“Hike Your Own Hike” (HYOH) is common advice from experienced thru-hikers to aspiring ones like me. The premise is simple: set your own goals and enjoy yourself. Don’t get caught up in trying to do your hike like someone else’s. It’s your hike. Do it your way. Of all the things that I thought about during my six weeks on the Colorado Trail, this is the one I seemed to keep going back to time and again.
When I decided to do this hike, the first thing I did was make a list of reasons that I wanted to do it, a list of goals to accomplish along the way, and some rules to live by while doing it. Many hikers’ main goal was to simply finish the trail. Others wanted to do it as fast as they could. While my main goal was to complete the trail, I also had some others I wanted to embed. Challenging myself physically and mentally was a priority, so I wanted to do at least one 25-mile day (check!). I wanted to climb a 14’er, hitchhike at least once, stay in a hostel, cowboy camp under the stars, and completely unplug (check, check, check, check, and check!). One disappointment was that I wanted to hike for a few days with my dog, Aussie. Unfortunately, he suffered a paw injury prior to the trip and was unable to do a long stretch. We did squeeze in a 7-mile section on one of my “off-days,” though. All in all, I hiked my own hike and completed my goals along the way.
Aussie the Cattle Dog.
My favorite hiking companion.
Using my one-cairn-at-a-time principle, I planned my hike by dividing it up into five approximately 100-mile sections. I knew each section would take me five to seven days, so I planned a zero day in one of the quaint little trail towns along the trail after each section to reward myself. A zero day is simply a day where you hike very little, or none at all, let your body heal, shower, eat pizza, and drink a beer or two! Zero days in town were motivating rewards for me, and I looked forward to them. The CT has several great small towns along the way. I stopped in Breckinridge, Buena Vista, Lake City, Silverton, then Durango at the end. I even spent a few hours in Bailey, Twin Lakes, and Salida as I passed by. Most hikers incorporate a few town days along the way, but some don’t. They go into town, pick up supplies, and get back on the trail in an hour or two. Some hikers might consider my numerous luxury days in town “cheating,” but I didn’t care – it was my hike, and I enjoyed the heck out of it!
For some reason, I felt a strong desire to hitchhike while on the trail. Something about it was enticing. My wife was totally opposed to this (which made it more enticing!), but along the CT, it’s common, and locals even expect to pick up hikers along the road. I was a bit nervous initially, but I successfully hitchhiked twice, meeting some nice people in the process. It only took me about five minutes to grab a ride each time! I don’t think that would happen in Missouri! I chalked it up to my good looks and chiseled physique, but my daughter said she didn’t know what it could have been, but it definitely wasn’t THAT! Many I ran into on the trail refused to hitchhike, usually on the grounds that there “are too many serial killers” out there. They either had to have a pre-set pick-up or hope they had cell service to call for a ride when they got to a trailhead or road crossing. I didn’t want the worry of having to be somewhere at a specific time or if I had cell service – plus, that would mess up my “unplugging” commitment. I also wanted to experience the discomfort associated with doing something I wouldn’t normally do. If that sounds weird, it might be, but I can say that the experience has made me a bit bolder in my normal life – trying things I used to avoid or not think about doing. I’m glad I didn’t listen to the worries of others in this regard and hiked my own hike. It opened my world to new people and ways of life I would have never experienced. One couple that picked me up was actually homeless by choice. Working seasonal jobs in the most beautiful parts of the country, living out of a tent on public land, and moving to warmer climates as the weather changed. They were living life to the fullest, and I would never have met them or appreciated their lifestyle had I not been hiking my own hike.
Enjoying a Trail Town along the CT
Ninja: The Czech Youtuber
Unplugging for me was a no-brainer. Uncomfortable? A bit at first, but I didn’t miss email, texting, or the internet one bit. Of all the hikers I met, I was one of the very few who had committed to unplugging. I saw two people who actually had their laptops out on the side of the trail doing remote work when service was available. I saw many walking around with their phones in the air, trying to catch a signal. This really bothered me at first as I just couldn’t understand how it could be so hard for someone to leave their phone behind for a few days. Then I realized they didn’t want to. Their hike did not include unplugging.
I met Ninja at Cottonwood Pass near Buena Vista. Ninja is from the Czech Republic and is a social media creator who documents his thru-hikes. He recorded a lot of videos with his phone, and as I ran into him on and off again, I would find him taking advantage of any cell service he happened across so he could post his videos. Part of the fun for him was posting videos for his followers. Ninja was a hiking madman, literally hiking circles around me. He passed me once, then again about ten days later. He had taken a side trail and looped back around to see another part of Colorado! He was hiking 30-plus miles per day! He was hiking his hike. (Note: You can see Ninja’s videos here on YouTube…but they are all in Czech!) I realized I wasn’t the only one with the right to hike my own hike.
One of the hardest decisions I had to make on the trail was leaving my “tramily” or “trail family.” On a thru-hike, you generally end up hiking in a bubble of people and get to know them well. If you get along, you end up relying on each other throughout the hike. This group of new-found friends is called your tramily. While not hiking side-by-side, you usually see members of your tramily a couple of times a day, or sometimes every couple of days. About 200 miles in, I ran into a group of younger hikers from Alaska and France. We enjoyed each other’s company as we all came from such different places. Many days, we ended up camping in the same location, sharing stories and laughing together until bedtime. I am usually a solitary dude and love my alone time, but I genuinely (and surprisingly) enjoyed hanging out with this group. At the 350-mile mark, though, I made a split. I had arranged to meet my wife and son in Lake City for a couple days off-trail. The “Frenchies” were eager to move on after a day in town, and the “Alaskans” stayed longer due to a bad case of giardia. So, after spending a great couple of days with family, I found myself alone again on one of the most remote sections of the trail, and it ended up being one of my favorite times. It was nice having company at camp, but there was something about being alone in such a remote area that I really enjoyed. While it was tempting to hike extra hours to try and catch up with the Frenchies or hold back and wait for the Alaskans, I wanted to finish the hike on my terms and at my own pace. After all, it was my hike. (Note: The Frenchies made it to Durango two days before I did, and the Alaskans passed me about thirty miles from the end! We all still remain in contact.)
My obsessive-compulsive behaviors forbid me from doing it, but “blue-blazing” is a practice of many thru-hikers in which they skip a small or large portion of the trail yet still call it a “thru-hike.” For example, on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), fires or snow often necessitate having to skip hundreds of miles of trail to avoid huge inaccessible parts of the trail. The hikers have no choice, but I couldn’t call this a thru-hike. But it’s their hike, not mine. I had one hiking partner who would short-cut any part of the trail she could – cutting through the woods to avoid a switchback or short-cutting to a trailhead. Sometimes, this amounted to only a few feet, a few hundred yards, or up to a half-mile, but it drove me crazy. I had to walk every step of the trail. No short-cutting under any circumstances. I was so anal about it that I insisted on starting at the exact same spot on the trail where I stopped the day before. I would backtrack from my campsite, back to where I got off the trail, and begin hiking again. Silly? Maybe. But I know I hit every single piece of the Colorado Trail! There is one section of the trail that most hikers blue-blaze. It’s at Twin Lakes, a popular re-supply spot for both the Colorado and Continental Divide Trails. It’s not much of a town – maybe a population of 30 people with one small store and two food trucks, but it’s pretty awesome, nonetheless. As one nears the town, there is a shortcut that cuts about nine miles off the trail, getting you into town quicker and bypassing a hot, dry trek around the lake – the official trail. I was the only hiker I ran across that didn’t blue-blaze here. It took me a few extra hours and over seven miles, but it was beautiful and quiet, and I have no regrets. Had I not done it, I honestly couldn’t tell you I completed the whole trail. I don’t understand how others can walk nearly five hundred miles yet be so eager to cut off a few miles or even yards here and there?! But it’s their hike, and they can define it how they want. I really had to learn to swallow my own medicine regarding this one because I take this so literally! My hike was my hike, and I can tell you I hiked every step of the Colorado Trail, plus a few extra.
HYOH and the Cancel Culture
Hiking alone most days, I had plenty of time to think about how the HYOH principle applies to our real lives. In our everyday lives, Live Your Own Life (LYOL) is probably more applicable. How often do you find yourself doing something you don’t really want to do because of other’s expectations? We all do. Sometimes it’s for good (going to another dance recital to support your daughter), and sometimes it’s not (buying a new house not because we need one, but because we can afford it – or maybe not!). I know many people who are overly concerned with what others think about them or are overly concerned about other people, and I find them difficult to be around. I have never given much thought to what others think of me, and many consider me aloof because I simply don’t notice a lot of things I probably should. Maybe I should pay more attention to these things, but people are going to draw their own conclusions regardless. I do my best and let the chips fall where they may.
I also don’t really care how others choose to live their lives. It’s their life, and as long as they are accountable and it doesn’t negatively impact me, my family, or other people, they can do what they want. I don’t have to agree with them, but I can if I want. In these days of “cancel culture,” many people I know are feeling confined, afraid to say anything, and having to temper their personal feelings to prevent offending someone. I find it frustrating that certain people feel they can loudly proclaim their beliefs, then expect others to either accept them and agree or keep their mouth shut if they don’t. Those that state unpopular beliefs are “cancelled.” The way I see it, the cancel culture has existed forever – it’s called, “I don’t want to be your friend!” Prior to social media, if we didn’t like someone’s lifestyle, personality, values, or opinions, we simply decided not to associate with them. We didn’t accept them into our circle. But it’s different now. Society has taken it to a different level, with people afraid to make their own decisions, instead recruiting complete strangers to help them in their “I don’t want to be your friend” campaigns. It’s gone public rather than remaining a private, personal matter.
We all have those 2-3 friends with whom we are closest. These are the ones we share the most in common: interests, hobbies, and moral and ethical values. We then have a set of friends that we are not as close to and enjoy being around but aren’t the first we call when we want to go out and grab a burger. With this group, we often share similar interests and values, but something else doesn’t quite click enough for them to be included on our list of “besties.” Then we all have the group of people we don’t consider friends and don’t want to be friends with. These are the folks that exhibit behaviors and characteristics that we simply can’t accept. Maybe they drink too much – or not enough. Maybe they gossip too much – or not enough. Maybe they hate cats – or love them. Whatever it is, we find it so unacceptable compared to our own belief system that we “cancel” them, not including them as a friend. No big deal, right? None of us are best friends with everyone we meet.
While most folks I met on the trail were very pleasant, every party has its crasher. If you’ve ever seen the movie or read the book, “A Walk in the Woods,” you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about (if you haven’t seen the movie, watch it this weekend!). Late one evening, I found myself camping on a nice overlook. It was quiet, and the view was astounding. Shortly before dark, a young 20-something lady (Trail name “Walkie-Talkie”) came into my camp and asked if I would mind if she camped in the same spot. There was room for another tent or two, so I had no problem with it. She then disappeared. I figured she had decided to move on down the trail, so I continued to enjoy my evening. About 20 minutes later, she reappeared – with eight of her “besties,” who proceeded to set tents up all around me. To fit all the refugees, some of the tents were set up on slopes, and others were up against trees. When hiking, it’s common courtesy to give everyone their space because – well, because you’re in the middle of 2 million acres of wilderness, and there is plenty of it! But this group didn’t get that. The worst part is that Walkie Talkie proceeded to critique everything about me, from my shorts to my choice of tent. She then had the audacity to ask me if I had any toilet paper she could “borrow”! Being the nice guy I am, I told her I would gladly “give” her some toilet paper, but I definitely did not want it back. I lay in my tent listening for what seemed like hours as she educated her entourage on the nuances of backpacking, hearing her using my apparent ineptitude as examples. I finally put in my earplugs, went to sleep, got up very early, making as much noise as I could – and made the personal decision to cancel her! I did not want to be her friend! I set a record pace that day to ensure that I did not end up camping with her again! This was my hike, dang it!
While I would have preferred other topics to converse with myself about, I had many internal conversations on the “cancel culture” topic while I walked. It seems to me that today, no one can choose to dislike something or someone without trying to recruit a bandwagon of complete strangers to join them in their “you’re not my friend” crusade, and that’s where the problem lies. Back in my heyday, we called this bullying. When I made the decision to personally cancel “Walkie-Talkie” I didn’t recruit others to do the same. I made my decision and let the others make theirs. But that is not the way the cancel culture seems to work. It seems to me that many people feel they can no longer have their own opinion, especially if it differs from the ones being parlayed as “typical” or “correct” on the news and social media. They worry they might say something innocuous that hurts someone’s feelings, causing them to be put in the “not-my-friend-zone.” They may not realize it, but they are being bullied into nodding their heads and agreeing when they often don’t. I see stress, anxiety, and especially anger in some. More concerning is important voices aren’t being heard. Don’t be fooled! This occurs on both sides of the social and political aisle, so don’t think just because you watch or listen to <<<insert your news media of choice here>>> that you are right! I’m talking to everyone!
I encourage you to hike your own hike in life. Don’t give up your personal values because you feel bullied. Life is simply too short. Accept the fact that you may be “unfriended,” “blocked,” or “cancelled,” and take it for what it is. You don’t want or need those people in your life anyway. Just be accountable for yourself. Sometimes, you might be wrong, and you have to accept the consequences. But going through life worried that you might say something that offends someone is a waste of precious time. I try to be cognizant of saying and/or doing things that can send the wrong message about me as a person or that are overtly offensive, but I really have no control over someone else’s feelings, and I don’t expect others to worry about mine. They can choose to include me in their friend zone or not, and I can do the same. It’s my hike, after all.
Over Christmas, someone told my mother she shouldn’t refer to her cookies as “Russian Tea Cookies” anymore. I’m not quite sure why, but I have an idea. Regardless, I’m not going to be their friend anymore. Is that really what the world has come to? If so, I am certainly okay being canceled for loving Russian Tea Cookies. I’m going to go out on a limb and be completely transparent. I like Swedish meatballs, Swiss Cake Rolls (deliciousness!), French fries, Chilean sea bass, Spanish rice, Chinese dumplings, Vienna Lagers, and I absolutely love Australian Cattle Dogs (not to eat…). I dislike Swiss cheese, German chocolate cake, Italian dressing, Polish sausage, Irish whiskey, and absolutely despise Greek yogurt (I have cancelled it). And while we are at it, I may be the only person you know who hates sand, beaches, and bacon. If any of these things offends you, that’s unfortunate, but I can handle it if you “unfriend” me. I, on the other hand, can live with it if you disagree with me on any of these things. I’ll still be your friend. I won’t cancel you. Well, unless you don’t like my dog. Then we aren’t going to be hanging out at the mall together anymore.
It’s my hike, and I’m going to hike it the way I want. I encourage you to do the same! Whatever you do, don’t miss out on the hike!
Just be nice about it.
Next month will be my last installment in this series. It will be a Q&A based on questions I have received and an opportunity for you to ask me any questions you may have. Please email any questions to email@example.com. I will either include them in the Q&A and/or respond directly to you.