Just Keep Going: How Thru-Hikes Unite Us

Words by Chris Zimmerman

The tan line on your thigh is becoming quite pronounced. A blend of perpetual sunburn, dirt and sweat, the contrast has been steadily increasing over the last 2,000 miles. Bug spray has been forgone at this point… trying to blend in seems to be the best option. Crossing the Bridge of the Gods into Washington four days ago, you debated whether to continue or not. But you kept at it, just like the other times when thoughts of quitting had crossed your mind. Now, mid way through Goat Rocks Wilderness, the scenic beauty has had an energizing effect. Reinvigorated, you look forward to reaching the Canadian border, completing the full length of the Pacific Crest Trail and wrapping up your five-month journey.

While the idea of lengthy hikes has been around for ages, only in the latter half of the past century has the idea of thru-hiking for recreation emerged. In the mid-1930’s, the Appalachian Trail set the stage as the country’s first long-distance, multi-state thru-hiking trail, stretching for 2,200 miles as it linked together 14 east coast states. With the AT’s completion, popularity and a growing call for conservation and preservation, the National Trails Systems Act was eventually passed in 1968. This act officially designated the Pacific Crest Trail and Appalachian Trail, and in the years to come, led to the creation of nine more scenic trails that would fall under the same classification.

From the Mexican border north through California, Oregon and Washington, all the way to the Canadian border, the Pacific Crest Trail links the three nations with over 2,600 miles of connected trail. Through hot, dry deserts and over high mountain passes, the PCT avoids civilization while working its way through 25 National Forests, seven National Parks and many protected wilderness areas. The first person didn’t even complete the full trail until 1970, whereas now, over a thousand people apply for long distance permits each year.

As the idea of thru-hiking continues to grow in popularity, hikers attention is still primarily paid to the PCT and the Appalachian Trail. With popular books and movies like Wild highlighting the PCT, the established west-coast trail is gaining more and more traffic every year. That said, very few actually commit themselves to hiking the entire length of the trail. While these are arguably the most well-known thru-hikes in the U.S., they represent only two of the many different hikes that weave their way through the United States and abroad.

Photo courtesy of Bradley Mountain

For those who can’t spare 4-5 months to complete a full end-to-end hike, section hiking is a great alternative. Essentially a way to cherry-pick parts of the trail you want to hike based on time, money and interest, section hiking is a good way to experience a trail without the total, back-to-nature commitment. Some people even complete entire thru-hikes over the course of many years by hiking section by section when they can allot the time. While purists may debate the validity of section hiking, we’re all about enjoying these beautiful trails however we can, whenever we can. One of the mottos of thru-hikers is “hike your own hike,” so whether you’re attempting the entire length or just a portion of a trail, getting out there is all that matters.

These days, it’s easy to hop in a car and cruise down the Interstate at 70mph, blowing through one state after another, only stopping for food and fuel. While thru-hikes connect the country in a similar way to freeways, it’s at a much more macro level. From meeting fellow hikers and trail angels to really experiencing the country in a hands-on way, hiking was, is and always will be one of the best ways to travel. As more and more land gets seized up through private purchases, it’s good to know interest abides in regards to preserving and expanding these routes. Popularity can be a double-edged sword, and for all the extra traffic that gets drawn to these iconic trails, the sense of communal ownership and conservation awareness it brings can be a benefit to us all.

In a world of dwindling national park and national forest budgets, through advocacy and generous donations, organizations like the Pacific Crest Trail Association are leading the way in trail protection, trail maintenance and land protection. In order to help contribute to their efforts and give back to the Pacific Crest Trail, we created a collection of unique product with our friends at Coal, Parks Project, Bradley Mountain and Mizu. Through this product collection, 10% of proceeds will be donated to the Pacific Crest Trail Association’s Trail Maintenance Fund to support the 2,000 volunteers who keep this iconic trail accessible for all to enjoy. Whether you plan to hike the trail or not, we can all agree thru-hikes like the PCT are a valuable part of our outdoor heritage.

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