Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Philosophical approach to hiking

As I've read a lot of books and blogs and whatnot on hiking recently, I've come to realize that lots of folks hike for lots of different reasons.  As I'm gearing up to make hiking a major part of my life (again, after many years of it being fairly fallow) I've had to ask myself what I like about it, and what I hope to get out of it.

In particular, I've had to examine the priorities and approach of the "uber-hikers"--the thru-hikers of long trails like the AT or the PCT, and the ultra-lite zealots who approach weight reduction like a religious imperative (and to many, Ray Jardin is their prophet.)

When I was hiking much more regularly, ultralite wasn't really a thing yet, or if it was, I was certainly completely unaware of it.  I hiked with a big external frame pack, as did everyone I knew.  I hiked in big hiking boots.  I did, however, on my own, come to the conclusion that a lot of stuff people brought was unnecessary, and after several smaller overnighters, I started thrifiting my pack of stuff that I wasn't using.  While many of my compatriots bore their heavier packs as a badge of honor, mine ended up being among the lightest of our group, because I didn't bring stuff that they took for granted that you needed to have.  So in many ways, when ultralite became a thing, I was probably pre-disposed to already enjoy that.

However, believe it or not, that's not really true.  I don't necessarily enjoy hiking for its own sake, I enjoy it because it allows me to reach places that I otherwise couldn't see.  I enjoy the solitude, and the scenery, and the break from my routine.  "Uberhikers" who put in big miles, and get their satisfaction from the sense of accomplishment of having done something big and monumental or whatever employ a paradigm that I honestly don't quite get.  Taking your time and enjoying the experience is more my speed.

So, while even so, lighter weight gear is, of course, just as useful to me with that paradigm as it is to uberhikers, the almost fetishization of lightweight is not.  I'm not always interested in shaving off a few ounces from every piece of gear if I otherwise quite like the gear that I've selected, for instance.  The (possibly apocryphal) stories of folks cutting the handles off of their toothbrushes, or drilling holes in their titanium sporks strike me as extreme devotion to the God of lightweight, where I'm much more casual in my worship.  Lightweight is good, but it's not everything.

I've also decided that, as much as the romanticization of thru-hiking something like the PCT has gripped me in the past, I don't really want to ever do that.  The JMT is probably the longest single trip I would consider in one go--and more likely, I'd prefer smaller trips of about a week at a time.  I'd rather hike to the highlights, taking my time, with a lot of down time to enjoy the scenery and the solitude in a relaxed environment, where I don't have big goals of mileage to cover, or anything like that.  Frankly, where possible, I'd even like day hikes, where I can buy dinner at a restaurant and sleep in a bed after a day on the trail, and I only have to carry a Camelbak and a bit of lunch/snacks, instead of a backpack full of gear.  Plus, that allows me to bring more of my family along.  My wife really isn't much for overnight backpacker trips, although day hikes are right up her alley.  And although I like the solitude, I really want to also enjoy it with someone, after all.

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