Feeling trapped by the trail?

6:00 p.m. on March 31, 2016 (EDT)
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I would be interested to hear your opinions and any similar feelings or tips you have regarding this...a little background first. Most of my back country trips the last 20 years have been to wilderness areas and used a network of trails and bushwacking to basically explore areas. It usually means a lot of off trail work and mistakes, dead ends, etc, but I find the rewards very satisfying...untouched campsites and views, neat rock formations etc. I often have to adapt the trip on a daily basis and be really flexible. The miles vary from significant to few, and I can do things like suddenly adjust the hike to shorten the trip and be able to lounge around a newly discovered "perfect campsite" in the middle of the afternoon rather than push on.

Now to my question...In November I headed down the AT for the first time since the early 90s without loops or side trails. While I enjoyed it, I felt like something was missing. I quickly fell into the "trap" of counting miles and planning stops purely on progress...not wanting to linger too long at a certain view due to the planned stop that night. In the end I will go back for winter trips to the AT as it was enjoyable. However, I am wondering if I have accustomed myself to too much free spirited wandering to fully enjoy a linear trip with a more defined number of miles or if I can retrain and focus myself on different aspects of the trip to avoid just counting miles. Any thoughts how to transition back and forth from those who do both kinds of trips?

By the way, this is in no way intended to look down on mileage focused hikes, long distance hiking etc. I am always impressed by the achievements of folks on the trail, and definitely think you should hike your own hike. Just trying to figure out if I can hike a different hike or should not expect the same fulfillment if my goals and needs are different.

6:45 p.m. on March 31, 2016 (EDT)
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I share your concern to a considerable degree.  Most of my outdoors experience has involved a fair amount of bushwhacking, in part because a fair amount of my time has been spent in archaeological work, which almost guarantees you will spend a great deal of time "off trail."  My rewards have been very similar to yours. Somehow the appeal of days on a well defined path are somewhat less appealing, although I can't say for sure, since I have never tried any of the long trails.

What is, is.  Accept your fate, and get back to clobbering brush.....

7:28 p.m. on March 31, 2016 (EDT)
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Phil- maybe you are just looking for a new challenge to your fav hobby. More on that later(I'll get back) to you.

8:52 p.m. on March 31, 2016 (EDT)
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Phil-all of my hikes have been on established trails with just a little off trail exploring (mostly due to the time constraints I'm constantly under and also because it takes a major effort on my part to even get to the trails that are nearest me, at least 3 hour drive plus they are new areas to me). I'm not sure if what I'm about to say is in line with what your asking but here goes. 

Tending to analyze just about everything I do, what I found  hiking is this. I'm able to set the challenge I want then when I've done it so many time it becomes redundant an I get to where I'm not even interested in it anymore(IE: lets learn or do something new). And since established trails can very often get that way,  

 I set different goals in addition to the peace an serenity, things like on a slight grade with the heaviest pack I'm able to do 15min miles to the most difficult grades i've faced 45min miles. On one trip I purposely went with a hurt knee to see if I could handle adversity like that, if something like that did happen out there ( I'll tell you now that joker was throbbing for a week after that Lol). I've also learned that I'm usually much stronger on day 2 of a hike than day 1 (a lesson learned in acclimation from 1 of my fist trips. a simple over nighter that took us about 5 hours on day one we did in 2 hours 12min on day 2.

I also got into backpacking with the hope of meeting new wholesome friends as I'm not into bars or sporting events an such as that. I just don't like pavement or wall-mart but I'm glad they exist. Well I learned first hand that its a solitary hobby as most people are afraid of it because they think its hard or their suspicious of others. What ever, I love the challenge I get out of it. The sitting on a ridge or by a water fall or enjoying that good tired from the last 5 hard miles. Just wish there were others to enjoy it with. And a few do stop and say hi now and again.

What I think I'm getting at with this is maybe your missing the usual solitude or ruffness that your used to but challenging yourself in ways you haven't tried in a while at least that's how it is with me. You know change it up a bit see something different.

Hope that made some sense. 

1:11 a.m. on April 1, 2016 (EDT)
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I stay on a trail till I get to a point I either preplan or a point that I decide I just wanna go that way into the bush. If your not into the hike and it's more of a death march on a trail then back to the bush. 

5:32 a.m. on April 1, 2016 (EDT)
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Much of the AT in Virginia in the late spring to early fall is a green tunnel.  No vista on the trail.  Just as tunnel of green you look and traipse down.  Talk about feeling trapped by a trail.


8:11 a.m. on April 1, 2016 (EDT)
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I get what you are saying but I wonder if the issue is more around time constraint. Never having done a thru hike, I've always imagined it would actually be the most freeing feeling in the world to set off on a long trail with nowhere in particular to be. I've fantasized about having enough time and money to just hit the trail, only limited by how much food I chose to carry at a given time. If I wanted to explore all the wilderness areas I pass through then so be it. If I wanted to stop and bag a peak, just do it. I think that would be an awesome way to enjoy a long trail. If it takes two years to hike 2700 miles, fine. 

I've done several 100 mile section hikes and often get too ambitious in the planning and wound up with similar feelings. I've talked with lots and lots of thru hikers over the years in the GSMNP and a common theme I've gleaned is the wish that they had taken more time to enjoy the beautiful places rather than worrying about the miles.

Of course one of the great things about this is that beyond reasonable safety concerns and legalities, there is no wrong way to do it.

9:47 a.m. on April 1, 2016 (EDT)
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I'm not a backpacker, and most of my hiking and exploring is done in winter on snowshoes because I'm REALLY uncomfortable in temps much over 75F. Anyway, I much prefer just following where my feet think the interesting stuff will be, and if after 2-3 hours I've only covered a couple miles but have seen some cool stuff I call it a win. I've done the plodding down the snowmobile trails for distance, it's harder on the feet and is only a little more fun than a treadmill.

10:04 a.m. on April 1, 2016 (EDT)
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An out and back wilderness trip with no plan other than a date you have to go home can be very relaxing. Hike or camp as you please with time to enjoy views or put your toes in a stream and sit in the shade. The lack of pressure to stay on schedule is good for a person.

On the other hand a long loop or thru/section hike has that sense of adventurous challenge. You do have to stay focused on all the little things that make up the big picture. Its a mental and physical chess match against the logistics and topography of the trail you're on.

As someone who appreciates both concepts I use a blend of the two on most every trip. The focus and strength that come from the distance hiking make relaxing trips even more relaxing. Finding that perfect campsite earlier in the day because you've been covering ground leaves more time to enjoy it. Being able to carry luxury weight like fruit, cheese, wine, or whatever makes you happy also can make the relaxing even better. The focused ability to complete camp tasks developed on distance hikes also leave more time for contemplation rather than puttering while in camp.

On the distance trails I try to bring that relaxation state of mind to the hiking. Rather than focus on where I'm going I try to keep my mind focused on where I am. "Be. Here. Now." is something I will say out loud to myself when I feel I'm getting too carried away with the rushing forward to the dot on the map I'm aiming for. I still need to work on hitting view spurs, I suck at taking the time for them, but I do make a point of actually stopping a lot more these days when I come to a view on trail. Even take my pack off sometimes :)

We each go out there to find something different. To find it we have to figure out what that is and the fact that you're noticing the differences and thinking about it tells me you're working on figuring it out for yourself. That is important because no one else can tell you what it is, no matter how much they all seem to want to.

11:57 a.m. on April 1, 2016 (EDT)
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In reading this thread I am reminded in a way of the Robert Frost poem, The Road Less Traveled.

I find I need true wilderness to rejuvenate myself and we have plenty of that where I live. By true wilderness I mean that area without trails and fixed camps, beyond the last portage and trail marker. I also prefer to find my own route, gain my own sense of discovery and at least get the feeling of being the first person to set foot upon the land. And, while it might make me sound like a bit of a masochist, wilderness cannot be found without a bit of hardship. Some things have to be earned. But once there I find that inner peace which is the bliss of solitude.

Whenever down south, however, I like to get away to one of the National Parks, but prefer again the backcountry to the more popular and populated trails. In Banff, I always go to the backcountry in the northern section of the park where random camping is allowed. The area along the Red Deer and Clearwater Rivers is one of my favorites. Here I can camp where ever I want and I avoid that “if this is Thursday I must be at Camp 36” feeling. There are trails of sorts, usually just a horse trail, but it can take days to get this far into the park and, combined with the rugged nature of the area with several steep alpine passes to cross, it is rarely visited. All the times I have been there I have never seen another hiker. This is why I go.

I can relate to the sense of transition though. When heading out to the backcountry I often pass one or two hikers, but only during the first couple of days. After that I am entirely on my own. The transition comes from leaving the crowds behind. Only then do I begin to "see" and "think" unfettered. I use quotations around these words only to illustrate that these too are not quite accurate. I have always found it difficult to explain what the allure is. For me it is not merely about counting miles or getting from point A to point B; it is something less tangible than that. Some people have called it escapism, and I do see their point, but I prefer to call it “escape-to-ism”.

LoneStranger’s “Be. Here. Now.” mantra is pretty accurate.

12:27 p.m. on April 1, 2016 (EDT)
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If miles make you happy, count them. If you like being alone, then be alone.  If you like laughing around a fire or a cup of coffee with your friends, do it. 

Changing how you pursue something could be seen as a sign of maturing rather than becoming jaded. 

Your reason for enjoying the trail is no worse than another person's. 

Thats why its rad. 

12:43 p.m. on April 1, 2016 (EDT)
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Good words by Jeff.

Some people like to rack up miles.  I don't.

I have been spoiled by working in places where people don't go.  The best trips have often involved not seeing another person.

The  whole concept of through hikers on the PCT has become redundant. I am now changing my hiking plans for this season.  I am enjoying off season trips a lot. There are many right answers.

2:04 p.m. on April 1, 2016 (EDT)
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I am going through this right now..I am in a program where I have to go off trail to find things.I am not backpacking but hiking in and out and around..I am kinda liking it because Like you say I am finding completely different things and area's I like to see again and can...But I am pretty much a different long distance hiker.I don't worry about the miles and I see everything and stop..When I was in Georgia a few moths ago. I stopped in a shelter and stayed.The topic was milage and I avoided the discussion..Nothing more boring than that to me..I did ask and there were 8 people there if they saw the waterfalls on the side trail..The answer was I was the only one that had..It was only a side trail that was maybe 200 ft from the trail..They were to caught up in the milage vortex..So I think you can do both things and enjoy them they way YOU do...

6:45 p.m. on April 1, 2016 (EDT)
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With some experiences you can spoil yourself for others. I used to love hiking the AT and other trails around GA and into NC, until I backpacked in the Sierra Nevada. Ever since then I enjoy the hikes back East but it's just not the same.

Hey Bill, what green tunnel? Somewhere near Albert Mtn NC:

12:35 p.m. on April 2, 2016 (EDT)
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Many people seem to enjoy the security of going where lots of people have gone before.  They appreciate seeing other people. They navigate by following the trail network.

More remote places are totally different.  People that travel there know exactly what I mean.

12:38 p.m. on April 2, 2016 (EDT)
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As I expected, thoughtful and varied responses from this group. I'll enjoy delving into each one evening. Thanks.

8:19 p.m. on April 2, 2016 (EDT)
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Phil - 1st off you started a great thread. To my way of thinking LoneStanger,North1 and Jeff nailed it right on the head. I found common ground with just about every one who posted in this article( what a great read)

1 thing I'd like to point out about established trails and this maybe some of what your expiencing is that overwhelming urge to hurry cause you just gotta know what's over the next hill or around the next bend or may be I should call it an agitation 

and really it's hard not to use the trail system as it gets you to a jump off point much faster than if you just bust thru the house walls climb over the car thru the srubbs cross the road thru the briars into the woods and so on. And also there are very few of the most seenic places in North America that don't already have a path to them.

The trail system and rain when your dragging are your friends. The trail shows you the way and the rain invigorates you

11:17 p.m. on April 2, 2016 (EDT)
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Being alone is a state of mind - find it wherever you can.  Being far away depends on what we are trying to distance ourselves from.  Many of the posts touched these bases, but I get a different drift of the OP's musings.

To me trails are great, and I will gladly use them to access the places beyond them.  I agree, the bucket list mentality of doing things so one can say I've been there and done that, obsesses some more than others.  My trips either tend to be marches, or crawls.  I savor both extremes.  But a schedule has always been subordinate to events and inclinations.


11:22 a.m. on April 4, 2016 (EDT)
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There are many people on this site that are willing to reveal some of their philosophy about hiking like whomeworry above. I know they would make great hiking partners.  It is hard to imagine advertising for one.

Trails provide access.  That is what is good about them, and their one major fault.

Usually it is best not to bring a watch or electronic devices. I do not want to know what time it is or check on the news or emails etc. It is best to operate on  "when the sun gets to about there."  Plans in the backcountry should be flexible to the extent possible.  Being retired eliminates the "I have to be back by 5:00 tomorrow" problem.  Then making miles to stay on schedule becomes not very important. My partner George and I often "add a little food in case we want to stay at X for a day or so."  We rarely count miles.  We have yet to pull a permit. We do not sign up for camping at a specific site.  We both worked with a lot of deadlines in our careers, and now we have none.

4:53 p.m. on April 5, 2016 (EDT)
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whomeworry said:

  My trips either tend to be marches, or crawls.  I savor both extremes.  But a schedule has always been subordinate to events and inclinations.


The craws part got me grinning I deffinately know that one.

The schedule must be one dang nice place to be. 

9:50 p.m. on April 5, 2016 (EDT)
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Reading through the responses there is a lot of truth to the insights for me. I did not mean to give the impression that I don't like trails...some of my best moments have been succesfully navigating through some difficult terrain and reaching an "interstate" like path...nothing like the feeling of walking along a trail after that. I just had trouble with the mile counting on a more linear destination hike. Great thoughts that I will use, as I plan to do more trail hiking as my knees, ankle, and shoulder age making full off trail adventures sometimes difficult.

LoneStranger - I can definitely see me using "Be, here, now" to readjust my focus.

Patrick- I agree it might have been more of a time constraint than anything else as I had to meet my wife for pickup at a predetermined time and place.

Ppine - I am with you on the devices. I leave all mine behind and carry compass and map only. GPS, music, etc stay home for me. I used to always carry a watch and still carry a small timepiece on my pack, mostly for noting hiking times etc. It recently went dead on a trip and I really enjoyed the increased freedom of not caring what time it was...eat when hungry, sleep when tired. Not sure I won't carry it again, but will certainly have it on the "optional" part of my list.

Thanks everyone for the advice and inspiration.

11:11 a.m. on April 7, 2016 (EDT)
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Phil is another guy that would make a great hiking partner.

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