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Thru-hiker Envy

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Re: Thru-hiker Envy

Postby oleander » Wed Jul 06, 2016 2:26 pm

I'm not sure envy is the right word, but...I *do* find a lot of the thru-hiking experience to be a positive thing. (And not just the part about getting 5 months off work.)

My introduction to thru-hiking was simply running into PCTers in the 1990s and early 2000s while they traipsed through Oregon and Washington. For the most part they seemed happy and incredibly fit. One thing I really picked up on was their sense of camaraderie. You'd see trail registers where PCTers were leaving happy notes for other PCTers hiking one, two, ten days behind them. People would hike together for a while, then get behind and hike solo or with another group, then catch up with the original group...You had a loosely-defined "cohort" you were hiking with all summer. Calling it a rolling party seems a bit harsh. To me what it looked like was a set of people who had taken on something ambitious, and when they hiked together or ran into each other they got to bond over that experience and share stories. Sometimes, lifetime friendships developed out of that. In other words, on the social side I saw nothing but the positive. You do not get a taste of this ongoing social experience when you do a series of short trips in disparate places.

I have section-hiked parts of all three states. By section-hiking I was able to cherry-pick the prettiest stretches, so I didn't have to deal with the "filler" miles. The required "filler" miles of awful trail are the one thing that would keep me from doing a traditional thru-hike. Or, maybe I'd just skip sections of the Mojave and northern CA and southern Oregon and leap ahead, breaking all the rules. I might do the Washington State section of the PCT next summer, because a friend wants to. We'd do it mid-summer, before the PCTers get there. Another friend wants to do the Colorado Trail one day, and that appeals.

The endurance-sport aspect of thru-hiking is actually a big part of the appeal to me! When you are training for things like 50k races, something I did in the past, and if you're in love with the wilderness like I am, you start fantasizing about what it might be like to do your endurance training in a true wilderness setting rather than in urban open spaces. Personally, I love the idea of getting the kind of uber-fit that you'd get after walking 25 miles a day, day after day. It just feels so damn good, when your body becomes that kind of machine.

As someone mentioned, thru-hiking can be a great way to get introduced to whole new areas that you then want to go back and explore later in your backpacking career. That was exactly the result of my JMT hike in 1999.

The Trail Angel experience is really cool. Nobody wrote about that.

Finally, there is the appeal of the resupply not far off the trail. Sure, resupply is a lot of logistics. But I find the idea and the experience of resupplying in a nearby town, and then getting right back on the trail, to be much more appealing than my current reality, whereby each trip to the Sierra no matter how short requires a 3-8 hour drive each way. I retain a lot more of the "mountain feel" when I'm resupplying in Bishop or Ollalie Lake or Stevens Pass, rather than driving back home.

All that said, these days I'm wondering if cross-country travel has spoiled me for most on-trail travel. Maybe if I returned to some of the sections of the PCT that I enjoyed back-when, I'd get disappointed and you'd see me hopping the first train back to Ionian Basin.

- Elizabeth



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Re: Thru-hiker Envy

Postby sekihiker » Thu Jul 07, 2016 8:29 am

I look at through hiking trips as sampler trips. I kept my eye open for places I wanted to see again on a through hike of the JMT. It convinced me that life was too short to venture north of Mono Creek and south of Mineral King.

Daisy mentioned staying in shape allows hiking in retirement. I second that recommendation. I run (very slowly) for a half hour every other day and it keeps me in shape and keeps some of the weight off which also makes a difference in enjoyment of hikes.

The concept that "a lot of time has to be spent in an area to really enjoy it" is foreign to me. I spend most of my wilderness time on a botany project in an area that is lacking in spectacular scenery. I'm always on the move but in the same general area. I seldom spend a second night at a camp site. I enjoy this style of hiking very much. It is a huge switch from the "what's out there" attitude I had 10, 20, and 30 years ago.

I say, what ever floats your boat. It seemed to me that Leor Pantilat saw plenty on his day hikes of the Rae Lakes Loop and I'll bet Bob Burd can remember a good deal of what he's done. It seems to me that their experiences are similar to through hiking, fast and very goal oriented. They don't smell every flower they pass but they bring back plenty of memories nonetheless. And I think they enjoy it which is what it is all about.
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Re: Thru-hiker Envy

Postby longri » Thu Jul 07, 2016 9:15 am

sekihiker wrote:...I'll bet Bob Burd can remember a good deal of what he's done.

Actually, Bob told me that as he's gotten older his memory of the details has really gone downhill. But that's a different story -- what you remember versus what you experience at the time. I find that when my eyes are open I'm experiencing, whether I'm sitting at a lake or walking through a forest. It's different but the same.

I'm a little confused by the term itself. It seems like a label that too often carries along bad connotations. Traveling parties of self-obsessed bucket listers, or something like that.

So what exactly is a thru hike?

Is it any point to point trip? Or does it have to be some well published route? Does it need its own Facebook page? I went on a 9 day point to point hike in another country not that long ago. Was I thru hiking?

I like to go walking. I mean, I *love* to walk. Sitting still in the mountains gets boring to me after a while, unless I'm pooped out. If I were camped in one place I'd be doing day walks or climbs in the area, not sitting in one spot observing a grain of pollen under a magnifying glass... although I have done that.
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Re: Thru-hiker Envy

Postby Jimr » Thu Jul 07, 2016 10:02 am

I've sat here far too long staring at this thread trying to figure out where I'm at with this. I agree with Elizabeth regarding "Envy" being not quite the right word. I find myself intrigued by the trail culture that develops on trail and builds in towns on zero days. I would not enjoy the "need" to push the miles daily until it becomes the major focus. I like breathing room.
What?!
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Re: Thru-hiker Envy

Postby rlown » Thu Jul 07, 2016 10:07 am

pretty simple. HYOH. Where have I heard that before :) .. Make choices for yourself. A silly topic.
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Re: Thru-hiker Envy

Postby sheperd80 » Thu Jul 07, 2016 1:45 pm

A silly topic that got 40 replies and all sorts of interesting perspectives. I think its relevant, the rising popularity of thru-hiking has affected the backpacking gear world significantly. Influences like andrew skurka, section hiker, red beard, etc on youtube and online blogs have changed the way alot of backpackers are doing things and what theyre carrying, and even8 what manufacturers are making. I like knowing that there are people out there using these sleeping pads and tents for months on the trail in all conditions and reporting back. Buying expensive gear sight-unseen is risky so when someone says a pack or pair of socks lasted the entire PCT that helps me choose.


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Re: Thru-hiker Envy

Postby Hobbes » Thu Jul 07, 2016 3:55 pm

sheperd80 wrote:thru-hiking has affected the backpacking gear world significantly


Yes, they are true test pilots, but their gear choices are different in ways many might not have expected. Perhaps the most surprising is the turn away from (extreme) UL. Whether reading blogs, doing a section hike yourself, or getting out during thru-hiker season and seeing/talking to hikers (May/June in the Sierra for PCT trekkers), it's pretty obvious what the general consensus seems to be:

1. First and foremost, it seems that you cannot get a permit unless you're wearing Altra Lone Peak 2.5s. I jest, but only slightly - this is the go to shoe for so many.
2. Osprey Exos 58. Read some blogs - AT, PCT, CDT - or check out IG hiking tags; they are in every photo. It's the lightest (framed) pack Osprey makes, but is still heavier than UL specialty gear. The reason it's so popular is because you can try them on @ REI to get the right size/fit, they're reasonably priced, they are well made, and they can be exchanged/repaired at any major town stop along the way (that has an REI near by).
3. Darn Tough socks. Gone are the days of low-cut socks and gaiters (eg Dirty Girl). Nowadays, it's low mid-calf Darn Toughs without gaiters. The reason: they can withstand thru-hiker destruction and have a replacement guarantee.
4. Smart Water bottles. Forget camel/playpus hydration bladders - smart bottles come in convenient 1 liter sizes, are cheap, practically indestructible, light weight, available anywhere, have a nice profile that fits in side pockets (perfectly in the Exos 58), and accept the Sawyer squeeze filter cap.
5. ISO cannisters. Say good-bye to the hassle & fidget factor of alcohol & esbit, even if it means carrying an empty canister. No one has time to dick around to make a quick meal, or cook dinner before collapsing.
6. Thermarest Z lite. Forget air mattresses; again, fiddle factor, risk of leaks vs bullet proof solution. Can be dragged out and used to take a nap on rocks. You see practically everyone with these strapped to the outside of their pack (usually an Exos 58). They get mutilated, but are cheap and easy to acquire.
7. Tyvek ground cover. Again, the days of playing around with lighter solutions is over. Everyone is back to using a 4x8 sheet of Tyvek.
8. Bags - I think the movement is back towards true bags rather than quilts. Maybe it's the increase in women hiking, but hikers seem tired of chancing being cold in a quilt (regardless of rating) for the security of a system that is pretty bullet proof, especially if it has a hood that can be cinched down tight.
9. Tents - there has been a real movement towards free-standing tents and away from tarp/tent set-ups that use hiking poles & require (many) guy lines. Again, the trade-off for carrying an extra 1-2 lbs is an extremely fast set-up that has practically -0- fiddle factor. (I say this as a tarp guy - no matter how practiced you are, it still takes a few minutes to properly set-up.)
10. Rain jacket - once again, the extra weight of a real rain jacket vs a poncho is a result of real world hiking all day, many days perhaps, in rain. Thru-hikers don't just quit or get off trail - or make other plans - just because it's raining. Rather, they hike. Real rain jackets allow them to at least stay warm while hiking, if not completely dry, which is really their bottom line: staying warm.

That's about it. I've adapted some of this equipment philosophy into my own kits, to the point where I still have a UL set-up (even a SUL list that comes in at a 5 lbs baseweight), but also a more traditional arrangement for different conditions:

I use a neo-air, but I dragged out an old z light to double them up to get an r-rating over 5 since we camped on snow every night.
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Re: Thru-hiker Envy

Postby ERIC » Thu Jul 07, 2016 4:59 pm

Haha! Good points (and funny, especially #1), Hobbes!
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Re: Thru-hiker Envy

Postby sekihiker » Thu Jul 07, 2016 6:00 pm

Some of the posts on this thread remind me of another one from a few years ago. We debated about a ball buster trip one of our members was contemplating. The debate is at: viewtopic.php?t=8998

I really can't understand the emotions that have been displayed on this thread and that one from the past.

Is there really just one way to experience and enjoy the wilderness? I think not.

For my take, visit: http://www.sierrahiker.com/WildernessExperience.html
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Re: Thru-hiker Envy

Postby Clown Shoes » Thu Jul 07, 2016 7:21 pm

For me Im for everyone who is out in the back country, whether its a Thru-hiker, FKT athlete, backpacker-fisherman, etc etc. There is just no reason to
think one style is better than another or has some added value over another. People transition from one style to another for all types of reasons and who cares. I personally look at thru hikers gear choices to see if I can incorporate some ideas to get lighter, but even with that I have my own comfort level.
We can all learn from each other with our differing styles and experiences. That's why the forums are here .
Oh, and I wear Hoka One Ones-
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Re: Thru-hiker Envy

Postby Snowtrout » Fri Jul 08, 2016 2:32 pm

After just returning from another part of the JMT, Hobbes top ten list is dead on but he forgot the solar chargers attached to the top or hanging off the back of their packs. :nod:

But it also brings up a new perspective. From what I have seen and experienced over the past three weeks, what I will call the "new generation hikers" (typically 20 somethings) are simply clones....they are all doing the same exact things. Doing the JMT or PCT is the cool thing to do right now, so they want to be out there doing it. They google search what gear they need to buy and buy it (Hobbes top 10 list). Most I have talked to, never tested their gear on a pre-trip and have no other experience with other types of gear. They know nothing besides what someone else told them. The biggest issue I saw though, was the lack of knowledge about general backpacking, lack of respect for others privacy when choosing campsites (had one 18 yo camp 20 feet from our tent when there were 15 other sites available), and dependence on technology (why can't I get a signal on top of the pass??). ](*,)

Maybe all the negativity is from the fact that most on here learned about backpacking from their parents, friends or learned from experience and have a hard time understanding the "I read it on the internet" mentality. The knowledge was not earned but freely given.

Regardless, I will say I am soured by my JMT experience and will try to stay away from that trail. Makes me appreciate the wilderness areas between Yosemite and SEKI and west of the JMT even more.
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Re: Thru-hiker Envy

Postby longri » Fri Jul 08, 2016 3:15 pm

That's just how a lot of people are nowadays, especially beginners. With the internet and the ubiquity of gear it's so much easier to jump into the middle than it used to be. So it's not really the act of hiking something like the JMT that results in that sort of behavior, it's just where you'll find more of it. It's not limited to the most popular trails. I've encountered it, albeit with less frequency, just about everywhere.

And I tried the Hoka One Ones. They were crazy bouncy funky things that I couldn't wait to get off of my feet. :-)
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