Our traditional daily backpacking schedule is well-known. It’s described in books and shown in movies. In the book, A Walk in the Woods, the two main characters meet Mary Ellen while eating dinner in camp. How many outdoor movie campfire scenes show campers eating in camp?
What if you were to switch some of the daily activities around? What if your daily hiking schedule broke up your walking more, giving your legs more frequent breaks? Consider such a schedule.
The benefits to such a daily schedule would be many.
- The main activity of walking is broken up more frequently than a traditional backpacking daily schedule. This alternative schedule means you could start to walk earlier in the day and finish later in the day.
- No longer are morning and evening meals limited to a campsite. You could stop at a lake for breakfast, cook lunch at an overlook, and eat dinner at a waterfall.
- Refrain from eating in camp. This approach is especially important while traveling in bear country, but the rule also helps with rodents and insects. Many backpackers would still choose to hang a bear bag, but the scent of food in camp should be significantly reduced.
- The biggest meal of the day could be lunch. Pull out all the cooking gear and prepare, eat, and stow the gear during the middle of the day, all the time resting your legs for the afternoon’s hike.
- The last meal of the day, dinner, could be light. You could eat, brush teeth, filter water, and prepare your bear bag while resting in the late afternoon.
- When backpacking during shoulder season, the sun seems to set early. The last meal of the day could be eaten in sunlight.
Trailiac describes some elements of this alternative daily hiking schedule in the video bulletin, Stealth Camping Tips.
How have you altered the traditional daily backpacking schedule? What benefits have you realized?
Many AT hikers enjoy staying in trail shelters. Many avoid them if possible. I tend to be in the latter group. I will stay in a shelter if it’s raining or rain is predicted. Pitching or packing a tent in the pouring rain can be a miserable undertaking. If it is to be a pleasant evening, I’ll find a flat spot for my tent at the end of the day. The possibility of roving rodents or snoring humans places me in the shelter-as-a-last resort group. Rain drove me into shelters four evenings in row during my April section hike.
Are you in the shelter camp or the avoid shelter camp? Under what conditions would you sleep in an AT shelter?
Near the end of Bill Bryson’s speech in Frederick, MD the other evening, he took questions from the audience. He answered questions about all of his books, but this article addresses the comments regarding his book, A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail.
Bryson answered a question about his and Katz’s inability to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail (AT). He commented that he really admires thru-hikers. He remarked that thru-hiking is tough, tougher than most can accomplish. One only has to look at the number of thru-hiking attempts vs. completions to gain an appreciation for the difficulty of accomplishing a thru-hike. Bryson said he was really bothered by their not walking the whole trail. He didn’t spend many words on it in the book, but Bryson said he was bothered by it for a few months.
Of course, thru-hiking isn’t the only way to travel the Appalachian Trail. One remark triggered an eruption of applause from the audience. Bryson commented that he believes section hiking the trail “seems the most reasonable.” After the applause finally quieted, he added, “for me at least.” It is hard to describe, and difficult to test, but there seemed to be a message in the extended applause. It seemed as if the audience appreciated a person of authority giving them permission to enjoy the AT without committing to a 6-month thru-hike. Finally, it was ok to walk less than 2000 miles.
Bryson added that the Appalachian Trail must be celebrated, whether by traveling nearly 2200 miles or strolling 2 miles.
Any reader who has begun to read A Walk in the Woods will tell you that Bryson was concerned about bear attacks. The author spent much time and quite a few pages describing the dangers of bears and other creatures along the AT. The book’s cover photo reveals Bryson’s main concern for wildlife.
After his book was published, some readers provided guidance on bear encounters in the wild. One letter included a story about grizzly bears out west. Bryson said he shares this story with all audiences. You’ll find the bear story at 25:57 in the video clip below.
What has kept you from completing a long hike?
What is your greatest fear in the backcountry and why?
Bill Bryson knows a lot about writing books, a bit less about producing movies. Last night he commented on the movie adaptation of his best-selling book, A Walk in the Woods, during a book reading event in Frederick, MD.
In answering a question about the movie, Bill Bryson was quick to point out two things – 1) he “liked the movie very much,” and 2) he had nothing to do with it.
Bryson sold the movie rights of his book to Robert Redford. The world waited for the movie as the idea sat for years. In 2014, Robert Redford began filming the movie. Bryson indicated he had little to do with the movie production after he sold the rights. He made it clear that he trusted Robert Redford.
Bryson first saw the movie at the Sundance Film Festival in 2015. He sat between Robert Redford and his wife (i.e., Mrs. Bryson). He reports that he and his wife were looking forward to seeing the movie, and hoped that they would be accurately portrayed.
Bill Bryson told last night’s audience that it took a while to get used to Robert Redford answering for him on screen. Bryson seemed very pleased with the choice of Robert Redford to play him in the movie.
Bryson shared that the only uncomfortable time during the movie screening was when his character (Robert Redford) and an innkeeper (Mary Steenburgen) began to flirt. The Brysons were afraid the flirting might lead to something less innocent. The movie quickly moved on without either character engaging further. Bill Bryson leaned over to his wife during the Sundance screening and said, “That didn’t happen!” He has told his audiences since the movie’s release, “That didn’t happen!” He told last night’s audience in Frederick, “That didn’t happen!”
If not Redford and Nick Nolte playing Bryson and Katz in the movie, who? I would have liked to have seen Jack Black attempt to play a Katz. Who would you have casted for Bryson and Katz?
Bill Bryson, frequent author and occasional backpacker, entertained an intimate gathering of several hundred this evening in Frederick, MD. He held a book reading and book signing event. I arrived 45 minutes early because I knew there might be a crowd. Forty-five minutes early was not early enough. When I arrived, the line of those waiting to enter the venue went down the block, around a corner, and into a nearby parking garage.
Bryson read from four of his books, including A Walk in the Woods. He noted that he hadn’t read from A Walk in the Woods for a long time, but had to this evening because Frederick is so close to the Appalachian Trail (AT).
Bryson chose to read the passage about his and Katz’s first encounter with Mary Ellen in the southern mountains. I must have read this account a dozen times, but thoroughly enjoyed his reading tonight. Bryson seemed to genuinely enjoy the audience’s laughter. Can you imagine how many times he has read that passage and heard an audience laugh since the book was published in 1998?
Bryson did not hike the AT in Maryland, where Frederick is located. He spent some time in nearby Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. He also hiked sections of the AT in Pennsylvania. He advised tonight’s audience that they should skip the trail in Pennsylvania.
If you have read the book, what passage would you have asked Bill Bryson to read? Flinging necessary supplies in Georgia? The middle-of-the-night discussion of defending themselves against bears with the only weapon they packed -- toenail clippers? The suspense of hiking in dangerous weather in the White Mountains?
Bill Bryson will remain in Frederick and be speaking tomorrow at 11 a.m.
Here are some little-known and seldom-considered rules of the trail. Most are based on personal experience in the backcountry. Many online resources suggest trail etiquette. You will find some guidelines listed at the end.
To avoid being remembered as THAT hiker, there is only one rule – consider others. Consider why those you encounter on the trail have come to the backcountry. Their reasons are probably similar to yours.
I have found that most people go to the backcountry to escape the world and enjoy the beauty. Hikers simply need a break from everyday responsibilities and demands. Some need to get away for a few hours or days, others need six months. Many hit the trail for the peace it offers.
Some hikers are on a mission and pass quickly and quietly. Others are more talkative. If you are sharing a campsite with others, conversation is bound to be part of the evening.
As you consider topics of discussion, remember people may have come to the wilderness to escape and find some peace. Refrain from speaking about politics and religion. Most strangers don’t care what you think about the former or current U.S. president. While discussion about religion is usually interesting, it can quickly turn contentious. No one goes to the wilderness for a fight.
Some hikers may enjoy hearing about current events reported on the news, but others left the 24-hour news cycle to escape. Refrain from reporting the latest news from Washington or the Middle East unless your hiking acquaintance asks about it.
Most parents try to protect young children from profanity. It seems like parents are in constant fear of a young child repeating her latest profane vocabulary word to grandma. In this modern era, profanity has become a part of everyday language and can be found throughout t.v. programming. Refrain from using profanity around children. Many parents don’t expect to fight this battle in the wilderness.
Trail etiquette is simple. There isn’t a list of 15 or 21 rules to memorize. Simply consider why others may have come to the backcountry.
What guidelines would you add to interacting with other hikers while on the trail?
Many of us have asked, could I be a thru-hiker? Could I hike most days, all day long, from spring to fall? Would I have the physical endurance to climb endless mountains? Would I have the mental toughness to go on even when my heart tells me to stop?
The only true way to answer these questions is to attempt a thru-hike.
Planning an epic hike begins with the collection of trail information. There is plenty of advice out there. Joe Brewer, a triple crown hiker, provides some insight into what a typical day of thru-hiking looks like.
Joe Brewer completed his hike of the Appalachian Trail in 2012, the Pacific Crest Trail in 2014, and the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) in 2015. His video below shows his final full day on the CDT. We can see the typical beginning of a thru-hiker’s day, the difficulty of finding some sections of the trail, a windy lunchbreak, the big sky of the afternoon’s hike, and dinner at the end of the day.
All long distance trails are different. A hike changes each day. Yet, many of the day’s activities remain the same. A hiker must eat, filter water, take breaks, and set up camp.
If you enjoyed watching Joe’s video, you’ll find more videos on the Joe Brewer Youtube channel. Joe’s blog, Backcountry Banter, provides more information and insights about backpacking long distance trails.
What online resources have you found to be useful when planning your long distance hike?
In recent blog posts, we’ve been investigating the Wild Effect and how we might be able to test whether such a phenomenon exists. We’ve identified books and movies related to the Pacific Crest Trail, the Appalachian Trail, and the Camino de Santiago.
There is some difficulty gathering the number of thru-hikers who have completed the PCT each year. Before 2013, the Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) counted the number of permits issued. A single permit could list anywhere between 1 and 8 hikers. Unfortunately, the number of permits prior to 2013 provides an inaccurate gauge.
The PCTA admits that no one really knows how many hikers finish the PCT each year. The measures available from the PCTA rely on self-reporting. Our findings are dependent on the honor system.
The graph of self-reported PCT completions shows fewer hikers in 2013, a year after The Wild (book) was published. There was a strong increase from 2013 to 2014. Maybe readers took some time to ponder and plan a trip scheduled for two years after the book was published. The strongest increase in numbers can be seen from 2011 to 2012, in the time leading up to the book’s publication.
The Wild (movie) was released in 2014. As you can see in the graph above, there is an increase in PCT completions from 2014 to 2015. However, the increase from 2013 to 2014 is greater. Please also note, growth in PCT completions from 2015 to 2016 is relatively flat.
If the graph were shifted a bit, and the bump shown in 2012 were seen in 2013, I would declare, “There it is. There is the Wild Effect.”
Like the PCTA, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) relies on self-reported trail completions. The ATC’s website provides numbers of completed AT hikes for the years 2008 to 2015. Unfortunately, this date range does not address either potential Bryson Bump (i.e., book publication in 1998 or movie release in 2015). We’ll have to return to this investigation after the ATC releases the 2016 AT completion numbers.
If you are interested, here are the number of AT completions by year from 2008 to 2015. The number of section hikes completed each year has been removed to better align these numbers with the number of PCT completions listed above.
Hiker completion numbers for the Camino de Santiago are available for the years 1985 to 2015. The movie, The Way, was released in 2010, so we are interested in looking at the trail completions following 2010.
Unfortunately, the only hiker completion numbers available are from Wikipedia.com. There may be some metrics available in Spanish language online resources, but I didn’t find any.
The number of hikers finishing the Camino de Santiago since 1985 has been ever-increasing. It is a steady march. There is not a significant increase in the number of hikers following the release of the movie.
Holy years, or Jubilee years, are declared in years when St. James’s Day (July 25) falls on a Sunday. The numbers of hikers in Holy years far outpace the numbers in other years.
In this end, during a review of the number of long distance trail completions, I could not see effects or bumps based on related books or movies. The increases in PCT completions did not really align with the release of the book or movie. Unfortunately, the Bryson Bump, while interesting, could not be assessed because the numbers of hikers for relevant years were not available. Finally, the release of the movie, The Way, did not seem to have an effect on the number of hikers completing the Camino de Santiago.
However, let’s remember how we selected our measurements. While we could have evaluated a few metrics, we chose to review the number of completed hikes. There is no way to tell how many people visited the trail, hiked on it for a week or a day or a minute, based on their reading of a book or seeing a movie. These numbers are not collected, so they cannot be assessed. The number of completions seem to be the one thing that trail authorities do collect.
Do you agree with this conclusion? Has a key component been left out of this investigation? Would you have approached this study differently?
There are many ways that we might be able to detect the Wild Effect. One way would be to see if the number of inquiries about a trail increases after the release of a story. We could measure web traffic about a trail before and after the release of a story. Let's simplify the literature search. Can we see the Wild Effect in the number of thru-hikers who complete a trail?
Unfortunately, that’s about all we can say about our investigation. We cannot comment on the number of thru-hikers who read the book or saw the movie, and were inspired to hit the trail. That information is simply not available. Some, perhaps most, thru-hikers take trails on for other reasons. We really cannot connect the number of thru-hikers to their motivations.
The information about numbers of thru-hikers tends to range from the implicit to the explicit. That is, some sources make high-level statements, without providing much support. Other sources declare specific numbers of thru-hikers.
The Wild Effect and Bryson Bump are phenomena listed on several outdoor-related blogs. Many of these sources imply that the books and movies will cause or have caused an increase in hiking on these long distance trails. The blogs list little support for such hypotheses or conclusions. A reader almost feels that the authors want these increases to happen.
Outside magazine published ‘Wild’ Movie Boosts Number of PCT Hikers on January 20, 2015. In this article, the editors state a) the number of thru-hiker permits was up 300%, and b) the number of hikers was 30% higher. A reader could reconcile these two numbers. Perhaps 3 times the number of hikers registered, but only 30% more showed up. In a related article, Behind the Scenes of 'Wild', the author notes that the Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) is estimating a hiker increase of 30%.
The PCTA reports on anecdotal observations. The PCTA reports that there seems to be more hikers on the trail after Cheryl Strayed’s book was published, and again when the movie was released. Also, there seem to be more people on the trail for day hikes or weekend backpacking trips. It makes sense that an inspiring story in a movie or book could move people to tackle long distance trails.
In the next blogpost, we’ll look at the numbers of thru-hikers readily available and see if we can see the Wild Effect or the Bryson Bump.
Do best-selling books and successful movies inspire people to action? How about when the stage is backpacking?
The Wild Effect is the phenomenon that the movie Wild would increase the number of hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) in years following the release of the film. It is the belief that the story of Wild would inspire others to hike the PCT. The Bryson Bump is a similar idea for the Appalachian Trail (AT). Bill Bryson wrote A Walk in the Woods in 1998. This generated interest in the Appalachian Trail should have translated into a greater number of visitors to the AT. The Way, a film about walking the 500-mile Camino de Santiago trail in Spain, was produced in 2010. Did wild, the walk, and the way inspire people to visit these trails? Can we see it in the numbers available?
This is more than just a curiosity. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy considered how to protect the AT after the movie, A Walk in the Woods, was shown in theaters in 2015. The conversancy’s solution was to devise a mechanism for AT thru-hikers to register and communicate their hiking plans. No hiker would be turned away, but it would give the conservancy an idea as to where the hikers would be when. A hiker could see the plans of others and make adjustments if, say, a high number of registered thru-hikers were planning to start in the 2nd week of March.
Perhaps some of Trailiac’s readers have been inspired by these books or movies. My first backpacking trip along the AT was during 1999, one year after Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods came out. I hadn’t read the book, but I traveled with one who had. The book inspired a friend, a western backpacker, to give the AT a try.
What inspired you to try backpacking? A book or movie? A friend?
Before we flip our calendars to 2017, let's take a look at the photos featured on Trailiac during 2016.
Do you have a favorite photo?
A campsite with a view was discovered on my recent overnight trip in the Delaware Water Gap.
The Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area is along the New Jersey (NJ) and Pennsylvania (PA) border. The Delaware River cuts through the Appalachian Mountains, forming a gap. The geologic changes of the area began 500M years ago. A look at the topology suggests that water and wind erosion have been at work for a long time.
The 67,000-acre recreation area features fields that have been farmed for more than 1000 years. The area includes villages dating back to colonial times. Today, the recreation area offers more than 100 miles of hiking trails, 27 miles of which are the Appalachian Trail (AT). An adventurer can enjoy canoeing, rafting, swimming, fishing, rock climbing, and hiking in the recreation area.
My first experience in the Delaware Water Gap was during November of 2012. It was a joyous occasion. I was backpacking my last few miles of PA’s AT. PA is beautiful, but the AT is composed of tens of millions of toaster-sized rocks. As I was walking along the ridge of Mount Minsi at sunset, mentally checking PA off my section hike list, I decided to return to the Delaware Water Gap when I could.
My recent overnighter was four years after my first visit. I read about potential hazards (e.g., hunting season, black bear activities) to help prepare for the trip. A salesperson at my local outfitter encouraged me to pack bear spray. It would seem that NJ is just crawling with bears. My overnight trip was limited to PA, but PA is just a short wade across the Delaware River from bear-infested NJ. I purchased bear spray.
I parked at trailhead parking, hoisted my backpack, and began to climb Mount Minsi. It is a beautiful climb, along a gentle trail that crosses a couple of streams. Soon, I was reminded of the slope’s significant patches of Rhododendrons. These year-round leaf bearing shrubs could hide large sloths of bears. I climbed, with hand on bear spray.
The video shows a few views from Mount Minsi and the campsite with a view.
There are numerous parking lots for day hikers and backpackers. Review this interactive map to plan your visit of the region.
What interests you most about the Delaware Water Gap?
No backpackers were harmed in the making of this video.
Pacific Crest Trail on Foot shows a short walk along the Pacific Crest Trail near Echo Lake in California in the western United States. The text highlights some key features of the trail.
Backpackers should peel away from the evening campfire and glance skyward. The sky is relatively quiet this month. There are a couple of planets visible at sunset, but many are too close to the sun's light to see. The greatest meteor shower of the year ended last month.
That doesn't mean the universe has suddenly become boring. The moon's sunny surface continues to change as it swings around earth. Meteors still streak across the night sky. We can still see approximately 6,000 stars on a moonless night.
There is much to appreciate. Enjoy September's night sky with a light jacket. Soon, the winter stars will show themselves.
California Coastal Trail on Foot shows a short section of this trail, just south of the Golden Gate Bridge. The text highlights some key features of the trail.
Backpacking is not always pleasant. It can be downright frightening. There are conflicts with the terrain, wildlife, and weather. A November backpacking trip along the along the Appalachian Trail ended with a struggle with weather.
As the sun dipped behind the hills one evening, I found myself on the south shore of the James River, with a four-mile climb. I briefly considered staying at a primitive campsite where a creek meets the James. If the cloudy afternoon turned into a rainy evening, this campsite would quickly become soggy. I climbed along the creek for nearly a mile to reach Matt’s Creek Shelter.
This shelter is beautifully situated. The shelter isn’t necessarily in a canyon, but a hiker couldn’t walk very far east, south, or west without climbing. The trail passes within a few feet of the shelter. Matt’s Creek is a mere 10 paces away. A pristine latrine is only 50 feet uphill. Everything an exhausted backpacker needs is within a short walk.
This was a typical November night. The sun set, the sky became dark, and no one joined me at the shelter.
A few hours after going to sleep, I was awakened by mice. Shelter mice often wake me, so this wasn’t unusual, but the noise of the mice grew louder. Apparently, the mice were swarming the shelter. I woke up and realized what I had been hearing was the rain on the shelter’s tin roof.
It rained, and rained, and then rained some more. I listened to the pouring rain hit the tin roof for several hours. As time went on, I became concerned about the possibility of a flash flood. This was no canyon, but all of the water falling for miles was headed for my creek. I suddenly wished my creek was less convenient.
I listened. How much rain could land possibly absorb? I listened. Does a wave of oncoming water really sound like thunder? Wow, that’s a lot of rain. I reviewed my map to confirm there could be a lot of water rushing towards me.
At some point in the darkness, I put my boots on just in case I needed to leave quickly. I grabbed my water bottle and headlamp. I took the extra measure of putting my photo id in my coat pocket, and zipping it closed. As I sat alone in the dark, my mind traced the path of my body if a flash flood carried me away – down Matt’s Creek, to the James River, past Richmond, into Hampton Roads, perhaps all the way to the Atlantic.
I listened intently for a wave of water. At the first sign of roaring water, I was sprinting uphill to the pristine latrine. Time passes slowly when a person is waiting for disaster.
Around 2 a.m. the rain slowed, and later stopped. I continued to listen for the thunder of a flash flood. I shined my light on the creek to check the water level… no real change. I relaxed a bit.
Hours later, the sun rose. I awoke, pleased to have survived the night.
What has been your most frightening backpacking experience?