A recent conversation at Backpackinglight.com’s forums reminded me of a comment I hear all too often on long-distance hiking trails.
“I don’t know how anyone would enjoy themselves hiking that fast.”
Whether you’re hiking two miles per day or twenty, someone probably can come up with an opinion on your speed. The most common I’ve heard amounts to “hiking faster means enjoying the trail less.”
On the Appalachian Trail in 2007, I stopped to talk with a through-hiker who was moving at around five miles per day, while I was in the middle of a stretch of marathon days (26ish miles per day for almost 3 weeks straight). “I’ve been hiking real slow,” the hiker said. “Enjoying myself.” His tone was condescending, implying that anyone not hiking slowly wasn’t enjoying themselves.
Later I would catch myself speaking of Andrew Skurka‘s grueling 35 mile per day pace as masochistic, but who was I to speak? Plenty of people might see my 20 mile days as the same. Still, that knowledge didn’t stop me from thinking, “he’s not really enjoying the trail.”
But of course Skurka was enjoying himself, just as I enjoy hiking at whatever speed I hike, and anyone else enjoys their pace. The only time your hiking pace negatively influences your enjoyment of a trail is when you hike at someone else’s pace that doesn’t suit your own. So when someone says “that’s not an enjoyable way of hiking,” what they really mean is “I wouldn’t enjoy hiking like that.”
So if someone tells you to slow down, or if you find yourself wondering why someone else is pushing himself so hard, remember that individual hiking styles are exactly that: individual. Something that would make you keel over might be the perfect balance for someone else. It’s all about how you hike, not how other people hike.