"Hike Your Own Hike (HYOH)" has become a mantra on the long distance trails. It's one of the best-known and least understood concepts associated with long distance hiking. If you haven't run into HYOH before, you might start with the introduction to HYOH in the Thruhiking Papers. But it's obvious that the Thruhiking Papers don't cover the whole subject because there are still a lot of people who "THINK" they're hiking their own hike - and aren't even coming close. It doesn't just apply on the Trail, it's not just "doing your own thing" while you're on the trail, and it's not just a "thruhiking thing" -- it's a LIFE thing for those who actually understand it.
I've been teaching, advocating and defending the Hike Your Own Hike (HYOH) concept for the last 14 years. And living it for a lot longer than that. And I have no illusions whatever about how many people will understand what I'm gonna write here. But we'll try it again anyway.
We'll talk about HYOH in relation to the CDT - and we'll start with a presumption that if you intend to hike the CDT, you've hiked at least one of the other Long Trails - the AT or PCT. Or that you intend to hike the CDT with someone who has hiked one or more of those other trails and has sufficient experience to keep both of you out of serious trouble. If that isn't the case, then I suspect you're in the wrong place. And I'd seriously suggest that you go for a hike - a long hike. On a different trail - like the AT or the PCT. And then come back to the CDT.
There are three basic concepts to HYOH (Hike Your Own Hike) -
- Know what "YOUR" hike is
- Allow others to hike "their" hike
- Walk your own walk, not somebody else's
So - let's say a word or 50 about those ideas.
Know your hike:
There are people (a few) who've gotten the idea that they should think about what they want out of their hike before they reach the trail. Das ist gut. Knowing that you want to hike the CDT so you can become a Triple Crown is a specific goal that CAN help you to finish the trail. More than a few people have done it for specifically that reason. But the Triple Crown is a mechanical motivation - and there are far better, far more effective motivations for successfully walking a couple thousand miles. OTOH, whatever your motivation might be, if it works for you - go for it.
But - keep in mind that not everything you WANT to do is always feasible at the time you want to do it. Or, in some cases, at any time. For example, if you wanted to climb Everest in December - that's not feasible at that particular time of year (at least if you like to keep on breathing). If you wanted to become the King (or Queen) of England - that's not even possible unless you were born to the "right" parents. And if you're reading this - that isn't likely to be so.
The message is: you very often need more than just "desire" in order to accomplish your goal. If you're talking about thruhiking the CDT, it helps a great deal to have some knowledge about the trail, weather, water conditions, resupply, altitude, navigation, etc.
For example, we've watched people start the trail in March - in a high snow year - and then have to roadwalk around hundreds of miles of some of the most beautiful country in the world. Or take weeks (or even months) off the trail waiting for snowmelt. All because they "assumed" that they could start the trail at the same time they started the AT or the PCT - and they failed to realize that reality is "different" on the CDT. How many people have we watched flip from Chama north to Rawlins or South Pass or Steamboat Springs or even Glacier NP - because they weren't prepared for the snow levels in the South San Juans in early June?
Sometimes it's done deliberately, with an understanding that the flip will likely be a necessity. Some hikers want the best of both worlds - an early start, then the chance to hike south without worrying about winter closing down northern Montana in mid-September. But sometimes it comes as a big (and expensive) surprise. And that's because the hiker wasn't paying attention, or didn't think to ask more experienced hikers when the mountains would be passable. They assumed it would be like the trails they had already hiked. But the CDT really is different and it's a really good idea to learn about it before you start. As one hiker said - "I ain't on the PCT anymore."
But even more important than knowledge is to have some idea "why" you want to thruhike. Most of those who thruhike the AT (and sometimes the PCT if it's their first hike) have little or no clue about "why" they want to thruhike. But by the time one gets to the CDT, one should have a pretty good idea about their own motivations. "Our" personal motivations are scattered through this website in places like this and this and this. But those are "our" motivations - you have to find your own.
So - what do "YOU" want from "YOUR" hike? Can you define it? Can you put it on paper? Can you write your own contract?
You are led through your lifetime
by the inner learning creature,
the playful spiritual being
that is your real self.
Don't turn away from possible futures
before you're certain
you have nothing to learn from them.
------------- From "Illusions" by Richard Bach
Allow others to hike "their" hike":
One of the most egregious ways people fail to HYOH is simply by being judgmental of others.
There are people who are "purists" in the AT sense that it's not a thruhike if you don't "kiss every blaze". Or if you don't carry your pack every step of the way. Or any of a thousand other nitpickin' reasons. And the only point to the entire exercise is to make themselves feel better at the expense of someone else. The "I'm better than you because I did (whatever)" is never a pretty sight. And it's ALWAYS transparent to everyone except those who point the finger. I'm sure Bun-Bun will have more to say about this when he gets here.
At one time, Ginny was verbally attacked because she advised someone that in her opinion, the Chain of Craters route in New Mexico wasn't worth doing. Of course, the person who'd asked about "where to hike in New Mexico?" wasn't a thruhiker and not at all concerned about "purity" anyway. But somehow that got lost in the rush to judgment when the AIQ attacked Ginny for daring to even suggest that someone not follow the "Official" route."
Bottom line - if you're at all concerned about the "purity" of your hike, then you will undoubtedly be disappointed by the CDT. Year after year, we've watched those who've sworn themselves to "purity" start the trail - and either fail miserably or get smart enough to change their goals and attitude. Those who concern themselves with the "purity" of other people's hikes are outside the scope of this discussion because they fail entirely to "hike their own hike." "Interest" in other people's hikes is normal - and healthy - because it's one of the best ways to learn about thruhiking and about the trail. But those who judge the actions of others are an entirely different matter.
Walk your own walk
Most thruhikers head for the trail with the idea that they'll be FREE for as long as they're out there. And they are - sorta. And the pitiful part is that many of them can't handle it. One of the things I've seen on all the long trails is that some people go home because they can't stand to be free from stability, responsibility or "safety" (whatever they think that is). Some of them can't stand to be away from their wife, girlfriend, boyfriend, dog, cat --- whatever. Somehow they miss the idea that ultimate freedom carries a price --- ultimate loneliness. If you want freedom, go read the poems of Robert Service. And then THINK about the men he writes about. THINK about their lives - about what they have and what they don't have. And understand that what they don't have is the measure of their freedom. Those men truly hiked their own hikes. And they paid for it.
But that's not the kind of price you'll have to pay for a thruhike. Your CDT thruhike will be anywhere from 4 to 7 months of your life. So your "freedom" is limited and temporary - unless you make it a part of what you are - your personality, your lifestyle and your deepest core beliefs - and carry it back to the "other" world with you. Six months of "freedom" is too much for some and not nearly enough for others of us. That's why there are those who get to Palomas or Antelope Wells and keep on going - to Nicaragua or Peru or Tierra del Fuego.
Know that if you hike the CDT, you are (or at least, will be) 'different'. And that there are those who are even more 'different' than you.
Unfortunately --- there are those who would "tame" the CDT. Even a few who would claim to "conquer" it. There are those who would blaze it from end-to-end so it can be considered a "TRAIL". And if/when they succeed, then the CDT will be no more. It will become another AT or PCT, where deviation from the "Official" route brings condemnation from those who are too frightened to hike it as long as it's still "wild" - as long as they might get "LOST" - or be eaten by the bears - or suffer from thirst. And those who dare deviate will be labelled - what? "Blue-blazers" maybe? And will be told that they failed to do a "real thruhike". Looking into the future is not alway comfortable.
There are those who demand a wide, well-marked, unmistakable trail that they can follow; a "book" like the AT Thruhikers Companion that will tell them where they can get their pizza and beer, a "Data Book" that will define their journey to the meter, a support organization that will send out the rescue teams when the snow flies. These same people also talk about "hiking their own hike." And they have no realization that if they get what they want - a "defined" trail, then they will have given up some large part of their ability to actually HYOH.
"How so?" you ask. And I ask - "How do you fail to realize that the CDT is the last of the long trails where you have the freedom, the ability - even the necessity - to choose your own route, your own pace, your own hike? It's the last of the long trails where you can hike where you will - and nobody in the hiking world can proscribe what you do. But even that has limits - keep in mind that some places (like Wyoming) can get right nasty about trespass. And some places (like Glacier NP or New Mexico in the spring) limit or prohibit fires. And there is good reason to use some self-discipline and limit your own freedom - self-interest says that jail time plays hell with a thruhike.
Ah, you say - "But you can choose your route on the AT - and the PCT, too." Really? Can you? Can you really claim to have done an AT thruhike if you wander off the "Official" AT in Pennsylvania into/through the Alleghenies and then cut back across the Finger Lakes Trail to finish at Katahdin? That route is longer and harder than the "Official" AT but I think few would have the chutzpa to claim thruhiker status based on that route. But if you wander off the "CDT route" into the Grand Tetons and then reconnect, say, in Rawlins, who do you think will object? So - which trail do you think offers more freedom to those who crave it? Which one offers the greater opportunity to hike your own hike?
Recently, there are those who ask for a "book" to tell them where to go - where to hike, where to find pizza and beer, which towns to stop at, what's available in those towns, how far it is to each of those towns, how long their hike will be - all those things that AT hikers take for granted because they've been available for many years. And if it's given to them, they'll take it - and use it rather than doing their own research, planning their own hike, and accepting the responsibility and the consequences of their own planning and decisions. And they'll give up the joy, the pride, and the satisfaction that comes from truly "hiking your own hike."
"Hike Your Own Hike" means more than just doing what you want while you're on the trail - it also means doing your own planning, walking your own trail and taking responsibility for the results and consequences of YOUR planning.
If YOUR hike isn't "unique" in some way - if you're walking the same trail as everyone else is - if you're following the route that someone else gave to you or that you took from their information, without planning your own variations, then you aren't hiking "your" trail or "your Hike" - you're hiking the hike that someone else planned. And if you're following someone else's PLAN, then you ain't hikin' your hike - you're hiking THEIR hike.
Mostly we ALL follow books - or maps. But those who are truly free use them as information sources to determine where they "might" want to go - and then they go their own way. And if the "Trail" doesn't go where they want to go, then it's "sayonara" time.
For our 2006 hike - yes, we started with the guidebooks, but along the way we began to plan side routes, excursions and variations - the places that WE wanted to see - whether they were "on the Trail" or not. In 2006 we did most of those variations and excursions - and we really enjoyed them. Now we're not sure we can ever go back to the single-track, well-marked long distance trails that others think are such great adventures. C'est la vie.And for those poor souls who NEED the book that I've refused to write for the last 5 years - I'll quote a single line from a very long poem:
"May the God you took from a printed book, be with you, Tomlinson"
----------From "Tomlinson" by Rudyard Kipling
All that being said - we've put a lot of the information that we used for our hike on another part of this website. But if you're looking for complete "how to hike the CDT" information, go get the CDTS guidebooks and Lynne Whelden's "How To Hike The CDT" video. They'll give you more of what you want - as long as you keep in mind that even they are not "complete and final."
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