Secrets to Thru-Hiking Success

Hollywood has romanticized thru-hiking with movies like Wild set on the Pacific Crest Trail and A Walk in the Woods on the Appalachian Trail.

But until you spend even a day carrying 50-pounds for 20 miles, you have no idea what it takes to keep up that pace for five entire months. As a friend said once, “You do anything for five months, it’s bound to wear thin.”

The Pacific Crest Trail covers 2,659 miles from the deserts of California to the Cascade Mountains and the border with Canada. Along with the hikers who start making their way north in May comes a wave of camaraderie and support that catches on among day hikers and visitors along the way.

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By mid-June many thru-hikers were passing through Los Angeles where I spoke with a few on a weekend trip in the Angeles National Forest. As I pulled up to the parking lot, a young couple quickly made themselves friendly. 

“Are you looking for a good place to hike?” she asked me. 

“I’m looking for the PCT,” I said. 

“Oh yea. We thru-hiked it last year. The trail’s over there. The sign post looks like this,” she said, pointing to her boyfriends arm with a tattoo of the PCT shield emblem. He pulled up his sleeve and smiled.

Such was the nature of thru-hikers. 

I also met Art Brody, who is documenting his trek on Youtube. We met at a watering spring near Little Jimmy’s Camp and I told him how sore my back and legs were after just a single day on the trail. 

Every backpacking trip I have ever done has been equal parts pleasure and complete misery with the two emotions seeming to fluctuate every hour. I could only imagine the aches and pains he must be feeling.

“Oh, you get used to that after the first week or so,” he said with a smile. “The soreness goes away.”

Art had something else that I could tell was really important to accomplish a lengthy thru-hike and that’s a positive attitude. His enthusiasm and bright smile belied someone who had already trekked 200 miles.

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There’s no doubt that hiking nearly a marathon every day with a heavy pack will wear on your body like probably nothing else in the physical world. But how you cope with the mental fortitude required to keep going makes all the difference. 

Hiking and especially thru-hiking is a great way to practice zen Buddhist mindfulness by concentrating on every step, one moment at a time, to keep your mind off of pain. 

So too, in the morning, yoga and self-massage can ease your joints and create a morning routine that occupies the mind and prepares for the day ahead.

With this mind, it just might be possible for any of us to complete this Herculean feat. 

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