Friday, July 15, 2016

What is a Thru Hike?

It is said a lot in our Hiking Culture, that a Thru Hike is just a six month vacation.  In the most basic sense, this is true, but as I think about it, it is also so much more and sometimes not a vacation at all.

Let's explore some definitions of the word:
1. an extended period of recreation, especially one spent away from home or in traveling.  
2. a period of time that a person spends away from home, school, or business usually in order to relax or travel
3. the number of days or hours per year for which an employer agrees to pay workers while they are not working 
4. a ​period of ​time to ​relax or ​travel for ​pleasure ​instead of doing ​your ​usual ​work or ​school ​activities

Looking at these definitions, the words recreation, relax, pay and pleasure stand out.  Although all of these things are experienced during a Thru Hike (except pay, unless you are real lucky), there are so many other words that come to mind during a long distance hike in the outdoors, such as pain, wetness, hunger, stink, blisters, work, hardship and pain

With the given that a basic Thru Hike is leaving a job or school and spending all of your time hiking all day, for days, weeks and months on end, to achieve a goal of completing a trail in one long undertaking, I would like to explore some of the other possibilities of what a Thru Hike can be.  

Work:  Some hikers say that hiking the trail is like work.  They get up each day, strap on their pack and walk.  That's it.  Menial, arduous, mind numbing and a lot of the time painful.  You may get a day off every once in a while, but if you want to "complete the project", you need to get up each day, strap on your pack and make some miles.  The flaw here is usually this is work without pay, so maybe a better term would be "volunteer".

Deployment: I rolled this one around in my head as I contemplated this article and after a while, pretty much dismissed it, but for some, it can be looked at as just another deployment, especially from the home front.  The differences are, in the military, a deployment is an Order to go here, do this, for this long.  A hiker can approach their hike as a deployment, but in the back of their minds, there is always the option of bringing your deployment to an end at a time of your own choosing.  Not possible in the military world.  

When the first Warrior Hikers, Sean Gobin and Mark Silvers made plans to hike the A.T. after their deployments in Afghanistan to raise money for wounded veterans and made public their plans on a well know A.T. bulletin board named White Blaze, they were told that their detailed schedule, with stops at local VFWs and a firm time frame looked more like a Mission than a Thru Hike.  Well, they ignored the naysayers and accomplished their Mission, pretty much on time and raised a good amount of funds to buy specially equipped vehicles for disabled veterans.  

The Warrior Hike has grown into a "Walk off the War" program now called Warrior Expeditions, where combat veterans can apply to hike (or bike, or canoe) and be sponsored by the Warrior Hike with gear, and other help to get them out on the trail (or path or water) to walk off the demons that plague them or to just experience nature and the healing it offers.

Pilgrimage: For some, the trial of walking the trail has an almost religious sense to it.  To move along the trail from one end to another becomes their pilgrimage.  There are also some who will preach along the way, but most, just show their good intentions with their actions.  The faith that they have in a higher being, gives them the strength to continue along, through the pain and hardship, until they reach their destination in glory.  

Homeless Unemployed Hiker Adventure:  A pretty simple concept.  Quitting (or ending, or suspending) your job and hitting the trail.  Using your saved funds (hopefully you have saved some funds) to keep you going as you work your way up the trail.  Your home is your tent or shelter or hammock.  You live each day to its fullest, with no other obligations other than doing your miles, eating what food you have and continuing along on your hike. Total and complete freedom.

There are a few other types that I won't go into, as they pretty much explain themselves.  The Hiker for (insert your favorite charity here), The GoFundMe Hiker and the "I'm really not doing a Thru Hike, but I will move along the trail and party my ass off until I run out of money" Hiker.  

So in summary, a Thru Hike (or any long distance hike) can be a vacation.  It can be work or a pilgrimage.  It can be nothing more than a walkabout of homelessness and unemployment, but it will always be something special, to yourself and to others who know.  An Adventure of a Lifetime. 

I don't think we fit into any one category mentioned above.  We can approach it as work (and my pension is money coming in, which is good) and our pilgrimage that I call the Quest of Pamola will give us the motivation we need, but for the most part we will just be homeless, smelly hikers, having the adventure of our lifetimes and hopefully finding something each day to bring us joy and happiness, even as our pains work against us. Are we up to the challenge?  I surely hope so.  


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