Why you should hike with music

A story, because stories are fun:

I had hiked the first 700 miles of the trail with my 160 GB IPod classic. Then one day I slept on it and in my unconscious recklessness I turned and reset it, deleting all my songs until I could reconnect it with my computer and sync it again. Fortunately, the next day happened to be the first time all trail I was being visited and while my parents did not have my computer she did offer her itty bitty 8 GB iPod nano 3rd generation. This iPod served as my musical replacement and hiking partner for 4 weeks as I waited for my parents to sync my iPod back home and figure out where to send it. First I was bummed, listening to only 8 GBs, in a week and a half I listened to every song on the iPod. Then in a half week I re-listened to all the albums on the iPod that I liked. Then the final act was listening to my favorite album on that iPod and inordinate amount of times.

How many times you ask? I could not say, but I can say for three days straight I listened to the album Begin to Hope by Regina Spektor.

Let’s repeat, in a non-hyperbolic sense, for three days I listened to the same 62 minute album.

I don’t know if I lost a screw or found a new one during three days in New York and New Jersey, but I do know that I found an album that will always remind me of the 4 and a half months I spent on the trail.

Fidelity is the bounciest song in existence and it helped me move when I didn’t want to. I couldn’t tell you what On the Radio is about, it’s a song of gibberish if you ask me, but it’s a beautiful gibberish. And Regina Spektor is always on drugs, and on her albums her music and thoughts are always at ends, but on Begin To Hope, I think they meet at the perfect intersection.

My argument

If you ask any random ten people why they are thru hiking one of them is bound to say something along the lines of “blah blah blah connect with nature” “something something something live the way we should

Don’t get me wrong, connecting with nature, hearing the frogs and birds and leafs is terribly interesting but maybe I just don’t have that sort of attention span. I am no horticulturalist, ornithologist, I’m just a dude trying to hike from point A to point B. If you have an appreciation of such things 2185 miles of them might satisfy your ears; however the things that satisfy me include slap shots from the point in a hockey game, a really good inside out flick with a frisbee, or an impressive Christopher Walken impression, none of which is plentiful on the Appalachian Trail.

One thing I do appreciate is good music. And I don’t mean “good music” as in what I listen to is “good”, and the stuff I haven’t heard is bad. I try to stay objective until I have heard it, although I will say I doubt I will ever give one direction a fair chance.

So what did I do?
I listened to music daily during my thru hike. If I walked 12 hours, all 12 of them probably had something playing in my ears.

Why should I hike with music?

1. I got to listen to all the music I have wanted to hear for a long time.

I own an iPod classic, that’s 160 GB of space. Since I got it freshman year of college I have put music on it until last year I finally ran out of space. People would always say 160 GB you probably have hundreds of songs you’ve never even heard. To them I would say no, I have thousands of songs I’ve never heard, but I saw this as an opportunity to listen to all my music. Honestly when else in your life do you have an opportunity to devote that much time to anything? I set out to listen to all my music but on Adam Ant (the 4th artist) I decided that was a terrible choice. What I did end up doing was I listened to whatever music intrigued me. MC5, The Shirelles, Tatu, anything I felt like and with 160 GB I did feel like everything. I had music for when I was alone, happy, exuberant, tired, and hungry.

2. Recalling the Appalachian Trail is as difficult as turning on my iPod.

When I turn on my iPod and play certain songs it gives me specific memories of my time on the trail. The interesting thing is the songs that make me recall the trail for the most part is comprised of songs I had never heard before. I think this is because songs I previously liked already had an assigned meaning, like how every time I listen to Only in Dreams by Weezer I think of opening my acceptance letter to college. Now I have new memories to new songs; there is an incredibly long list of songs to memories in my last Appalachian trail journal post ( https://trailjournals.com/entry.cfm?id=478729). The highlights include with arms wide open by creed reminding me of my hiking group for the first two weeks to Rite of Spring by Angels and Airwaves which reminds me of hiking up Mount Graylock as I struggled to keep down the Mexican food I gorged on previously and Ziggy Stardust by David Bowie hiking over the balds on my first day in NC.

3. To keep forward momentum

To quote Taylor Swift “I keep cruising, can’t stop, won’t stop moving”. Chugging uphill for 2 or three miles straight is a lot easier when you have something steady to keep your pace up. While some may be able to do it, keeping you pace up for an hour or more straight is difficult especially towards the end of your hike. By using music to motivate yourself up the mountain there is something that is unrelenting, the music does not quit even when you feel like you might.. As a SOBO I was immediately thrust into mountains I was in no way conditioned to climb. Climbing up the first real mountain of the whites is when I first listened to the self-titled La Roux album, and just the sheer energy of the song tiger lily is what made me move forward while my legs and mind rationalized how much easier it would be to just set up camp for the night.

4. To have something to talk about.

If we to split up conversations you have with fellow hikers it slowly regresses and regresses. Hiking day to day you can learn WAY too much about your partner. After an hour or two of pleasantries and maybe another few of background you start really talking to your new hiker mate. But all roads have an end and eventually you will run out of things to talk about. An iPod allows you to absorb new material while you hike, the longer you hike, the more to possibly absorb until you become a sponge of thoughts which you can squeeze out whenever you feel like.

5. It helps you keep time/lets time pass faster

An album will take you anywhere between 35-80 mins depending on whose it is. That for me meant about every album I finished covered about 2 miles. Instead of counting miles, I could count the number of albums I listened to that day. There was one point from Erwin TN to Hot Springs where I fell in love with the song Motor City is Burning by the MC5. I listened to this 6:05 min long song over 40 times during that stretch. That is four hours of the same song, but it didn’t feel like it. During those four hours it was one constant daze of guitar solos and just 70’s political unrest.

Let’s not forget although I primarily hiked with music, Podcasts and audiobooks are equally decent things to listen to. I found podcasts to be especially great because they could be updated each town and allowed me to stay up to date in a world where dates don’t matter. There was some Ebola thing happening when I was hiking, I didn’t quite understand how much it had integrated itself into the culture until I was in a shelter and a Boy Scout teased another member about having it when I was hiking one day. You will fall behind on events, but podcasts will allow you to at least have the equivalent knowledge of a newspaper in a high speed internet world.

I will say when I took a break, I stopped listening to music. I would take out my headphones and just relax. To me the music just helped me make the miles, but when I wanted to relax I would be music-less.

in conclusion music  > stupid nature

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Comments 2

  • Meg @ Adventures in Verdance : Mar 16th

    I hike with audiobooks. Very similar, just no tune. 🙂 I can definitely see where music would help.

  • Brave Turtle : Apr 28th

    Couldn’t have said this better myself. Excellent perspective. Music is making me love my thruhike more and more by the day.


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