Inside the Mind of a Triple-Triple Crowner: An Interview with “Lint”
Some people set out on a thru-hike and quit. Others complete the hike and decide it was fun, but not fun enough to do again. Those who can’t stop might hike the Triple Crown, and others—who might just be wired entirely differently—hike the Triple Crown three times (that’s the AT, PCT, and CDT three times each), as well as scattering other thru-hikes in between.
Meet Lint, a triple-Triple Crowner (not a typo), and certified hiking nutcase. With 29,000 miles under his belt, he’s walked the distance of the earth’s equator plus an extra 4,000 miles. Along with this hiking infatuation, he has a mighty good head on his shoulders, and was kind enough to lend us a few minutes of his time to impart well-earned trail wisdom.
Here’s Lint’s insane hiking background, the gear he swears by, and what he thinks about the increasing popularity of thru-hiking.
Tell us a bit about your backpacking resume.
Ice Age Trail 2003, AT 2004, PCT 2006, CDT 2007, Colorado Trail 2008, PCT 2009, AT 2010, CDT 2012, Arizona Trail + PCT 2013, AT 2014, CDT 2015, Florida Trail 2017. All 13 of these were thru hikes.
What do you love about long-distance backpacking?
Starting out on day one, hefting that pack onto my shoulders, and realizing I have months to live as I choose fills me with such euphoria that I cannot express it accurately in words. No clocks, no billboards or traffic jams. My body falls into rhythm with the natural ebb and flow of day into night, and I’m free to walk as far as I wish. There is no boss to report to, no real schedule to follow. No blaring televisions, sirens or car alarms.
A long hike lets me decompress and live in harmony with my surroundings, and I experience the absolute truest form of freedom I can envision. There is something romantically anarchistic about a long hike. There are no police within the community to enforce law, but the community seems to regulate itself (although the sustainability of this practice is becoming more questionable in light of the huge uptick in numbers that we’ve seen on long distance trails in the last few years). Ethics come into play, which are way more important than rules. Rules are what you follow to avoid persecution by authorities, but on trail, there really aren’t figures like that to write tickets, so the quality of a persons character can be measured by the ethicality of their conduct.
For most people, myself included, a thru hike was the first time I was truly free and on my own. Every decision I made was mine to make, and in order to comply with the ethos of my new community I felt compelled to push myself to be a better person… always a work in progress.
How has backpacking changed your life?
Backpacking has opened my eyes to the flow state that comes from long endurance events. “Mobile meditation”, I like to call it. It brings me a deep, resonant sense of peace, and has introduced me to so many amazing humans. My first thru hike really changed my perception of humanity, since I was often welcomed into the homes of complete strangers. It reawakened my faith in our species. Backpacking has also shown me that even an average guy like me can set out and accomplish epic feats of endurance. I was a wrestler from junior high through high school, and had no background in running or hiking, yet today I’ve thru hiked over 29,000 miles. Setting out on long treks through the woods has made me a happier, calmer, more centered individual.
“Coming into town after a week in the desert and tasting that first peach, followed by a decadent bath, causes me to reflect on how good we have it in this country.”
Another noteworthy benefit of backpacking has been my appreciation for things we don’t often even make note of in this culture. A warm shower, access to healthy food, clean clothing. Modern humans are so accustomed to these things that they take them for granted, and often fail to appreciate how wonderful our lives are. Coming into town after a week in the desert and tasting that first peach, followed by a decadent bath, causes me to reflect on how good we have it in this country. After drinking cow tank water on the CDT, it seems like a miracle to turn on a faucet and have pristine water tumbling out into your cup. Backpacking caused me to realize the many blessings I have access to, and that I should always maintain gratitude for.
What was your first thru-hike? What inspired it?
In 2003, I was desperately trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I’d been battling substance abuse issues, a complete disenfranchisement with society, and had just ended a long term relationship. I didn’t know WHAT I wanted to do with my life, but I knew the path I was on was NOT it. In an attempt to bring some clarity into my life, I picked up a copy of Backpacker Magazine and read a short piece about the Ice Age Trail. Since I was living in Wisconsin at the time, I wrote a letter (this was 2003…we wrote letters…with paper!) to the Ice Age Trail Association. I asked for maps for a 50 mile section of trail near where I lived. Not only did they send the maps for that small section, but also a huge fold out map of the entire 1,100 mile Ice Age Trail! I distinctly remember sitting at my kitchen table, surrounded by malt liquor bottles, and envisioning walking the entire trail in one go. I didn’t realize people already did this sort of thing as a pastime, and I fancied that what I was doing was very unique. Remember, this was a few years before I had access to the Internet (yes, I am very old).
I did my best to outfit myself with a combination of gear from an outfitter and Goodwill. Not having any information on how to take on an adventure of this magnitude, I relied on advice from weekend warriors, and subsequently ended up with a 35 pound baseweight (compared to today’s 6.5lbs!). I carried a slew of traditional backpacker gear, including: leather GoreTex boots, multiple pots and pans, an enormous tent, and a backpack that alone weighed as much as my ENTIRE BASE WEIGHT does today. That hike was painful, to put it mildly, and I wish I had access to the wealth of information hikers do today. I had blisters the entire 52 days it took me to finish the route, along with a host of other ailments related to a heavy pack and cumbersome boots. That thru hike of the Ice Age Trail lit a fire in my heart, though, and I knew I had to figure out a more efficient way to hike…and that I’d undoubtedly tackle another long trail.
If forced to choose, what is your favorite thru-hike?
Whichever one I’m currently on.
On Thru-Hiking Culture
In your opinion, what’s the most underrated trail in the country?
The Florida Trail. Before I hiked it, I hadn’t heard many good things about this route. The FT is ignored by most thru hikers because of its numerous road walk sections and lack of elevation change. Having thru hiked it for the first time this year, I now can say it’s a hidden gem, full of unique flora and fauna, and ecosystems I’d never explored before. Also, the ideal time to hike the FT is winter, when the rest of the country is buried under snow!
How has the backpacking scene changed since you started?
At the risk of sounding like a curmudgeonly old man, the introduction of social media has drastically changed the scene. Hikers used to end up on the trail for more personal reasons, whereas today it seems to be a “me too” type of culture arising. In the past, folks had to search for the adventure…and now it’s splashed across their computer screens and made into blockbuster books/movies (for the record, I enjoyed both the book and film version of Wild). It’s bringing a different type of hiker. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing, it’s just…different. I’m learning to appreciate social media, and hope to use my own platform as a source of information and education on how to be an effective steward of the trails. Leading by example, promoting LNT ethics, wearing short shorts and taking funny photos…
One negative impact of social media is how it encourages fraudulent behavior, or “stunting.” In the past, if a hiker decided it was time to quit, they could just go home and only have to admit defeat to a small circle of friends and family. With the rise of social media, well-intentioned hikers proclaim their impending thru hike for the whole world to see. However, if they find the trail too challenging, some hikers will start skipping sections of trail in an effort to continue on (to avoid admitting defeat). This practice distorts the perception of what a thru hike actually is—many hikers who now claim to have “thru hiked” a trail have in reality spent a season walking many miles of it—but not thru hiked it.
“When people do not endure the many difficulties inherent in a given endeavor, but implicitly claim to have done so, it devalues the accomplishments of those who have.”
There’s the added effect of painting an unrealistically easy picture of long-distance backpacking. People who are following these fikers (Fake Hikers) on Instagram see them being “successful” and think they can do it just as easily (and they can do it—it just won’t be as easy as it looks). It’s a nasty cycle, and I have no idea how to stop it.
In the interest of full disclosure, I have had a website about hiking since 2009! I’m not pushing for a moratorium on the sharing of hiker stories via social media, I’m simply trying to stress the importance of conducting oneself with integrity.
What’s one thing that concerns you about the increased interest in thru-hiking?
Trail culture is a microcosm that in many ways is indicative of the rest of society. 99% of people are respectful, kind individuals. It’s that 1% that ruins it for everyone else. On my first thru hike of the PCT in 2006, there were maybe 250 hikers out that year attempting a thru hike, so the 1% didn’t make much impact. Now that 3000+ individuals are setting off in that same narrow corridor, the 1% is a much larger number of disrespectful, harmful hikers. I fear that with the popularity of thru hiking bringing in folks who might not share the same respect for nature, it may cause stress on the environment (and towns) that could ruin it for everyone.
I wasn’t perfect when I started hiking, and had to be taught by the community how to practice Leave No Trace ethics and be an ambassador for my whole community of thru hikers. I made mistakes. The main reason I’m actively promoting myself these days is to set a good example to the newest members of our tribe. I want to help teach folks how to enjoy the long trails without ruining the experience for others. I strongly encourage everyone reading this to get a copy of the book “Soft Paths” and read it like a bible. An education in LNT principles should be mandatory for everyone setting off on the trails. Don’t be part of the crowd that destroys the trails! The only reason these trails are even here for us to enjoy is because those in the past preserved their wild nature for us today!
What’s one thing that excites you about the increased interest in thru-hiking?
More people experiencing the trails means more people willing to stand up for public lands. Our national scenic trails are a very special thing, not many other places in the world have what we do. When growth brings more people, it brings more awareness to how precious and sacred these spaces are. Our nation is currently leaning towards selling off these special areas, which would be a major catastrophe. Our species thrives with access to public lands, and hopefully the increased numbers of hikers brings more passion for thwarting the greedmongers who wish to profit from the sale of these spaces.
What advice would you offer to someone starting their first thru-hike?
Do your research. Attend an ALDHA or ALDHA-West Gathering if you can, so you can see and touch gear in person and meet other experienced hikers. There are many new books out now that break down the fundamentals and can give your skills a huge boost. Liz Thomas, Justin Lichter and Zach Davis all have books on the long trails published. I’ve been toying with the idea of offering hourly advice sessions to individuals via video chat, and I know of a few well-seasoned long distance hikers who offer a similar service.
What’s does your trail diet look like?
Nowadays, I’m much more focused on healthy food choices than in years past. I try to incorporate as much whole food into my diet as possible, and do my best to avoid overly processed, sugary junk. It’s difficult to cut that out entirely, so I just try to make healthy choices when I can. Breakfast is usually dried fruits and nuts, sometimes with oats. Lunch is often couscous, tabouli, or buckwheat groats, to which I add things like dehydrated/freeze dried vegetables and tuna/salmon packets. Coconut butter is now a mainstay in my diet, since its delicious and a great source of fat. I eat it straight from the package! Bars also play a huge roll in my diet, and I pick nutrient dense ones when I can find them. One of my favorite dinners is rice noodles and butternut squash curry with peanut sauce and Sriracha hot sauce. I’ll crumble up my fancy raw crackers on top and be in culinary heaven!
During the winters I eat more fresh foods, but still focus on maintaining peak health by choosing nutritious options. Being sober, I avoid alcohol completely, and feel this has improved my health immensely. I heard an analogy regarding food that I’d like to share; Trying to build a healthy body on garbage food is as unfeasible as building a house on a garbage foundation. Styrofoam packing peanuts are much cheaper than concrete, but any house build on a subpar foundation is sure to crumble. Healthy foods can be expensive, but like concrete, are worth it in the long run. Also, remember that every cell in your body is composed of the foods you put into yourself. Do you want a body composed of Cheez Whiz and McDonalds or roasted root vegetables and grass-fed meat? I’ve gone both routes, and can attest that the latter makes for a much stronger body.
What’s next on your trail agenda?
Possibly the Oregon Desert Trail and/or the Hayduke Trail. The Pacific Northwest Trail is also calling my name. I tend to let my thru hikes happen spontaneously, since after so many of them, I can get everything dialed in quickly. My trail agenda also now includes ultra marathons, and I’ve grown fond of the 100 mile distance. It’s like a mini thru hike!
I’m constantly experimenting with tarps from a variety of manufacturers, and choose my shelter depending on the trail I’m hiking. Mountain Laurel Designs, Gossamer Gear and Yama Mountain Gear all make excellent choices.
Gossamer Gear NightLight Torso pad, or a chopped down 1/4″ pad when I’m really shaving grams.
Altra all the way. Their Lone Peak model has been my preferred shoe since 2012, and I cannot recommend them enough. Obviously there is no “magic shoe” that works for everyone, but there is a reason Altra is as popular as they are. I’ve been an ambassador for them for years now, and never get tired of hearing from hikers how happy they are wearing them. Choosing a light, breathable and foot-shaped shoe is crucial to having a comfortable hike.
General gear advice / philosophy?
Personally, I choose the lightest, most efficient gear I can find. Even after 13 thru hikes, I’m still learning and experimenting with gear. There are so many light weight options these days! I advise people to DO THEIR RESEARCH on thru hiking gear, and learn from the experiences of those who have done this before. It’s crazy to think someone wouldn’t take advantage of the wealth of information out there regarding thru hiking gear. I still meet hikers on trail with enormously heavy packs who have been to my website, yet disregarded all of the advice contained therein. Guys, I don’t do the things I do because they suck.
Obviously, my exceptionally low base weight comes from much experience, and not everyone can jump into a 6.5 pound baseweight before learning how to use everything correctly, but a 10 pound baseweight is easily obtainable for a beginner (assuming a typical summer/fall thru hiking season). Choosing to do your research and purchasing quality gear BEFORE your hike will make the trip much more enjoyable. This may be the trip of a lifetime, and it’s going to be challenging enough without adding to your pain with heavy gear.
Learn more and follow Lint’s journeys here
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