But after a planned 200-mile section on the AT (Appalachian Trail) which ended at mile 162 due to a stress fracture, I’ve realized thru hiking isn’t for me.
As much as I love the sweet tiredness that overcomes me as the sun sets after a day of pounding out miles, I love the simple joy of just being in the outdoors the most. For me, a long backpacking adventure allows me to be fully immersed in our natural world, and I want time to relish it while I’m there… noticing the way the light plays on the ground as it is filtered through the leaves… listening to the songs of birds, and waterfalls, and trees rubbing against each other in the wind… Simple pleasures like basking in the sun at the edge of a cliff with birds soaring both above and below, fill my soul with peace.
To complete a hike of more than 2,000 miles in one season is not “A Walk in the Woods,” as Bill Bryson discovered. It’s day after day of starting before the sun is fully up, grinding out an average of somewhere around 20-25 miles a day to reach the plot of ground you plan to sleep on that night, crawling into your hammock before it’s dark enough to need your headlamp, and then getting up the next day to do it again. And again. And again…
Completing a long thru hike like the AT or the PCT requires a physical and mental toughness for which I have tremendous admiration and respect. And I still love to backpack trails that are long enough to strip away all those things that consume my everyday life and just get down to basic essentials: Where will I sleep tonight? Where is the next water source? And Do I have enough food? But I want to do that at a pace that lets me take time to bask in “tree aura”, to stop and admire a tiny blue forget-me-not beside the trail, and to search out the modest little warbler whose melody is enchanting me from the tree canopy.
I still love the invigorating challenge of long hikes through tough sections… just in smaller doses.