Last week or so, the usual spate of “Do I need to train for a thru-hike?” questions appeared.
The usual arc of the questions appeared: People half-kiddingly(?) saying they ate Doritos and beer to get ready for a hike, or the trail will get you in shape, etc.
But when nearly 75% of people discontinue their AT thru-hikes because the romance of thru-hiking does not hold up to reality, I often wonder why people discount “training” for a longer hike.
I put “training” in quotes because having a base level of physical fitness is
good essential for both mental and physical health and only makes the starting part of a longer hike more pleasurable. And if you backpack a bit beforehand, you might find out you enjoy backpacking before committing much money, time, and emotional energy to something you might not enjoy.
I did my usual subtle, non-opinionated musing on the subject via social media:
But out of this discussion in the comment, a common refrain ended up along the lines of “I can’t get into weekend hikes or even a week-long hike; I need the long journey.”
Not going to debate that concept as, well, my friend LB put it succinctly: “Most thru-hikers don’t enjoy backpacking.”
As I’ve also mentioned, it is the allure of the journey in the wild places people enjoy.
But out of this discussion, I realized the shorter hikes are part of a greater whole. They are not just one-off.
While I enjoy my longer walks, my life would be infinitely less rich without all the other hiking, skiing, and even camping I’ve done.
They are short stories.
I love novels, but a well-crafted short story impacts me long after I read the last sentence.
A novel involves me for days where I get immersed in a different world. But a well-crafted short story resonates. And reading a series of short stories adds up to a collective whole where the vision of the author and the craft of their writing stays with me years or even decades later.
My very worn copy of “Where I’m Calling From” gets selectively read at least once a year. And the plots seem germane to discussions I’ve had over the years. If a person reads an “A Small, Good Thing” and not feel some sort of emotion..well, I am not sure what to say.
And that’s how I view my shorter hikes. Each hike may not be as “epic” as a long hike, but they all add to a collective whole. Quite literally, thousands of days spent in the wild places over the years. And some of the individual trips impact me long after I left the trailhead to go back home. I would not trade the five days in The Maze or the time spent in Chaco, or even my time in our local mountains for a single or even a few “trips of the lifetime.”
My AT thru-hike many years ago made me seek out something different than the current trajectory of my life at that point.
But because of long hikes in part, both Joan and I know we had to craft a life where we can be outside as much as possible, as easily as possible, and as close as possible. I can’t fathom not having the outdoors part of our daily life where we spend as much time outdoors as possible and in many different ways.
We need the outdoors as a part of our regular life. Where every week is a vacation. The “small, good things” add up to an experience much richer for us than one big thing.