Bunbun’s specialty is controversy. And this subject is still controversial although not as obviously so as several years ago. Those who have thruhiked know that if you put three thruhikers together in a room, you'll get four (and possibly five) different opinions on any given subject. So it should come as no surprise that there's a lack of consensus about "purity".
Let’s start with definitions. "My" definition of “thruhiking” is this: walking a trail (any long trail) from one end to the other end and "connecting the steps" all the way.
What? You say that’s not enough – that it’s not complete? Of course it is. Those are the ONLY conditions that are both necessary and sufficient to define ANY thruhike because they embody ALL the required basic actions. As I recall that is also the definition of the word used by NPS and other government agencies. How dare you argue with the government?
Basically that's all thruhiking is - connecting the steps. Any other restriction you put on that basic definition is a restriction that YOU accept for yourself - but is inapplicable to anyone else unless they choose to accept it for themselves. ANY other restriction is a limitation of the freedom that's inherent in long distance hiking. And that kind of limitation of personal freedom is a very personal decision that is the sole prerogative of the person involved.
There have been, for example, those who would not ride in an automobile – or hitch into town – or sleep under a roof while on the Trail. Those conditions were self-imposed. But still, the basic thruhike definition above is all that is required to define their hikes. In each case, the extraneous conditions have nothing to do with the actual hike. Those extraneous conditions were their choice, their commitment. And neither you nor I are bound by their choices and/or commitments.
What? Oh, you think there should be more to a thruhike than just “connecting the steps”? So --- what else do you think is necessary? Maybe you think one MUST carry a full pack every step of the Trail? OK, fine – YOU can carry that pack. Just don’t expect anyone else to do so. If that’s your version of self-flagellation, so be it. But it really has nothing to do with any thruhike other than your own.
Ah, now you think there should be a time limit? Hmmm - time limit - yep. Normal thruhikes take 4-6 months. Some take a year. A few have taken 18 months or more. Someday someone may take 5 years. So - what time limit would you use? Well - you could use a year. Or a hiking season - or hedge on it and say "a continuous journey".
BUT --- who said a thruhike MUST have a time limit? C’mon now – tell me who made that “rule”? And when? And why you're obligated to live by their rules? But if you're gonna take that long, then I'd think you should do as your predecessors have done, and stay "on" the Trail or in Trail towns until you complete the Trail.
Everyone who hikes the Trail (ANY Trail) has their own ideas about what it is, what constitutes a thruhike, how to hike, how long to hike --- and a thousand other details that, while “I” might not do it that way, “I” neither have nor want any input about. The ONLY thing that counts is – does one's hike meet the basic definition as outlined above?
There are dozens, if not hundreds, of personal definitions of precisely WHAT constitutes one's individual “thruhike”. And I’m sure I haven’t seen all the variations of the insanity. So – while YOUR personal definition may be different from mine, I'm not obligated to accept your definition. And YOU are not obligated to accept “my” definition.
Does my definition leave room for those who blue-blaze? Yep.
Does my definition leave room for those who slackpack? Yep.
How about those who go into the shelter one way and come out another? No problemo – why should I care? I’m not hiking “their” hike – I’m hiking “my” hike.
Does it REQUIRE following ONLY white blazes? Nope.
How about those who hitch around the "hard" sections? Or the "uninteresting" sections? Uh - I don't think so. The word is "thruhiker". So if you don't HIKE – if you don’t “Connect the steps”, then by definition you CANNOT be a thruhiker.
And now we’re down to the most basic, and very often the heaviest, chain that you’re likely to wear – that some hikers think it's a requirement to follow ALL the white blazes - and ONLY the white blazes.
Really? Who told you that?
For some people, it’s not a thruhike unless one rubs the belly of every white blaze on the AT. For others, being constrained to follow only the white blazes is nothing more than trading one form of slavery (a job) for another (slavishly following arbitrary paint spots on trees). In either case, that's "their" decision, not mine or yours. You have to make your own decision - and live with the results.
Understand this – I think that “most” people will be happier with their first AT hike if they follow the white blazes all the way. But that does NOT require being anal about it. Nor does it mean that anyone else is obligated to accept that version of what a thruhike is or should be.
Don't get me wrong - if someone feels that "their" hike requires them to follow only white blazes, that's cool. And that’s exactly what they should do. I have friends who felt that way - and hiked by that philosophy. I like and respect them. I also have friends who started out following only white blazes - and at some point said "screw it" because they were having a miserable hike. They were smart enough to know that if what you're doing isn't working for you, you should change what you're doing. That is also your prerogative. I also have friends who went out to hike all the possible blue-blazes. But none of that gives anyone the right to criticize others for what they do or don’t do.
I’ve found that “purists" come in 2 varieties -- 1/ those who are, but never mention the word and and just accept that others don't think the way they do - and 2/ the evangelicals - those who proselytize "purism". Many of the former are good friends and have supported us through several thruhikes in the last few years. Only a few of the latter can stand to be around me. Not that I care what they do or how they do it. I do, however, care when some ignoramus thinks that everyone else should hike the trail (ANY trail) their way - and says so long, loudly and incessantly. If you want to be a purist, then be a purist. But attacking others for not being one is unacceptable. The same attitude, of course, applies to those who don't care about "purity". Yeah, that happens,too. I've seen it both ways - and it's never a pretty sight.
Some time ago, I ran across a quote in an entirely different context (not hiking) - "Purists seem to love nothing quite so much as their own concept of purity". In my experience that applies very neatly to the “evangelical purists”.
I know - there's the "honesty" contingent out there, too. Tell ya what - when a man starts talking to me about "honesty" - the first thing I do is to make sure my wallet is secure. I've found that most of those who talk about "honesty" in terms of what other people should do, have their own motivations that are generally not in my best interest. YMMV - but I doubt it.
The most basic thing that the "honesty" argument misses is that not everyone has the same vision of what a thruhike is or should be for themselves. If "YOUR" vision of a thruhike involves wandering off to every view along the trail and visiting places that are not directly on the trail, then that's what "YOU" should do. Regardless of what anyone else thinks or says about it.
The real point of this whole thing is that for those who are future thruhikers, "YOU" will have to make up your own mind about what kind of hike you want, what you want out of it, how to do it, what you WILL do, what you WON'T do, where you'll go, how long you'll be on the trail, how much mileage to do on any given day, what to eat and about ten thousand other details, many of which haven't even occured to you yet. And YOU are the only one who can make those decisions if it's going to be YOUR hike.
I wouldn’t tell you whether to be a purist or not any more than I'd tell you what daily mileage you "have to" do or what your schedule "should" be or what you "should" carry while you're hiking. And I don’t care what your decisions might be – as long as you’re happy with your hike.
So - how DO I hike? I’ve posted the "contract" that Ginny and I used for several of our thruhikes. It says we'll hike from one end to the other. It says we'll enjoy the journey. It says we'll see the country, meet the people and learn what we can. It's "freedom-based".
After all, if you don't go out there for the freedom, exactly what DO you go out there for?
And yes - this has been another variation on the HYOH theme.