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Long Distance Contentment

Ever since The Challenge, I’ve been pondering the feeling of contentment I felt doing a 13 day, 170+ mile, coast-to-coast hike across Scotland.

Looking South from Bondcliff, White Mountains
Looking South from Bondcliff, White Mountains

My latest hypothesis is that it comes from not having to be anywhere on a strict schedule. This is really different from a weekend section hike, which is frequently bounded by the start of the weekend and having to be back at work on Monday.

But in Scotland, I had a lot more freedom to take detours, sleep in late, hang out by the side of a stream, and even radically change my route. That was freedom. I wonder if this is one of those things us weekend hikers miss out on experiencing fully.

10 comments

  1. I agree, it's great to have some more freedom in your schedule when hiking, being able to go with what you feel like doing at the time. Some of my best hiking experiences have come with spontaneous changes in route.

  2. Agreed. On longer trips I adjust to the more natural rhythm of a hike. I walk further if I'm up to it and call it a day when I'm feeling spent; I go to bed just after it gets dark and wake up at first light. On shorter hikes I tend to look at my watch and measure my progress by the linear passage of time. It took me how long to climb that mountain?!

  3. I rode my bike across the US and this is exactly what is missing. One's concept of timing changes dramatically when all one has to do is get from point A to point B over the course of the day. I bike daily in MA and my "exercise" rides very dissimilar to touring the open road.

    I found this slow feeling incredibly refreshing and I encourage anyone who will listen (especially those who live in the Northeast) to hop on their bike, go into the wilderness, to do anything, just get out there and wander. It takes more than a weekend but having unstructured time changes your mindset for the better. I'm sure you're still feeling that post-trip glow.

  4. That's a good theory. I suspect that many urbanites reconnect to their humanity with travel, whatever the destination.

    "There is only one basic human right, the right to do as you damn well please. And with it comes the only basic human duty, the duty to take the consequences." — PJ O'Rourke

    ~ OTOH, additional doses of freedom have no appeal for me. Lovie says I need more structure in my life. It's true, I enjoy following the trail like a prix fixe menu. Leave the decision-making to those who have the desire and ability to make good decisions, and enjoy the fruit of their labors.

  5. Hi Phil,

    The Challenge allowed you have some freedom of movement while still having an overall structure and making progress towards a goal.

    Do you think you would have enjoyed getting off the plane and hiking around Scotland with no fixed end point or plan for resupply?

    I think the Smokey Mountains are the only trail network that are close by that would give you a similar experience – i.e. establish a goal to go from point A to point B over a period of 2 weeks with a multitude of ways of getting there. Also there is a 900 miles of Trail Hiked Patch [or something like that] that might interest you.

    I drive up to the Whites and pick a trail when I get to Lincoln. Not sure that is your cup of tea.

    Tommy

  6. I'm hoping to find that "freedom" you speak of on the JMT next month. It'll be my first long distance trek. I'll post back in August.

  7. I think bushwhacking in the whites has some potential. Lots of unnamed peaks and rivers to explore. Check out Mountain Wanderer's blog – Steve Smith editor of the AMC White Mountain Guide. All he ever hikes are bushwhacks.

  8. Sean – have a great trip! Let us know how it went.

  9. So how long did it take you to start feeling this Long Distance Contentment? 5-7-10 days? Just wondering if something similar could be experienced on a week-long trip? Although, I'm sure it would vary from person to person…

  10. I experienced it after 4 great days, but knew that I had another 10-11 days ahead of me.

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