The Perils of Not Hiking Alone
A lot of people get worked up about thru-hikers going solo. There are multiple articles and videos about thru-hiking solo and past hikers are always encouraging people that they can do it alone. One of the first questions I get when I tell people that I’m doing the AT is: “You’re not going alone, are you?” But where’s the worry for hikers thru-hiking with someone else? For the poor souls that will have a constant companion for 2,200 miles?
I jest, but only a little.
Don’t get me wrong; those articles on solo hiking are warranted. It’s a nerve-racking challenge already and taking it on alone can only escalate that. I respect those going alone. But I’m a little jealous of them also. Thru-hiking seems to go hand-in-hand with self-growth and freedom; hiking with another person contests that.
I’m not super loner girl. Meeting people and forming a tramily is something that I’m very much looking forward to. And I love hiking and going for weekend backpacking trips with friends or family.
But taking on an entire thru-hike with another person has its own challenges. It has its upsides for sure, but it has its downsides too. Their bad days become your bad days. And you most certainly won’t always want/need the same things at the same time. On some level your freedom is hindered.
Twenty Years Should do It
I’ll be hiking with one of my best friends of nearly 20 years. More of a brother than a friend (proven by the fact that we argue like siblings), Danny, though not my first Connecticut friend, is the one I’ve had the longest since moving here. We survived band camp together as pimply faced dweebs so we can totally tackle the AT. I am excited to hike with Dan, but I also know we need to find a balance to ensure our joint success.
1) Know Each Other’s Goals
In my opinion, this is the most important thing hikers must do before taking on a thru-hike together. Yes, Danny and I are hiking the trail together. But we each came upon this dream separately and have our own ideas of what we want to get out of it. Understanding the other person’s goals ahead of time is imperative.
Last year I saw an Instagram post from a hiker who hit McAfee Knob in appalling weather. She couldn’t see a thing. She decided to cut her miles short that day, head into town, and wait for the next day so she could go back to McAfee Knob and actually see it. I would do that also, but cutting my miles short that day would mean that Danny is cutting his miles short too. Surprising him with that information, day of, on McAfee Knob, that I’m not budging, while he thought we’d be going another ten miles, is just asking for a fight. We’ll share our separate goals to avoid surprises and resulting fights.
2) Understand that We’re Going to Drive Each Other Crazy
Like really, really crazy. You can plan and try to prevent all you want but it’s inevitable. That much time with the same person who has different ideas about the trail while facing difficult and stressful situations will definitely result in some neck-wringing fantasies. We both understand this. But this is the benefit of 20 years and what I meant when I said we fight like siblings. We bicker and then shake it off and forget about it.
3) Strengths and Weaknesses
Learning a hiking partner’s strengths and weaknesses takes a lot of time. Danny and I have been on several hiking and backpacking trips together. We’ve learned that I should lead on the ascents and Danny should lead on the descents. Danny can also tell when I’m getting hangry from about a mile away, and will force me to eat. Things like this can be learned on the trail but it’s also comforting to have a solid base already.
4) Prepare for Sickness/Injury/Etc.
It’s important to discuss what happens if one person gets sick or injured. The worst time to try to figure it out is when someone is lying on the trail with a broken leg.
A few scenarios worth discussing:
- Hike-ending injury.
- Short-term injury.
- At home emergencies.
Hiking with someone does have some major upsides:
- Morale booster on bad days.
- Someone to share small wins with along the way.
- Shared gear. Danny and I are sharing very little, actually. Some hiking partners can share tents but Danny and I are not those people. We each have our own tent and water filter but we will share a stove and AT guide.
- Someone who doesn’t get sick of you talking about the trail incessantly.
Our Biggest Challenges
Danny and I are pretty successful hiking buddies but this is where I anticipate we’ll struggle:
- Time goals. I look forward to experiencing and exploring. Danny is a little more pressed for time for work reasons. Balancing my “Let’s see where the trail takes us” mentality with Danny’s time goals is going to be tough.
- The frequency in which we actually hike together. I’d be OK with hiking alone for a day and meeting up at the same camp spot at night. Danny would rather stay within a quarter mile of each other. For better or worse, we’re taking a “wing it” approach to this one.
Until next time!
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