Reasons I Love Long-Distance Hiking

As hard as it is to believe 2015 is drawing to a close. Like many people this time of year, I'm taking some time to reflect on all the amazing moments I had during the year.  I'm so fortunate to have hiked on three long-distance trails and completed two of them, as well as half of the third before being taken off by a MRSA infection.  Somehow I got incredibly lucky to land a job as a hiking guide in the mountains where I learned to hike.  Yeah, this hasn't been a bad year at all. While I've been so happy to lead multi-night trips, long-distance hiking is where I find my true happiness.  This post is all about why I love hiking long trails. 

The thing I love the most about doing a long hike is the one thing I thought I wouldn't like: The Community.  I've never been much of a social person, but like many hikers I find when I'm out on a trail I've never met a stranger.  It's a lot of fun for me to be leading a hike on the AT through the Smokies on a trip I'm leading and running into someone who knows many of the same people I know.  Since becoming a guide here, every overnight hike I've been on I have run into someone thru hiking or section hiking who shares something with me.  It's a lot of fun to talk to someone who understands what I've been through and just talk trail for a few minutes.  Having this built in support system is so helpful on those long days when everyone is exhausted, but who has conquered all the obstacles you did that day.  

Unfortunately, cell phone signals are beginning to reach to the furthest corners of the longest trails. While this is a great tool to have for a Search and Rescue situation, it means that we are becoming more and more reachable.  While I do journal on my phone every night while we're on trail, I try to avoid turning off the airplane mode setting.  I like living off the grid of social media and 24-hour news for a few months at a time.  It not only clears my head, I feel like my mental acuity become sharper and clearer when I'm hiking.  My critical thinking skills seem to skyrocket when I'm hiking and Google isn't just a click away on my phone.  Having real conversations with other hikers face-to-face is one of my favorite things to do. 

Human beings are incredibly fond of patterns and usually resistant to change. Change is hard and uncomfortable.  Change makes you push your limits and see what you are really capable of doing. While hiking for a few weeks can cause you to form patterns, change is a constant. Having to adapt to weather conditions on the fly, choosing whether or not to take a side trip, or even what you're going to buy on your resupply are all decisions you're going to have to make in a split second.  An example of this was when NoKey lost his rain cover on the Long Trail. We didn't need to go into town, but it was going to be a huge risk to hike without one. While we didn't get caught in any daytime downpours after we bought the cover, not having it would ensure all of his gear getting soaked in a rainstorm. We chose to go to town and not only somehow managed to hitchhike successfully from a guy riding a bicycle, we met a true trail angel and did an amazing 18.7 miles that day. 

Hiking has played such an important role in my life the past few years. Before I began hiking I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, depression, and anxiety. I was 50 pounds overweight. I had no idea what I was going to do with my life. As I began hiking more and more the weight came off and being alone with my thoughts was no longer scary. I learned I could push my limits and quitting when I was tired just wasn't an option when the car was still 5 more miles away. While I still have a long way to go to work on myself, I know hiking a few short months on a few long trails is the best therapy I've ever had.  

What is your favorite thing about taking a long hike - be it a long day hike or a few months out in the wilderness? I'd love to talk with you about your experiences!  Leave me a comment below or find me over on Facebook to get the conversation started.