View Full Version : Attention All Long Distance Hikers!

2003-03-04, 16:39
Sorry for the shouting topic line.
I'm getting near completion of my survey instrument for my master's thesis on "Motivations of Long Distance Hikers" and I'm just playing with a few ideas. I'm primarily looking at folks who have completed a trip longer than 250 miles (Section hiking, thruhiking..) In a nutshell, what would you consider you're primary motivation for going backpackpacking? Challenge? Adventure? Love of Nature? Solitude? Something Else? If you have any comments I'd be happy to hear them.

BTW - even after thruhiking I'm still not completly sure of why I did it!


-Johnny Swank, MEGA 2K

2003-03-05, 07:53
motivations? that's certainly a complicated subject, especially related to long distance hiking.

for your point of reference, i hiked about 1,400 miles on the AT in 2000. my intention was to thru-hike with my buddy (mostly because he asked me to). it very quickly became a lot more than that. i believe my motivations changed as the hike progressed and ultimately, i ran out of motivation, as i did allow a passing physical injury (concussion) to end my hike.

pre-hike and early in the hike, i was driven by a sense of adventure and i guess there was the challenge aspect also. those didn't seem to last very long. i guess i went thru all the motivations you suggest, but i think, for me, it came down to simplicity (hike, eat and sleep) and solitude. there were many times i was a little resentful when too many other hikers were around. even my hiking partner didn't see much of me. he is 16 years younger and a much faster hiker (at least early on), so i hiked alone most of the time and met up with him at some prearranged destination. one thing i've never told him, is after i got my hiking legs, i frequently laid back so i could hike alone all day.

sorry for my waffling about motivation, but it never was just one thing! now, i have to come up with some reason why i'm planning a sobo thru-hike this year. or do i? maybe i should just leave "motivation" alone and just hike. waffling again!

2003-03-16, 17:36
There are many different answers for this question, so here is the first answer that popped into my head. In addition to the physical aspects of hiking, or perhaps because of them, there is an inner journey component. The act of simplifying, and focusing one something small and basic, brings out another side of myself. Something which I don't see as often when driving on freeways, working in my cubicle, or watching tv. So in essence my motivation is to reach the wilderness state of mind, and if possible, bring it home with me and share it with others. In the past others have done this for me, and now it is my turn to do the same.

Of course, when I started the hike my reason was to find something to do during between spring and fall semester at college. As background, I hiked the AT in 1999, and skipped a semester of school to complete the hike. I don't really know if my current motivation for hiking was in the back of my mind or not when I started.

2003-03-16, 22:04

I'm with you on the wilderness side of the mind. When I give my slideshow I always try to mention that the greatest journey was the "trail between my ears." Honestly the miles would click by while I was thinking of something. I'd hardly notice the surroundings, but swear it was a great day to be alive.


2003-03-16, 23:49
Johnny S - I know you said you're mainly interested in long distance hikers, but thought I'd throw in my tupence, for what it's worth, since I think hikers must all share - at least somewhat - what to me, is the prime motivation for the activity. Solitude . I'm just getting into backpacking again, after nearly 50 years, and haven't yet completed my first trip, other than day hikes. I haven't hiked over ten or twelve miles at a time, since I was a kid, and may never hike over 250 miles at a stretch, but If I ever do it will be, primarily, for that reason - Solitude, pure and simple!

I've spent 64 years on this orb, milling around with people, and, at best, I find about 999 out of every 1,000 of them to be tedious, triffling, and down-right unbearable to be around! My best friend is retiring in two weeks, and we figure it's our last, and best chance to get out of the maddening crowd. Since it appears that most Americans are now two damned fat and lazy to get more than a few feet from their SUVs and TVs, we've decided that backpacking is the only way to get beyond their range of annoyance.

Since we're both fly fishermen, we're hoping to spend the rest of our lives bushwhacking up the remaining mountain streams that man, in his infinite wisdom, hasn't succeeded in completely destroying, in pursuit of little, wild, brook trout - and seclusion. If we can ever find a place where the trip won't just bring us to another damned town, we'll do that 250 miler, but if I ever find a place that's 250 miles away from a town full of humans and other vermin, I doubt that I'll ever leave to come back. No TV; no McDonalds; no cars; no back-biting social order. Just seclusion; solitude; nothing but trees, rocks, cold water, and wild brookies. It can't get no better'n that! Our first adventure (something to cut our teeth on) is going to be a week on the upper reaches of Hazel Creek, up near Siler's Bald in GSMNP, then the following week in the Bull Mountain area of Wilkes County, NC. Solitude!

2003-03-17, 15:04
I have not done any hikes over 250 miles. But you may want to consult some of the many trail memoirs of AT hikers (too many to list here, I'll let others come up with their favorites).

For non-AT hikers, check out:

"A Walk Across America," by Peter Jenkins, who graduated from college and decided to walk across America (hence the clever title). First book took him to New Orleans, "A Walk Across America 2" got him to the Pacific. And if you're looking for just a good read, he has two other great books, "Looking for Alaska" and another that I'm unsure of the title; perhaps "Along the Edge of America."

"Into a Desert Place," by Graham Mackintosh. Tells of the British author's 3,000 mile hike around the Baja California peninsula. Good stuff.

Also, check out http://www.earthtrekuk.net about Karl Bushby's hike around the world; he aims to do the longest continuous walk. He started in Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, in 2001, and crossed into Canada last month. I believe his plan is to cross the Bering Strait on ice.

2003-03-17, 16:11
My longest hike so far is 260 miles from Snoqualmie to Manning in three weeks. I went on two one week hikes in the Wind Rivers. I'm planning a CT thru-hike this summer and a PCT hike in '04.

Meeting the challenge and accomplishing a difficult task is part of it. Check "Flow, the Psychology of Optimal Experience." I love tough trails. Walking in the park is for excerise. To find out if I can and to say that I did is a big part of self definition. Who we are is not just what we do but what we love to do.

The deep sense of peace that slowly develops over the course of a long hike is powerful and spiritual. The noise level in my head becomes progressively quieter as the trip gets longer. It is good for my attitude to be reminded that we are not always at the top of the food chain.

It is also a realistic and achievable adventure. First man on Mars is pretty much out of the question. I can't afford those fancy balloons that the rich guys seem so fond of playing with but a soda can stove, 85$ pack, a fistful of maps, and a long trail stretching before me is quite doable.

Being exposed to so much beauty and knowing that it is wild and untamed is good for the soul. To get connected to the wilderness is not to conquer but to become a part of something that is eternal.

Oh and it is just about as much fun as you can legally have with your clothes on. hafdome