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What is thru hiking?

The term seems to have found its way in to common lingo between the popularization from the book and movie “Wild” about thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail as well as Bill Bryson’s book about hiking the Appalachian Trail, “A Walk in the Woods.” The ironic fact is that it can be argued that although the aspirations of thru-hiking existed, neither of these authors truly completed a thru hike. The fact is that this happens to the majority of those that set out on a thru-hike. Between the emotional struggles, physical injuries, as well as the unknown adversity completing an entire thru-hike is no walk in the park Thru-hiking is the hiking a long-distance trail from end to end. Although the term refers most commonly to the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail, it applies nearly across the board to any long trail. Generally a thru hike involves multiple resupplies along the way, as it is too far to be able to carry all your food from the beginning. The act of thru-hiking has become increasingly popular as well, with restrictions being enacted on the PCT to allow only 50 hikers to begin their hike each day from the southern terminus (Mexican Border).

Those that do not fit the thru-hiker mold can be grouped into other categories. A section hiker is someone that hikes a large chunk, or section, of the trail but does not complete the entire thru hike. A common way to hike an entire long trail is to complete a different section each year until you have completed every section of the trail. This is especially common for those that do not have the same ability I do of leaving everything behind to go hike. The other categories are day hikers, overnight hikers, weekend hikers, and trail runners. I am sure if we wanted to we could separate each of these down even further too.

A quick story on the types of hikers to leave you with: during my third day of thru hiking ever (while my pack still weighed over 55 pounds) I began the day hiking with other thru hikers, then as we split up due to treating water or a standard break I was passed by a trail runner. Slowly more and more trail runners began to pass me and I soon realized I was in the middle of an ultra-marathon. I felt bad taking up the trail with my giant pack and slow steps, but then I was taken aback by how courteous and supportive the runners were. The course was an out and back course which meant that I saw each runner twice. As they came towards me they would all move off the trail to let me pass and say something like “This is your trail you are doing great.” I was especially surprised because I wasn’t the one that had a set schedule, race, distance, or even cut off that I had to make but still these ultra-marathon runners treated me as though they were guests on the trail. The hospitality did not stop there. As I passed through the aid stations for the race I was called over by the volunteers and handed a bag full of snacks and food that they had put together for me. The trails exist for use by all types of people and in this circumstance it was pretty amazing to see how great a relationship and interaction it was between the many types of trail users!

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