In the End, My Hike Is My Own
My friends and I started at Springer Mountain, like most NOBO hikers this year. We stood around and chatted those first few nights, meeting each other, not knowing we would become a trail family. Not knowing who would drop out, not knowing what was ahead.
Like other hikers, we began to adopt the acronyms, mantras, and sayings of the Appalachian Trail:
“See you down the trail.”
“Zero day. Nero day.”
And of course,
“Hike your own hike.” Or HYOH
As we got to know each other, and shared our perspectives, we used this phrase in a genuinely friendly manner. It signified that each hiker will do as she or he pleases. A hiker will choose a pace, take a zero, get rid of a piece of gear, or slack pack — because the hike is their own.
Soon the phrase adopted a more sarcastic tone. We’d throw it around during small conversations as a way of brushing off a comment. It began to mean, in a playful way, “Hey, what you’re saying is pretty funny because it’s ridiculous and I don’t agree with it, but I know that doesn’t matter in the big picture. So do your own thing.” Our poking fun at each other using this phrase spoke more to the level of friendship we had developed than a critique of the phrase.
This playful use of HYOH began to uncover the darker tone to the phrase. I noticed my friends getting in conversations with other hikers that they did not know as comfortably. The words became a way to end a conversation that was beginning to become frustrating, and my friends did not want to continue. When you meet the gear-head that keeps spitting numbers at you and your sleeping bag and why you should have gotten the ZPacks bag they have and not the Enlightened Equipment quilt. “Hey man, hike your own hike! I love my bag.” A polite and succinct way to ease out of a tedious conversation, or potential argument.
My hiking friends came to a loose agreement that HYOH began to feel like a way to say “shut up.” We stopped throwing it around.
Almost two months into the thru-hike, I hardly hear this phrase used positively. Perhaps I’ve developed an ear for this peculiar, nuanced phrase and miss the encouraging words. I hope that’s the case. But I’ll continue. I rarely hear these words uttered with a genuine respect for how another hiker is choosing to walk their walk.
Truthfully, I hear the phrase rarely at all. I think of it often. It pops into my mind when my hiking buddy complains about slack packers. He’ll go on rambling about the negative aspects of choosing to slack pack. HYOH pops up in my head and I wonder what the slack packers have to do with his hike at all. Slack packers don’t undermine his hike. Whether or not every single other hiker slack packed or not, I will still finish. Slack packers don’t take away any of his miles, his steps, his memories, or his accomplishments.
In Hiawassee, Ga., I decided to skip ahead 16 miles because I wasn’t going to make a rendezvous point with my incredibly supportive parents. The delay came from an unexpected zero day, due to weather and a small injury to my dog, Sadie. They drove from home to pick up Sadie and keep her while I hiked through the Smoky Mountains . I hiked those miles, and the entire Springer to Pearisburg section in 2012. Despite that, I agonized over the decision. Not because I didn’t want to miss those miles. I knew that I needed to skip them to keep the rest of my hiking schedule intact but I felt the pressure of an “unpure” thru-hike. Those voices in my head weren’t my own, they belonged to the sense that everyone else was watching my hike, and perhaps judging.
We are in this hike together, to some extent, but each of us out here is on a singular journey. We impact each others’ hikes through conversation, friendship, memories, tips, help in times of need, but at the end of each day every hiker has brought him or herself to a new place, independently.
HYOH is an old mantra of the trail. It’s nothing new, and what I’ve noticed may not be fresh news either. The reason the words have stuck around are because they are true. They are true within each hiker. I think that is where they live most fully. These words mean the most when I say them to myself. They give me confidence in my choices: when I don’t push for the 20-mile day when my friends are blazing ahead. When I decide to zero, or stop for an extended lunch just because a swimming hole looks inviting.
No matter how much it seems that other hikers’ decisions put pressure you — they have nothing to do with you. They have nothing to do with me. My hike is unaffected. The only person affecting my hike is me. I am hiking my own hike.
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