Now -- let's get down to some "QUESTIONS". There are a tremendous number of details that need to be considered if you're disrupting your life for six months of hiking. What follows is a series of questions that you may want to consider before you go. These are questions that only you, the thruhiker, can answer. They're taken directly from the notebooks that I used when I was getting ready for the AT, the PCT and two CDT hikes. Some of them concern the trail - but a lot of them concern the rest of my life - and maybe yours.
If you're gonna thruhike any long trail, what you're doing will require that you cut or suspend the links to the people, activities, and organizations that presently consume your time and your life. If you can't or won't cut or suspend at least most of those links, then you'll spend your thruhike being torn between two worlds - and both worlds will suffer. And your thruhike will be less than "All it can Be".
Personal opinion is that some significant percentage of those who leave the trail before finishing a thruhike do so for this reason.
What some people don't realize is that every person, every object, every relationship or connection that they deal with in their life consumes some part of their time and life and energy. And breaking or suspending those "links" also takes time and energy. Start now - if you're hiking next year, you're already late.
The questions are divided into three parts - "on-trail" questions, "home" questions, and "after-the-trail" questions. Some of these questions will apply to everyone hiking a long distance trail; others are based on our personal experience as working adults, trying to figure out how to deal with all the detritus of modern life, and some are "situation-oriented". Some of these are questions that I've had to answer in the past - and some that I'll have to answer in the future.
How many of them will apply to you will depend on your situation. If you're a 20 year-old college student living at home and don't own a car, a lot of them will be meaningless. Students, hikers whose spouses or parents will take care of most of these issues, minimalists with few possessions - your experiences, and your questions, may be different. So use your red pen and cross out the ones you don't understand or don't care about and you'll be left with a list that you might want to consider.
Then add your own. There are people who have complications in their lives that I don't have to deal with - so you might not find those questions here. For example, I don't have to deal with children this time - either taking them with me or leaving them at home - so you won't find any "children" questions in here. And you might need to add those questions to your list if that's one of your concerns. After reading them all, can you think of some that we may have left out?
So -- on to the questions - and I may add a few comments along the way - they'll be in brackets [....]
The Trail World
- Which way do you want to go - South to North, North to South, flip-flop, other???
- When do you want to start? Why?
- When do you want to finish? Why? Is your ending date flexible? Can you make it so?
- What do you want to see along the way? [Side trips, waterfalls, Trail Days, Trailfest, 4th of July in Washington DC, Eagle Creek, Mt. Massive, the Gila Cliff Dwellings? Others?]
- Will you take time off to go home, or to a wedding or graduation?
- If you'll be on the AT - Will you blue blaze or not? Yellow blaze? Slackpack? Be a purist? Some other variation?
- If you'll be on the CDT - Where will you follow the official route and where will you follow various alternate routes? Will you take the Creede cutoff? Or the Anaconda cutoff?
- If you'll be on the PCT - Will you follow alternate routes (like Eagle Creek)?
- What kind of hike do you want? Speed hike, leisurely, supported, group, solo, comfortable, primitive . . .
- Will you start with a partner? Have you made plans to meet and hike together before the trail? Why not? What will you do if your partner leaves the trail? What will your partner do if they leave the trail? Get a job? Provide trail support? [If so, you may watch your savings disappear very quickly - can you handle that? ]
- Will you keep a journal? Do you want the burden of keeping an on-line journal? Do you have someone who's competent to take care of it for you? [A web page or journal that's not updated or can't be read is worse than useless.]
- Will you take pictures? How many? How do you want to handle film developing? Will it wait until you get home - or be done "as you go"? Who will do it? Do you have film mailers in your mail drops? How will you/they pay for it? What will they do with the pictures? How will you/they organize them so you'll know where the pictures were taken? If you're going digital, how much memory will you bring? How will you manage it? Where can you download it?
- What equipment are you taking on the trail with you? Does any of it need repair?
- Do you have all the maps, guidebooks, etc. that you'll need for the trail? How will you get what you need - when you need it?
- Will you be doing mail drops, or buying along the way, or both? How many mail drops do you need? What goes in your mail drops? Where will your maildrops be sent? When? Who'll handle your mail drops? Are they reliable? How will they pay the postage? How will you remember what's there after 3 months on the trail? Can you modify the mail drops, or will they be packed and sealed before you leave?
- What stays at home as spare (i.e. - boots, summer/winter gear)? Who'll mail the spares when you need them?
- Will you need different warm weather/cold weather gear at different points on the trail? Where? How will you get them?
- Will you use a drift box (also called a bump box, send-ahead box, etc)? Have you planned where it can be sent - and where it CAN'T? [Like Benchmark Ranch.] What will you keep in it?
- How will you get to the trail? What will it cost? What's the timing?
- How will you get home at the end of the trail?
- How will you get home if you have to get off before the end of the trail?
- Have you planned for possible bailouts?
- Who'll know where you are - and when? Do you have a written itinerary? Who will have copies? Who will you tell when you deviate from what you planned? Who do you want them to tell? Do they know that?
- Have you planned enough days off in your schedule? In the right places?
- How will you get money while you're on the trail? Debit card? Bank? ATM card? Travelers checks? Money orders?
- Do you know which towns have ATM machines? Banks? Post offices?
- How will you pay for phone calls to home, friends, equipment companies, etc? Phone cards? Prepaid? How to pay the bills?
- Do you know which towns have good groceries? Laundromats? Hostels? Restaurants? Showers? Medical facilities? Outfitters/outdoor stores? And where those towns are located? How will you get there? Hitchhike? Bus? Taxi? Friends? Walk? How will you get back to the trail?
- If you're gonna do the trail by "sections" - flip flopping or jumping over the Sierras or Colorado, for example, do you know how to get from one section to the next? How will you pay for it? Have you accounted for transportation time in your schedule?
- If you are hiking with a dog, do you know where dogs are not allowed to hike? Do you know where you will kennel your dog while you continue hiking, and how you will get back together again after? Do you have a friend or family member who will take care of the dog for you if it is not able to continue hiking with you?
- If you need equipment while you're on the trail where will you get it? Have it sent from home? Mail order? Local outfitters? Do you know where to find them? Do you have the phone numbers and addresses for the mail order companies?
- Do you have the 800 numbers and addresses for the manufacturers of the equipment you'll be using? Have you talked to them to find out what kind of service they're willing to give? Will they honor the warranties or guarantees on your equipment? What will it cost you? How will you pay for it? Do you really want to use their equipment?
- Is anyone gonna meet you on the trail? Will they want to hike with you? How will you tell them where to meet you? How will you make up the time you lose while you're hiking with them? Can you be patient with their slower pace and lower miles while they're hiking with you?
There's more - on the next page.