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Section Hikers Unite!

Section Hiking the Appalachian Trail

I'm somewhat dismayed by all the the attention that is paid to thru-hikers of scenic trails and how little is paid to section hikers. I don't begrudge thru-hikers their freedom to hike a trail for 6 months or more. Of course, I'm envious. I just think that section hikers should share in some of the glory too.

Take the Appalachian Trail for example. Over 4 million people hike it annually, but only 2,000 attempt a thru-hike. I have to believe that there are many more section hikers hiking that trail each year. But for some reason, we're a hidden constituency.

Let's face it, a lot of section hikers are older than thru-hikers. We have families and financial obligations, and can only get away on 1-2 night backpacking trips, due to personal or work commitments. The truth is, it takes a lot of sacrifices and compromises to fuel a section hiking habit.

In fact, I'd argue that section hiking is harder than thru-hiking. Yes, even harder.

For example, I just finished section hiking the AT in New Hampshire over the course of 3 years. In order to hike 161 miles of trail, I hiked 306 miles. That's a lot more than a thru-hiker would hike, even with town resupplies. Probably why it took 2+ years to complete!

Those extra miles, hiking into the wilderness to join back up with the AT, and then hiking out at the end of the day or weekend, are only part of what makes section hiking difficult in my mind.

There's also juggling all of the personal and work obligations to make time for yourself.  If you're in a relationship, you probably have a pretty good idea of the level of negotiation and compromise that's required to get the necessary time off.

On top of that, there is a lot of extra driving and shuttles, to and from the trail.

So if you are a section hiker or you live with one, I think you need to give them (or yourself) a pat on the back for living your dream and making the sacrifices required to fulfill it.

We are a silent majority but one that should celebrate our solidarity more – imho. Maybe it's also time for the long distance trail associations that we support, to throw a little glory our way.

If you are a section hiker of any long distance trail over 200 miles (worldwide) and haven't entered this month's Gossamer Gear Pick Your Pack Raffle, there is still time to enter. The deadline for raffle submissions is midnight October 16th, so don't delay.

11 comments

  1. I have section hiked since the 80's and have done the southern half + hundred mile wilderness. This year I met several thru hikers, and followed a few journals. The challenges of a section hiker are numerous as you outline. The Thru Hiker has to have a special mental toughness to stay out there in the green tunnel grinding out the hard physical work of hiking, days-weeks-months on end. I gained a renewed appreciation of the special determination and mental toughness required meeting these folks this year. I admire them.

    At the same time we are all out there for enjoyment. None of us need recognition or praise. The praise belongs to the Conservancy and the volunteers, as well as the NPS, that keep this magnificant pony available for us to ride from time to time. imho

    That a treasure the AT is.

    Gene

  2. I had an interesting experience on a long section hike on the AT this Spring. I was in the Fontana Hilton with several thru-hikers, when a man came in with Trail Magic. After talking to him a while, I realized I had read his story in the AT Journal earlier this year. "Methane" had sectioned with his son for years, and they finished at Katadyn together- as his son was simultaneously completing his thru-hike. Anyway, the group talked about the merits of thru vs. section hiking. I have unbelievable respect for thru-hikers (and got a "taste" since I was lucky enought to hike for 9 weeks), but I think Methane was right. Section hikers have more of an appreciation for the trail, see and remember more of it, and have to have as much or more commitment since their trek can take years or decades. I spent most of my hike with folks at least attempting a thru-hike, but never felt "second class" after that discussion. Family and work commitments don't make a thru-hike likely for me, but I appreciate every day on the trial I can squeeze in, and have every intention of finishing the AT- one section at a time.

  3. Great comment. I think thru-hikers all appreciate section hikers, and there's no us vs. them mentality there. But there are differences in the experience certainly. I think the experience of a thru-hike is probably much more social for example – where the comraderie is what gets people through the mind-numbing grind, while the section hiker experience is less social and more focused on the particulars of each section and the memory of "defining moments" for each hike. We do what we can – neither is better or worse.

  4. That is great! I, too, envy the freedom of the thru-hiker, but would never want to give up my family for that amount of time. I am happy section hiking and agree that, if I were to try to do the entire CDT trail, I would probably rack up twice the miles and expense of thru-hiking!

  5. Spread the word friends. I'm not suggesting that we organize ourselves with a big "O", but I think we should celebrate our solidarity a little more. Honestly, I wouldn't mind finding a few kindred spirits in other states for an occasional hike, but I find section hikers hard to find on the Internet. They don't exactly congregate in any one place due to regional issues.

  6. Earlylite, I think you expressed my thoughts when you wrote: "We do what we can – neither is better or worse." I'm a mother of three smallish (aged approx. 2, 5 and 7 yrs.) kids and most of my "hikes" are day walks with the family. My longer hikes are restricted to the odd weekend every now and then, sometimes alone, often with at least some family members. But I don't feel any worse than the rest of the outdoor community, I even make noise – i.e., blog – about my walks. It's just that this now fits to my life situation. Maybe after a decade or two my walks look pretty different, but that's also a different family situation then.

    The thru-hikes may make better stories, but I don't think that it makes other forms of hiking any worse.

  7. maria – you raise an interesting dimension which is family hiking. I have a few section hiker profiles scheduled for posting in the coming weeks which feature families that are engaged in section hiking long trails all together, or in father/son pairings. Imagine doing that over a multi-year period with children. I wish I had experienced something like that with my dad. Thanks for your comment.

  8. Earlylite: I'm looking forward for these family section hiker profiles! And I think that as soon as our youngest one starts walking several miles (in more or less the same direction as the others ;-) ) we'll start doing more overnighters. Now she still needs to be carried most of the time, so overnighters require quite a lot of planning. Thanks for keeping up your inspiring blog!

  9. Interesting post and comments about how family commitments influence how we experience the outdoors. As a new father, I also look forward to reading your family profiles to see how others balance their home life and outdoor interests. I hit the trail with my family when I was two, and look forward to my first overnight trip with my daughter.

  10. Earlylite – great post, thanks! I have to confess a little envy and a lot of admiration for thru hikers, but I really like just getting out for a day or two to clear my head. Maybe day and section hikers don't get the attention because most of us haven't been out enough to be tagged with a cool trail name ;-) I'll get my first small taste of the AT next weekend on Bear Mountain. My advice? a day, a week, or six months – just get out on a trail and enjoy it.

  11. Section hikers are more honest about their hikes than most "thru" hikers. I've section hiked on the AT twice – the 1st time, I started my hike with the intention of being a "thru" hiker. I hiked 750 miles(from Springer Mt to Jennings Creek) but had to abort; the 2nd time I picked up where I left off & hiked to VA 55 (above Front Royal). Both times, I watched so called "thru" hikers beg for rides, get off of the AT,ride ahead & claim they hiked all of the AT.

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