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Thru-Hikes: Finding the time, money, and right spouse...
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Jolly Green Giant
(regultr) - MLife

Thru-Hikes: Finding the time, money, and right spouse... on 04/29/2008 18:29:49 MDT Print View

I'm an avid reader of several outdoor magazines, books, websites, etc., and do the best I can to get out as often as possible. They make my mind wander about all the things I'd like to do one of these days which includes some thru-hikes. Unfortunately, when I look at hiking the PCT, CDT or the AT, which are goals of mine - I have little choice but to acknowledge that it is quite literally impossible as a married man, father, and the responsible income-earner to stop working for 4 months and disappear into the great beyond without the the life I've earned and provided for my family quickly crumbling.

With that said, I've always wondered how people can find the time, money, and support to thru-hike some of the world's greatest places. Short of hitting the lottery, marrying rich, getting a workers comp claim from a stapler attack, or otherwise living in a tent full time, I can't for the life of me figure out how I can fit these in during a lifetime of so many years. Hiking them piece by piece a week at a time seems like such an exhaustive and inefficient method.

Are college students, retired people, the independently weathly, or people who hug trees full-time the only people who can accomplish thru-hikes?

I'm looking for suggestions, and yes, I'm open to being adopted into a wealthy family, and no, my wife isn't willing to live in a tent full-time.

Edited by regultr on 04/30/2008 05:34:12 MDT.

Bob Bankhead
(wandering_bob) - MLife

Locale: Oregon, USA
Thru-Hikes: Finding the time, money, and right spouse..." on 04/29/2008 19:03:31 MDT Print View

The spouse problem is yours to solve.

For the rest of it, LONG LIVE THE SECTION HIKE. After all, what is a thru-hike but a series of inter-connected (albeit consecutively) - section hikes?

It's taken me many years but finally got 1600 miles of the PCT done that way. Now that I'm retired and neither time, health, nor funds restrict me, I'm working on the rest of it. Living near the PCT has been a big help.

You live near the AT - what's stopping you from taking half of your vacation and section hiking parts of it? Be sure to reserve the other half for vacation with your spouse. If you get really lucky in that dept., your spouse will go with you - or at least drive the sag wagon and meet you at road crossings as a running resupply operation. That allows you to use your ENTIRE vacation hiking. The possibilities are endless for the deviously inclined.

If you really want to thru-hike, try the Tahoe Rim Trail - 165 miles; takes about 9-10 days. Add in travel time and you could fit it into a two week vacation period.

Wandering Bob

Edited by wandering_bob on 04/29/2008 19:05:11 MDT.

Sam Haraldson
(sharalds) - MLife

Locale: Gallatin Range
Thru-Hikes: Finding the time, money, and right spouse... on 04/29/2008 19:23:52 MDT Print View

James -

Me = Thirty-two years old, no mortgage, understanding girlfriend, very flexible job and a dammit-I'm-going-to-do-this attitude

I planned for about a year, told my job I was leaving in three months (to which they responded 'feel free to come back') and then walked 1200 miles.

Your position is much trickier than mine and I think that Bob's response and suggestions may suit you better for your needs, but I still felt I would answer your question from my point of view as you did literally ask are such and such, "...the only people who can accomplish thru-hikes?"

May you find time to get on the trail whether it be two weeks or two months.

Ryan Gardner
(splproductions) - F - M

Locale: Salt Lake City, UT
Thoughts... on 04/29/2008 20:00:15 MDT Print View

James, I have wondered the same thing.

Someone with more life experience correct me if I am wrong, but it seems like if you want a wife, kids, stable job, etc, you can't have the hike-at-your-own-will life. You can't have your cake and eat it too. My dad (who has kids still at home, job, wife, etc) loves to backpack but can't do it much. I just got married about a year ago and started to feel the pinch as I realized that my dreams of taking off whenever to hike unbelievable distances are slipping away. I eventually realized my wife means more to me than my bivy sack and backpack - although this was a hard thing to realize at first.

Sarah Kirkconnell
(sarbar) - F

Locale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
Re: Thru-Hikes: Finding the time, money, and right spouse... on 04/29/2008 20:15:58 MDT Print View is it from my side - as a mom, a wife and having a mortgage.

I have a free spirit - I was as happy living out of my truck as I was with owning a house. For years I did that, going where I wanted and working jobs that were flexible. And then I had a kid. Maybe being a woman was why I grew up so fast.

I realized that my child doesn't need to grow up that way. Rather, I realized even more that I am a reflection of my dad who also was this way. I saw that stability was more important than what my heart might call for.

I married a man who works for a large corporation and we live in the suburbs. There are days it takes my whole soul to not walk away and drive into the mountains for the summer. He balances me in the end. I give him creativity, he gives me a reason to be responsible.

And I find as I get older that I actually look forward to coming home, to our home. It took me nearly 3 years to see the house as part of me and not just his desire. I realized that our house is a home, full of light and love. I don't wan to be on the outside looking in - this is my life now and I love it.

As I get older I see the value in a family - I have nearly no blood family left now in my mid 30's. At 33 I saw how fragile everything is when I lost my last parent. There is something to be said for going to the library with your kids, going to their school, going on vacations.

I made peace rather easily. When I get the feeling, the longing I simply go hiking. I find that even a couple hours out tamps it down and I feel good. I get a couple good trips in every year that feed me, tons of dayhikes and a number of overnighters. Our family vacations are nearly always hiking related. In the end it is ok.

Because for me 6 months of hiking isn't worth tossing away what I have come to cherish. So those who are married with kids? Take your kids with you. Take a trip every year where you bond. Those will be memories you never forget.

Greg Mihalik
(greg23) - M

Locale: Colorado
Re: Thru-Hikes: Finding the time, money, and right spouse... on 04/29/2008 21:13:49 MDT Print View

I’ll dig a little deeper here and ask what you want the big picture to look like. If this is a one-time thing, you, and your family, could manage a 4 month absence. But if you’re looking for 4 months every other year you’ve got some soul searching to do. If it’s the former, I think a lot of us can provide some perspective, tips and tricks. If it’s the later, you’re going to have to think very big.

Do you have a tolerant wife or a supportive wife? Will she get her turn? Can you do it as a family? Is a new car every other year important? Do the kids know they’ll have to earn academic and/or athletic scholarships if they want to go to college? Are you in a big city and able to freelance your skills on your schedule? Can you enter into a partnership with the understanding that you’ll be gone for months at a time and will reciprocate?

I live in a small, slow, mountain town.
I know a car salesman with your constraints who worked it out. I know a banker who spends 3 months a year doing logistics for South American climbs. I know a craftsman with a 1 year-old who made it happen.

I also know that you’ll be giving up being a partner in a law firm, or a project leader at NASA.

The choices are there, they are many, and that makes it even more difficult.

Carter Hunt
(TheChamp) - F

Locale: Portland, OR
Thru-Hiking Lifestyle on 04/29/2008 23:30:23 MDT Print View

I'm in a great situation of freedom at this point in my life. I graduated college May 07' and hiked the PCT last summer, which was amazing. I have been working random jobs while looking for a full time finance job, but my heart is in hiking the CDT this summer with friends from the PCT.

I have no wife/serious relationships, I have no debts and I'm 22...but my decision is whether to go hiking around a couple more years, and possibly hurt the ability to start a stable career. I'm not sure I ultimately want that corporate culture, but I feel one day I will want the wife and kids so may have to make some compromise. I'm really leaning towards taking the opportunity I have now to explore the world and take the time to decide what I ultimately want in life.

There is a small contingent of hikers that take off on long-distance adventures every summer, and that sounds like an amazing life, but we all have to decide what we want to achieve in life. It helps to be young (or old) with limited commitments, but it can be done in your situation. Maybe just hike a shorter trail like the JMT, or section hike 100-200 miles a year until your children are grown or you're retired and can make a 4-5 month commitment to hiking.

Dirk Rabdau
(dirk9827) - F

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Thru-hike aspirations with a family on 04/30/2008 01:18:32 MDT Print View

There is a lot of thoughtful, well-reasoned commentary here. I will add my own two bits.

I am in my mid 30s and will be married within a year or two. I am also planning on a PCT thru-hike.

I read about a guy who worked very hard to pay ahead the mortgage....This could be done with careful spending and planning. This, of course, is tough to do with kids and their unexpected bills. But it isn't impossible.

But the money component is but one facet of the decision.

You have to ask yourself:

1) Can you stand to be away from your family for four plus months?
This is a huge consideration. Bill, who hiked the PCT in 2007 was in a similar situation as yourself. You can follow what happened on YouTube, including the unexpected ending

I don't have kids, but I can imagine that you can grow rather fond of them.

2) Do you have the support of your family?
I don't know if this can be stressed enough. I happen to have a girlfriend who is very supportive of my hiking goals. But every situation is different and everybody has their own perspective on this.

Your family needs to understand your desires to thru hike.
Getting your family involved is a great first step. While you are out having fun, they will be left at home. I really think it's important to make them feel connected to your hike, that they are absolutely critical to your success as a hiker.

How to do this? Make them your support crew.

Now depending on the age and interest of your kids, the next steps are suggestions that I've read worked for other people.

Make a huge wall map of the entire trail with the kids. Have them help you figure out where to stop for resupply. Make it their job to track your progress. You can get a variety of tools to do this, including the SPOT tracker, that will send them your GPS coordinates.

Dehydrate food together as a family. And then prepare the food using your camp stove and have everybody partake in dinner. Use your finest china to enjoy this succulent dish. It's an experiment that will surely have mixed results, but one that you can laugh at down the line. Have everyone decide on what you should take and what should be left behind.

Make up T-shirts with a logo that the kids come up with.

Show them videos from the trail you plan to hike (there are plenty of videos on the net and on DVD - heck, I will loan you mine! Just ask.) If the hike runs near where you live, take a short hike along the trail and camp overnight.

If your experience is anything like mine, nearly everyone will expect that you will be killed the minute your step into the woods. Your family may or may not feel the same, depending upon their experiences in the outdoors. That's why it's very important to make their experiences in the outdoors positive. That may mean tuning down the *we have to hike 20 miles and gain 4,000 feet today* hikes and settling for the car camping with plenty of snacks experiences. The important thing I suppose is to give them a good vibe about the outdoors and boost their confidence in your ability to survive without incident.

Remember, as your family will be left behind they are subject to the Uncle Al factor. Everyone they know will hear about your trip and then feel it necessary to tell them about the time Uncle Al was torn asunder by a pack of rabid Dingos and how if only Uncle Al had heeded the warnings of his family, this tragedy would have been averted....

Section hiking is a real solution. I met a guy and his daughter who were section hikers along the AT. He was in his 40s, she was 13. It was dad-and-daughter time for two weeks every year along the trail. I met them while hiking in Scotland and they spoke of their upcoming two-week stint with eager anticipation. It was something the two could share.

I met another guy who basically flew home for a week out of every month on trail to attend to business and family. Yes, this was expensive, but he said that he enjoyed the break and the chance to reconnect with the people important in his life. This could be easily modified.

I also met a guy along the trail who averaged about 20+ miles a day on the PCT and had lost 70 pounds in doing so (he was still pretty chubby when I met him.) He had a 1 and 3 year old at home with what must have been the most understanding wife in the history of the world. He was scheduled to finish the PCT just shy of four months. I asked him how he felt about being away from his kids. He said he cried on more than one occasion because he missed his family.

Here is a small discussion on marriage and thru-hiking that appeared on the PCT-L mailing list.

As for your wife, well, she will need to be reassured and made to feel more important than any hike. I think it's important to be honest about how you would view the situation if the shoe was on the other foot. If she were to take off for four months tomorrow and leave you with the kid(s) and household responsibilities, how would you feel about that? Surely, you would be supportive of her desires but it is likely you would have bad days too where you feel like you are getting the short-end of the stick.

I think the important thing is to make her feel that she's your No. 1 consideration, even when your out on the trail. Write letters, schedule phone calls, make videos using your digital camera where you talk to her and send her the card in the mail. Plan to meet along the trail for a few days of R&R.

I hope some of these ideas help! Best of luck to you!


Jolly Green Giant
(regultr) - MLife

Re: Thru-Hikes: Finding the time, money, and right spouse... on 04/30/2008 05:32:51 MDT Print View

Excellent feedback - thanks everyone. Although, I must admit I was hoping to get adopted by an heir to some fortune. Consider it an open offer. I play nicely with others.

I think the reality of all this is that we lay in the beds we make for ourselves and we can’t have everything. I made the choice to have a family, job, mortgage, etc., and the reality is that I can’t leave it behind to play with my inner-self for an extended period of time. I have a 9 month old son and my wife dropped out of corporate America to take care of him. It was a family choice – and the right choice. With that said, yes, I have the support of my wife, and were it not for the fact that we have a young child, I would have convinced all of them to come with me. Being the only bread-winner in the family identifies me as the responsible one for providing for three people, not just myself, so picking up and going just because I really, really want to – just isn’t an option.

I guess what’s left is either to change my lifestyle completely or section-hike my favorite trails until my situation changes. I’m one of those task oriented people though and when I see a challenge I want to knock it out all at once. Section-hiking seems to be the poor-man’s way of making these treks happen, but it may be the only way for it to work out for me.


Damien Tougas
(dtougas) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Gaspé Peninsula
Re: Thru-Hikes: Finding the time, money, and right spouse... on 04/30/2008 07:43:51 MDT Print View

I am married and have 3 kids (9, 7, and 5) and I have a very strong desire to thru-hike some day. From my perspective, I wouldn't do anything like that without them. I think that our tendency when we first get married or first have kids is to think that our "life" as we know it will end and all of the adventure will be gone, and that somehow the two (family and adventure) are mutually exclusive. This is exasperated by the fact that the media and outdoor companies portray an adventure lifestyle as only belonging to the young, single, just-out-of-college crowd.

Over the years I have consciously decided to try and reject that mentality and work towards having adventure in my life. I love my wife and kids, I love spending time with them, who better to share the world with than my family. Kids love adventure, being outside, getting dirty, having fun, and are way more capable than what we are typically willing to give them credit for. Spouse's on the other hand, may or may not be as receptive to those kinds of things. My wife has come a long way, she is now starting to catch the bug and is really enjoying getting outdoors. She wants to hike, backpack, and (since dropping the thought a couple of weeks ago) is now considering the concept of doing a thru-hike one day! This is quite an achievement coming from a girl who never spent one night in a tent while growing up.

I think the key to achieving goals like this is time and creativity. Start small with your wife and kids. Try to do day-hikes regularly, starting with short walks and gradually (very gradually) increasing the mileage, making sure that everyone is still having fun. Make sure everyone is comfortable with the right clothes and gear. If something doesn't work, make sure that they know you care, and that you are determined to help them solve the problem. Go car camping regularly (try to combine it with some day hikes) and gradually scale back your gear and food preparation (again very gradually) to the point where you are car camping with backpacking gear. Get everyone very familiar with the equipment, the food, and the clothing in a non-threatening environment so that when you actually get out for a backpacking trip it looks just like a car camping trip only without the car. Again, if something doesn't work, make sure you acknowledge the problem and show them that you care and are genuinely interested in helping them solve it so that they can feel comfortable.

Our family hasn't been backpacking together yet, but we are now at the point where everyone really wants to do it. We just have to make a few more gear purchases (as finances permit) and we will be ready to go. In terms of thru-hiking, I told my wife that when our family can hike the 100 Miles Of Maine (the last 100 miles of the AT - we live in Maine) I think that we would be ready to attempt a thru-hike. She liked hearing that because she knows that we now have a proving ground to determine whether or not it would be possible for our family.

In between the hiking, there are many other things you can do to encourage life in the outdoors. Things like walking or cycling to work (all year round), gardening, etc. All of these things work towards your family appreciating being outside.

In terms of jobs, security, etc. I am not sure what the answer is to that. If your job offers you the flexibility, then great. If not, then you have decisions to make. What is most important? As others have said, if you really have goals, and are willing to be creative, there are many ways you can do things. It all comes down to what trade-offs you are willing to live with. If your entire family now wants to spend more time living a life of adventure (because of all of the good experiences you have been able to provide for them), they will also be more receptive to making un-conventional changes to support those family goals. I guess what I am trying to say is that if you get the entire family on board the whole process will be a lot easier than if it is just you.

Edited by dtougas on 04/30/2008 07:44:36 MDT.

David T
(DaveT) - F
. on 04/30/2008 09:45:23 MDT Print View


Edited by DaveT on 11/20/2014 17:38:05 MST.

Eric Riddick
(50Miler) - F
Re: Thru-Hikes: Finding the time, money, and right spouse... on 05/05/2008 01:06:44 MDT Print View

A real thru hiker would just quit their job, tell their spouse "this is it honey" and just go do it.


David Erekson
(finallyME) - F

Locale: Utah desert
Thru-Hikes: Finding the time, money, and right spouse.. on 05/15/2008 12:36:05 MDT Print View

I am with Damian and Sarah. Take your kids with you, and your wife if she wants. I have four young kids. Every trip I go on, I take at least one. I don't see a reason for doing it solo. I like my family, and I like spending time with them. Why not combine that with BPing. Do sections with your family, and when you either retire or have enough time, you will have the experience and equipment to take off and complete a trail in one shot.

Ben 2 World
(ben2world) - MLife

Locale: So Cal
Re: Thru-Hikes: Finding the time, money, and right spouse.. on 05/15/2008 13:01:10 MDT Print View

I am with David, who is with Damian and Sarah.

As the Good Book says, there is a proper time for everything. You've got a family. Rather than pining after a four-month solo trip -- I think you will get a lot more by continuing to invest your time and effort with your family -- taking them on shorter trips and simply enjoying each other.

In the meantime, most of us can look forward to a secure retirement by simply living within our means and squirreling away some savings every year. Folks are living longer and healthier lives (again, most of this are choices that we can make) -- and chances are good that you'll still be a "spring chicken" when you do your 4-month thru hike upon early retirement...

So yes, methinks, you can have your cake and eat it too -- just not all at once.

Sarah Kirkconnell
(sarbar) - F

Locale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
The yearly section hikes on 05/15/2008 14:26:24 MDT Print View

Hoosierdaddy and I are planning another section of the PCT this summer - our biggest chunk. And I realized while planning is that these sections get me excited - not only about the hike but about life in general. It gives me a reason sometimes.

The best part about this year is Ford will be joining us 61 miles in for the last 80+ miles :-)

I can look forward to hopefully every year knocking another section out. And that is just pretty cool!

And yeah, this year I am taking it seriously For the first time in my life I am training.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Re: Thru-Hikes: Finding the time, money, and right spouse.. on 05/15/2008 15:44:10 MDT Print View

> In the meantime, most of us can look forward to a secure retirement by simply living within our means and squirreling away some savings every year. Folks are living longer and healthier lives (again, most of this are choices that we can make) -- and chances are good that you'll still be a "spring chicken" when you do your 4-month thru hike upon early retirement...

It works. I'm semi-retired by choice. Sue and I spent 3 months last year walking in France. We have even started taking our grandchildren to the mountains.

Ben 2 World
(ben2world) - MLife

Locale: So Cal
Re: Easy! Just Do It Faster!!! on 05/15/2008 17:31:41 MDT Print View

I bet you can finish up the trail a lot faster if you do it this way. Looks to be a ton of fun too! :)