Last week, I wrote in the High Country Newsabout why closing the gender gap in the outdoors is important and steps women can take to reclaim the outdoors.
This weekend, I joined women around the country (and world!) in an effort to do just that. Hike Like A Girl Weekend, May 14th-15th, was designed to encourage women everywhere to push outside their limits. Whether that means going to a new area, going solo for the first time, or hiking an especially difficult route, women all around the country joined to show their presence.
Walking and marching have long been a part of protest. But if a protester walks in the woods, does it create any change?
On my hike, I saw women of all colors and shapes reaching for new heights. Although I was hiking solo, I eavesdropped on a few groups and heard women say, “Who knew that hiking could be so much fun?” and women say, “I never knew the mountains could be so beautiful!” These women’s minds were changed.
Hike Like A Girl Weekend changed women themselves, too. I heard so many people say, “I never thought I could make it all this way.” In fact, I was one of those women. My original hike (trip report to follow later) was an ambitious 6-peak, 8,000 foot gain hike over 25 miles. The full extension of the hike—which I’ve only done once, 10 years ago—adds 3 more peaks and seemed far out of my reach. But, on Hike Like A Girl Weekend, I surprised myself. I was faster than I expected and added on those last 3 peaks with relative ease. I found out I was stronger than I thought. I know other women discovered their strength this weekend, too.
While upping the number of women in the outdoors is a great help in closing the gender gap, a more equal and just outdoors world is impossible without cultural change. This means not just changing the way that women think about the outdoors, but changing the way that men think about women in the outdoors. It means changing media portrayals of women outdoors. It means changing perceptions of what it means to be an outdoorsy woman. It means, most importantly, removing barriers to entry for women in the outdoors, especially legal and professional obstacles.
I’m talking about how women get paid less than men—even in the outdoor industry: how women have to work harder to prove ourselves as able as men in a series of outdoor jobs, from rangers to gear sales reps to athletes. I’m talking about women rangers still getting harassed in this day and age. These are the real obstacles to society’s perception of women being equals in the outdoors.
Hike Like A Girl Weekend was Step 1. Now, asking demanding more for women is Step 2.
Neighborhoods Visited: Grant Park, Irvington, Steel Bridge, Old Town, Chinatown, Downtown, PSU, Goose Hollow, Southwest Hills, Burnside Bridge, Morrison Bridge, Nob Hill
So…for the 1st time in 7 urban hikes, I’ve been accosted. Virgo, who is thru-hiking with me and filming the Portland hike (and hiked the Seattle urban hike with me and made this great video), and I were headed from NE Portland over to the Steel Bridge. Now, this is a very public area and it was a sunny day. We were walking in broad daylight and there were tourists and families about. It happened in a place where I felt very safe. We were pumped about the day and about crossing over to the west side.
We were headed down some stairs towards the pedestrian bridge entrance and Virgo, like usual, had found a beautiful angle for me to walk through and was setting it up to get the lighting right. A guy came walking up the stairs saying, “Don’t f-ing take a photo of me.” Virgo told him, “Sir, I am not running the camera right now and wasn’t taking a video of you. I am just metering the camera.” The guy then did a high kick towards the camera and stepped on Virgo’s foot and got into his face as if he was going to fight him. Virgo remained calm (though I could tell he was holding back) and reassured the man that he had not been filming him. The man then lunged at Virgo’s face and grabbed his Ray Bans off his head and threw them to the ground, shattering them. Meanwhile, I watched on, shocked and too scared to be of much help. I was really impressed by how cool and respectful Virgo was. The man proceeded to make overtly sexual comments towards me while insulting Virgo’s masculinity (he must have assumed we were a couple). It was really awful, but we played cool, respectful, and waited until he left to continue filming.
We were both in shock. I really want pedestrians and urban hikers to reclaim their city, but I guess this was bound to happen sometime. I just didn’t think it’d be in Portland.
Not 10 minutes later, we were on the west side of the Steel Bridge and needed to go up some stairs. There were three homeless people sitting on the stairs with their shopping cart-ful of belongings blocking the entrance. Virgo knows that I’m a purist about getting all the stairs on an urban hike—a “rule” I’ve imposed on myself even though no one is watching (and no one cares, either). Even so, I told Virgo, “let’s just skip this stairway.” I was too shaken from the earlier incident to have another confrontation.
I’m so lucky to be doing this hike with another person, and one as street savvy as Virgo. He kindly and respectfully asked them if it was ok with them if they would move. They were actually very, very kind. Yet, when we walked between them, it was clear they were using drugs at the time. One guy was bloody behind his ear and on his hands and arms. It looked like he had just gotten beaten up. It was really heartbreaking to see, and yet I was still scared. People who don’t have the ability to get proper sleep due to laws or fear of being attacked are going through sleep deprivation. Having done a sleep study, I get that. You can be angry, irritable, unpredictable. Virgo told me afterwards that he was concerned they may try to stab him with a needle for his camera. It seemed like there were so many people, desperate and needy and addicted to drugs, who eyed his camera.
The stairs along the Morrison Bridge proved to be frustrating and dangerous. My Portland Stairway book calls these stairs infuriating—requiring pedestrians to go up and down sets of stairs so that cars don’t have to stop. These suspended stairways were filled with trash and needles. There were so many needles and tops of needles everywhere today.
Despite our dampened mood, nonetheless, we made the best of our time today. We visited Hair of the Dog Brewery. We walked through PSU’s campus and the North Block Park.
A highlight was visiting the Portland Montbell store on 10th and Yamhill and seeing Tommy and Panorama. I got some more warm and lightweight clothing before heading out back into the rain.
We visited the famous foodcart island and grabbed grilled cheese sandwiches before doing a mandatory ice cream stop at Ruby Jewell and visiting by Powell’s bookstore. Then we crossed over to the NW quadrant for the first time. I had kind of expected to feel safer in the NW quadrant, but we walked along a sidewalk stair near the stadium instead of taking the stairs because a couple was what appeared to me as having sex on the tunnel-like stair we needed to be on. Virgo said it looked like they were doing drugs. Either way, since it was a sidewalk stair, we could still get where we needed to go by walking the other sidewalk right by it. Yes, I know, now my urban thru-hike is invalid 😉
The trees today were gorgeous and as we went uphill into NW 23rd Ave, it felt like we were walking into a completely different planet than we had experience today.
The stairclimbing community in LA always told me that the best way to prevent crime in public spaces is to have people out and about walking—families, petwalkers, tourists, commuters. I still believe that and ultimately, one guy who clearly was having a rough day, shouldn’t make us forget about all the wonderful experience an urban thru-hike can offer.
What surprises me the most about the event was that outsiders—people who don’t live in Portland—never thought this could happen in Portland while locals were not surprised. Portland definitely has an identity bolstered by the TV show Portandia and by the trendiness of Mississippi, Albina, Williams, Alberta, Clinton, NW 23rd Ave. Outsiders were willing to forgive Portland and refuse to believe this could happen in Portland (myself included). For seasoned world travelers, what happened to us is not terribly notable. It just has never happened to me, and that’s why I found it so upsetting. Urban hiking—I suppose like backcountry hiking—is a game of numbers. Eventually, something is bound to happen, even if you make smart decisions. I’m just glad that no one was hurt and the only property loss was a pair of sunglasses.
Yet ultimately, it is a city with all the good things and all the bad things. We just ran into an “urban grizzly,” and although we were bluff charged, we didn’t get mauled.
I’ve always been able to live with being a little less happy in the off-season in the short term because I could tell myself “it’ll all be better soon. You’ll be hiking in 4 short months.”
I’m beginning to think that rather than postponing happiness until hiking season, I’d be better off learning how to take the joy of hiking and find it in real life.
I started reading a bunch of articles on being happier and realized that the “lessons” they were suggesting were really stuff I already knew from hiking. It turns out the lessons we learn on trail—that make us survive and thrive in the outdoors—can actually apply to being happier in “real” life, too. Here are a few of the lessons I’ve found on “happiness lists” that are also true for hiking:
We can’t change what happens to us. But we can change how we react to it. In hiking, we learn that we can’t change the weather. We can’t change wildfires. We can’t make that blister go away (well not immediately). But we can change how we react to them. If it rains, we can put on a rain jacket or heck, set up our shelter and spend the rest of the day playing MadLibs. If there’s a wildfire, we can figure out how to walk around it. We can tape up that blister and drain it, or (worst case scenario) take a few zeroes and get new shoes. It turns out that real life has “solutions” too. By changing my attitude to an “oh, I know how to make this better” way of thinking, a lot of the stuff that was making me angry suddenly became a lot easier to manage.
Don’t judge yourself for not sticking to the plan. We all make itineraries for our hikes. And ultimately, 99% of people don’t end up sticking exactly to every day they had planned for in that Excel spreadsheet. But it’s when we start feeling guilty—like we should have kept that to itinerary—that we get hard on ourselves. And when I’m hard on myself, not only do I get unhappy, but I get clumsy and start fumbling on everything. By making a plan, trying hard, and not feeling guilty if it doesn’t happen quite on my timeline, I will be a lot less stressed.
Find wonderful, beautiful things, wherever you are: I’m a big fan of finding little wonders everywhere, not just in big vistas. It’s one reason why I love urban hiking or the Appalachian Trail. No matter how bad my day is, I know there will always be something tiny that can cheer me up.
Make your own choices.Set your own goals.Check in on your progress often. You can hike the trail by getting up, walking, and camping wherever you end up (this is how I hiked my first thru). Or you can hike with an intention of making it to a particular lake. Or a goal of making it in town. The deliberate setting of goals is how I take control of my hiking day. It’s how I make sure that others hikers don’t hijack my hike when they want to camp early (unless I really want to keep hiking with them the next day). It’s a yardstick to measure my progress so far vs. where I want to go. In real life, it’s what will keep me on track instead of getting swept up in the newest work crisis.
Follow your circadian rhythms. On trail, we usually get up when the sun rises and go to sleep when the sun goes down. We always get plenty of sleep following that schedule. In the “real world,” we can get distracted with lights and TV. Getting enough sleep and waking up early is all about getting back to my trail roots.
Stop comparing myself vs. people around me. On trail more than anywhere, I’ve learned that just because someone may be faster than me today doesn’t mean I won’t beat them to Canada. It’s also taught me that it doesn’t matter who makes it to Canada first, it matters who makes it to Canada the happiest. In real life, just because someone may seem “better” than me at being skinny, or speaking eloquently, or having an fancy profession doesn’t mean that I’m not doing an awesome job at other things. I just have to remember to not get distracted from excelling at my own thing.
Eat enough and stay hydrated On trail, I know my body will bonk if I don’t eat enough or stay hydrated. Oh, if only I could remember that lesson during a busy day of report-writing for work! It sure would make me better at doing my job and also at being happier while doing it.
Find friendship everywhere. This one I’m good at on trail but bad at in “real life.” I’m pretty shy (hence the spending time in the woods solo thing), so striking up conversations with strangers just seems weird to me. But on trail, I’m looking for some social interaction and the barriers are broken. I’d like to be more like my trail self all the time and see everyone as a potential partner worth hiking hundreds of miles with.
Make time for friends. One of the reasons why trail friendships are so deep is because of the amount of time we have available to spend with each other. If I were to have a 1 hour coffee meeting with a friend every week for a year, that’s 52 hours of hanging out. If I were to hang out with a new friend on trail for 3 days straight, that’s 72 hours—more than I’ve spend with that coffee buddy. In “real life”, I don’t always have the kind of time to spend with folks, but if I can let myself be free of distractions, even when I’m off trail, I can make deep friendship a priority
Stay active, preferably outdoors: An obvious reason that hikers are so happy is that we’re exercising all day. All that movement get the blood going and increases endorphins in our brain, while also reducing the stress hormones. Being outdoors during our activity is like a super shot of happiness. Check out this awesome infographic on staying happy for more info: http://www.happify.com/hd/exercise-and-happiness-infographic/
“The secret of getting ahead is getting started” Mark Twain
Maps. Gear. Food. Planning for a thru-hike can involve so much stuff and data, it can seem downright daunting.
Before I started my first thru-hike, I obsessed the Pacific Crest Trail, but was scared to actually take the first step to make a thru-hike happen. Friends knew of my dream and would urge me to pursue it, but I kept letting fear and the amount of work involved keep me from doing anything about it. I found excuses to avoid even starting to plan. I didn’t even know if I could find the time and money, so why waste that time dreaming?
Then, in January of 2008, I took the plunge and went in head first. I didn’t know what I was doing, but all I can say is that that decision is among the best things I’ve ever done.
Planning and prep for a thru-hike will look different from person to person. We have different goals, different dreams, different timelines. And no matter how much prep we do, Mother Nature always throws something unexpected at us. But the truth is, regardless of who we are or how we want to hike, our experience in the outdoors is safer and more enjoyable when we take initiative and do some old fashioned planning.
Here are some tips to beat inertia and indecision and to hop on the planning train.
Commit to hike, even if you aren’t 100% sure you can make it happen I can tell there’s a difference between the trails that I’ve planned a year out vs. hikes I cobbled together 2 weeks in advance. The further out I can commit to a trail (even if it’s a slow start), the better off I am physically and mentally when I do hit the trail. Committing to my hike early also allows gives me the time to address my demands at home (work, my stuff, bills, etc.) and to make sure years in advance that the family vacation won’t be scheduled in the middle of my hike.
If you’re not sure you can actually hike (find time and money), research how others have made it happen. People from all walks of life have thru-hiked. All ages, all backgrounds, all sorts of professions. Finding the time and money to do a trip sometimes requires some creativity, but if you want it enough, it can be done! Work with a financial planner and talk to other hikers who are similar positions of you to get ideas and inspiration.
Decide to start planning early….say, now. If you’ve ever thought about thru-hiking, the more time you give yourself to mentally be in the “I’m going on a thru-hike space” the better prepared you will be when that day actually happens. If you’re planning on hiking this summer, in 2017, or after you retire in 5 years, setting your goal now and moving on it is a great way to make sure it happens.
Stop worrying that prep and planning will take away from the adventure. No matter how much prep and planning you do, the outdoors is always giving us surprises, always giving us gifts, and promises to keep us on our toes. On a long hike in remote country, you’ve got a smaller margin of error than you do at home. Planning and prep isn’t about forming expectations. It’s about being willing to take whatever Mother Nature gives us and have the knowledge and skills to know what to do with it.
Don’t buy your gear yet. The temptation to go out and buy the first great deal that you see at the outfitter is great. “Who cares how it works? I’ll figure it out after I take it home!” I’ve declared far too often. But for many hikers, gear is the biggest expense of a thru-hike, so it’s worth doing some research—a lot of research—before handing over your hard earned cash.
Find a mentor. First-time thru-hikers who learn from thru-hiking mentors not only get the information to hike, but also get personal support that a book or listserve doesn’t offer. A good mentor will live by the motto “there are no stupid questions.” Avoid online forums, listserves, and facebook groups with trolls that prey on newbies. Instead, look for mentors who are willing to take the time to “tailor” answers specifically to you and who are willing to invest the time to learn about you to help you come to decisions that fit your goals and values.
Know How to Choose the Information You Use. There is a lot of info on mountaineering, survivalism, and “the right thing to do in the outdoors” out there. But just like if you’re planning to bake a cake, a cooking class will only be so useful, if you’re planning to thru-hike, a survivalism book will also be of limited use. A lot of hikers I meet get caught up in learning skills and strategies that tend to not be useful for most 3-season thru-hikers, like learning to kill and skin squirrels or build ice caves. These people would have better spent their time learning to develop a lighter gear system or plan out their resupplies—skills better suited to long distance backpackers.
Carve out time each week to plan for your trip. Even if it’s only an hour each week, this is your time to re-commit to your goal, familiarize yourself with your trail, and prepare yourself for the challenges of a hike. Whether this time is spent taking a class, watching a hiking movie, reading a book, or going over your dream gear list, regularly making trip planning a part of your habitual routine will make sure your dream can’t slip away.
Break planning into chunks. Planning, research, and prep can be overwhelming, but you don’t have to do everything all at once. For example, a friend of mine committed to spend one month just on finding the best sleeping bag for his trip and saving up for it. You can do something similar by spending one week (or one month if your trip is a few years out) just researching something as silly as salty snack foods. The more time you have before your trip, the more easily you can break up your research and prepping needs and make the process fun. Plus, staying engaged throughout the planning process can help you get even more psyched about your trip.
If you have always dreamed of thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, John Muir Trail, Camino de Santiago, or any other trail, on January 12th, I will be launching (with BACKPACKER Magazine) a 6-week online course called Thru-Hiking 101 with videos, worksheets, interviews, webinars, gearlists, physical fitness training calendars, and community. It’s an easy to digest, unintimidating guide to help you plan for your first thru-hike and make your dream of outdoor adventure come true. Sign up today
The Adventure Sports Podcast is an interview-based hour long, Colorado-based podcast that tells stories about all sorts of outdoor adventures. I had a lot of fun taking a break from my Denver-Colfax urban thru-hike to sit down with Travis from the podcast and talk about hikes, projects I’m working on, and why I love hiking.
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.
Unless you’ve been on trail for the last two years, you likely know that today, the movie version of Cheryl Strayed’s book WILD comes out (in select theaters, sorry Bend, OR). Cheryl’s story of her 1996 section-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail is one of few major blockbuster films about long distance hiking. Not watching movies in theaters is one of the ways that I save money for thru-hiking every summer—but I think with WILD, I’ll make an exception.
There are a lot of WILD haters on the Internet and in the hiking community. Sure, Cheryl is not the best hiker in the world, but I can guarantee that whatever hiker is bemoaning her hiking skills can’t write anywhere close to as well as Cheryl. The way she uses words in the book is an art form such that even when I knew what would happen next in the story—in the hiking world, when a problem befalls someone, there are usually limited options, only one of which won’t end in the author dying—I still wanted to read on.
In movie form, I was worried that the poetic nature of Cheryl’s writing would disappear, but everything I hear from those who have seen it already is that the beauty remains. With the exception that that the landscape scenery is sometimes distracting to thru-hikers (who know that “hey, that background is clearly the Oregon High Desert, not the California High Desert”), the storytelling and acting in the movie is supposedly quite moving. The word being thrown around is “Oscar Bait.”
A big concern many hikers worry about is that if a million people watch WILD and even 0.1% of them decide to go hike the PCT as a result, that’s 1000 extra people hiking on the PCT. Skeptics of WILD claim that these people likely think that Cheryl is a backpacking expert. These people are going to crowd the trail, not practice Leave No Trace, and leave trash and toilet paper everywhere along our pristine wilderness.
I find the views of these haters to be too extreme.
First, the Pacific Crest Trail Association has been incredibly active about capturing the interest in WILD as a discussion started to practicing responsible hiking. With the PCTA as the starting point for all information about the PCT, prospective hikers will likely get the information they need to reduce their footprint on the trail.
Second, the Class on 2014 PCT thru-hikers certainly had their share of WILD aficionados, and for the most part, the ones I met were 30-60 year old women who were eager to learn about how to hike better, safer, and more responsibly. Those who are going to be least responsible (who am I kidding—it’s clearly men 18-24 I’m talking about here) are not really the target audience for WILD.
Lastly, I strongly believe that every person who does a long hike is going to come out better on the other side. Any person who is willing to enter a place and a lifestyle that lets them live authentically—without the distractions of electronics or pressures of money and status—is going to change their world perspective.
Despite the ecological pressures that increased hiking use may have on a narrow PCT corridor (especially the desert), I believe that every hiker who walks the PCT is going to have a changed environmental ethic. Walking a long hiking trail has the power to change how a person votes in elections. It has the power to change how a person spends dollars in the “real world.” It has the power to change what causes people put their energy behind supporting. And, as WILD shows, it has the power to heal.
Each person who hikes the PCT comes off the trail spreading an environmental message and a message of healing to dozens of family and friends who follows their journey. I’m not saying that a bunch of WILD-watching hikers are going to change the world overnight, but the potential impact WILD could have on our communities, our lifestyle, and our world as a whole is certainly not nil.
If WILD has the power to bring us closer to a world of healed, whole people who value natural places of beauty, (and tell a story that will entertain for 2 hours while eating popcorn), I think it’s certainly worth $10 to see it in the theater.
Backpacking has taught me what it means to be grateful. Somehow, in the process of not having access to anything but what is on my back, when I return from a trip, I can appreciate all the little facets that make “normal” living so wonderful. Some of these things seem silly to be thankful for, but if I weren’t a backpacker, I might’ve taken these for granted. Here are a few simple things that I am thankful for:
1) Hot water: How amazing is it that it just comes out of a faucet without having to protect your water heater from the wind and rain?? I am enormously grateful every time I have hot water from my faucet or my kettle.
2) Showers: infinite amounts of hot water to bathe in!?! No trying to light my stove in the wind required?? No nasty blue sponge required?! I am always thankful to have a clean body without having to “swim” in a frozen lake.
3) A roof:Could there be anything more joyous than watching it rain and snow—from the comfort and warmth of a covered area? I am grateful for a roof that I am fairly positive does not need to be patted multiple times during the night to prevent it from collapsing on my face.
4) Perishable, real food (and ice cream): After eating a lifetime’s worth of dried fruit and nuts and “food” with expiration dates set for when I’m eligible for Social Security, I am so thankful to eat any food that couldn’t survive a few hours away from a cooling source.
5) Getting from Point A to B in a car/bus/train/plane: Sure, I love walking, but when it comes to getting to work everyday or coming from a friend’s house in the dark, I really appreciate the speed, warmth, and imperviousness to the elements that not walking provides.
6) Clean water: How amazing is it to never have to worry about whether a cow/dead buffalo/algae bloom has befouled my drinking water?
7) Living in a four-sided structure: I am equally grateful for the walls around my living quarters that prevent wind, the cold, and the endless buzz of mosquitoes from disturbing my slumber.
8) A mattress: I actually enjoy sleeping on the floor, but there’s something incredibly luxurious about not having to worry about rolling of a sleeping mat or not getting a hole in a sleeping mat.
9) TV and movies: How many times on trail would I have given all my food just to watch School of Rock one more time?I don’t watch TV or movies everyday, or even every week, but just knowing that I could if I wanted to is pleasure enough.
10) Friends and family: I am thankful for both my trail family—all the people I have met on adventures—and to those back at home I miss the most when I’m far away and whose love and support make my adventures possible. Happy Thanksgiving to all!
Has being outdoors made you grateful for something others may consider “common place”?
After an awesome week hiking in Moab with Lawton “Disco” Grinter (from the Trail Show, the Walkumentary), it seemed like the next best way to continue my Disco fix was to read his book I Hike (Grand Mesa Press, 192 pages, paperback and Kindle). I Hike immediately differentiated itself from other adventure tales on my bookshelf because Disco picks and chooses stories across many trails, sparing the reader the termini-to-termini focus. The result is a rich set of vignettes that document the wisdom and maturity that hiking can bring to a young person. Each chapter has a different locale, but the stories are tied together well with a theme of living a simple fulfilling life with friends (on a trail).
Based on Disco’s work on the Trail Show, I had assumed I Hike would be a funny book filled with triumphant tales of trail shenanigans. It certainly has plenty of that, but although the same joyous humor that Disco shares on his podcast comes through in I Hike, I was surprised by the depth and wisdom of many of the chapters. I Hike is thick with insight only gained from walking. In the least serious example of this, readers learn alongside Disco that eating a half gallon of ice cream in one sitting is a poor decision. In the most serious case, Disco reflects on the dangers of hiking and the fragility of the simple hiking life.
In writing I Hike, Disco doesn’t shy away from the difficult parts of hiking, but reflects on them. Why is it that sometimes a long hike is hard and we feel like we want to quit? I Hike also explores what I find to be one of the most beautiful aspects of trail life: the seemingly miraculous transition from suffering to salvation. Yet Disco takes this idea further: it isn’t the transition itself that is incredible, but the irony of how quickly our fates change. This is because being on the trail, no matter how bad (with some exception), isn’t suffering (as the saying goes: “A bad day on the trail is better than a good day at work”). Instead, what is incredible about hiking is that we learn how whimsical our fate can be. Our desire and delight in walking is impacted by our perspective as much as by the weather.
I tried to ration the chapters—forcing myself to do some chores and money-making ventures in between each story—but found myself powerless and read the whole thing in a sitting. Disco’s way of writing is funny and engaging, and because he explains technical hiker terms so well, I Hike may be a better introduction to long distance hiking than A Walk in the Woods (for one thing, Disco has end-to-ended several trails and Bill Bryson couldn’t make it past Gatlinburg). I am eager to share this vivid slice of thru-hiking life with my non-hiking friends. Moreover, I wish I could have read this book before I started thru-hiking so that I could have had a better idea of what I was getting into—the fantastic, the hilarious, the heartbreaking—and could have learned about the trail in a non-guidebook style medium.
Throughout I Hike, I was repeatedly reminded of the kindness and generosity of the hiking community. In numerous stories, Disco and his then hiking partner/fiancé now wife, POD, go through extremes to help those in need, even when they have nothing to gain and much to lose by doing so. Reading I Hike on a lonely day was like a portkey into the magical hiking world that can seem so fantastical compared to humdrum cubicle life. I Hike is a reminder that no matter what life (or the trail) may present, the hiker family will provide redemption.
Disclaimer: I don’t usually read hiking books because I am worried my own trail experiences might get muddled up with someone else’s (or that reading about others’ trip may alter my expectations). This is one reason why I hadn’t read I Hike until now (it came out at the end of 2012). Disco graciously sent me this copy and forever changed the way I think about hiking books. Far from mixing with my own experiences or altering my expectations, I Hike helped me understand and digest my on-trail experiences better. I am very grateful that he was able to share his stories with me.