One of the most common questions I get asked is why I choose to go on long hikes. I’ve been pondering that very question since I finished and below I’ve set out why I love long distance or Thru Hiking and why you should consider getting into this amazing pass time as well.
A few years ago I was looking for an extended holiday. At that stage I had spent 4 years as an Engineer and wanted to not only get away but also do something that I’ll learn from and grow as a person. I decided that spending months on end Thru Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail would tick off so many of the boxes I was looking to achieve from this adventure.
- Lean to enjoy things by myself ✓
- Meet and interact with amazing people ✓
- Provide physical and mental challenges that can create personal growth ✓
- Thru Hiking is cheap ✓
- Spend significant time outside in nature and live a minimalist lifestyle as a modern day pilgrimage ✓
1. Lean to enjoy things by myself
This is such a huge aspect of personal growth that people in today’s society do not learn. By doing things that we enjoy by ourselves, it opens up a world of possibilities. Without this skill you might miss out on a lot of opportunities while you are waiting for someone to accompany you.
Being able to take that leap of faith and start the PCT alone was an amazing experience for me. I was entering the unknown and found myself eager for the opportunity.
I found it even more interesting on lesser traveled paths, like the Hayduke Trail, where I went up to 5 days without seeing another person. It was a haunting and exhilarating experience knowing I was solely responsible for every decision that I made and my attitude in some challenging situations.
2. Meet and interact with amazing people
I have to say that the Thru Hiking community is awesome! I’ve never met a nicer bunch of people. Fellow hikers come from around the world and easily become lifelong friends. It’s the shared experiences of hardship which has a way of allowing people to open up and share their true self and connect with others.
The trail opens up the opportunity to meet lots of people and I realised how kind, thoughtful and generous people can be to a stranger. In addition to hikers, there are the interactions with the local community. This can be in the form of Trail Magic; from leaving some water on the side of the road to being invited back to their house for dinner, a shower and a bed for the night. These people are stunning individuals.
On this same note, getting out into these small trail towns provides the opportunity to experience a country’s culture which a person is not able to do in the same way in a major city or a classic tourist destination, because of tourist facade or disconnect with the locals.
3. Provide physical and mental challenges that can create personal growth
Going on adventures raises your tolerance for uncertainty and challenges your comfort zone for in Thru Hiking there is no shortage of adventure and uncertainty. Pushing boundaries brings personal growth and understanding.
There are so many questions that need answering on a Thru Hike; can I walk a marathon a day, everyday, for months on end; can I sleep on the ground every night; can I enjoy being hot, sweaty and uncomfortable or cold and wet? What do I want verses what do I need.
There are so many obstacles that are thrown at you on any long distance trip. Facing and overcoming that injury or 3 days of solid rain builds up an ability to not only cope but thrive with hardship. As the Cam “Swami” Honan put it;
“Once I have made the decision to head out into the boonies, everything that happens after that is a byproduct of my original choice. It’s all on me. The process of accepting full responsibility for all of your choices is the first step in what I refer to as the “Three A’s” – Accept, Adapt and Appreciate – of wilderness travel, a set of principles that have collectively represented one of the cornerstones of all my backcountry trips:”
4. Thru Hiking is cheap
There is no two ways about it, Thru Hiking is one of the best value for money travel options out there. For around $5-6k (~$1,000 a month), it becomes financially feasible to take the summer off work and go hiking.
5. Spend significant time outside in nature and live a minimalist lifestyle as a modern day pilgrimage
A Thru Hiker has started to show signs of becoming the modern equivalent of a pilgrim. They are on a specific journey towards a far off destination, and along the way meet and get aided by the local communities that are passed through. It is an awakening of sorts, and a way of seeing the best of people, getting to know people of a different culture or world views, and the time to reflect inwardly.
There have been numerous medical studies documenting the benefits of being outside and exercise, from improving cognitive ability to resetting the internal body clock. But the other advantage of an extended time in nature while Thru Hiking is you have to carry everything on your back. This forces every hiker to honestly determine what they want to take, and this pressure to take less gives us the means to break from and re-evaluate the consumer and possession oriented society that we have grown up in.