Warren Doyle’s 13 Statements of Wisdom for Hiking the Appalachian Trail

The following is a guest post courtesy of Warren Doyle.  

In case you somehow haven’t heard of him, Warren Doyle has hiked the entirety of the Appalachian Trail more times than any other hiker in history. He set the unofficial speed record in 1973, thru-hiking the trail in 66 days. Since then, Warren Doyle has completed the Appalachian Trail 18 times for a total of 38,000 miles on the Appalachian Trail. Warren is also the founder of the Appalachian Long Distance Hikers Association (ALDHA).

Suffice to say, Warren has some words of wisdom to dispense about hiking the AT, and we’re thrilled to share them with you.

Editors

Warren Doyle’s 13 Statements of Wisdom for Hiking the Appalachian Trail

 

1) Walking the entire Appalachian Trail is not recreation.  It is an education and a job.

2) Walking the entire Appalachian Trail is not ‘going on a hike.’  It is a challenging task – a journey with deeper  ramifications. Are you willing to accept them and learn from them?

3) Don’t fight the Trail.  You have to flow with it.  Be cooperative with the Trail, neither competitive nor combative.

4) Don’t expect the Trail to respect or to be sensitive to your comfort level and desire to control your environment.  In your avoidance of discomfort, you may become more uncomfortable. You can’t make a mountain any less steep; a hot summer afternoon any cooler; a cold morning any warmer; and, daylight any longer.  But you can, actually. How?

5) Time, distance, terrain, weather, and the Trail itself cannot be changed.  You have to change. Don’t waste any of your energy complaining over things you have no control over.  Instead, look at yourself and adapt your mind, heart, body, and soul to the Trail. Remember, you will be a guest in someone else’s house the entire journey.

6) The Trail knows neither prejudice nor discrimination.  Don’t expect any favors from the Trail. The Trail is inherently hard.  Everything has to be earned. The Trail is a trial.

7) Leave your cultural ‘level of comfort’ at home.  Reduce your material wants while concentrating on your physical and spiritual needs.

8) Yes, one can wear one T-shirt the entire journey; you don’t have to take any showers; you can survive on one hot meal a day; one does not need a roof and four walls around them at night; you don’t have to carry a canteen of water with you all the time; and, one can survive on generic macaroni and cheese dinners every evening along with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for breakfast and lunch.

9) It is far better, and less painful, to learn to be a smart hiker rather than a strong hiker.

10) Leave your emotional fat at home as well.  Feel free to laugh, to cry, to feel lonely, to feel afraid, to feel socially irresponsible, to feel foolish, and (most importantly) to feel free.  Relive your childhood and play the GAME of the Trail.  Roll with the punches and learn to laugh in the shadow of adversity.  Be always optimistic – things could always be worse; don’t become mired in the swamp of sorrow.  Don’t blame your discomfort/depression on the Trail or the weather, but look at yourself for not being able to adapt.

11) If your goal is to walk the entire Appalachian Trail, then do it.  People who take shortcuts, (i.e., blue blazes, hitchhike) do so because it usually is shorter, quicker, and/or easier.  So where is the challenge and/or honor in that? We have enough of this in the real world.

12) Expect the worse.  If after one week on the Trail you can say that it is easier than you expected, then you will probably finish your journey.

13) However, we have our own individual temperaments, levels of comfort, and thresholds of pain. If these three areas are congruent with what the Trail requires, you should succeed on your pilgrimage.

Feature image courtesy Stacia Bennett; inline image courtesy Kate Waite.

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Comments 20

  • Jan Swafford : Jan 28th

    I keep reading articles about long-distance hiking and the one thing I have rarely if ever seen, including the above, is anything about nature, beauty, contemplation. Which is the single reason I’ve been hiking for fifty years. The physical part, I submit, is something you deal with for the sake of the spiritual part. When I started hiking in the 60s that was a common goal. Now I wonder if anybody cares about it at all, being in these sublime landscapes. I’ve hiked a lot in Grand Canyon, and these days I find hikers tend to look at it, one of the most stupendous and mind-expanding vistas on Earth, as nothing but a glorified running track. They don’t care about the beauty, don’t care about the vistas of time. Really very sad–and I include your piece in that. Sorry. I hope that sometimes you actually sit down and look around and truly learn something, not only about yourself but also about what’s outside yourself. What we’re looking at in nature is beyond our comprehension, but still it is, in the most profound way, the truth. I’d argue that it’s the closest to the truth we can ever be.

    Reply
    • Craig : Jan 28th

      The picture just above point number one is of Dix, Hough and Macomb in the Adirondacks. They’re nowhere near the Appalachian Trail.

      Reply
    • Randy : Jan 29th

      Agreed I’ve moved over or heard excuse me a lot of times while hiking. Just last November on SK trail to Phantom and out Bright Angel I thought a few times I was going to get ran over. I’m more of a “I’m glad to be here my what beauty guy.” We go through this life only once and I won’t see it all but I’m going to enjoy what I see.

      Reply
    • Early Riser 71 : Jan 29th

      What i love is when pretentious people try to lessen other people’s experiences by telling them what they are doing wrong on THEIR journey, and how are the only ones doing it right. What a ridiculous reply this was. How man thru hikes have you completed? My guess is zero.

      Reply
    • Warren Doyle : Jan 31st

      I agree with the above post. What was published was just one side of my one-page ‘book’ on how to meet your goal of walking the entire AT. This info is specifically task-oriented and
      geared to the philosophical, emotional and psychological aspects of achieving this goal.
      I have a healthy appreciation of the natural beauty of it all and convey this in the programs/talks I give.

      Reply
    • Ed : Apr 14th

      Agreed. Too many people are all about the destination – I need to get to ___ and I have _____ days to to it!

      Enjoy the journey.

      The one consistent theme in every long distance / speed hiker I’ve ever talked to: ” I wish I took more time to enjoy ___.”

      That goes for life too. Stop focusing on the destination. Enjoy the journey. While you can.

      Reply
  • N Trovert, Class of 2012 : Jan 28th

    I ran into Warren Doyle, teaching a class, in Pennsylvania. It was not the highlight of my hike. #legendinhisownmind

    Reply
  • Mary : Jan 29th

    I attended a class Warren taught, and although he didn’t expound on nature, beauty, and contemplation in this article, he did in class. He talked about the “Gifts of the Trail”, and taking the time to enjoy them, giving specific examples and locations along the trail that were his favorites. People sometimes over-romanticize the trail, not realizing how difficult it is, and they are unable to fully enjoy the “gifts of the trail” because of that. By being prepared with the information in this article, people are better able to receive the spirituality and gifts the trail presents.

    Reply
    • JS : Jan 30th

      Again, I’ve been hiking and backpacking for about fifty years in the US and Europe and have spent about four months of my life in Grand Canyon. I’ve never hiked in search of anything but beauty and insight. The physical part I put up with for their sake. All the same, for a proper vision quest you better be in shape. I don’t do many thru-hikes because I’ve talked to many, many through-hikers, mostly on the AT, and on the whole I find they approach it rather like a pain-in-the-ass daily job, which I don’t find inspiring. Testing yourself is certainly a worthwhile thing to do, but since in various ways I do that on a regular basis I don’t feel the need to congratulate myself about it. (In my early hiking years, that testing did have a big impact on my life generally.) Some of those thru-hikers, all the same, were plenty interesting and entertaining people and I remember them fondly. That said, many more of the hikers I encountered in the 70s and 80s were truly involved with nature than the ones I’ve met since. Here’s an example of what I mean, when you’re not obliged to be eating the miles: in Grand Canyon I sat down once, don’t remember where it was, quite beat after schlepping twelve or fifteen miles, and realized that I was leaning on a little crack that was one of the Unconformities in the Canyon, where whole layers had eroded away. It struck me that between my butt and my shoulders was about ten million missing years. I spent quite a while thinking about that. Could not get my mind around it, of course, but the effort was memorable.

      Reply
    • js : Jan 30th

      Glad to hear it. I agree about over-romanticizing in the sense that most people set out on first hikes with no idea of how physically tough it is, even just to get up a decent-sized mountain. As one friend put it to me: “I really and truly thought I was going to die.” I shared a tent platform with a guy in his 20s a few years ago in New Hampshire and he was exhausted, said his vision quest was a bust. I was fifty years older and sixty pounds heavier than him and not in top shape, but I was having a splendid time because I know what to expect and how to do it. I’m a finesse hiker, not a strength one, and it took me years to learn the first secret of finesse: you can always walk slower. Then you can truly take in the gifts of the trail, which are boundless.

      Reply
      • js : Jan 30th

        And by the way, I think Doyle’s points are wise and good. I just wish they had included more about the gifts. I certainly don’t blame him for being a professional outdoors person and guru. But I browse trail reports a lot, and rarely do I read about anything but effort, technique, misery, and the like, practically never about the glories outside us if we just look and think. So yeah, I’m not a fan of hiking as primarily a way to get in shape, test yourself and so on, and boast about it. If you want to get in shape, it’s a lot more efficient to run down a street and lift some weights. Getting in shape hiking as icing on the cake, I’m all for that. Anyway we’re talking conflicting philosophies here, which is fine. I hope some of the hikers who are indifferent to nature will still be involved in preservation efforts, because that’s of tremendous importance. I camped below Yuma Point in Grand Canyon a few years ago. It’s often called the most beautiful campsite in the Canyon. It’s also just outside the helicopter fly zone and I may has well have been sitting next to an airport: nonstop howling copters all day long. That’s what we all need to be fighting.

        Reply
        • Warren Doyle : Jan 31st

          I am not a ‘professional outdoors person’. I organized ten expeditions up the entire trail (between 1975 and 2017). They were labors of love in the truest sense of the word.
          For eight of the expeditions, I had a job in education that was not connected to my doing the expeditions. The last two expeditions, I was retired. I was never paid a salary, wage, or received any fringe benefits for my AT expedition organizing/leading.

          Reply
    • Bonnie : Jan 30th

      Mary…you are correct. Your comments perfectly describe what Warren Doyle has to offer.

      Reply
  • Ed : Jan 29th

    Mr. Doyle has long been a self-promoting blowhard and this hot garbage does nothing to alter that.

    Regarding:
    1. “Walking the entire Appalachian Trail is not recreation. It is an education and a job.” While walking the AT may well qualify as an education, it is hardly a job. It is entirely elective. (And as a sign at my friend Hugh’s hiker joint near the AT read: “If you ain’t having fun, get the hell off the Trail.”). A job is getting up every day to earn money so that one may earn money to live and, perhaps, hike. But hiking is not a job, it is the very definition of recreation: “activity done for enjoyment when one is not working.” See also my friend Hugh’s aforementioned comment.

    2, 4-7. No kidding, Sherlock.

    3. “Be cooperative with the Trail, neither competitive nor combative.” This from someone who set an AT speed record. (Which is fine, hike your own hike, but don’t pretend that wasn’t a competitive undertaking.)

    8. Sure, but some can’t or don’t want to do that. Hike your own hike.

    9. Oooooh, deep.

    10. OK.

    11. “People who take shortcuts, (i.e., blue blazes, hitchhike) do so because it usually is shorter, quicker, and/or easier.” And many take alternate routes (blue blazes, hitchhike, etc.) because they want to walk the path less traveled (quite often more difficult), or because they don’t have time or resources to hike the AT proper, or because they just want to get away from arrogant know-it-alls in shelters endlessly lecturing about how to hike. Regardless of their motives, anyone taking alternate routes are quite likely hiking their own hike. If they take pleasure from that (or even if they don’t), how does it affect you?

    12. OK, but managing expectations isn’t exactly revealed truth.

    13. Heavy, man.

    Reply
  • Tracy : Jan 29th

    As always, Warren Doyle is a polarizing person. Almost everyone either loves him or hates him; there doesn’t seem to be any middle ground. I attended his Appalachian Trail Institute and learned much. I also choose to ignore some of his advice when I hike. Take what you consider good, leave what you consider bad, and hike your own hike. Happy hiking!

    Reply
  • Jeff A : Feb 1st

    These comments are disturbing. I hope I don’t meet people like this on the trail. It appears that the nasty side of Twitter and social media is now spilling over into useful and helpful internet sites like this one. The guy is trying to help people prepare for a long distance through hike and he’s attacked like he’s a politician. As a through hiker wannabe leaving in a few short weeks, I printed this list and plan to read it many times as I prepare. I can only admire a guy who has hiked the trail repeatedly. All of us romanticize our vision of what it will be like, and that’s OK or we wouldn’t do it it all. But a little reality is good too. Maybe a little more kinder and gentler commentary would be a better approach for the hiking community.

    Reply
    • CNG : Feb 2nd

      I was thinking the exact same thing…just have to remember all kinds of personalities will be out there, walk past the ones that don’t set well.

      Reply
    • Warren Doyle : Feb 2nd

      Jeff A., I appreciate your analysis and sentiments. I hope you reach the place you wanted to get to when you started your journey.

      Reply
  • Matt Foster : Feb 1st

    Good Stuff. Obviously, people will have different opinions/reasons for going hiking. What I take away from this post, is to just enjoy what nature has to offer (which people don’t realize, is a lot). Hike your own hike is so simple, yet so true. The outdoors – and people who promote it – will make you a better person in the long run.

    Reply
  • John Lynch : Apr 17th

    I have to agree with most of Warren Doyle’s points. However, I would add a couple more. 14. Hike your own hike. Listen to other hikers respectfully, but don’t feel pressured. 15. No one but your mother cares how many miles you hike.

    Reply

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