“We’re right on schedule, holding a line composed of principles I’ve carefully considered: I’ll run my own race and ignore everyone else. This time I’ll look ahead, never behind, concentrate on one mile at a time.” –Debbie Molderow, Iditarod Competitor (from “Fast into the Night”)
“Hike your own hike.” HYOH is a commonly used phrase among the long-distance backpacking community. At first glance, this appears to be a “duh” comment. Of COURSE, I will hike my own hike. I can’t hike for someone else, can I?
Over time, I realize this phrase is more complicated that it seems. Every hiker we meet along the trail has different ideas of what makes the ideal backpacking adventure. Comparing gear, food, and hiking styles is a common topic of conversation in the evenings. And most hikers hold strong opinions about these ideas!
Friends and family talk about how “brave” we are to set off on an outdoor adventure, thinking of the physical challenges. To be successful, we must also be brave enough to figure out what we personally want and need out of our hike. We need to “hike our own hike” in all areas of our trip: target weight to carry, type of food to eat, daily distance goals, hiking style (slow, fast, breaks, few breaks), where to stop at night. (*see our personal ideals below)
Backpacking is an individual adventure. (Yes, I hike with my teen daughter. I love the time together, but considering the wants and needs of TWO people is always harder than “going it alone.” In our case, I’m the one that does most of the decision-making and planning.) I love to gather information and collect stories from others on what has worked (or not worked) for them. I enjoy sifting through what I find to figure out what would work best for ME. Asking for advice can be good, but eventually each individual must HYOH.
I’m a member of a number of online groups for long-distance hikers. I love the encouragement, the camaraderie, the commiseration, and the information that is shared. I do, however, have a pet peeve in these groups: it irritates me when someone asks others to tell them which XYZ they should buy or which section of the trail they should hike. What? How can ANYONE else decide what is best for someone else? It’s great to ask for information, but asking what piece of gear others use and why they love it (or hate it) or asking which section of trail others most enjoyed hiking in a specific season would be more useful questions. No one can decide what will work best for others, they can only share what works well for their own wants and needs. Then each individual must step out and make their own personal decisions.
The reality is that if a hiker follows the directions of others and buys the “perfect” gear and sets off to hike the “best” section of trail, they might find that the backpack rubs their shoulders raw, they dread every attempt to put up a tent that takes an engineering degree to successfully set up, their ankles and knees ache from the wrong boots for their foot shape and hiking style, and the trail is a miserable experience of walking along cliff edges and clambering up huge rock faces for a person afraid of heights.
C’mon folks, HYOH means you need to gather information and personalize it for YOUR perfect hike at YOUR favorite time of year on YOUR preferred terrain!
* Here are things that worked well for us on our 6 week backpacking adventure on the AT last fall. Remember, gather information from many sources and decide what you think will work best for YOU as you “Hike Your Own Hike!” (And if you have posted your own lists online, please post a link below in the comment section. I would love to see the choices you made for your backpacking adventure…)
Target Weight to carry: 30 pounds each, including food and water
Our Gear: I will be writing an update on our gear list before we return to the AT later this spring. You can read my blog post HERE about choosing gear for our first backpacking adventure last fall. The gear list for that initial trip can be found on Trail Journals HERE
Type of Food: Breakfast, lunch, and snacks were all easy to grab cold foods. We enjoyed hot chocolate/tea for breakfast and after supper. Our main meal in camp was made by adding hot water to dehydrated food then stirring in a pouch of tuna or chicken. You can read about our resupply routines HERE.
Daily Distance Goals: because we aren’t in good shape, we started our hike in the fall with 5-6 mile days. We were quite proud of the couple of times that we managed to push ourselves and cover 9 miles in one day! When we head out this spring, we will start slowly with 5-6 mile days but are aiming for regularly completing 9-10 miles.
Hiking Style: We tend to be slow hikers, wanting to notice and enjoy our surroundings along the trail. Both of us prefer to take short breaks every hour or so: just long enough to sit on a boulder, take off our packs, find another snack, and get back to walking. Before we started our trek, I envisioned a leisurely lunch break with time to sketch the scenery and write in our journals. The reality for us was that longer breaks led to muscles stiffening up which made it hard to force ourselves to get moving again!
Nightly Stopping Places: We aimed for shelters, preferring the social setting and the dry roof. Often shelters are farther apart than our daily distance goals, so we planned in advance where we wanted to camp that night. We were flexible about when and where to take “zero days” (sleeping two nights in one location, resting on the day between) but location of where to sleep and where to resupply were planned ahead. I wrote a blog post about this topic HERE.