How Do They Do It?

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My daydreams tend to be more grand than my actions.  I’m a hiker.  I day hike a lot.  I get a few short backpacking trips in during the course of the year.  I spend the rest of the time reading guidebooks, studying maps, and enjoying breathtaking photos online.  Seriously, a lot of time.

I want to spend more time on trail, more nights in my tent, and less time thinking about it.   Anyone with a huge passion for hiking makes big plans, like thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, or the Pacific Crest Trail, or the Continental Divide Trail, or all 3 (the triple crown).  Even shorter, long-distance hikes are awesome, such as the Long Trail, New England Trail, Finger Lakes Trail, New York Long Path, Benton McKaye Trail, Mountains-to-Sea Trail.  Lets not even begin to talk about the opportunities outside of the United States.  However, most of us never do these things.  I sit around feeling like I’m stuck the minor leagues, never being called up to the show.

The past six months have been pretty good.  Substitute teaching has been far less than ideal, as it does not fulfill me day to day.  However, the schedule flexibility has allowed me to do some pretty awesome things.  Ultimately, however, I feel like I should be in a job or situation that fulfills me EACH day, like my work at Camp Walt Whitman does, or like my work at Great Smoky Mountains National Park did.  Therefore, I recently came up with a plan to satisfy my need for adventure, and I proclaimed it to my family at a recent dinner.  This plan included some kind of trip in late August, an end-to-end hike of Vermont’s Long Trail in September/October, and taking at least 3 months after that to volunteer and guide tourists on hiking and backpacking trips in Nicaragua or Guatemala.  Naturally, my parents knocked me down a few notches.  Their two main concerns:  finances and professional development.

Even this upcoming weekend, I had planned to do a 3 day section hike of the AT, completing the length of AT that exists within Connecticut.  I’d have to miss one day of work, and my dad told me I needed to prioritize, and my first priority should be work, not hiking.  He said that one day of work would help fund a tank of gas to go hiking another time, but if you don’t just say ‘screw it’ and go, then when will you ever go?  Turns out an unexpected spring illness halted that plan for me anyway, go figure.

Some people have found ways to make a living by hiking (Andrew Skurka).  Some people have made money writing about their hiking experiences.  Some people are lucky enough to have jobs or run businesses with so much flexibility, they get a lot of trail time.  Heck, some people might even be making money from other jobs while they’re hiking, absent from the actual functioning of the business.  Great for them.  If anyone has any advice on how I can do this, please let me know.

Yet, I know people around my age and younger, and equally or more cash strapped than me, that have thru-hiked the AT.  I have friends spending a lot of time in Africa, Europe, southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands, all of whose stays are not necessarily work focused.  One friend plans to travel AROUND the world starting this summer!  I read about people who have done multiple AT thru-hikes, or completed multiple long distance trails.

So, my question is, how do they do it?

I don’t want to be a weekend warrior, dreading the week and putting in time until Friday; always feeling like I’m packing too much into too small of a time window.  I want to be able to do it all the time, without becoming homeless or a parasite on my parents’ incomes, or constantly borrowing money.

I can understand dropping everything and completing a short thru-hike like the Long Trail.  To a certain degree, I think dropping everything to do a 4 to 6 month thru-hike of the AT is even easier, because you can justify quitting a job to spend that length of time on trail (as compared to the LT, which would take roughly 3 weeks).  But more than one thru-hike?  I don’t understand how people do it, fund it without a steady job, or don’t feel pressured to enter the standard work force at some point.

Of course, you could always guide professionally, allowing yourself to hike and make money.  However, most guides need a number of certifications and completed instructor courses, which cost a pretty penny, particularly for a cash strapped twenty-something.  Sounds nice, but that initial investment in those certifications is difficult to overlook.

The problem is, if you’re long distance hiking, you’re not making any money.  However, as far as I can tell, you need money to long distance hike and/or travel.

Because I can’t seem to wrap my head around this, I sit thinking these amazing trips are reserved for others, not me.

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