage. Occupying your time on the trail and within your own thoughts has been known to help take people out of a dark place, and bring clarity and closure to their lives.
I’m Hiking to Find Myself:
Perhaps it’s confidence you seek or to find yourself. Embarking on a long distance hike will challenge you in every way. You will undertake the obvious physical challenges of hiking day in and day out until you reach your goal. You will hurt and you will likely see changes to your body that you’ve never experienced. When else can you live off of fast food, candy, and all the processed food imaginable and still manage to shed pound after pound? You will experience bad weather, ridiculous climbs and obstacles that will break you down mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. You will truly see what you’re really made of.
I’m Hiking to Escape:
Hey, times are tough! Life at home may not be the fairy tale you dreamed it up to be. You may be dealing with a difficult family life, a complicated marriage, or the mountains of debt may be unbearable. You may feel the need to flee from the problems at home in order to clear your head, and hopefully return with a clean slate. Maybe the trials and tribulations of society has become insufferable and you want to get away. Between all the politics, corruption, drama, and expectations, maybe you just need to unplug and hide in the forest for a little bit. Go AWOL, grow a beard, develop overwhelming body odor, be a vagrant for a little while… or forever!
I’m Hiking so I Can Embrace the Wilderness:
It’s a beautiful world we live in. There are so many places in it that so few people give themselves the chance to experience. You may just want to reconnect with nature, the nature we live in and the nature that is within us. Life in a busy society can be complicated, so perhaps you just want the time to yourself to simplify it, to decipher and clarify the needs and wants you value most, and to embrace the solitude. You may just love the outdoors! So much so that you want to capture and document every little detail, and embrace its beauty.
“Why are you hiking?”