But what about the people who support your hike? Whether it's your parents, your spouse, your kids, your friends or anyone else in your life, your hike affects them as well. And with a little bit of effort, it can be a really positive and exciting experience for them too.
I've been on both sides of the fence. Last summer I hiked 1,400 miles on the AT. I understand what it's like to plan for a big hike and I know what it's like to balance the communication with friends and family while you're out there.
And the other side of the fence? Oh yea, I know that well too. You see, my man is a serious hiker. He's hiked well over 6,000 miles since 2007. When he has free time, there's really only two places you will find him: at home with me and our pup or in the woods. Both make him happy. I joke that mother nature is his mistress and there's definitely some truth to it.
When I first met him, he had already completed his thru-hike and his first 1,000 mile section hike on the AT so I didn't support him through those, but I have seen him through several other long hikes and countless weekend adventures.
Since I've felt what it's like to be a hiker and what it's like to support a hiker, I thought I'd share a few things I've picked up along the way. Whether you're the hiker or you're trying to make your hike more fun for those supporting you, I hope you find these tips helpful.
- Involve your loved ones in the planning process. I remember when Serial was planning his hike on the Benton MacKaye (BMT) trail, he had a lot of mail drops that he was putting together. He can put together a mail drop with his eyes closed so he didn't need to spend a ton of time planning it, but he did anyway...for me. We went to Costco together and picked out his food, while he explained his purchases. He laid out all of his boxes on the ground and I got to help pack them while he explained his thought process (e.g. how many days went in each box and how he anticipated his hunger growing over time). It was fun and it distracted me from the fact that he was leaving home.
- Let them help while you are gone. His BMT hike only lasted a month so he could have shipped all of his mail drops before he left, but instead he left them all unsealed at home for me to ship. It was nice because I felt like I had a role in the hike and I was able to sneak in little notes or homemade snacks right before I mailed them.
- Thank them. Make sure they know that you appreciate their support. Simple as that.
- Take the time to learn about their hike. You don't have to match their level of obsessiveness, but take a peek at their guidebook or map and get a feel for the path they'll be covering. One of the best things my parents did while we were hiking was buy a map of the AT and hang it on their wall. Each time we called with an update on our location, they moved a little marker up the trail. It was fun for them and it made it exciting for us to call each time we made it to another town. Often my mom had researched a little about the town and would fill me in on what she found. It was awesome and it made me feel supported from a distance.
- Be patient with their (lack of) communication. Hikers are generally living in the woods for 3-5 days at a time before coming to a town for 1 day/night. They haven't had much access to their voicemail/texts or the internet so when they turn on their phones they will likely be bombarded with the messages that have built up. Not to mention, they have errands to run before they can relax. They need to do laundry, resupply and shower before they can leave town or sit down to relax. So be patient. Understand that you might get a quick text letting you know they're in town, but not be able to actually talk to them until they have a chance to settle in. It's hard when you miss someone and just want to hear their voice (trust me, I get it), but they need to get their basic tasks taken care of before they chat. Let them do that first and you're more likely to have their full attention and a more meaningful phone call.
- Talk to them before you send a package. Yes, this takes a bit of the surprise out of it, but it lessens the chance of your package being an inconvenience for them. Just because you know which town they are heading to next, doesn't mean you know where you should ship a package. Only the hiker knows where they will be stopping and whether or not it will be during business or post office hours. A simple email or text asking the best place to send a package will save your hiker time and stress. The contents will still be a surprise and something they are very much looking forward to. Oh, and always send it priority mail so that they can bounce it if needed. (You can read more about that here.)
- Be realistic about visiting them on the trail. This is a tricky one for couples. I get it. But you have to keep in mind that hikers are working towards a very tough goal. Each day that they take off the trail is one more day they are adding to their hike. One more day away from home. And one more day they fall behind the group they are hiking with. If you come for a visit, it's reasonable to expect your hiker to take one full day and one night off the trail. Anything more is a happy bonus and great if they're willing, but try to be understanding of their goals and time constraints. And by all means, please be willing to drop them back off on the trail, wherever they need. If you're willing to hike with them, that's fantastic and encouraged, but unless you're hiking 15-20 miles a day, you're still slowing them down. Harsh, but true.
- Meet their hiker friends. Get to know the people they spend their days with. It will make their trail stories so much more enjoyable if you know who they're talking about. It will help you understand their daily atmosphere and will be a good time. If you want bonus points, show up with food and drinks to share with everyone. Trail magic = instant friends.
- Don't stress about their safety (too much). The AT is a safe place and hikers look out for each other. Yes, there are the occasional crimes on the trail, but it's certainly not the norm and word spreads fast. People who aren't friendly and safe are weeded out quickly. And the animals? They're afraid of hikers and pretty harmless. Except the ticks. Those suckers are out for blood.
Do you have other tips? Leave them in the comments!