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  • Saturday, February 23, 2013

    Q&A: Hiking With Visitors

    (Photo: My sisters on the Appalachian Trail)
    Sorry it has taken me so long to post my next Q&A with Victor. I need to hurry because, him and his friends will begin their thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail very soon. Please join me in following their progress at BackpackingAT.com.

    I've been working to save money for my next big hike, but right now I'm sitting in a fast food joint eating lunch, so I'm ready to answer another question. I'm really enjoying these posts. I hope Victor is getting as much out of them as I am.

    Hiking with Visitors on the Appalachian Trail

    Victor: It's got to be soooo relieving when you're in the middle of a thru-hike and see family or friends along the way. Now, what if these people joined you for a weekend? Would you imagine this would slow you down immensely or actually be detrimental to the hike overall?

    Me: It probably will slow you down, but that's alright. Especially if you have them visit you early in your trip, so you have plenty of time to make up lost miles.

    (Photo: One of my sisters trying to get a break by
    jumping on my other sister's back. It didn't work out.)
    Once you've been on the trail for a few weeks, you might be surprised by how many miles you can cover in a day. If you read my older blog posts, you’ll see I was hiking about 8-12 miles a day on my first trips. It makes me smile when I read one of my old journal entries that says, "hiked 14 miles, I'm beat," or "16 miles today! New personal best!" On the AT, my longest day was 32 miles and some hikers will do more than that.

    Someone who hasn't been on a trail this much, probably won't be able to keep up.

    The good news is, the trail is really long, so it's easy to make up for lost miles. Every once in a while, calculate how many miles you'll need to hike per day to finish by your deadline. It's good to know what that number is, so you don’t have to stress about short days or zero days.

    You may have already figured out what "zero days" are, but just in case someone reading has never heard of it, it's what long-distance backpackers call a "day off." It doesn't necessarily mean you didn't hike at all, it just means you made no forward progress on that day.

    For your five month deadline, you'll have to average just under 14.5 miles per day. If done early in your hike, you could take a week of zero days and your daily average will only need to increase by about a mile. And I promise, by the time you're halfway through your hike, 15 miles will seem like a short day.

    Two of my sisters and my brother-in-law visited me on the AT in Shenandoah National Park. They didn't hike overnight, but we hiked 8 miles together on the second day and I only hiked half days on the days they arrived and left.

    At that time, I needed to average 16 miles per day to finish by my deadline (i.e. winter). Their visit probably put me about 16-18 miles behind schedule, but I didn't worry about it, because my normal days were between 16-24 miles at that point. I think I was back on schedule in about three or four days.

    I enjoyed the time with my family, we always have a lot of laughs, and I think it made them feel better to know I was safe out there, so it would have been worth it even if it was difficult to get back on schedule. I mean, they bought me pizza, a meal at an all-you-can-eat Japanese grill, and two nights in a hotel. That might seem great now, but wait until you're on the trail for a few months, stuff like that has the potential to make you weep.

    Potential Downside

    As far as it being detrimental to your hike, it's unlikely if the visits don't take place too close to the end, but a couple other potential issues come to mind.

    If someone in your group is thinking about going home, a visit could make the decision to keep hiking a lot harder. Remember only about 1 in 5 who attempt the hike will finish, and you have a group of 4. Even though a visit from friends or family back home could alleviate some feelings of homesickness, it also has the potential to intensify them. And with there being an easy ride home, it could make getting off the trail very tempting.

    Another potential downside depends on the kind of experience you’re looking for. I've talked to a lot of long-distance hikers on the trail. Some are there to temporarily escape their normal life. When talking about a visit from people back home, a thru-hiker once said, being on the trail was the best time of his life, but the visit made him feel like he never left home. For him, that was a bad thing. It applied some brakes to the personal progress he had made on the trail.

    So, it depends on what you're wanting to get out of your hike. Maybe you want to step out of your normal life and experience something new. That may include spending a few months away from everything normal, including your friends and family. Nothing wrong with that. And even if your intentions are not to escape anything, after a few months (which can feel like a year out there), you may begin to really love your new lifestyle. Your whole outlook on life could change. You might slowly find yourself morphing into a slightly different person. You may not even realize it until you see people from your "normal life." In other words, don't be surprised if a visit sort of throws your new mindset off the rails a bit.

    If you do have visitors, I have one final piece of advice...

    Give them the closest thing you can to the real AT experience. I assume these visitors will have been following your progress on your blog. They will want to know what life has been like on the AT. In a few short days, it will not be possible to give them the exact experience of months on a trail, but you can give them a sample. Have them stay in a shelter to meet other hikers, and if there is enough time, maybe even hitch into a town so they can see what hitching for a resupply is like.

    They may love it or hate it, but at least they will be able to relate when you tell them stories later. And you will be telling them stories for the rest of their lives. Even if they've made it clear they are tired of them, you'll tell them anyway. Trust me. I still find myself saying, "when I was on the trail..." almost every day.

    More Q&As with Victor:

    Bugs and other Pests on the Appalachian Trail
    Weather and Morale on the Appalachian Trail
    Shelters Vs. Tents on the Appalachian Trail
    Knives on the Appalachian Trail
    Online Mail Drops on the Appalachian Trail

    Creative Commons License
    A Backpacker's Life List by Ryan Grayson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.