Hike your own hike – on the trail, and in life!

When our very own Max Erasmus decided to throw caution to the wind and hike over two thousand miles through America, who were we to stop her adventure? Now she’s back, and revealing one of the lessons you learn when you #JustSayYes.

When you set out to walk the Appalachian Trail (AT) you imminently discover the phrase ‘hike your own hike’. It encompasses every aspect of walking the trail, and also offers perspective for everyday life…

Before you begin the Thru-Hike (that’s hiking the entire trail in one calendar year), you read endless blog posts about the different sleeping systems, eating systems, clothes layering systems, and water filtration systems, and can’t believe how many systems there can be!  You research the gear: from hiking socks and base layers to bear-bag rope and the lightest walking poles. And in the end, all you can do is trust in the advice of the successful Thru-Hikers of yesteryear, because when you are about to walk more than 2,000 miles, that is all you can do. Do the best research you can, decide which of the hundreds of options you think will suit you (and which you can afford), and then just go for it!

Just days into the trek you meet other hikers, and the discussions about all these systems and the gear begins. This is when either regret or relief sets in, when for the first time you get to properly try out your chosen systems, and see the that decisions you opted for put in action. Not only will other hikers be more than happy to share their opinions, but you’ll find advice funneling in from locals, section hikers, shop owners, Uber-drivers, and even non-hikers. And this is when you start worrying whether you’ve got the right…well, EVERYTHING!

And then it happens. As you get to know your systems, and put your gear to the ultimate test, you make tweaks here and there, and essentially another ‘expert’ is born. Then you too happily start sharing your advice with others.

For example, when it comes to eating on the trail there are so many different options. If you’re a sweet-tooth you’ll love the Pop-tart, Snickers bar, and m&m diet, but if you’re utterly health conscious you can carry a pantry of supplies bursting with oatmeal, nuts, seeds, hummus and even carrots, and then there’s everything in between… Do you carry a cooker, or ‘go stove-less’? Or do you eat dinner at lunchtimes, and lunch at dinnertimes? To pre-cook dinner or cook at camp? Dehydrate all your food before you hike and send food packages to yourself ahead of time? Or just buy your food on the trail? The options available to you could easily make your head explode.

And this is when the meaning of ‘hike your own hike’ really becomes clear. As you meet more people, you realise how many different ways there are to not only hike the Appalachian Trail, but to live on the trail. Not just in terms of the gear and systems you choose, but in the way you hike, in your attitude to the Trail, and what it means to you. Every hiker is unique and is hiking for a different reason and potentially for a different result.

For some, it’s an escape from the ‘real world’, time to heal, or the chance to grow. Maybe it’s a pub-crawl, a holiday, or just a long walk in the woods. For others it’s a competition to be won, a mission to complete, a job, or a weight loss journey. And for many, it’s all of the above.

So no matter how many people you meet, how much advice you give, and how much you hear, everyone accepts it is only ever given with help and love in mind, and an understanding that at the end of the day, no matter how right you think your way is, everyone has to and will ‘hike their own hike’.

This short but sweet mantra becomes more meaningful as each day passes; the more hikers you meet, the more towns you pass through, and the more you learn about the Trail, and yourselves. By the end of this long journey it is one of the many gifts you take away with you, along with your achy knees and tender feet – a deeper understanding of what it means to be free, a greater acceptance of difference, and the knowledge that it is okay to ‘live our own life’ gracefully decline the advice of others when unnecessary and seek our very own adventures, whatever form they come in, and have the confidence to stand up and continue when we fall.

So happy hiking to all, and remember: ‘hike your own hike!’