Written by Grounds Keeper Laura “Sunshine” Green
Saying that thru hiking is a way to take a long and elegant wander through the woods is easy. If you’re a romantic at heart and have a proclivity for overlooking any and all negativity.
The truth is, hiking all day every day is painful, dirty, and enraging most of the time. And it’s the furthest thing from glamorous.
I wake every morning with the sun now, and anything on my watch past six a.m. is like sleeping in late. I’m usually still tired from the day before, my feet still aching and blisters are still tender to the touch.
After I muster the courage to exit the warmth my sleeping bag, I resort to dressing in the same dirty clothes I’ve been hiking in all week. Usually they’re cold from the absence of desert heat, so it’s a lovely shocking surprise every morning.
Next I pay close attention to my feet. I redress blisters and cuts, using leukotape and antibacterial ointment to speed healing and avoid infection. I put on my toe socks and begrudgingly put my shoes back on for another day of sole-to-trail travel. I’m now ready to break camp and eat breakfast, but then the real adventure starts.
It’s easy to feel out of shape when simply walking feels arduous and impossible. But this trail climbs, falls, twists, winds, splits, darts and meanders in all sorts of directions and that on its own is a challenge for more than eight hours a day.
Then add 20 or more pounds to your back and you’ve got the real sporting event. Even though hiking can be regarded as a leisure activity, thru hikers have to consider themselves endurance athletes and treat their bodies accordingly.
Hills are hard. They pull all the wind out of your lungs and make you sweat more than you thought imaginable. Downhills can hurt to, but in the form of sneaky little blisters and sore knee muscles.
In passing, hikers can share a smile and a “happy trails” gesture while putting their agony on the back burner for a moment. This brief window of time is like a break in real time, because your ego amplifies to extend rosy images of happy hiking onto other hikers you meet.
Within moments of this encounter, both parties generally return to the slog of the remaining daily mileage. Smiles are gone, sweat pours again, and the curse words are bouncing around awaiting usage during the next lapse of mental strength.
Other daily struggles include rolling ankles, run-ins with prickly bushes, sunburn, and general body exhaustion.
You wake up sore, and go to bed sore.
But this is where it all comes down to. Many people ask me why I want to put my body through this, or why I want to deal with all of the headaches and the pain.
It’s simply because every day I’ve been thankful I’m immersed in nature instead of living a scheduled life, dictated by the people who sign my paychecks.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve loved the places I’ve worked over the years. I’ve met some incredibly talented people and I’m thankful for every opportunity I’ve been given.
But there is nothing that makes me feel like I’m living a good life quite like leaving everything that’s comfortable and riding through the mercy of mother nature.
Every day I see the sun rise is another reason to walk another mile. Nature is what keeps me alive, and I’m so thankful to get to experience it in this way.
It’s dirty, it’s dangerous, and it can be a drag. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.