[pct-l] End of hiking season musings...

Jeffrey Olson jolson at olc.edu
Sun Oct 12 21:11:06 CDT 2008

I've been a member of this listserv since it began.  That's what, 13, 14 
years?  That gives one kind of credibility - a pretty shallow kind.  
I've not hiked the trail from end-to-end in one year.  I've watched as 
the Monte Dodge and his cronies have humbly offered their early 
experiences up as iconic history for today's thru-hikers.  I hope that 
the new members of the list who are planning on hiking the trail revel 
in the history of hikers on the trail.  I don't mean you have to worship 
Monte Dodge, or Eric Ryback or Colin Fletcher for that matter. 

However, I think that a successful thruhike almost requires an 
historical perspective.  There has to be a larger perspective unaffected 
by day-to-day events.  If a person starts out with the guidebook and 
good intentions, and that's pretty much it, the likelihood of actually 
completing the trail is less than if s/he studies what others have done, 
what led to success, what led to leaving the trail to attempt it in 
another year, and leaving because it was just too much.  I have no 
evidence of this claim.  I suppose evidence could be gathered...  Any 
doc students out there looking for a dissertation topic???  Write me and 
we'll brainstorm a research design...

I started the trail once with the intent to hike end to end.  I left the 
trail because I couldn't stand being alone day after day after day.  
This was a humbling realization.  Based on that knowledge, I'll be 
advertising for a hiking partner for a SOBO hike of the CDT starting in 
June 2010.  Is there an E-harmony set of questions that will determine 
if someone else is compatible enough with me to spend five months 

My most remembered favorite hike was with my fiancee in 1992.  She'd 
never backpacked before.  She learned how to hike my way, and we were 
GOOD!!!  Our greatest trial was leaving camp.  We'd drink coffee and 
talk about meaning and purpose and God or it's absence, and find 
ourselves all wired out at 10AM, and camp was still to be broke.  After 
two weeks we decided we wouldn't talk about anything important before 

It takes me, at 56 years old, to get up to 18-20 miles a day, about six 
weeks.  I've sectioned hiked enough to know the first six weeks of a 
hike are the hardest physically.  I hike, eat, , lie down, and sleep.  
That's it.  No stimulating conversation when the milky way is 
vibrating.  Just the pain and rest involved in getting in shape. 

I realize now I would much rather focus on the increasing definition of 
my woman partner's calves as she hikes in front of me, week after week, 
than stare into infinity as I put one foot in front of the other.  
Hiking alone offers the latter, and while it is neutral, it's not 
something I want to do day after day.  I don't have the temperment or 
emotional development maybe to be alone for five months.  I always 
thought this was the ultimate challenge - to hike day after day, alone, 
through the wilderness and all its beauty.  I have spent numerous 
section hikes of a month and longer challenging myself in this way.  
Each and every time I was humbled to realize that hiking for me is a 
social act, not a quick avenue to spiritual enlightenment or ultimate 

I am very much "trail centered" versus "camp centered" in my hiking.  
Camp is where I sleep.  I don't eat there.  I poop there in the 
morning.  That's it.  The idea of a fire is abhorrent. Even with Jane 
camp was a place we slowed down at in order to go to bed and sleep.  No 
exploring.  No cosmic conversations, or at least, conversations that 
lasted very long (in the evenings).  Sleep always called... 

I started hiking when I was eight.  My folks took us up into the Marbles 
for a couple years running, our gear packed in on mules, and we'd spend 
a couple weeks in the wilderness.  The family pics from these early 
1960s trips are priceless.  If you're a young parent, take your kids 
into the wilderness.  Early... 

My folks and the three kids spent three days under a tarp in 1962 in the 
Wallowa Wilderness, just under EAgle Peak, in a rainstorm.  WE were 
miserable for three days.  A sheepherder took pity on us and came down 
from the rim and put our packs on his mules and we hiked out without 
packs.  This is what makes hiking in the backcountry so attractive - 
moment to moment living... 

I have vibrant memories of being 13 years old on my first backpacking 
trip with my dad and his friends.  My dad called it my barmitzvah.  What 
that meant is I got to see a bunch of over-educated, emotionally stunted 
men interact, and on the final night, drink two gallons of red mountain 
burgandy and puke their guts out.  That's what I remember.  That and 
jumping off a rock into a lake after my dad surfaced and said, "it's 
fine."  It was freezing...  One of the guys had had a heart attack and 
dropped his pack a half mile up the ridge above the lake we were camping 
at.  One of the other guys hiked back to pick up his pack.  He said that 
as he was hiking back, he heard a huge scream he could only figure was a 
wolvervine or bobcat or wolf.  It was me, surfacing after jumping into 
the ice cold lake.  I never trusted my dad again... 

What all this has to do with thru-hiking?  I don't know... 

Actually, I think that someone is going to make the hiker-trash 
lifestyle the core of a movie or documentary. 

And it isn't going to be about 20 somethings huddling together in the 
face of the big questions.  It isn't about glorifying being dirty.  
Being hiker-trash is an exalted state, unknown to most, if not quite 

There are old guy hiker-trash.  There are women hiker-trash.  There are 
seeker hiker-trash.  The most common is 20 something hiker-trash, men 
mostly.  Someone is going to come up with an idea that will involve a 
plot involving hiker trash, meaning, and the modern world... 

He he...

Jeffrey Olson
Jeff, just Jeff, said to the cadence of "Bond, James Bond."
Martin, SD


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