Two Sides. Same Coin?

In the span of less than a week, I discovered two thru-hiker news stories online. The first told the tale of 75 year-old Tom Young from North Myrtle Beach, SC who conquered the stretch from Springer to Katahdin in a week shy of six months. A few days later I came across the story of 26 year-old Joe McConaughy, who did the same deed, but in the course of his trip shattered both the supported and unsupported (he carried a 25-pound pack the entire way) speed record by landing at the “Northern Terminus” sign in 45 days, 12 hours and 15 minutes.

Most people fall heavily on one side of the following argument or the other: Is it more fulfilling to hike for enjoyment, like Tom “Grey Eagle” Young, or hike with a mission, like Joe “Stringbean” McConaughy?

I land somewhere in the middle. Back in my halcyon days of 26.2 milers, I was totally mission minded. A marathon was something to be conquered, not enjoyed. The enjoyment came after the race. And when I tackle my first week-long section hike on the AT, there will definitely be a mission mindset at play. Given X number of days to complete X number of miles, one can’t help but assign goals to the thing. However, I’m hoping to schedule myself enough hiking days so that, while staying focused on time/distance markers, I’m not hammering my body to achieve them and allowing myself some rose-sniffing opportunities along the way.

Of course, age and ability play a part for me, too. I was never an elite marathoner; my PR was 3:28, so I never expected to run with the human tornadoes when the gun went off. Likewise, even if I was in my twenties I couldn’t maintain the pace of a world-class ultra athlete like Stringbean. I’m thinking shooting for 100 days would have been an aggressive enough goal for me.

Today, being north of fifty and all? Let’s just say that this blog isn’t called “Slowing Down to Enjoy the View” for nothing…

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Don’t Hike Alone?

I read quite a bit about hiking and backpacking. Um…yeah. That’s how this aspirational section hiker learns. I tend to gravitate towards hiking blogs and journals, and read thru-hiking books when one catches my fancy.

And I will, on occasion, see a local news story online about hiking basics or some such topic, and I’ll give them my readership out of curiosity. This past week I saw two articles, in two different online newspapers, in two different states dealing with the topic of enjoying hiking. And both, to my surprise? chagrin? put on their respective lists, “Don’t hike alone”.

That’s anathema to me. As a solo runner, I always appreciate my time alone, pounding the pavement or slipping through the trees. Ditto hiking. Granted, I’m not against hiking with a small group of others or with a partner, as my two most recent hikes suggest. But I’ve always preferred the thought-provoking solitude and flexibility of pace provided by solo hikes, even when I was just beginning. Shoot, my first hike was a solitary six miles into the rugged-for-a-newbie Hundred Mile Wilderness on the AT. Admittedly, I was well prepared from a physical and equipment standpoint, thanks to trail running and a fanatical desire to read everything in sight about a topic of interest. I had my ten essentials. I had extra water and food. I had Permethrin soaked clothing and appropriate shoes.

Maybe these two reporters just decided to err on the side of caution? Not everyone is in post-marathon shape like yours truly. Or prepares so diligently for the simplest of hikes (See: Mother and daughter survive hiking ordeal in New Zealand). Maybe they fear injury, or attack by domestic two-legged or wild four-legged animals. Still, when an emphatic “Don’t hike alone!” makes the list, I feel for those who will take that completely to heart and never experience the joy of the solo hike.

To each his or her own. HYOH (Hike Your Own Hike). However, unless I have an incident that sours me on the idea, or I specifically ask someone to go along, I’ll continue to hike alone…

The Return of Squiggly Sticks

When I announced to friends and family that I was moving to Virginia and looking forward to hiking the hundreds of miles of trails in this state, many of them had the same initial reaction: venomous snakes! Having lived eleven years in Missouri and run on various trails, I’m no stranger to the occasional copperhead. I may even have encountered a timber rattler or two; I blasted past several diamond-patterned slithery serpents without stopping to identify their type.

But during the decades I lived in Maine, I only recall seeing three snakes. And there are no venomous ones native to the frozen tundra there. So I’ve grown complacent over the last six years, knowing that any “squiggly stick” I encounter is overwhelmingly likely to be just that.

The other morning I was out for a run in my new home state and, in the early morning light, approached a squiggly stick in the middle of a quiet street. At first I wasn’t concerned, then I remembered where I was and slowed. As I grew nearer, I was able to identify the critter stretched out on the asphalt in front of me: It was a squiggly stick. Relieved, I booted it to the grass and kept on running.

It was an important reminder that I’m back in the land of venom-totin’ pit vipers. And not every squiggly stick I encounter will be one, especially when I strap on a pack and head to the lush greenery of the Virginia woods…