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Why go fast? Why go slow?
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Don Wilson
(don) - MLife

Locale: Koyukuk River, Alaska
Why go fast? Why go slow? on 01/03/2007 18:44:22 MST Print View

Some thoughts on going fast and slow, inspired by Matt Colon's lament of speed-focused backpacking in the BPL print mag.

OK, readers, why do you go fast, or slow?

A quote from Colin Fletcher, the ultimate in slow-paced walkers, from The Man Who Walked Thru Time, "It makes no difference at all whether the challenge is in your mind or body, or whether - with richer promise than either alone - it embraces both."

Why I go fast.

Because I enjoy the physical pleasure of moving efficiently and quickly through the wild. I like to walk at dawn, and I like to walk at dusk, so why not walk all day.

Because traveling quickly over long distances opens up new possibilities , new trips, new vistas, distant plateaus, remote lakes - they now are in range. This is the same motivation I faced as a climber for 25 years - being a better climber allowed me to explore more beautiful climbs, more dramatic cliffs. For me, that was always the motivation - skill and speed expand your horizons.

Because, when times get tough, speed equals safety.

Because it is fun to go fast.

Why I go slow.

Because I can't draw or write when I go fast.

Because I like campfires and long mornings sipping coffee.

Because, just a few weeks back, I was resting near a remote desert waterhole in Saguaro National Park. While I rested a small Ringneck snake glided up to the pool, and began to forage among the reeds and insects. You miss that on a speedy day.

Because it is fun to go slow.

Edited by don on 01/03/2007 18:45:14 MST.

James Pitts
(jjpitts) - F

Locale: Midwest US
RE: Why go fast? Why go slow? on 01/03/2007 20:37:32 MST Print View

I backpack for the journey, not the destination. I take however much time is necessary to get what I want from my expeditions. What I want changes from trip to trip so how I approach the journey changes as well.

That said, I love to feel my heart pounding as I attack a steep uphill segment. I'll sprint uphill as fast as I can and still be able to make the top. It makes me feel like I am ALIVE. I never sleep better than after a day of hard hiking like this. :)

Scott Robertson
(SRPhotographic) - F
Slow is so... negative. on 01/03/2007 22:34:00 MST Print View

I think the idea of planning a hiking trip day by day defeats its purpose. To say that I will not divert from my planned path for the sake of time and distance focuses more on the destination and less the journey. I always allow myself way more time than I need because I know that I will follow the small paths off the main trail so that I might discover a few hidden sights.

Yes, it is true that the faster one goes, the more distance they can travel over a given amount of time. However, the faster you move, the less you take in. The human senses are VERY selective. The more rapid the stimulus, the less you perceive. Your brain will only allow you to be aware of what it deems most important. This will not be the family of deer 200 feet to the left, the intricate spider's web on the right, or the hidden petroglyphs at waist height. Your brain will focus on the ground so that you will not trip, fall, and die. You will look into the distance and not see the mountains in the distance because you will be calculating whether or not you are moving fast enough.

If you were to slow your average pace even by 1mph, imagine all that you would see had you not slowed up a bit.

Anitra Kass
(Anitraten) - F

Locale: SoCal
Fast vs. Slow on 01/03/2007 23:01:25 MST Print View

For me it's a toss I hike fast and cover more ground (which gives me an opportunity to see more miles of trail/wilderness) or do I hike slower and soak in the sights but see less mileage of trail/wilderness? Either way I get to see a lot. A lot depends on my goals for the trip and if I am hiking with anyone and how experienced they are and their fitness level.

Typically, when I am hiking by myself, I find a happy medium...I usually hike between 2-3 mph and average 2mph with all of my breaks for the day...where I end up covering more miles than others of a similar pace and break schedule is that I hike long days. I like to stroll along the trail in the early morning and the early and late evenings (although probably not so prudent in bear country). By hiking at all times of the day (and sometimes at night) I get a different experience. I like hiking at night by moonlight, using my sense of hearing more than I do during the day when I can see so well. There is a lot that you can experience by hiking "slow and steady" as I call it.

Either way you hike...just get out and experience it. That's probably the best thing you can do.


James Pitts
(jjpitts) - F

Locale: Midwest US
Fast vs. Slow on 01/03/2007 23:04:38 MST Print View

Have other people noticed that they hike faster with a partner than they do solo? I do for sure. I think I read something about that in an article somewhere recently. Great... now this will bug me for days now until I can find the reference. :)

Randy Brissey
(rbrissey) - M

Locale: Redondo Beach, CA
Fast vs Slow on 01/04/2007 00:35:35 MST Print View

I have found quite the contrary to the hiking with a partner...........

When I have a partner or a group I have a reason to stop. If I am by myself I still rise at first light and am on the trail within a half hour. With a partner I have a predetermined point that I will stop at.....otherwise I will continue on to the "next best camping site". Sometimes that means after dark.

The last big hike I was a part of I only hiked once with another person the whole day. The other 29 days the most I was ever with another person was 3 hours.

The day I did hike with the person the whole day it turned out we pushed each other harder than we would normally go.

For me the great part about the ultralight movement is that I now have more time and energy when I get to camp to explore more than 100 yards off the trail. I have always been amazed by the people that go backpacking that never get off the highway.

A great enjoyment of mine is just stopping in a basin at noon and watching the life around me. For months on end there are no flowers, no insects. And in a miracle that happens each year life rushes forth.

I always hike fast while I am with backpack, that does not mean I am not paying attention. I stumble more than any one I know just because I am always looking around.


Randy Brissey
(rbrissey) - M

Locale: Redondo Beach, CA
Time vs Distance on 01/04/2007 00:53:12 MST Print View

I think another part of the graph may be Time vs Distance.

the question that I have for you is.................

What is the determining factor for most of you? How much time do you have or how many miles is the loop or leg?

If you have a ten day window to do a trip do you;

a) spend 10 days on the trail

b) turn a what was once a ten day trip into 7 days

c) do what was once a 14 day trip in ten days

for me if I could I would spend more time on the trail and less time at home that would be my druthers. My determining factor has been my supply points. The most I have had to do is 14 days on one resupply.


Erin McKittrick
(mckittre) - MLife

Locale: Seldovia, Alaska
Re: Why go fast? Why go slow? on 01/04/2007 11:05:11 MST Print View

Why go fast? Resupplies.

If I can make it from town A to town B on one pack load of food (I find that over 14 days of food starts getting prohibitively difficult to carry), I get to do the trip, and see all the wilderness in between. If I can't make it, I can't go, or I get very hungry.

A faster pace allows the freedom of inefficiency - the more ground I can cover, the more I can plan my route to weave around through all the interesting spots between A and B.

Why go slow? Bushwhacking.

I do almost all of my trips off trail, and it forces a slower pace most of the time. I find that when I occasionally hike on a trail, it's quite possible to zone out, get into a kind of "trail tunnel" mind set, and walk quickly without seeing much. But off trail, I'm right in the thick of the wilderness. The constant small scale (which way over that log) and large scale (which way over that mountain) navigation doesn't allow any zoning out. My pace varies with the terrain. Sometimes 1/4 mile/hour (thrashing through a thick bushwhack), sometimes 6 miles/hour (floating down a fast river).

But I'm not really an athlete or a racer in any terrain. I generally hike long days, but will pause mid-day for a campfire and meal, or to crawl around on the ground photographing the tundra, etc...


Edited by mckittre on 01/04/2007 11:08:37 MST.

James Pitts
(jjpitts) - F

Locale: Midwest US
Re: Why go fast? Why go slow? on 01/04/2007 11:20:19 MST Print View

Time is certainly an issue for me. I have a "day job" and large blocks of time on the trail come at a hefty cost. It has taken me years to save up the vacation time for my JMT trek this August! That said, I try to set goals for the trip that are realistic and consistent with my objectives. The JMT trip this August, for example, is a trip where I plan to SOAK IT ALL IN. I'll not be racing through this trail because I have no clue when I'll next have a chance to hike it. Later this year I'll certainly do a marathon weekend hike in Red River Gorge and you can bet I'll be hauling "you-know-what" ultra fast and light... but that's the goal or that trip.

So if I had a 10 day window to get a trip done I would decide how I wanted to spend my 10 days in terms of the overall experience. Then I would select a hike that matched the desired goal. I won't pick the hike first then set the time I have to do it in. least in theory. In practice one of my hair-brained buddies often calls me up and we go out on a half-baked scheme that gets us into some small amount of trouble.

It goes back to a mindset I picked up on when running. New runners should never try to optimize BOTH time AND distance at the same time. Work on one OR the other but not both. Too many constraints leads to too many opportunities for problems.

Elliott Wolin
(ewolin) - MLife

Locale: Hampton Roads, Virginia
Re: Re: Why go fast? Why go slow? on 01/05/2007 10:41:52 MST Print View

Ghandi said: "There is more to life than increasing its speed."

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: Why go fast? Why go slow? on 01/05/2007 17:52:41 MST Print View

Why go fast? Because some people are just wired that way. They can't not go fast without getting all twisted out of shape. Especially after being cooped up in some sterile fluorescent lit building all week, month, year. Others are wired slow and amble along at a leisurely pace. Each moves through the mountains in their own way and experiences them in their own way. Many fall in between. Down through the years I've hiked with all different kinds and have found it interesting to try and imitate them and see if my usual experience is altered. I used to do that when I had a dog-just let him go and follow him around without trying to impose any constraints. Darned if I didn't start to see things differently in both cases. So over the years I have modified my natural instinct to burn a bit. Now, I go fast for the first day or two to put some distance between myself and the crowd, then settle into a leisurely pace and smell the roses, or just set up a base camp and spend my time figuring out the watershed, one rivulet at a time.