The Thruhiking Papers

Definitions and Ground Rules

I'll start this with a whole gaggle of ground rules and definitions because when I first did this, there was considerable confusion about what it's all about. And I want to nail that confusion down so we can move on to new and wonderful levels of confusion and miscommunication.

The purpose of this series is partly to help others prepare for their thruhikes. But it's mostly to organize our own thoughts about preparation for our 2006 thruhike. So there'll be a large component that's personal and immediate. It'll be written with the CDT as the main focus.

This is written for, by and about "thruhikers" and "thruhiking". If you're a section hiker or a day hiker or a horse packer or a llama trekker or - whatever - and you can learn something here - that's cool. But that's not the main purpose.

If you see anything we've missed or if you have something to add - let us know. Different viewpoints are always welcome. But keep in mind that this is being written at least in part for those who haven't yet thruhiked - and sometimes don't even know what questions to ask. I know about that - I was one of them at one time.

Now --- a few ground rules before we go any further -

First - this won't be your "Complete Planning Guide". I'll hit some points that you might not find in other places.

Second - if you've read the original Thruhiking Papers (Part I), some of this may be repetitious. But it'll also be set in a slightly different context.

Third - I'll present some things that I might not do personally but I'll try to not get unnecessarily judgmental about them.

Fourth - the caveats from the Thruhiking Papers apply to everything I write. I guess I'd better trot them out here again for those who haven't seen them before:

  1. This is not a "Thruhikers Manual". It's a collection of my thoughts and feelings about the realities of thruhiking.
  2. This is my personal experience, observation and opinion. There's nothing scientific or even necessarily logical about it. But then, people aren't logical, are they?
  3. I'm one of the "fringe" people whose life changed drastically on the Trail. What happened to me is NOT the norm.
  4. As a thruhiker I am, by definition, crazy and therefore cannot be held responsible for anything I say.
  5. I may wander off in strange directions.
  6. You may not like everything I have to say.
  7. Advice is worth what you pay for it - and this is free.

Fifth - planning is an iterative process. That means sometimes you have to go back and recycle through your original ideas, decisions and plans to make sure what you're doing NOW is consistent with what you thought you wanted to do in the first place. Or maybe your basic thruhike plan is changing as you get more knowledgeable - or maybe your timing has changed and you need to re-think and replan some of your basic decisions.

Sixth - this isn't just theory - this is part of the general process that we'll use for planning our thruhike for 2006. We've been through multiple planning iterations before for other hikes - and we'll do it again. The details may vary for your thruhike - but the general process is pretty much the same for most of us.

And seventh - this is the supermarket approach. If you find something you like, then you're welcome to it. But not everything here will apply to everyone who reads it. If something doesn't "feel right" for you, then don't use it. A thruhike is tough enough without trying to do it someone else's way.

So -- let's start with some basic definitions. Like --- "What's a thruhike?" and "What's a thruhiker?"

You can find a lot of definitions out there, but my personal definition of a thruhike is "the act of walking the length of a long trail from end to end within one year" (or one "hiking season").

For present purposes, a "long trail" is any of the three major hiking trails in the United States - the AT (Appalachian Trail), the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) or the CDT (Continental Divide Trail). Increasingly, the word is being applied to shorter trails such as the Pacific Northwest Trail, John Muir Trail, Colorado Trail, etc.

IMO a thruhiker is someone who walks from Maine to Georgia (or Canada to Mexico) or vice versa on one of the three major hiking trails in the US (i.e. - performs a "thruhike). Pack or not, blue-blazes or not, supported or not, running, walking, crawling, in one direction or both, North-to-south or vice versa, whatever - no restrictions EXCEPT -- yellow-blazing (i.e. - hitchhiking or riding around large sections of the Trail) particularly with no intent to go back and hike those sections. "Yellow-blazing" means that person isn't walking and cannot, therefore, logically claim to be a "thruhiker".

For me, a thruhiker is someone who makes their best effort to "connect the steps" between the two ends of the trail.

Whatever definition you use for "long trail" or "thruhike" or "thruhiker", it's a very simple concept - at least until the sea-lawyers and "hair-splitters" start tearing it apart. Don't let them confuse you. Decide what YOU want, plan for it - and then go hike your own hike.

Created: 30 June 2004
Revised: 30 Sept 2016
Copyright © 2004-2017 Spirit Eagle