When someone says they’re going to “thru-hike such-&-such trail” you’d assume they’d done some research on said trail, right? In my case, you’d be right. Back in 1996 when I heard about the Arizona Trail (AZT) I immediately conjured up this idea that I’d hike the entire thing in one long push. I thought I was on the cutting edge of something – walking long distances.
The whole “Edward Abbey” thing aside, come to find out there’s this whole community of people that do this kind of thing – they’re aptly called “thru-hikers” and apparently these cretins are everywhere. As I started doing some research I learned about these huge, long-distance trails – there are three very popular trails in America; there are quite a few more, but the “Triple Crown” is the Appalachian Trail (AT), the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and the Continental Divide Trail (CDT). The shortest of these three (AT) is 2160 miles and the longest (CDT) is 3100 miles. By contrast, the AZT is about 800 miles.
I’m the kind of person that gets excited about things. As I started my research I came up with a grand plan – I was going to do the AZT first, then the AT, the PCT and finally the CDT. I was going to do them in succession! I didn’t even give second thought to the fact that I had obligations, a company, a wife . . . all of whom probably wanted a chance to provide input into my plans, but that’s a whole blog entry in itself. Anyway, I now had a mission.
My first step was to read as many of the biographies as I could get for free from Amazon Prime; there were a few. Then I started purchasing books; there are many. I spent about 2 months reading about 15 books on the trials and tribulations of thru-hiking. To make a long story . . .less long, the underlying current of the books was that these thru-hikes are a struggle, both mentally and physically. It took a decent amount of intestinal fortitude to complete these hikes (among other things like enough time, money, permission, etc).
I must admit that my first thought was “I’m a former US Marine; I have the mental ability to conquer this hike!”. My second thought was “I’m a beer lover; this is going to be painful”. Not going without beers, that’s going to be easy (I’ll bring scotch); it’s that I’m a bit chubby right now. The good news is that I’ll burn far more calories than I can carry so I’ll lose some weight. I hope.
This week I’m sending off a new friend, Mike Cavaroc from Free Roaming Photography. He’s going to document the segments of the Arizona Trail that are the most at-risk from encroachment. Anyway, he’s staying with me for a few days as he’s getting ready to launch. I get to enjoy the excitement as he plans his meals and mail drops, checks his gear then re-checks it again. I can sense a duality about him too. On one hand he’s hopeful and excited, but on the other he’s naturally apprehensive. The physical and mental challenge is daunting enough – he knows that! It’s the unknown that really weighs on a mind – there are more “what if” scenarios than there are answers.
I guess, in the end, that’s what pulls me. That unknown factor.