Your alarm clock wakes you 4 A.M. and it is still pitch black outside. There is nothing in front of you besides miles, miles and more miles. The mountain is going to continue to be there, the ridgelines are not moving, the sun will rise as it always rises. So, why the need to get out of camp so early? There are no meetings to attend, no prior time commitments that are spoken for, your schedule is your own and your time is your own. Yet, again time is an interesting commodity even more so on trail when you are out hiking. Even though the main concept of what you are doing is hiking day in and day out, time plays a critical role. Anyone looking outside in would only see a hiker that is unburdened, free, and has all the time in the world. In a sense this is very true, you are free, you are "unburdened" and you do have much time ahead of you on a multiple month long trail. Yet, if you zoom in on this same hiker, you will see them checking their watch frequently, you will see them increasing or decreasing their pace accordingly, and you will see them again be the subject as well as the master of time. If you could zoom in and watch their brain work as their feet tread ever forward you would see much more. You would see them weighing time against food in their pack, you would see them weighing MPH pace and making sure they are on "schedule" to hit their camp, you would see them in town doing all of their chores and having time spoken for again and again. Time does not discriminate. Whether you are on trail or off, time will continue to create a path ahead. You do not have a choice to move through this path because it is a universal law that time must continue. Yet you have choice in how you will move through this path ahead. Make time your own.
Time to laugh, love, smile. It is your time use it for happiness.
The more that we have continued to do talks and meetings outside of the niche thru-hiker community that we are so proud to be apart of, the more questions continue to stop us short in our tracks. We have been asked over and over again, why we push so hard, why when we have all the time in the world, do we set a schedule, why do we need to? We try to explain that it is not us setting the day to day schedule, the trail dictates this, yet we still always have to be conscious of time. We wanted to dispel the notion that hikers are free from the construct of time. Free from its demands, free from its burdens, and free from its laws. Yes we feel free out on trail, but it is a mental shift that we touched back on in the first Time Management article. Hikers still very much are within its grips albeit in a different way then "regular life." That is a major factor we wanted to touch on in this article, that yes we may have multiple months of time on trail, yet that does not mean it is not spoken for. Spoken for in the concept of resupplies, town laundry, getting over a mountain before a storm, getting on top of snow before it begins to melt, waking for a sunrise, getting to camp before dark, getting to camp in the dark, making sure we cover enough miles each day for our food supply, the list only continues to go on and on. Like our last article, taking apart one of these items could take an entire article on how it demands time from us, but we will use our time wisely as well as yours and try to condense them into this single article.
Let us begin as any hiker begins. Fresh pack loaded with food and resupply looking down the barrel of the section ahead. It could be 50 miles, 100 miles, 150 miles. Whatever it may be the hiker in their head already has a set day goal to reach. They packed out the necessary amount of food for 3 days, 4 days, 5 days. This means they could stretch their miles longer, but it would be quite uncomfortable because they would run out of food...yes we have done this...yes our body is weird and thrives on No Food, No Problem, but take us out of this equation, leave our weird body to ourselves and our hiker family, let us look more at hikers in general. As soon as you begin a section the clock of time begins its count. Every footstep, every break, every camp, becomes a conscious decision that is being weighed against the larger goal of the section. Did you go enough miles today to still reach the next resupply in time? What will your new average each day have to become if you stopped short? Can your body handle this average comfortably without straining and getting hurt? Time continues onwards, and you continue with it, in it, a part of it, and have to work with it.
Take time to swim...
Maybe chose a different lake and time though when it is not freezing cold and all snowmelt.
You are now in the section. You have hiked your first day out of town. You got out a little later than anticipated and thus were not able to get as many miles in as you had wished. This means as you wake for the second day you must make up for lost ground. Your alarm is set earlier and you must hike longer into the night. Yet, there are other reasons as well that your alarm wakes you in the time of the morning that only other weirdos such as yourself are trudging through the dark. The section ahead has deep snowpack and higher mountain passes. There are time windows that you must hit to hike through comfortably and safely. The snow begins to melt as the sun climbs, and to avoid post-hole parties you must utilize the freeze from the night before to travel over top of the snow instead of within it. You know that in this mountain range like clockwork heavy storms hit the peaks around 3 P.M. This means by studying your maps the night before you must be on the other side going downhill from the highest peak when this hits. You must have the necessary time to hike across snowfields, inevitably posthole, climb, and descend. Now the time is set for when you have to arrive, the journey there however is just as crucial.
You leave camp at 4 or 5 A.M. and are pushing forward knowing you have 20 miles to cover to get to the base of the climb. If you get caught on the current side you are on, your day will be cut short. Now every footstep, every break, every fill up at a water source becomes accounted for. Every moment that the second hand clicks by on your watch, is your window closing in. We have had 5 minutes dictate the entirety of a section for us. 5 minutes when we were so close to getting through the pass, yet storms, lightning and hail pushed us back to tree-line and to camp for safety. Now all of the days we had pre-planned must be shifted because our timing was thrown off. That one pass now demands a few more hours the following day to even reach the camp we had predicted the night before. That means the window with which we were going to climb the pass ahead, the pass beyond that pass, and the pass even further beyond, all get thrown for a loop. Yes, it sometimes comes down to luck when being able to move safely through the backcountry with weather windows, yet the vast majority of it comes down to timing.
Take time to talk. Take time to have long conversations.
(Yes it did rain on us right after this time... but would never change it!)
Even when you finally arrive at your campsite for the night your time is spoken for, wherever that may be. It may be your predefined spot, may be short, may be further, but your planning must begin anew. But first time demands something else, a necessity of safety. You must set up camp, you must filter water, and even as much as we hate to admit it, yes we must eat... Another hour ticks by. Now, when you are tired, safe, happy, and just want to go to sleep you must plan. See the terrain ahead, see the obstacles the next day, see the time windows to safely cross each. If it is a river you want to get there as early as possible to avoid swelling from snow melt, if it is a pass depending on the storms you have to find the right window, if it is a long dry section in the desert you want to avoid the exposure in the heat of the day. Each terrain and environment demands necessary actions and necessary planning to move through safely and as smart as possible. So, you must plan. Plan for Plan A, plan for Plan B, plan for Plan C, and build in contingencies to each. Then only after can you fall into a contended, happy, exhausted sleep full of Sheetrock Smushes and Big Kitty Cat Prrrrs.
(Hey, it is our comfort and dream land, don't judge, you have weird habits too...)
You got through each obstacle, and had to move to plan C sometimes but you made it. Made your food last as you arrive into town chewing on a twig because the food may have not lasted as much as you desired. Yet, you arrived into the next resupply town for a "break." Is it really a break though? Depending on the time you arrived into the town the day will be spoken for. If you get in at 10 A.M. it is a world of difference than arriving at 3 P.M. You now have to find lodging. You must shower, do laundry, and resupply. You must find the grocery store or post office and walk a few hundred yards to a few miles to collect your necessities. You must return calls, return messages, return emails. You must find a place to eat, you must order any necessary gear tweaks, you must plan ahead the next section. If you are filming your journey you must also edit and upload footage (consumes an incredibly ridiculous amount of time). You must, you must, you must..... Yes, you MUST also rest. You need to recharge, need to let your mind and body rest at some point, the exhaustion will find you. Now you must weigh the larger goal of the time frame of finishing this trail against the gravitational pull of a town day. Should you Zero the next day? Or are you just somewhat exhausted, not yet completely. Would a Zero be worth more a few more sections ahead, would it then be a necessity instead of preference? Within every single one of these last few paragraphs you will always be juggling the overall time of finishing the trail as well, not always consciously but it will be there. Before you know it the alarm goes off at 4 A.M. again, you do your morning town chores, and the cycle continues, time for you to hike, time for you to plan, time for time to guide you but also be used by you.
Take time to do some Kung-Fu out on trail!
Well, we wanted to clarify that when we are out on trail we are free, yet time remains a consistent. We listed and specified much of where time goes plainly so you could get a sense. Yet, we don't want you to come away from this with the thought of, well that sounds exhausting, it sounds like there is no time to be present, why would you ever do something like this? We just needed to give you the reality. As we had discussed previously though, time becomes your own when you consciously chose it to be. We did not describe the many moments we no longer cared about time dictating our decisions and just sat and talked for hours with trail family. We didn't touch on us stopping for moments to take in an especially breathtaking view. We did not touch on the times we simply stopped for no rhyme or reason besides to breath, smell and feel the trail around us. We did not touch on that every moment, while being processed and weighed, is also our way of being in the present. We have gotten better at letting all of these responsibilities run on auto-pilot in our subconscious, as we enjoy each moment for what it is. It is immensely freeing, incredibly joyful, epically beautiful. We never take any moment for granted when out hiking. We laugh, we joke, we smile, and we may or may not cry at times. Yet, we are present because we have found how to let time define the journey ahead but never define each thought, each sunrise, each feeling, and each moment, that is always our decision.