To hike your own hike on the Appalachian Trail may mean starting on Mt. Katahdin instead of ending there
Nobody knows for sure where the saying hike your own hike came from. Although I wrote a book called Hike Your Own Hike, I certainly didn’t coin the phrase. When I hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2001, people were repeating that mantra often, so an anonymous hiker may have come up with the saying in the 1980s or earlier. Regardless, it’s an old concept. Native Americans surely had a similar saying in their languages 5,000 years ago.

What does hike your own hike mean?

Hike your own hike means that you should hike a trail in the manner that you enjoy, and not the way somebody tells you to hike it. Although you should ponder the advice of others, ultimately make your own decision and focus on having fun! For example:

  • Some Appalachian Trail thru-hikers love to walk 50 kilometers a day and finish in three months, while others prefer to walk 10 kilometers a day and take 12 months.

  • Some prefer carrying 30 kilograms; others enjoy carrying less than five.

  • Some insist on eating at every possible restaurant along the way, while others contemplate the nutritional value of the bugs crawling in the mud.

Hike your own hike also means that you can backpack in any direction you want. Most hike the Appalachian Trail north, a small fraction go south, and other “flip flop.” A Flip Flopper might hike north from Georgia to Virginia, then flip up to Maine and walk back down south to Virginia. In the end, Flip Floppers cover the same trail that the linear hikers cover, but just in a different way.

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There’s no point in being a damn fool about it. — W. C. Fields

In many cases, hiking your own hike may mean quitting the hike. Over 70 percent of the hikers who intend to hike the entire Appalachian Trail in one season quit. Some of them return the next season(s) to complete the sections they missed; thus, they become Section Hikers. However, many who quit never return because the hike wasn’t fun for them. After all, digging a hole in the dirt and squatting can get old after a while.

Whether you quit after 20 miles or you go the entire distance, the Appalachian Trail teaches you the same lesson: hike your own hike. Hikers ultimately focus on having fun. Consider what Bramble and Bushwack, a married couple, wrote at the end of their Appalachian Trail hike:

Some things you just can’t escape, but this trip was a chance to do something few people get to do. We got away from many of the hassles and aggravations of ‘normal’ life and it was so nice. Life on the trail was much simpler, more spontaneous and a wonderful time for introspection. And our marriage survived! Not that we didn’t have our moments (or hours), but it was nice to actually spend some real time together. The good times outweighed the bad 100 to 1. — Bramble and Bushwack

Hiking your own hike off the Appalachian Trail

Although the Appalachian Trail’s basic credo worked for thru-hikers, I wasn’t sure if it applied to life off the trail. However, after enough backpacking and deep thinking, I soon realized that it did. In fact, the pilgrims applied the hike your own hike belief before and after their journey. For example, Aloha! Ann describes how the Appalachian Trail created an Inflection Point in her life. She finally summoned the courage to hike her own hike:

November 6, 2000: Cruise Missile Support Activity; Camp Smith, Hawaii 
“What is this?” my boss demanded.
“Without looking at it, I would guess that it’s my resignation,” I replied.
”What do you mean you’re quitting?” 
“I mean that I’m not going to work here much longer.” 
“Who do you have a job with?” 
“I don’t have a job with anyone.” 
“Of course you do! No one quits without a job waiting.” 
“Oh… well, I guess you just met the first person that did.” 
“That’s ridiculous. Where are you going?” 
“For a walk.” 
“A walk?” 
“Yeah… a walk.” 
April 1, 2001: Fredericksburg, VA (Four days prior to my “walk”) 
That was my conversation with my employer the day I turned in my resignation. Eleven years on the job, 21 years with the government and I was “going for a walk.” It does sound crazy, doesn’t it? What person in their right mind walks away from a good job, a decent retirement (when of age), and moves from a state that they truly love—to “go for a walk”? No one in his or her right mind for sure! But then again… what person remains in a job where they’re unfulfilled, bored, frustrated, and truly dislikes being there? No one in his or her right mind for sure! 
Upon finding out about my plans, friends, family and coworkers all asked that simple question—why? They’re still asking it. Not why I quit my job or moved (well, 
many people ask why I moved from Hawaii but they’re all from Virginia) but why am I going to attempt to walk across 14 states and 2168 miles. That’s a hard question to answer. It’s only hard because the answer is “because I want to and I can.” Again, that’s not looking very stable is it? But… it’s the truth. 
One day, a couple of years back I looked up only to find that I had been drawn into a Dilbert cartoon. I 
was sedately enmeshed in a job that I had limited to no interest in, working in a Dilbert-type cubicle, with coworkers that seemed to be unfulfilled and frustrated. However did this happen? Boredom ruled! It was obvious I needed a change, I needed a big change and I needed it soon!
Aloha! Ann

Aloha! Ann realized that she was not enjoying the hike she was on (her job), and that she could not afford to put off enjoying it any longer. She decided to create an Inflection Point in her life. The first step on her new hike was the Appalachian Trail.

We are here on Earth to fart around. Don’t let anyone tell you any different! — Kurt Vonnegut

Thru-hikers don’t blindly do what people tell them they should do, they do what they know gives them pleasure. Those who just do what society expects them to do, thereby ignoring their inner voice, are missing the point of life. A pilgrim’s purpose is to enjoy life now and not to put it off for retirement.

Many agree that the purpose of life is to enjoy it and will shout, “And it took you walking 2,168 miles to figure that out? C’mon, I figured that out this morning when I was doing the laundry!”

Yet for all those who agree, there are so few who fully enjoy it. Therefore, the challenge isn’t understanding the concept, it’s executing it.

Are you hiking your own hike?

To find out if you’re hiking your own hike, take this quick quiz. Just answer these questions with a simple YES or NO:

1. When you wake up the in morning, do you look forward to the new day?

2. Do you love your job?

3. Would most people who know you well describe you as a happy person?

4. Do you smile more often than you frown?

5. Can you look back on the last 12 months and say that you have no major regrets?

6. Do you feel like you have everything you need to be truly happy?

7. When you look at yourself in the mirror, do you feel good?

8. Would most people say that you’re a giving and generous person?

9. Can you easily brush off the small irritations in life?

10. Do you go to bed eager to get up the next day?


ScoringGive yourself 10 points for every YES. If your score is 70 or less, you need to make some changes to create an Inflection Point and start squeezing the most out of life. My book, Hike Your Own Hike, will show you how. If you scored 100, then go easy on the Prozac.

Share how you scored (or any other thoughts you have) in comment section below!

This is a modified excerpt from Chapter 1 of Hike Your Own Hike: 7 Life Lessons from Backpacking Across America. You can read the whole first chapter for free. Or you can buy the book at my shop, Amazon, Apple’s iBookstore, Barnes and Noble, and Google Books. (The best deal is at my shop). It’s also available as an audiobook.

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