People often ask me about the cost of a thru hike. I have a canned, “$1000/month,” answer that typically leaves most people pensively considering how that compares to their lives of comfort. Sometimes I feed off of the shock in their faces when they realize how much I plan to pay in order to live outside; sleep in the dirt, swat at bugs all day, slog through snow, battle tent setup on windy ridges, blisters, heavy packs, no showers for days and sometimes weeks, trail bars, more trail bars and yet more trail bars. Sometimes they reply, “well I could never do that.”
“I know,” I think to myself.
“I know,” I say out loud.
I’m not passing judgment. I think anyone who really wants to do it can make it happen. First and foremost, you have to want it. Really, really want it. The rest is proof of how bad you want it. How hard are you willing to work in order to prepare yourself physically and financially for the hike? What sacrifices are you willing to make?
Some people seem to make little or no sacrifice to thru hike. They have piles of money laying around somewhere that they can simply dive into and come up with fistfuls for whatever desire they deem fit (picture Scrooge McDuck here). They have handouts and trust funds and wealthy families. They don’t have to worry about the financial burden of replacing gear, paying for a hotel room or buying a steak or a nice beer in town. I’ve never had that, and as my grandmother often reminded me, ‘it gives you more character than most.’
I didn’t want to win the Powerball anyway.
This holiday I worked 7 days a week at 2 different jobs (a very busy bookstore and a sports bar), often both on the same day. I worked 42 straight days without a day off. I barely had time to grocery shop let alone cook a meal, pick up a book, do laundry, clean my room, take a shower, sleep or even call my family on Christmas day. I would get up at 8am to go to work at one job and I would come home at 3am from the next; the majority of those hours dealing in customer service. I had to wear a smile, hide my tired, ignore my hunger, drink all of the coffee and pretend like the only thing in the world I want to do is sell you that book or make you that drink. If you’ve ever worked in customer service, you will understand what that amount of dealing with the general public can do to you. Especially around the holidays.
For the first time ever, I hated Christmas. I saw it from the retail perspective by day, and then from behind a bar by night. I saw what it was doing to everyone around me and how that was affecting me in the long run. I had to give myself daily affirmations that this was all for a good cause, all so I could run off into the wilderness for 6 months and not deal with nary a customer complaining about the cost of a book, the cost of a beer, the temperature of their burger, the ice in their water, the length of the line, the fact that we are out of the only thing on the menu that satisfies their fickle hipster diet and I’m ever so sorry that I forgot you take your whiskey neat as opposed to on the rocks from the one time I’ve served you before. Shame on me for forgetting. Can I go home now? No? Right, the trail isn’t paved with money.
I had to keep myself in constant check, an added expenditure to my energy on a daily basis. I had to remind myself regularly that I was choosing this. No one was to blame for my crazy work schedule but me. I accepted all of those shifts, all of those hours, all of those crazy customers, all of those paychecks. All because I want to hike.
It was worth it.
I have realized that my motivation to do something I sometimes despise in order to do something I really love tells me so much. As much as people can drain all of my energy, nature can put it right back. On my first day off after 42 straight days of work, I went on a beautiful snowshoe hike with my housemates. I struggled a lot at first, wondering if I had compromised my fitness for the finances. I felt nauseous and struggled to put one foot in front of the other, like walking through molasses. I hadn’t been physically active in so long, and here I was trying to climb up a steep snowy slope in tennis racket shoes. It was painful. Then it wasn’t. I broke through the fog of a holiday under fluorescent lights and came out into the beautiful sunshine, in a world gloriously covered in big pillowy piles of snow. I felt the blood moving through my veins, the oxygen in my lungs, the sun on my face and I wanted to cry out of pure gratitude. This is what it’s all about. I have to work hard to play hard, and it IS worth it.
There are certainly going to be days out there when I can barely handle what the divide throws at me; long slogs through spring snow, postholing for hours and days, lightning storms, rain and wind, mosquitoes, grizzlies, long road walks, getting lost, not being able to get a hitch, dead animals in the only water source for miles, cow dung, blisters, back pain. There are going to be days when I want to give up. On those days, I can only hope to remember that it is always more preferable than what I had to do to get there. That I would rather any of it to working 7 days a week pretending to like people that annoy me 99% of the time. Smiling through snow in June versus smiling through painfully banal small talk on 4 hours of sleep. I’ll take the snow. I’ll take the blisters and the miles and the simplicity any day.
It will all be worth it to have 6 whole months to myself on the divide.
94 days to go.