Saturday, December 10, 2011

Am I going to hike alone? Really? Am I crazy?! (Part One)

Over time I plan to address common questions I receive and answer them once and for all, peremptorily, and with zero doubt. Err, I mean, I'll do my best and try to keep it short.

Let me take the third question first. Yes, I am crazy. That's why I'm hiking 2184 miles. I'm just going to take my craziness as a given and move on.

First of all, let me explain what I mean when I say 'hike alone.' I have not made a commitment to any individual to hike the entire trail with said individual. That sounded like some legalese, right? Sorry. But there is a distinction to be made. I have a couple friends with whom I may start the trail. And we may stick together for a few days, a few weeks, or even the whole trip. I don't know. At this stage I'm not sure about my own hike. Will I always go for twenty mile days or will fifteen be enough? Will I want to dawdle here and there? Am I going to skip the towns as much as feasible? Or will I crave a hot shower and meal?
The author backpacking in Virginia in winter.

The colloquial wisdom is to plan decently well and then throw that plan out the window as soon as one steps foot on the trail. I'm not going to be quite that drastic because I do have events that I won't miss. For instance, two of my very good friends are getting married (to each other) in May. And they didn't like my suggestion of moving the wedding to better suit me. So I'll be making a two to three day stop to fly out to Denver and make merry before coming back to the trail. I may even trim my beard to not scare the other guests.

All that aside, I will be hiking with people on the trail. I may hike the whole trail with the same people. I very likely will meet people with similar goals and hiking distances and form a loose coalition. The AT has become a fairly common aspiration and approximately six hundred people complete the trail each year. Seventy percent of people who start the trail in Georgia fail to finish. That translates to a heck of a lot of people on the trail in the early days. On popular start dates there may be as many as fifty people starting the same day.

All of this means that while I may not be committed to hiking the whole trail with a specific person from the outset that there are plenty of hikers out there and I don't expect to spend my days in solitude. 


P.S. In part two I'll take a quick look at oft perceived dangers of hiking alone and provide my risk analysis.

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