At the dinner table the other day, the subject of my pending thru-hike came up. My three-year-old granddaughter Avi wanted to know why I would soon be walking alone through the mountains.
My mind spun a few seconds. “The best response is an honest response,” I thought. So I told her what I usually tell adults when they ask. “I want to go to a place where things work the way they’re supposed to work.”
After a pregnant pause of about nine months, my wife grunted “What’s that supposed to mean?” While I ignored her vaguely hostile question, I couldn’t ignore my daughter’s more reasoned remark: “You should just explain to her that you like nature. She knows what nature is.”
There are a lot of reasons to deprive oneself of adequate food, water, shelter, companionship, and Netflix for five months. I’ve been mulling over some of them, and I’ve come up with six reasons why people thru-hike the Appalachian Trail (or slog along any other line of dirt for months on end):
- To get to something. My response to Avi falls in this category. I like nature and the spiritual cleansing you might find if you open yourself up to it. I know this last sentence is pretty lame, especially since I’ll be hurling four-letter words, oh, about 10 miles into my hike. But it’s as close to Thoreau as I can get for a blog post.
- To escape something. I haven’t read her bestselling book Wild, but author Cheryl Strayed hiked the Pacific Crest Trail to escape drug addiction and domestic abuse. Others want to escape the couch, the TV, the cubicle, Wall Street, Big Brother, unrestrained development, toxic chemicals, plastics, politicians, Bible thumpers, terrorists, white supremacists, conspiracy theorists, political correctness, identity mongering, violence, heartless people, brainless people, social media, leisure technology, and any of a hundred other glaring trademarks of the 21st-century. I’m ready to escape this, too. Big time.
- To deal with something. This is related to the above. The first person to thru-hike the A.T., WWII vet Earl Shaffer, did it to “walk the army out of (my) system.” Today there’s a veterans group called Warrior Expeditions that does long-distance hikes, including the A.T., as a way to deal with shell shock.
- To challenge oneself. Some people are athletically inclined and enjoy tackling something difficult, in setting goals, training, then accomplishing their goals. I’m partway there, being a casual marathon runner…although I get slower and slower every race.
- To hike for a cause. While I’m trying to raise money for suicide prevention (click here if you want to help), truthfully my charity effort, despite AFSP being such a prodigious cause, was an afterthought. Those folks who are as committed to good causes off the trail as well as on, I take my bandana off to them.
- To be part of a subculture. There wasn’t much of a club until recently, since there were so few thru-hikers, but now thru-hikers are as prevalent as the Deadheads of yore. They bond on trail, and (assisted by social media) have even developed their own code-speak. Know what a “LASH” is? I didn’t till recently. It means “Long-Ass Section Hike.” Ha ha. My impression is that most members of the Tramily (Trail Family), similar to Deadheads, tend to be younger, as in twenty-something, with time and money on their side. And maybe likeminded in practice and outlook. Which means I don’t think I’ll be on the Tramily Tour. Is there a Curmudgeon Tour?
UPDATE: in my last post I decided to switch from Potable Aqua iodine pills to a standard filtration device. However, I just discovered Aquamira drops. These drops use Chlorine Dioxide instead of iodine to kill Giardia protozoans. And unlike iodine, Chlorine Dioxide also kills equally nasty Cryptosporidium. Aquamira drops get great reviews. They’re inexpensive, lightweight, easily packed and easy-to-use. The only downside I can see is that it takes a few hours for the drops to fully purify water that’s close to freezing. My throat will just have to be patient.
Has anyone used these drops?