You know these hikers. You speed up or slow down to get away from them. They never seem to go away.
Inspired by this hilarious story from Runner’s World, I bring you 12 odd long distance hiking types.
He’s running at 4 miles per hour, taking no breaks, and traveling light and fast. You may think the FKT is out to break a record, but chances are he is just trying to impress a potential trail suitor (see Pink Blazer) and will be lounging in each trail town for a few days, hanging with the Party Animal (see below).
He may have told the folks back home that he is hiking for the adventure, but he’s really looking for some trail tail. What better time to connect with others than when you’re at your fittest, creating shared memories as you travel in a beautiful place?
This hiker knows every company in the industry and loves telling you how he’s sponsored. The quality of the gear he’s using doesn’t matter so much as letting everyone on trail know that he got it for free.
It’s this 20-somethings first time on her own and she’s going to drink like there’s no tomorrow and hike like there’s no daylight left. These work hard-play-hard hikers are out to prove there’s no time to thru like your 20s. Unless, this person happens to be in her 60s.
This hiker lives for breaktime in nature. He brings a guitar and sings or spends the afternoon watercoloring. While the Artist/Musician may not be the first to finish, he has some beautiful mementos to share when he is done, and builds lovely goodwill and warm-fuzzy feelings among the hiking community.
A Backpacking Light regular, she knows the weights of all her gear down to the tenth of an ounce (and can even convert that number into grams…although, so can High on the Mountain).
Hiking is all about being in nature. And getting awesome photos for Instagram included with a John Muir quote.
He’s got a bunch of electronics and knows how to use them. He’ll stay up past midnight in town uploading photos. The blogger may be hiking in the wilderness, but somehow, that Instagram account gets updated several times a day. Often accompanied with Oversharing and Too Much Information, as well as a bunch of creepy desktop followers.
Mr. and Ms. Fashionable
Just because she’s living in the dirt for a few weeks doesn’t mean that she can’t wear Prada. Mr. and Ms. Fashionable were a frequent sighting last summer on the John Muir Trail, where their favorite hiking costume was Lululemon yoga pants.
High on the Mountain
It may not yet be legal on federal land, but this thruhiker is high on hiking. She doesn’t need snowshoes in early spring because she’s floating on the snow.
She loves the hikertrash culture, but finds the whole walking aspect of long distance hiking to be hard. This trail skipper sails his way into lies about the distance and speed he’s hiked, yet somehow manages to smell as bad as if he has just thru-ed.
How can you tell if a long distance hiker has thru-hiked another trail? Don’t worry. He’ll tell you. Without you having to ask first, this guy will tell you every trail he’s hiked and how long it took him. Chances are, he’ll tell you a lot about the AT.
“It was so fun, I’m having a hard time getting back to my job.”
This past weekend, the American Long Distance Hiking Association- West annual Gathering drew a record number of people to Mt. Hood, Oregon to reconnect with lost trail friends and be inspired and humbled by other’s experience and love of nature. To properly celebrate the hiking social club’s 20th anniversary, we were honored by hikers new and old, especially by the return of some “lost” members to the organization and visits by younger self-proclaimed ALDHA-W skeptics.
The event kicked off with a grand spectacle— a live recording of the popular Trail Show hiking podcast. For fans, this was the first time they got to see the real people behind the voices on their favorite internet radio show. As usual, the irreverent Trail Show hosts made jest of all things within our community, nicely setting up for that night’s screening of Squatch’s new movie, Flip Flop Flipped. In HD film, Squatch’s documentary recorded his travels on the northern part of the Appalachian Trail—arguably the most beautiful part of the trail. His cinematography was so beautiful I couldn’t watch too much because it made me want to return to the AT so badly…
Luckily, instead, I found the 8 kegs donated by Hop Valley, Base Camp, and Thunder Island Brewing. Additionally, there were two kegs of Eva’s Herbal kombucha and a 30 year supply of chocolate milk, coffee, tea, and apple cider for those seeking non-alcoholic beverages. After the day’s action-packed set-up with 15 other volunteers who came to the camp early, it was excellent to relax and spend time learning about new trails and retelling funny stories from hikes with my friends new and old.
The next day, was a busy schedule of speakers, hiker Olympics, tie-dying ALDHA-W shirts, and the POD Memorial Soccer Game. The morning kicked off with Jeff Kish, who spoke about the Pacific Northwest Trail using photos, video, and slides in a multi-media presentation that showed a level of professionalism never before seen at the Gathering. In a talk tailored and targeted for long distance hikers, Kish considered how the PNT is even better than the much beloved PCT. For those of us who had previously written off the PNT, it was a presentation that made you want to drop next year’s plans and check out the PNT.
The next speaker was Bernadette Murray, who thru-rode the PCT as a child with her family in 1969-1970. The family home-schooled their kids along the way, building trail and learning from nature as they headed north into uncharted territory. Her presentation included beautiful vintage photos and memories of a childhood of freedom and adventure that made many of us in the room downright jealous. As an audience, we got to experience just a snippet of Murray’s adventurous life, and hear a few stories of her other adventures as a teenager such as canoeing down the Yukon and hitchhiking across Canada to a helicopter.
For the past two years, ALDHA-W members have been anticipating Jean Ella’s much awaited presentation on her experience as the first woman to thru-hike the Continental Divide Trail. Jean was on the schedule for last year’s Gathering, but injured her back in a kayak shortly before the event and was unable to travel. This year, in a presentation that brought strong men to tears, Ella’s talk exemplified the importance of planning, perseverance, and friendship on the trail. Ella showed us how different the CDT was in 1970’s and the grit, determination, skill, and true love of nature it took to complete it. She did an impeccable job of documenting her trip and shared records and journal entries from her time on the Divide. The presentation even included scans of her letters to sponsors. Her ability to secure a 6-month supply of Cadbury chocolate must have intrigued many a hiker in the audience, especially the last two speakers…
For many people, the big draw of the event was Shawn “Pepper” Forry and Justin “Trauma” Lichter’s presentation about their winter PCT thru-hike. In a talk given by two shy guys who will likely never address another audience anywhere, Trauma and Pepper recounted the details of their hike in a way that was tailored to a long-distance hiking audience well-versed in the PCT: an audience who wanted to hear every gritty detail about what hiking looks like on the next level. This past winter, the trail community followed Trauma and Pepper’s journey intently and came out in droves to give them support by offering rides, local information, sending food, and securing places to stay indoors overnight. In a world and time where a trip of this nature would have likely otherwise been completed by bigtime ski athletes with big money backing, watching these humble thru-hikers speak made it clear that their success was also a success for our community, a victory for thru-hikers. The ALDHA-W audience loved their opening slide which contrasted a Reno Gazette story from early in their trip that called their endeavor a “death sentence” with one in the New York Times calling it the most “daring and foolhardy wilderness expedition since Lewis and Clark.” The presentation was followed by a Q&A, where Trauma and Pepper’s good natured sense of humor and fraternal nature in our community allowed them to play off all our jokes as well as answer the few serious questions that made it into the pile.
That night, we welcomed 27 new Triple Crowners to the family and I realized that one of them was my friend Eric, who I had not seen or heard from in 4 years. Eric was the one person I hiked with for multiple days during my AT speed hike and when I took a zero and he went ahead, catching up to him became a huge motivator for me. That night, I got to sit and discuss trails until the wee hours with Eric and my friends Whynot and Shroomer—who hiked with him for half the CDT. A friends who had all hiked together, at different times and places, I couldn’t help but feel like we were family, all of us cut from the same cloth.
ALDHA-W also honored Nita Larronde, the trail angel of Pie Town, NM as this year’s recipient of the Martin D. Papendick Award. As the first CDT trail angel to receive the award, the kind lady from the Toaster House shared her photos of hikers and trail registers dating decades back. Thanks to the Wolverines of the PCT, hikers this year were able to donate to bring Nita and her daughter to receive the award. Joe “Tatujo” Kisner presented the award and read a tear-jerking letter from her daughter, Autumn. Nita is truly an angel in our community and her recognition was long-awaited and well-deserved.
After Saturday’s dinner, to celebrate ALDHA-W’s 20th anniversary, ALDHA-W President Whitney “Allgood” LaRuffa called up Steve Queen, Brice Hammack, Roger Carpenter, and Alice Gmuer (the first woman to solo the Triple Crown). These four people attended the first ALDHA-W Gathering 20 years before. Allgood asked them as a special honor to blow out the candles on the ALDHA-W birthday cake. When they looked at the cake, they were shocked: printed on the frosting was a photo of Steve, Brice, and Alice taken in 1994 as they received their Triple Crown plaques. Our founding members were thrilled.
Within the hiking community, I have heard rumors that ALHDA-W is an organization for washed up retired hikers or that it is an elitist organization. After the Gathering, some of these skeptics—many at the Gathering for the first time—apologized for having their doubts. ALDHA-W is back from the ashes and while there were many “hiking celebrities” present, you would have never known it from the way people at the Gathering act. The ALDHA-W Gathering is the family reunion you look forward to, where everyone “gets” what your passion is in life, and everyone wants to help you succeed in your dreams, no matter your level of expertise.
In his first narrative book ever, long distance hiker extraordinaire Justin “Trauma” Lichter, most recently of Winter PCT Thru-hike fame, tells the standout stories from his experiences on 40,000 miles of hiking trails. Sharing stories from Africa to Iceland, New Zealand to Nepal, and numerous stories from his Triple Crown hikes, Trauma’s new book is a quick and fun read that gives readers a glimpse into the elite thru-hiking world.
Short Stories from Long Trails is split into 6 chapters (plus an afterword) focusing on different themes including Weather & Terrain, Losing the Way, and Animal Encounters. It is almost as if Trauma, ever the instructor, wants to make sure that even though the reader has picked up his book for entertainment, that s/he is still going to walk away having learned something about safety in the outdoors, too.
The first section focuses on tales from Trauma’s childhood, a rare glimpse into the making of a machine. A quote from Outside Magazine on the back of the book calls Trauma “humble and understated” and for a man that in the hiking community that has a reputation as being quiet and shy, the book gives an interesting look into what his hikes have been like.
In the Afterword, Trauma gives one of the longest accounts I’ve seen anywhere of what actually happened on that PCT Winter Thru-Hike. For those of us in the thru-hiking community who followed their hike this past winter with excitement, the 24-page story of the Winter PCT hike is a reason in itself to read the book.
Each section has 3-5 short stories in it, none of the stories coming in at more than 5 pages and most of the stories only 3 pages in length. It’s the perfect book to get a taste of the trail when you’re taking a bus ride or using the bathroom. Never wordy and always to the point, Trauma’s stories drop you right into wherever he is hiking taking the reader to places we can all only dream of going, and places most of us would actually be pretty OK with skipping.
The best part is that in the last chapter, the reader gets to learn the answer to the question everyone has been asking Trauma: What’s next? What is your dream hike? I’m not going to divulge any spoilers here, so you’ll have to find out for yourself.
This week, I met up with Crusher—who was unable to attend PCT Kick Off to watch the premiere of his film last night—and he shared about his experience putting together the PCT Class video. “It was another chance to hone my skills,” but he admitted, “putting this thing together has been eating up all my free time for the past few weeks.”
As expected, watching the Class of 2014 Film gave me a deep yearning in my legs to hit the trail again. There’s a power to the PCT that a past hiker can be given a photo taken somewhere on the trail without any context and will know exactly where it is. The quality of the stills in the film is “coffee-table book” class. Despite having hiked the PCT 1.5 times myself, I had never seen the trail as beautiful as it was depicted by some of the hikers who submitted photos. My favorite scenes were upclose wildflower shots, night time star timelapses, and videos of rare wildlife including pine martens.
One of the challenges of making the PCT Class film vs. his short, “PCT and CP” is that the class film “can only be as good as the material people submit.” Of the more than 1,000 people that attempted the PCT last year, 80 hikers submitted photos or video clips. Crusher noted that in 2012 and 2013, hikers submitted more video to the class film editors. This year, Crusher was working with many stills, which gives his video a different—but strangely more reverent—feel than the last few years.
Two aspects that make this PCT film unlike the other PCT Class films are the digital maps and mile/elevation gain counter for each region of the trail as well as the great soundtrack, available on Spotify (“PCT Class 2014 Video Soundtrack”–it’s actually so good that I signed up for Spotify just to get his playlist). Another great innovation is how Crusher worked with phone-quality film shorts—often vertical instead of landscape—to still create a fun and engaging story.
The most striking part of the Class of 2014 film is that it documents the sheer elation that people get from hiking. People in this film are at their absolute happiest. These people aren’t wearing make up. They aren’t acting. They glow in the joy that hiking and the hiking life can bring. For those who never may hike the PCT, or those who hope one day to hike it, Crusher’s film brings us as close as we can to hiking the trail without leaving the couch.
Despite my declarations that the Selma to Montgomery Hike took me over my Pavement Walking Quota for the year, this past weekend, I headed off again on another hardpacked adventure. This time, I completed my first significant urban hike in the town where I live, Denver. I’ve done a fair amount of walking in Denver before, but nothing to this scale and magnitude.
My long distance hiker friends Steven “Twinkle” Shattuck, John “Cactus” McKinney, Johnny “Bigfoot” Carr, Samantaha “Aroo,” and Nathan “Cookie” Harry, Swami and I started off on a two day, 66-71 mile long hike from Waterton Canyon—the start of the Colorado Trail—to near Denver International Airport.
The Highline Canal was created more than a century ago to bring water from the South Platte River to settlers and farmers. Now owned and operated by Denver Water (who even puts out the guidebook for the trail), it is now open to hikers, cyclists, runners, and equestrians. Because the irrigation ditch was leaky, an entire ecosystem sprung up around it.
Until 40 years ago, there was no public access to the canal—even as it remained a skinny natural park in the middle of the city. With the hard work of residents who lived anywhere near the 71 miles of trail, the canal opened to the public and is now listed as a National Landmark Trail. Now the trail is protected by the Highline Canal Trail Preservation Association.
Although this is an urban hike, the Highline Canal Trail ecosystem boasts 199 species of birds, 28 mammals, and 15 reptiles. I was expecting the trail to be mostly paved or gravel, but a majority of the miles were on dirt or had a dirt path next to it.
Our wildlife highlights included seeing a bobcat (a first for me and many of the other serial hikers with us!), great horned owls, two types of snakes, numerous deer, squirrels, praririe dogs, and rabbits. The HCLT underscored that though humans have claimed significant land from animals, that we don’t own it completely. Our habitats coexist.
The HCLT was such a cool way to see the city and general metro area of the place that I’ve called home for the past few years. We ventured through neighborhoods I didn’t even know existed, and places I had never been before. The route finding was not as straightforward as one would think for a bike path in the city.
There were intersections that required navigating, and we were happy to have our map and guidebook. Additionally, certain sections went through private property, and we had to navigate—sometimes even cross country through fords and swamps—in order to keep the route on open land.
The HCLT ended up being not just educational, but a lot of fun, providing some clear bonuses, especially compared to most other thru-hikes. We had pizza delivered on trail and actually had to pass up many restaurants and convenience stores because we were too full.
It was easy for friends to join in for a few miles and Twinkle even met a friend randomly who was going for his morning run right on our trail. Because we could take advantage of the limited amount of gear required for an urban hike, we packed heavy food and beverages and ridiculous luxuries like Frisbees. Traditional trail towns rarely have ethnic food, but on the HLCT, Cactus and I had Pho for lunch—a first for both of us on a long distance trail.
Much like my Selma to Montgomery hike last weekend, I was struck by the level of economic inequality the trail highlights. In the Cherry Creek Village area, we woke to houses that I didn’t even know existed in Denver—Hollywood-esque mansions, castles, villas. By the end of the day, we were walking through immigrant neighborhoods in Aurora and Section 8 housing in Green Valley Ranch.
In my everyday life, I would never visit either of those neighborhoods, and yet the HLCT brought me through both. No matter how much our modern society tries to insulate social classes from one another, that such disparate places are close enough to walk from one to the other underlined for me that Denver is one community and not just a collection of rich and poor neighborhoods.
The best part of the Highline Canal Trail was the opportunity to have 48 hours to talk with, laugh, joke, and accomplish something cool with friends. For two days, we set aside the distractions of the modern world and just lived. I’ve enjoyed urban hiking for a couple years now, and it was so cool to expose the idea to some of my thru-hiker friends. I was so touched that they not only took it seriously, but had a great time. At a time of the year when long mile days and thrus aren’t as possible, we got to feel like we were back on the PCT again—if only for a weekend. On Monday, we all woke up and went back to our spreadsheets, but even as we squirmed in our desk chairs, relished the memories of a weekend well spent.
For more info on the High Line Canal Trail, check out these links:
Get to the hills! The Colorado hikers are in Ruck! This past weekend, ALDHA-W and the Continental Divide Trail Coalition (CDTC) completed their first Rocky Mountain Ruck attracting 85 people from as far away as Salida, Vail, Portland, and even LA! This all-day event attracted hikers in all stages of experience—from dayhikers to seasoned veterans to the long trails. No matter what level of expertise, everyone walked away having learned a trick or two, and the fellowship, fun, and beer made the event the closest Colorado has gotten to a Gathering yet (besides maybe Lawton “Disco” Grinter and Felicia “POD” Hermosillo’s wedding).
After a break with food and snacks provided by Great Harvest Bakery and Whole Foods Golden, the event jumped into the ever-important ‘Everything that Can Go Wrong on the CDT’—with applications for the Colorado Trail, PCT, and pretty much every other trail. Disco and POD used their humor and wide breadth of hiking experience to present a spectrum of safety techniques for various tribulations of the trail—from grizzlies to giardia.
From here, it transitioned to winter hiking teacher Pete “Czech” Sustr’s hands-on (read: powerpointless) clinic on fords and snow travel. The troop of hikers traveled outside to a park outside to enjoy the four surrounding mountains of Golden, the 70 degree temps, and a little lightning safety position practice.
Czech demonstrated walking on a not-snow-covered hill and then gathered everyone to Clear Creek where he and a lone brave volunteer forded the creek. Passerbys from downtown Golden stopped to witness the crazy.
The morning concluded with backpacking gear presentation by expert and ultralight guru Glen van Peski. Throughout the day, hikers had the opportunity to explore manned booths and touch, try on, and otherwise drool over gear from Montbell, Gossamer Gear, Katabatic Quilts, and the CDTC. Lunch outside transitioned into pack shakedowns with experienced hikers and trail Q&A in breakout groups. Those who brought their backpacking gear for one-on-one consultations were stoked at the level of attention, helpfulness, and insight the hour of gearheading provided.
Corralling people back to the classroom on such a sunny day was a chore, but well worth it. Paul “Mags” Magnanti gave a highly informative presentation on navigation on the CDT with a robust Q&A. Mags proved a hard act to follow, but Allgood and I came on stage to discuss serious business: pooping in the woods. We discussed Leave No Trace trail ethics and Trail Town Etiquette—two very important topics that to-be hikers need to know before stepping foot on trail. The session concluded with a cathole digging competition with participants using their shoe, hiking poles, sticks, tent stakes, rocks and potty trowel to dig the best hole they could in 45 seconds. Needless to say, the trowel got the job done.
The evening ended with a killer presentation by Junaid Dawud, who thru-hiked all the Colorado 14ers as a continuous hike. A minor Front Range celebrity, as well as a seasoned thru-hiked himself, Junaid’s photos were jaw dropping and his description of pioneering a trail and the suffering that actually doing it entailed somehow just made me want to hike it even more. Junaid told us during Happy Hour that it was the first time he had given a talk about the 14ers Thru-Hike. Everyone who heard that could not believe it—his talk was so well-polished that we had all assumed he had given it to numerous clubs around the Front Range. I’m going to do everything I can to make sure Junaid has an opportunity to give his talk again sometime soon.
It’s the end of Ruckin’ Season. Soon, hikers will hit the trail. But with the help of the Rocky Mountain Ruck, we hope that everyone will set foot on trail—whatever that trail may be—feeling more prepared for the journey ahead.
As we speak, the long distance hiking community is taking over the Outdoor Winter Retailer Show. Many of us are working with trail non-profits and companies like Woolrich, Point6, and Mountainsmith that are sponsoring long National Scenic Trail-centric gear. Others are representatives of outdoor stores and are busy buying gear as part of their job.
I’ve been going to OR back in the days when Trauma was the only other long distance hiker coming. Although I’m far from a veteran at this event, here are a few tips I wish I had known the first time I’d walked in here:
1) The show is huge! There are 21,000 people coming to Winter OR, and Summer OR can get to be as 40,000.
2) But everyone here is here for a purpose greater than just getting free schwag. You have to apply months in advance, and they review to make sure the only attendees are here for business.
3) So if you’re looking to create a sponsorship or help a non-profit, unless you’ve set up a meeting, to expect to stay out of the way until the end of the show when exhibitors have already made their sales.
4) Since business comes first, there’s a hierarchy of badges here. Exhibitors (gear companies) are here to make money, so retailers (gear stores) are getting first dibs for their attention. Media is the next desirable badge, and non-profits are towards the bottom.
5) But that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun early in the show. Be sure to use Wednesday to get the lay of the land.
6) It’s a maze in here, so be sure to get your hiking map or to download the app.
7) But all that hiking around the show floor will get up your hunger and thirst. So be sure to stay hydrated.
8) Luckily, there’s lots of food and drink around. Just check the back of the OR Daily magazine for locations. You can usually get a meal for the cost of a donation to a good outdoor cause.
9) Or, if you’re here as media, a sales rep, or a retailer, food and drink can be found in the Press Room, Rep room, or Boy Scout Room.
10) But if you can wait until 4 pm, there’s plenty of drinks to be had a dozens of Happy Hours. We hikers usually like to visit Happy Hours that support the trails.
11) If you’re trying to find your friends at the end of the day, know that running the OR app and just being in the conference center can really drain your phone battery. Bring your charger!
12) And then head out to the infamous Outdoor Retailer parties.
Congratulations! You’ve survived Day One of the four day event. It’s going to be a wild ride!
Do you have any tips for going to big conferences?
From desert, to rain forest, to alpine, to rock, 2014 brought me to familiar, beloved landscapes and new territories. This year challenged me and gave me new skills. Here are some photo highlights of my year.
Fifty bucks isn’t a lot of money to spend on a gear gift, but if spent on the right piece of gear, can rock a hiker’s world and change their life. In my hiking career, I’ve had a lot of fifty dollar gear that’s just ok. The gear in this list is paradigm changing, mind rocking, world altering-ly awesome stuff. Included with each piece of gear are a few sentences about how this piece of gear transformed my hiking life. I hope it can make you and your friends’ hikes even more awesome, too!
**PLUS: a bunch of these are handmade in the USA by hikers for hikers.**
There’s a reason why everyone from myself to triple-Triple Crowner Lint uses an umbrella:it’s worth its weight in gold. I use mine to protect from sun, rain, hail, snow, wind, and sandstorms, and most recently walked across an entire bsain during 45 mph winds in a snow storm to save an umbrella that the wind snatched after I slipped on mud. I couldn’t imagine living my life without an umbrella, and your hiker friend will feel the same way, too. Plus, if they hate hiking with it, they’ll still love using it in town because it easily fits into a purse or messenger bag. There’s lots out there, but I suggest supporting the Continental Divide Trail Coalition Logo-ed Montbell Umbrella to get a functional gift that gives back to the trail community. $50
This is the ultralight water filtration system that revolutionized the long distance hiking world. There isn’t a month that goes by that I don’t blow someone’s mind with the existence of such an amazing product. The best $25 Christmas present you could get someone (who doesn’t already have it—good for the hiker/bad for the present giver: they last FOREVER.) $25
Titanium Potty trowel
Like a lot of long distance thru-hikers, I NEVER wanted to carry a potty trowel. It seemed like a lot of weight and just the idea of one would make ultralight guru Ray Jardine roll over in his tarp. Until now. My titanium potty trowel might be the best 0.4 oz I carry. Pooping in the woods used to be my least favorite part of the day, and this 11.3 grams of genius makes every single hiking day a lot better for me and significantly reduces the chance I’ll feel guilty about doing a crappy job on digging a cathole. There’s lots of brands out there (as I write in this longer article about why hikers should carry potty trowels), but I like the QiWiz Titanium Potty Trowel, designed and handmade in Ohio by hiker Rob “QiWiz” Kelley $30
I hiked 5,000 miles before I first bought Darn Tough socks on a whim when I saw them on sale at Campmor. Once I tried Darn Toughs, I never looked back. Darn Tough hiking socks last a lot longer than other athletic socks and fit better, preventing a lot of unnecessarily foot problems. These socks are the gold standard of thru-hiking sock. Designed and made in Northfield, Vermont. $15
You can’t beat beanies for price-weight-warmth-functionality ratio. I’ve been wearing them for years. But no matter how much I pull down on it, with my long head, this style never seems to keep the ears totally warm. This summer, while hiking the GDT, my hiking partner Naomi had a beanie with ear flaps. Nothing fancy, nothing heavy weight, just functional. “Where did you get that??!!!” I demanded. Turns out Montbell makes them and even though I’m one of their athletes, I didn’t know. The Montbell Chameece Cap with Ear Warmer double layers at the ears to keep them super warm. It’s such a minor difference in design, but my life was changed. $19
This simple piece of gear is so amazing that I remember exactly when and where I was when I first saw the Gram Cracker—Next Adventure gear store in Portland, OR! Weighing in at THREE grams, this is the world’s lightest stove. I didn’t know it was possible for a stove be that light and my mind was blown. Since then, the Gram Cracker has become my main stove system and I never tire of its simplistic efficiency. Designed and handmade in San Jose, CA by backpacking mechanical engineers, Russ and Rand. $15
These Odor Proof sacks are a safe place to keep your backpacking food overnight. I first started carrying this on the CDT to lessen the chance that grizzlies could smell my food. The grizzly never did get my food, but I can speak for sure that the sack keeps animals away: when I hiked in the Pacific Northwest, I left some food in a normal ziplock and some food in my Lok Sak and kept them right by my head as I slept. The ziplock was torn to shreds but the food in my Lok Sak was safe. After that, I stopped carrying a food stuffsack altogether and now exlsuively use the Lok Sak as my foodbag. $13
Who knows how many thousands of miles I complained about rocks in my shoes until I discovered these funky gaiters. Lightweight, quick drying, apply-able to any trail runner or running shoe, these gaiters are made in the US and come in great designs (and boring designs, too, for your less adventurous friends). Plus, this summer on the snowy CDT and on the Great Divide Trail, I learned that these gaiters are great for helping you save your shoe after you posthole into snow or mud. Designed and handmade in Green Valley, Arizona by Xy “Dirty Girl” Weiss and her running goddesses. $20
Designed by women engineers Anna and Andrea to help hospitals in less developed countries and during natural disasters, this lightweight solar-powered lamp makes a great Leave No Trace alternative to a campfire. It can make a great in-tent lamp or a gathering spot for ghost stories with a group. I’ve used the Luminaid on group trips when camping in sensitive alpine areas or in the desert where there is no wood. Major plus is you can doodle on it in multiple colors and make a backcountry discoball. This is such an awesome luxury item that ultralight gear master Glen van Peski is even known to carry it. $20
I’ve hiked over 15,000 miles with a short titanium spoon and every time I eat a meal, I wish I had a long handled titanium spoon. Let’s just say that with a short handled spoon, I’ve been known to get a lot of Mac N’ Cheese on my hand and fingers every night. At this point, I don’t have the heart to dump the short-handled spoon who has done the Triple Crown with me, but I can’t wait to lose it so I can replace it with this long handled spoon. $11
Described by my friend videographer Miguel “Virgo” Aguilar as what Quiksilver and Billabong were to surfing, Hikertrash may just be the next big brand to go big when thru-hiking goes mainstream. Hikertrash is made by hikers for hikers with the idea that hikers can wear cool stuff with the proceeds supporting the trails that we love. The hot new item this year are Saufley Electric shirts and hoodies with proceeds going to support the famous PCT trail angels. Created by Bend, OR based design gurus Renee “She-Ra” Patrick and ULA and Six Moon Designs designer Brian Frankel, Hikertrash stuff is priced for the individual trying to save for his/her next thru-hike and is the hottest off-season commodity in the hiker world. $1 to $15
Designed by a thru-hiker for thru-hiking, this practical, stylish, quick-drying, water-resistant skirt was designed so that lady hikers never have to wear ill fitting, dumpy, cargo pants again. The Purple Rain Skirt is flattering, yet utilitarian. It features four pockets (including two big enough to fit fit a phone or Nat Geo maps). Plus, with a chic yoga-style spandex top, this skirt won’t slip off your waist as you pull big miles. Designed and handmade in Portland, OR by an amazing hikertrash lady, Mandy “Purple Rain” Bland. $50-$60
This weekend, I was lucky enough to see Wild the Movie with three other thru-hikers, Pi (who I met on the PCT), Twinkle (who I met this year on the PCT), and Mr. Gorbachev (who has section-hiked Washington PCT). Here in Denver, Wild is only showing on one screen at a one arthouse theater, making us luck to score tickets, but the movie should be out in mainstream theaters soon. (Had we not been able to finagle tickets, our plan was to claim that as Real PCT Hikers, FoxSearchLight had commissioned us to be pre-show entertainment for opening weekend).
I liked Wild the Book, although my one complaint was that as a hiker, I wasn’t feeling the anxiety and suspense that most readers must have experienced. For the normal Oprah book club reader, there must be thrill in reading about crossing snowfields or climbing over boulders. As a hiker, my reaction while reading the book was “well, I know what she has to do to get out of this situation,” and “Yeah, that happens.”
However, in movie form, Cheryl’s outdoor troubles were pretty fun to watch. The other theater-goers must have found us hikers twisted when we laughed at some of her most harrowing hiking moments (note that we showed appropriate emotion towards her non-hiking troubles). One example of a time when we got some looks from the audience was when we chuckled at Cheryl’s pack bruises and scars on her shoulders and waist. What the others moviegoers could not have guessed was that we weren’t laughing at Cheryl, but we were laughing with her.
As hikers, our joy in Wild came as laughs of triumph. In watching Cheryl, we knew that we too had been in that position. We, too, had once been that scared and frustrated. What made Wild a joy to watch was that we now know exactly how to get out of that situation (and in fact, now that situation isn’t a big deal anymore).
Before I saw Wild, I had been warned by Barney “Scout” Mann, who saw a pre-screening at the Telluride Film Festival, that PCT hikers may find the inaccuracies of the landscapes in the filmdistracting. Specifically, the movie was shot on private land in Oregon and there were questions about whether the director could have done a better job making Ashland look like Southern California. After seeing the film, to the contrary, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the landscapes were more-or-less accurate to the trail (with the exception of Northern California—which, really, if they filmed in Ashland, they could have done a better job making it look like 11 miles south of where they filmed). I was specifically pleased to see how much the stretch from Highway 58 to Kennedy Meadows looked exactly like the trail—in fact, after watching the credits, I suspect they may have been able to film on the PCT or pretty close.
I was also satisfied by how accurately Wild portrayed hikertrash life. In a scene where Cheryl camps with other hikers, I was so impressed with the actors playing thru-hikers that I wondered if the casting agent just decided to find real thru-hikers instead of SAG cardholders. Furthermore, early viewers of the film had cautioned me that Cliff De Young doesn’t quite look like Meadow Ed, but I thought Hollywood did a great job of finding a guy who is pretty close, and making him look as he may have in the 1990s. Indeed, the casting on this film in general was phenomenal with even bit parts stealing the show.
It shouldn’t have surprised me, but I was shocked by how Wild evoked my memories and emotions related to the PCT. As always, whenever I see a photo or video of the PCT, I’m always surprised by how well I can identify where it was filmed. Even though we as thru-hikers cover thousands of miles, somehow landscapes stick in our minds and bring out memories and emotions in a way contrary to how the brain normally stores information. What alarmed me though, was at the end of the film, Cheryl makes it to Bridge of the Gods along the Columbia River. For a thru-hiker, BOG is a beautiful site—the end of a state, the lowest point on the trail, a place where food can be purchased at Cascade Locks. Yet, when I watched the movie, that landscape lost its beauty when separated from my own emotions (including hunger). Instead, BOG was a sad spot along the trail, because it meant the movie was going to end.
Every hiker has started a long trail with a story similar to Cheryl’s, or knows someone like her. While I enjoyed Wild the Book for Cheryl’s writing style and the parts not about hiking, I enjoyed Wild the Movie for the parts about hiking.