My hiking and backpacking trips start well before I ever step foot on the trail. I like to plan out my route by reading maps and trail guides, figure out what gear I need to bring depending on the terrain or expected weather conditions, plan out my menu in great detail, get packed, maybe practice using some of the gear in advance, learn new skills I’ll need, etc. Yeah, my hikes start well before I get to the trail head and I get a lot of satisfaction from all of these pre-trip activities.
It’s the same after a hike. There’s the afterglow of physical exertion and the personal satisfaction of achieving an objective, or occasionally analyzing what went wrong. If I’ve been hiking with other people, I like to socialize with them afterwards at a restaurant and have some beers together. When I get home, I unpack my gear, dry it out, patch it up, resupply items, and write-up a trip report. There’s a lot to savor and I try to ring out as much pleasure from the experience as possible.
Andrew Skurka once asked me why I write so many trip reports, and the truth is that they help me remember my trips and what I felt when I hiked them. The act of writing them helps me relive the experience in a way. It’s uncanny how much the words can jog my memory of the sensations I was feeling during the experience.
I take lots of photos too and every time I look at them, I remember the trip they were taken on, who I was with, and what was going on. I look at many of my photos every day in fact, since they’re all on my computer, so the memories are refreshed over and over.
Big trips, like hiking across Scotland or section hiking the Appalachian Trail make an even bigger mark. I’m leaving in a few weeks to hike a long section of the AT. I’ve been planning this hike months in advance: making travel arrangements to head down south, planning my food menu, packing up mail drops and sending them out, testing some new gear, breaking in new shoes, seam-sealing a new shelter, and so on. I enjoy all of it and it is just as much a part of my hike as when I start walking.
It’s very hard to explain to non-hikers how an activity such as hiking or backpacking can be so absorbing, even more so, if you have the luck to do it full-time. While I’m not a thru-hiker because I don’t hike for 6 months at a time, I probably spend at least that every year on hiking trips or preparing for them. Probably more, when you consider that I get to be a hiker all the time, even if it’s just in my mind.