Are you a thru-hiker?

Mega-author Bill Bryson got into hiking for a bit, wrote a book about it which then became a movie.

I’ve followed a bit of discourse on his hiking thoughts. I came across this critique that picks up on the fact that on his big hike along the Appalachian Trail he failed to thru-hike. That is, he did bits of the hike, getting lifts in the tough bits. But didn’t go the full hog.

Koko Head Stairs of Doom, Hawaii

In doing so, Bryson misses the critical, soulful, true and gritty point of hiking: the passing through-ness.

When you hike, you pass “through mountains and valleys, through farms and small towns, through pain, through hunger, through nagging doubt”.

I get what the writer of this particular article is saying. Totally. I personally can’t bring myself to skip bits, shorten things or avoid difficult parts. It’s heart-sinky. And “cheats” things beyond mere short-cutting.

Have you read Cheryl Strayed’s Wild? She tussles with the same thing: when confronted with impassable snow over part of the route, she thru-hikes. She feels sick, despite terrible blisters and bad backpack packing, by the prospect of “cheating”. It cheats herself.

What I talk about when I talk about hiking (to borrow a Haruki Murakami turn of phrase) is the joy of the flow; the reward of bunkering down deep into the pain and boredom, thus allowing some wonderful creative conversations in the head to emerge; the wonderful rewards from fending and struggling (it’s primal!); and the opportunity to truly commit to something, and to give yourself time and space to do so. I’ve also talked about the healing effect of hiking before. If you missed it, read up on it here.

As the writer puts it, the continuity is the point, in the same way that running a marathon is more meaningful than running four separate 6.5-mile races.

We have so few opportunities to be present in the space, the flow, the awe that a hard hike affords. Why would you splice a thru-hike?

Are you equally appalled by the notion of a spliced thru-hike?

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