Since everyone approaches thru-hiking a little differently, I thought it might be helpful to share my approach. I imagine some folks will be following my hike with an eye to attempting something similar themselves (that’s definitely why I’ve been reading so many blogs on The Trek the past couple of years!). This post should enable you to determine how relevant my experience may be to your situation and priorities.
I also hope it will provide useful context for readers who, in the absence of such information, might mistakenly try to apply their approach to my hike. I’ll be aiming to “hike my own hike” and am excited to share the trails with fellow hikers who bring a wide range of approaches and motivations.
Approach to the Route
The short version is that I am not a purist who feels committed to walking every mile of the official trail. I’m so far from being a purist, in fact, that the concept had not even occurred to me before I began reading the posts here and listening to Backpacker Radio.
I’ve only completed two short thru-hikes to date, the Black Forest Trail in PA and the Wonderland Trail in WA, both in the past year. The vast majority of my backpacking has been on routes of my own devising, which may explain feeling free to pick my own path.
The photo up top is of Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur in Mongolia, a lake a friend and I heard about from the local Peace Corps volunteer. We asked around about the possibility of backpacking a loop around the lake, and since the consensus seemed to be “I don’t know — you probably could,” we decided there was only one way to find out for sure. Except for a chest-deep stream crossing, things went pretty smoothly and we had a wonderful hike.
Even on the very well-traveled, very well-marked Camino Frances I managed to find some fun detours through the woods and took great alternates like the Pradela route below (Albergue Lamas is worth the climb!).
Although I’m happy to stray from the official trail to see something cool, avoid something dangerous, or eat something delicious, the idea of a continuous footpath really appeals to me. Connecting my footsteps will be the goal on all three trails, though I won’t be attempting to travel between trails on foot since I definitely couldn’t squeeze that into a calendar year.
Approach to the People
As I was driving around Maine in 2007 looking for somewhere I might like to live for awhile, I saw a hostel nearby and pulled up out front to see if they had a bunk available that night. The hostel turned out to be specifically for AT hikers (maybe Shaw’s?), but they had space and were kind enough to host a confused drive-up guest. The hikers were fascinating to talk with, and three of them invited me to come along on their slackpack the next day. Keeping up with thru-hikers who had walked all the way from Georgia and were suddenly freed of their packs was definitely a challenge! They gave me my trail name that day, a perfect fit despite our brief acquaintance: Somewhere.
I didn’t realize until years later how remarkably kind these three hikers had been to welcome an outsider into an experience they had been sharing for 2000 miles. My intention is to follow their excellent example and seek to make everyone I encounter on trail feel as welcome and accepted as I did my first day on the AT.
Although I’ve improved a bit in recent years, I’m still not particularly good at accepting help and my default response tends to be “I’m all set but thanks for offering!” This definitely won’t work on a CYTC hike. Unless you’re traveling with your own support crew, these types of thru-hikes aren’t possible without assistance from strangers, so I’ll be working on shifting my default to graciously accepting the help that’s offered and even (gasp!) asking for help when I need it.
I don’t think the timing of my hike will align with any periods of over-the-top trail magic, but either way, there seems to be a risk of thru-hikers becoming too accustomed to trail magic and developing an attitude of entitlement, so I’ll be on the lookout for that attitude in myself. My aim is to recognize each occasion of trail magic as a distinct act of generosity and be appropriately appreciative.
Approach to the Trail
With Not Against
Ok, this next bit is maybe a little out there but is something I started thinking about on the Wonderland Trail and am interested in exploring over the course of the year. I’ve noticed that a lot of language around hiking is very competitive and often personifies the trial as an adversary who must be defeated or conquered. I’m going to try instead to think of the trail as a friend and mentor, helping me along my journey and providing opportunities for growth. After all, hiking on a trail, even a rough trail, is almost always easier than bushwhacking, and I’d rather view the trail as carrying me over a mountain instead of putting a mountain in front of me as an obstacle.
This is definitely a “hike your own hike” situation — feel free to give this reframing a try if it resonates with you or to ignore/mock it if not. I’ll let you know how it goes for me!
Taking My Time
My primary goal is to spend most daylight hours of most days in 2024 hiking. The Calendar-Year Triple Crown is just the itinerary that captured my imagination and will give my year its structure. I have no idea what type of daily mileage my body will be able to handle, but I’m prioritizing finding a sustainable yearlong pace. I’d rather risk not finishing by the end of the 2024 than risk pushing too hard and having to quit due to injury.
Contrary to the image a CYTC attempt may conjure, I don’t plan to rush. If I do complete the whole thing, it will be because I’m starting in January to give myself almost 12 months and because I’m hiking most of the day most days. I love walking but have mixed feelings about camping, so the long hours of traveling on foot are what I’m most looking forward to as I prepare to head out on trail.
I hope to post my first weekly update from the trail next Sunday — wish me luck!
This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!
To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.