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Backcountry Travel - Part 1


Many people here envision scenarios where they may be forced to put on a pack and take a long walk. Over the past decade and a half I have walked well over 20,000 miles with a pack on my back for both work and pleasure. I have also given lectures, advice and taught backpacking courses for hundreds of folks. So I thought I would start a thread where we can share tips and advice on long distance trekking.


Yes everyone here knows how to walk. But walking for 10, 20, 30 miles a day for days, weeks, months on end without running your body into the ground takes a certain amount of skill, the right gear, a little luck, and most importantly the right mindset.


When I hiked the AT in the mid 90s, it was estimated that only 1 out of every 10 people who started the trail made it all the way to the end. I saw people who quit on the approach trail before even making it to the start of the trail. These are folks who dreamed of doing this for years, even decades. Folks who took the brave first step of chasing their dream (something most folks never do). Yet despite their bravery they gave up when faced with their first obstacle.


Most of these folks who dropped out on the first day had no experience or real clue of what they were in for. But experience was not the deciding factor for success on the trail. The majority of experienced outdoors folks that I ran into on the early parts of the trail also ended up quitting in the weeks to months ahead.


I was certainly not experienced. I had read what I could and talked to a thruhiker from the 70s who gave me some good advice as well as some very outdated advice. But I had only been on a backpacking trip once in my life. I barely knew how to work my camp stove. My pack was way too heavy and fit me very poorly. I was sick for a month before I started and had not done any training. Yet I managed to stumble and bumble my way along the trail for over 2000 miles to the end.


I believe my success came partly from my inexperience. I was open to new ideas and incorporated new ideas that worked and quickly gave up equipment and hiking styles that did not. Due to early physical challenges (tendinitis in my knees and a sprained ankle) I learned to listen to my body and not push it beyond its limits. I was stubborn, refusing to quit on a bad day and not having any urge to do so on a good day. But mostly, I learned to muddle through the grind while keeping my senses and mind open to those fleetingly sublime moments that the universe presents you with on a daily basis.


Self knowledge and adaptability are keys to success in most endeavors. Long walking is no exception. But being in shape and having the right equipment is a big bonus. I will post my thruhiking equipment list and more thoughts as time allows.

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