Having Fun on a Thru-Hike

One of the reasons I keep coming back to long distance backpacking is the pure enjoyment of it all. Sure there is pain, and dirt and a fair amount of suffering, but there is a lot of fun.

When experiences are as intense as thru-hiking can be, you learn a lot about your fellow hikers in those times. Seeing a person’s true colors leads to deep connections that often span years between hikes, and often those most memorable times include a lot of laughter.

Friends, and very funny guys, Squatch and Jester are great at putting those ridiculous moments on film. You should check out Squatch’s series, Walk, Still Walking, Even More Walking and Walked. He caught me on film in Even More Walking at the Hiker Heaven hostel in 2006…while he was interviewing me he was also deploying a fart machine.

Jester’s series Wizards of the PCT and Embrace the Brutality are freaking hilarious, for anyone looking to learn about the non-serious side of thru-hiking, check out these two guys’ movies.

Having fun can include carrying ridiculous things (you gotta find out what the Wizard is in Jester’s movie). I won a whoopie cushion in a raffle at the PCT kick-off in 2006 and carried it for most of the trail.

Why? Cause.


Mags deemed my whoopie cushion not useless, so I carried it.


Yep, still have it on the Oregon/California border, 1700 miles later.

Oh yeah, did I mentioned that I shaved my head prior to hiking the PCT? I had a going away party where for every $5 someone donated to my hiking fund, they could take some scissors to my hair. At the end of the night we shaved it all off and also shaved “PCT” into the back of my head (my friends cut enough of my hair off that I was able to buy the digital camera I took on the trail that year!). That lead to lots more shaving that night…




Why not? Lint did it too.

So one of the best parts of the PCT for me was meeting my dear friend NEMO. That girl knows how to have fun. Along the hike she taught me how to knit.

Really, knitting is a pretty good hobby to have on a long trail. Yarn doesn’t weigh much, and you can make useful things like hats for hikers while you walk!


We would knit on all the passes in the Sierra.


I finished my first hat at VVR for my AT hiking friend little g (he later wore it on his PCT hike!)

Before long we had a whole crew of hikers knitting. We started calling ourselves the High Alpine Knitting Club...here we are on Donohue Pass.

Before long we had a whole crew of hikers knitting. We started calling ourselves the High Alpine Knitting Club…here we are on Donohue Pass.

And then there was the sword. When we got to Ashland, NEMO and I decided to see a Shakespeare play (Ashland is well known for their Shakespeare Festival each year). Well, it just so happened that NEMO found a lightweight sword that she had to give me. (My trail name is She-ra after all, Princess of the Power).


I decided to knight her on the street in Ashland. (Yes, those really were our hiking clothes, we would hit up thrift stores along the trail for new duds when our old ones were wearing out)


And I carried that sword to Canada.

The point of all this (oh man, I have so many more stories!) is to have fun on your hike. Sometimes the seriousness of day-to-day life doesn’t allow for ridiculous antics that you can get up to on a long trail.

Life is far too short to be so serious.


Donna Saufley got in on the shaving action in 2006 too.


Bama & NEMO at Hiker Town. Not quite sure what’s going on there.


Calf tats courtesy of NEMO

Training for a Thru-hike

When people ask me how I train to hike a long trail, my first response is, “by eating everything I can.” Then I laugh. But it’s kind of true.

Really? You are going to put that into your body? Well, yeah, sometimes...

Really? You are going to put that into your body? Well, yeah, sometimes…

During a typical 20-30 mile day on the trail most hikers burn around 6,000 calories a day, an amount that is impossible to carry no matter how much peanut butter, olive oil, or chocolate you have in your pack. By the end of a 5-6 month long hike many thrus look like mere shadows of their former selves, as often the body starts consuming muscle once it has burned off all the fat reserves.

Now for women, this isn’t always the case. Our womanly figures like to preserve the baby-making ability, and will hoard the fat/muscle more than our male counterparts. I’ve heard some women say they didn’t lose any weight during a hike, which can come as a surprise to them.

I’ve typically slimmed down quite a bit over the duration of a long trail, but then again, my preparations have included consuming as much cake, beer, and cheetos as possible.

I find an amazing cache of trail magic at Rainy Pass, mile 2,593 on the PCT. At this point you really can eat whatever you want.

I found an amazing cache of trail magic at Rainy Pass, mile 2,593 on the PCT. At this point you really can eat whatever you want.

This year I’m doing things a little differently. While I probably won’t say no to a pint of IPA from one of our local breweries in Bend, I am keeping up a regular fitness routine, and I do want to eat more nutritious food on the trail.

Over three years ago I started attending the Namaspa yoga studio in Bend that specializes in Baptiste Yoga, an incredibly challenging yoga discipline, that has transformed my body from regular 2-3 sessions a week. I have never been as strong as I am now.

Now this is a full-body strong, not the typical strong that results from 2,000 miles, a condition we like to call the T-Rex syndrome. The T-Rex is a hiker that has tree-trunks for legs, someone who can climb thousands of feet without labored breathing, but can’t throw a rock past the closest tree. Think T-Rex: all leg and no arm.


Oh I hear hikers say they are going to keep their core & arms strong through daily sit-ups and push-ups. But really? At the end of your typical 28 mile day in the mountains it’s all you can do to lift your spoon to your mouth before falling asleep in your Ramen noodles. We expend so much energy during the day it’s unusual for the idealistic fitness routines to last past the first week of a hike.

So this year I’m starting the trail stronger than ever before (thanks to yoga) and also with a steady program of weekend warrioring. Kirk and I usually get out of town as soon as we can on Friday or early Saturday morning to ski, hike, packraft, raft, bike or any of the other 100’s of activities close to Bend.

Last weekend we went packrafting. This is my patented don't swallow any of the cow-dung water move.

Last weekend we went packrafting. This is my patented don’t swallow any of the cow-dung water move.

I’m hoping this will make the first month on the trail a little less painful than my previous 7 thru-hikes, but you never know. I’m 37 this time around, and age has a way of throwing aches & pains your way in body parts that you never knew existed.

But really…hiking all day every day is really hard to train for. The first few weeks will suck and your body will hurt, I’ll try to spare you too much whining when I start hiking north!

Oh feet. That's a whole other issue the first few weeks on the trail.

Oh feet. That’s a whole other issue the first few weeks on the trail.

Words can Soothe the Ache

Getting through the winter months before a thru-hike is agonizing. I hate to say I’m just biding my time, but that’s it in it’s essence. Watching the days pass is easier if I keep really busy, which is a cinch this year as I have a full time desk job and have been freelancing 10-15 more hours a week. That leaves just enough time for yoga, walks, a bit of skiing/hiking/packrafting and, a bit of reading.

Reading has always been my coping mechanism of choice; diving into a good adventure story is like a salve for the ache. I picked up a few books recently at the local used book store that have helped.


The first book, Walking Home, hasn’t really taken my mind of the CDT so much, but fanned the fire of the next adventure.

Alaska weighs heavily on me. I’ve read so many books about Alaskan adventures, and Kristin Gates‘ last few adventures in particular shout possibility. Kirk and I are thinking an extended packraft/hike/ski trp in Alaska is on the docket soon, but until then I’ll dive into books like the one above.

Other treasures like the book True by Michael Melius is a real find. Small independent press books  are some of my favorites, and this one in particular is fantastic.



These are some deep thoughts for my mind to chew on as the days continue to get shorter.

And then there are trail journals. Oh how I love trail journals. I often find an eloquent story-teller and read through their whole five months of daily journals in just a few days or weeks. I’ve been in the middle of Colter’s trip on the Desert Trail lately; his trip is particularly interesting as he’s the first person (i think?) to have hiked this 2,200ish mile route from Mexico to Canada. Just a stone’s throw from the PCT at times, I think people forget there are many other hikes out there to do, of your own devising, or re-erecting the paths of past travelers.

desert trail map


So I continue with my books and journals. Spring will come.

I won’t look at the Three Sisters the same anymore

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We lost a friend to the mountains this week. When I say lost, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe he’s been there all along. Certainly his spirit and passion has been caught up in ridge-walks and highty elevations for years. Many of us met him on a long trail or on top of a mountain; crossing vast landscape together can bring you to a level of intimacy some will never know outside of their family. But family is what you become after months of sleeping on the dirt, laughing at ridiculous things and marveling that the world can be so beautiful.

Sometimes you never need to actually hike with someone to know you are part of the same family, and know those shared experiences of hiking thousands of miles can almost always bridge the gap.

At the end of the day how can you mourn a life that has been absorbed by the very thing they loved so much? Life is too short. Yes, that is painfully true. And, I have to think that of all the places one could spend their last minutes, the mountain range that frames Central Oregon, the mountain range that is home, is a very fitting place.

I won’t look at the Three Sisters the same anymore. Ben is up there. He is part of that wilderness now. If anything, it makes my connection with the world that much deeper.