The Best Thru-Hiking Advice I’ve Heard
Everyone has something to say while on trail, or before getting on trail, in terms of thru-hiking advice. Sometimes it can be a bit much, but often it can be really helpful to hear someone’s two cents. Here are some of words of wisdom I’ve heard over the years and will keep in mind while on the PCT.
Listen to Everything, and Adopt What Works for You
I met a Triple Crowner on my first day of hiking the Camino de Santiago beginning in France. At some point in hiking together, he shared this advice. Please note that if you were to look at this guy’s outdoor adventure resume, your jaw would drop. Yet he was humble, open to learning from everyone, and willing to share if you asked him. There was no preaching on the best way to thru-hike, he just spoke of what worked for him. Actually, often he would laugh and say something like, “I don’t know, I just figure it out as I go.” He was also eager to encourage and support new hikers, as there are many on the Camino.
There’s a great saying I saw once on the wall of a yoga community I lived at: “Those who talk don’t know. Those who know don’t talk.”
We are a community as thru-hikers, so let’s uplift and help each other. If we remain humble and maintain a beginner’s mind, we will continually evolve and grow. Stay open to learning new tricks, ask questions, and take what works for you. Know-it-alls rarely make it on trail.
Embrace the Suck
When I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail, on the second day I met a guy whose trail name was Caveman. Since I started my hike going northbound in Hot Springs, NC, rather than at the Southern Terminus at Springer, Caveman had already been on trail a few weeks. This means he had all sorts of tips and knowledge he was willing to impart upon the newbie, me. In his thick Long Island accent he said, “You have to be willing to embrace the suck. Embrace it when it sucks because your feet hurt, when it’s raining buckets, when you’re still hungry after eating five Clif bars, or when you have another mountain to climb with a heavy-ass pack because you just resupplied. Just embrace the suck. And love it. Love it all, girl. Because you are out here on trail really living.”
Wise sage, this Caveman. I later learned there’s a whole mentality behind this concept with long-distance hikers known as “embrace the brutality.” It actually reminds me of the Buddhist saying: “If you’re falling, dive.” Accept and dive into the brutality, then see what you can learn about yourself while there.
You Could Get Hit by a Truck Tomorrow, So Enjoy It Today
This is one of my lines, said both on and off trail. My dear friend Aimee, who has taken my yoga classes for years, often hears me say this when she is debating whether to have another drink or a cheeky cigarette. I do my classic Daya shrug and say, “Well, why not, you could get hit by a truck tomorrow.” Aimee always laughs and says I’m supposed to play the good yoga teacher role, which makes me laugh even harder, since I don’t really know who that is.
With applying this to thru-hiking, don’t guilt yourself for needing to take a nero or a zero day. If you have the chance to savor a gorgeous sunrise or swim in a pristine lake, don’t worry so much about getting the miles in. Eat the pint of ice cream. Jump fully into that trail romance and don’t worry about what will happen after, because you’ve got today. Life may be short, you never know, so why deny yourself joy now?
Hike Your Own Hike
We’ve probably all heard this very solid advice. Yet what does it really mean? Don’t get caught up with what everyone else is doing. Don’t compare. If you’re content with your systems and your pace, rock on. I carried a pretty heavy pack for my size while on the AT; however, I was happy as a clam and had no complaints. The bottom line is that it’s about your experience, not the dude who has the ultralight base weight of 7.86 pounds or the girl who crushes 41 miles that day. Let your personal happiness level be the gauge of how you’re doing out there.
Take Nothing for Granted, and Expect Nothing
Thru-hiking is both a privilege and a conscious choice. No one owes you trail magic, or a ride, or a pat on the back. When you receive any kind gestures or gifts, welcome them with gratitude and appreciation. Share. Leave some for the next person who may need a little pick-me-up. Give back by showing respect to locals in towns. Be an ambassador for the trail you are hiking and a good example of a thru-hiker so it doesn’t ruin it for someone else because you’re acting like an entitled, selfish you know what.
Make Peace with Yourself
As I walked south to finish my AT thru-hike, I ran into two friends in the grocery store in Hiawassee when I was doing a resupply. I was planning on getting back on trail after I finished shopping, but one of them insisted on gifting me a night at the Top of Georgia Hostel. I wasn’t about to say no, so I took the ride back to the hostel. I met the man who runs it, Bob, and we chatted about the talks he offers to aspiring thru-hikers as they head northbound. He told me the top piece of advice he offers hikers as he walked me to the mirror in the hall and said, “Look at you. You have to be able to live with you every single day and moment on trail. So you have to forgive yourself, heal, let go, whatever you have to do to make peace and love yourself. Because it’s a long way to Maine if you can’t be good with you.”
I think Bob nailed that one pretty darn well.
Leave No Trace
This should go without saying. This is one of the essential pieces of advice we hear as thru-hikers, and there’s a wealth of literature for our education so we can be models for others.
There Is Power in the Present Moment; You Will Know What to Do
My Godmother said this once when a previous partner of mine was faced with a big decision. Listen to your gut, your instincts, your intuitive third-eye center—whatever you want to call it. If you’re alone and that river crossing doesn’t look like a good idea, don’t do it. If you’re tired and it’s late, stop for the day to avoid an injury. If you really like that hot bearded guy, pink blaze him for a bit and see what goes down. Trust that there is power to know when you get quiet and listen while in the present moment.
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I believe in listening to Others, I might Learn Something, And I can’t learn anything While I’m Talking! Daya the Expression on Your face with the reward of Ice Cream will forever stay with Me.
It’s people like you that make this planet a better place ! Look for some mail in Beldon Town.
Thank you, Barbara! Oooh, I’m curious about mail in Beldon Town?! ☺️
Love your attitude. You will be getting more snow than average. Can’t help there. But Big Bear has excellent ice cream just down the street from the Hostel.
Really good advice. Thanks for sharing.