Daily accountability is a powerful tool.
I have kept a log of every hike that I’ve done since 2011. The calendar years since have ranged from a couple hundred to a couple thousand miles. There is a lot of variability year to year despite having the same love of spending time outdoors.
The largest year to date is 2014, where for 107 of 110 consecutive days I put on miles walking the entire 2185 miles of the Appalachian Trail. My total time outdoors in 2015 was way behind my wishes. In 2016, I saw a similar pattern emerging.
Beginning in July 2016, I found myself going much more regularly and wound up walking 30 of 31 days that month. I realized it felt good and that not wanting to break my streak kept me going back every day. I wanted to try committing to a longer streak.
I set the goal for my 28th year to hike 366 consecutive days. 1.0 mile minimum.
The goal of one mile per day seemed to fit. It drew inspiration from Seinfeld’s “Don’t Break the Chain” advice, ultrarunners with multi-year daily run streaks like Sean Nakamura, and from filmmaker Casey Neistat’s Daily Vlog. Casey calls out the daily commitment as a way to “kill all the excuses I used that kept me from making more movies because at every single inflection point in my life, doing the work has always been the thing, has always been the catalyst that took me from where I am to where I wanted to be.”
Baseline: 1 year preceding the daily goal-
Total distance: 552.3 miles
Total hours: 301.9 (estimated based on 84.5% of miles’ time)
Logged walks: 214
Miles per day: 1.50
Result: 1 year with a 1 mile per day goal-
Total distance: 1421.6 miles (+157%)
Total hours: 680.3 (+125%)
Logged walks: 445 (+107%)
Miles per day: 3.89 (+157%)
Eliminating days off had a massive impact. The daily commitment lead me to 157% more miles and 125% more time on foot.
Only 34 of 445 walks (7.6%) were for the pure minimum 1.0 miles. This means most days, more than the absolute minimum mileage was accomplished (whether by 0.1 or 20 miles). 8 walks saw a marathon or greater distance (3 in the upper 20’s, 4 in the 30’s, and one 60 mile day).
Walking one mile a day gave plenty of time to listen audiobooks. I had consistent balance of physicality to go with primarily mental labor of the work day. I spend more time in the open air and in the natural world.
While minor compared to the benefits, there was also frustrations. Unforgiving instance to follow the rules I defined for myself occasionally confused those close to me. One day early in the process, my system of reminders failed. I had drifted to sleep without walking, and I woke abruptly at 11:30pm leading to a dash out the door and a power walk complete a mile prior to day’s end.
For the first 6 months, per the Seinfeld advice, I kept a calendar of X’s to mark the daily completion of a mile (in addition to my training log). The longer the chain grew the more accustomed I was to the habit. There were many days where I shorted myself sleep because plans dictated the walk needed completed before work.
In exchange, I saw more sunrises, sunsets, and wildflowers. I spent more time on the beach, in the desert, and under the moon. My energy was devoted to something I love.
Daily accountability, applied with rigor, elevates.
The gear you carry is close to irrelevant. It is unfortunately common for aspiring hikers to distract themselves with gear preparations rather than make the necessary physical and mental preparations.
I kindled the first genuine flame of interest for an Appalachian Trail thru hike on the 16th of May 2014. May 31st was my last day in the office. On June 4th, I got on a Greyhound bus. I began my hike North from Springer Mountain on June 5th, a mere 20 days after realizing I had an immediate interest in a thru hike.
This was possible ONLY because I had physically and mentally prepared prior to that. The logistics of gear were merely incidental.
While on the trail, I made a daily calculation to estimate my average pack weight. My base weight was known and, I recorded any gear changes that would change it. I knew both the weight of water and my water carrying capacity, which let me calculate water weight based on actual mileages & locations I refilled water or to estimate the average volume I had carried through the day. The last piece to calculate was food weight carried. In most cases, I was able to weigh my resupply or to calculate the resupply weight with the information from its retail packaging. Each day between resupplies, I would subtract off between 1 to 2.5 lbs of food weight depending on how much I had eaten. These estimates could be confirmed at my next resupply by the weight of what food remained, even if that weight was zero.
I graphed the average daily pack weights for all 110 days that I was on the trail:
July 4th, 5th, 20th are given a null value because I was off trail visiting family and hiked no trail miles.
The average value of my average daily total pack weight across the entire trail was 16.7 pounds with a standard deviation of 4.1 pounds.
Removing also the 4.5 pound pack weight day on 8/2/2014, which was a 10 mile hike with only 4 hours on the trail, the average value of my average daily total pack weight was 16.8 pounds with a standard deviation of 3.9 pounds.
There was considerable variation across my hike in the weight I was carrying. The downward stepping of weight between resupplies was one of the most substantial variations but water carrying habits and gear changes played a role too.
For another look at pack weight variation, see the histogram of my daily average weight:
For 21.5% of my hike, my total pack weight was between 9 and 14 lbs.
For 57.9% of my hike, my total pack weight was between 14 and 19 lbs.
For 14.9% of my hike, my total pack weight was between 19 and 24 lbs.
Just as it did in my hike, your pack weight will ebb and flow. Be open to changes. Regularly re-evaluate pieces of gear, your resupply strategies, and your water carrying habits.
My base weight for the opening 341 miles from Springer to Erwin, TN was 15 lbs. In Erwin, I mailed home 2 lbs of gear (my 2oz ultrapod, the extra pair of gym shorts I had worn on bus down, a highlighter, other small unused items, and swapped out 3 Nalgenes for disposable plastic bottles, which was probably the largest part of the weight dropped). For the next 198 miles my base weight was 13 lbs.
That first 539 miles of the trail was hiked with my Go Lite Jam 50L pack. It costs ~$100 and weighs about 2 lbs. I already owned it from the year before.
Somewhere in TN, I learned about and ordered Matt Kirk’s pack kit. He designed this for his 2013 self-supported record breaking hike of the AT in less than 60 days. The pack has a 25L capacity and no padding at all. It’s basically a mesh bag with shoulder straps and hip pockets. It’s awesome.
Matt’s pack is $90 including shipping. Weights 8 or 10 ounces, depending on how you put it together. Assembly is required but no sewing is needed. I put together mine during my zero days at home on July 4th and 5th. The weight savings of this pack were much more than it’s difference in pack weight from my Go Lite. This pack forces you to carry very little. Matt says the comfortable max capacity of the pack 15 lbs. After using the pack for the last 1646 miles of the AT, I concur. This pack carried like a dream at with 14 lbs or less. It can technically carry up to 20 lbs but doing so was less than pleasant.
For shelter and rain gear, I used a Gatewood Cape from Six Moon Designs. It costs $146.55 including shipping. I did not use the net tent with it, which costs just as much again.
I carried 6 aluminum tent stakes and used a 5 mil piece of plastic for ground cloth.
For the ridge pole of the tarp-tent, I used my walking stick, which was an old ski pole from a second hand shop.
I carried one jacket and one wind breaker. I also had a pair of light sleep clothes but no extra walking clothes (except a second pair of walking socks). I wore a technical t-shirt from a second hand shop for the whole trip. I wore a pair of Race Ready brand long distance running shorts (with 5 pockets across the back and side) for the entire trip. I carried a bandanna too.
I used a sleeping back liner as my bag. For about 100 miles in PA, I hiked without any sleeping bag, and instead used a pair of lined windbreaker pants with my jacket.
My ground pad was normally a CCF pad. I hiked from the SNP to somewhere in PA without any ground pad, and instead sought out only soft places to bed down.
My camera was my iPhone in a lifeproof case.
From Springer to Hot Springs, NC, I carried no water treatment equipment. In Hot Springs, I bought some Aquamira. In Waynesboro, I swapped that for a sawyer inline mini filter. In the Whites, I left my water filter at an overlook and ordered Aquamira for the rest of the trip to arrive at my next mail drop.
I carried no stove. I had a 1 oz Victorinox Classic army knife.
I carried a few additional luxury items: a 4500 mAh batter to recharge my phone, a SPOT locator device to track my nightly stopping position and ease minds of family at home, and either a harmonica or 1 oz iPod Nano for some podcasts & audiobooks.
In summary, the specific items selected for your hike are of no importance. Carrying one pound less has cascading effects. Your weight will ebb and flow with your food and water carrying habits. Shed unnecessary: Never carry something that hinders your forward progress.
Walk into the grass and remove your shoes. Feel the cool earth through the leaves of grass and the warmth of the sun on your face as you close your eyes to listen. Let go for 8-15 minutes. Repeat frequently.
Reconnecting with the natural world is simple. Make it a point to start today, right now even.
Stepping away from your busyness, even for just a few moments, can create powerful outcomes.
Roughly 3 years ago in March of 2011, I took an afternoon to reconnect on a short hike. This hike has led me to hundreds of miles on the trail since, including the opportunity to backpack the 290-mile Allegheny Trail last fall. Below is the most interesting 1-minute from my trip, which I share in hopes to engage your imagination about what is possible when you begin to reconnect with the natural world.
“A vigorous five-mile walk will do more good for an unhappy but otherwise healthy adult than all the medicine and psychology in the world.” – Paul Dudley White
12 September 2013 12:21 PM
Mongahnela National Forest, WV
I stopped on the trail and listened as a military jet roared by overhead. In the past thirteen minutes, I had already heard nine such jets fly over. So looking up, I tried in vain to make out the tenth jet through the clouds.
Having just left my final resupply point on the Allegheny Trail and heading towards an area with uncertain water sources, my pack weighed in at its trip maximum – 38 pounds, 12 of which were food and 10 of which were water. Between the pack weight, the roar of a jet reverberating in my ear, and my neck craned upwards looking for planes, I was distracted.
Other than the jets far overhead, the hours since leaving town had been eerily quiet. I had observed only a single creature – a spike buck who offered a series of 12 snorts as he struggled to pinpoint my location from across the hollow. The wind was mostly calm. The stream I crossed moved at an imperceptibly slow pace, almost if it tried to disguise the fact that it flowed at all.
A dense understory growth of rhododendron thickets surrounded the trail where the sound of the tenth jet had brought me to a stop. I had just come around a turn before stopping and from here the trail continued straight ahead for 30 feet before twisting sharply to the left, where I could see roughly 25 more feet of the trail before the dark green rhododendron leaves fully obscured it from sight.
In an instant the forest’s stillness was shattered. Even though time seemed to enter slow motion, my brain raced to interpret and still felt like it was grasping for something just out of reach.
As my mind caught the realization something was approaching fast, I saw my first glimpse of a deer flying towards me down the trail. The young doe was approximately the same size as the spike buck I’d seen minutes before but something was clearly terribly wrong in her world at present.
Her legs were fully extended out in the front and in the back in a diving full-tilt sprint. When her hooves got to the ground, she was digging and pushing with absolutely everything she had. Her effort had her neck real low to the ground, eyes bulging from her face in a panic-stricken, full-alarm, desperation for survival.
Awestruck, I called out “OH! … DEER!” as my mind raced to catch up to reality.
My thoughts screamed, ‘Why are you running towards me??’
I was seriously baffled. ‘Shouldn’t she be running away from me if I frightened it? That’s what usually happens when you jump a deer… Why is it running straight at me?’
The deer was headed my direction on the trail but really she was headed straight down the trail from where the path had entered sight towards the trail’s sharp bend, which that lay only 30 feet from me. As she reached this point, in only an instant, I think she sort of saw me and opted to keep as far away as possible. Still digging and pulling for everything she had, rather than bank sharp to the right towards me, she just skidded a little and tilted off to the left onto a deer path or simply through a minor clearing of the rhododendrons.
Coming right up behind her came the explanation for it all.
In her slightest instant of hesitation at the bend, her pursuer had closed the gap on her to a matter of 8 or 9 feet.
The coyote on her trail had its ears perked up and was dialed in with laser precision on the deer. He had no panic in his face.
The coyote was lean and grey with white down his chest and underbody. He was 75-50% of the deer’s size but due to the different body shapes, it was hard to tell exactly. His movements seemed effortless even in the intensity of pursuit.
His demeanor was that of pure predatory focus. Nothing else in the forest existed. His only concern was about killing that deer and eating it.
When the deer had skidded and suddenly crashed into the woods, the coyote saw me and immediately eased to a stop. The chase was off. He turned and loped off the trail like you would expect a dog to lope across a yard, only slightly faster.
The coyote moved through woods to the top of the hill about 50 yards away and stopped. Crouching to peer better through the rhododendron cover, I saw the coyote atop the hill look around and at me surveying the scene for danger.
To this brief pause, I answered in my artificially-deepened, stern, animal-commanding voice, “Hey….Hey….Hey.”
I saw him dart out of sight down the back side of the hill and was left with the sound of my heart beat and silence in the forest.
Story by Brett Anderson, Originally published at UltraBackpacking.com
“Like a tree that grows stronger with more branches and roots, you need to find more and more ways to be inspired.” – Yiannis Kouros
The knowledge on this site comes from an array of sources. My goal in seeking out these sources of knowledge has been to elevate my understanding via the wisdom of those who have come before me. By standing upon the intellectual shoulders of others, I am better positioned to arrive at truth when I embark on my own trail studies.
This list recounts the pursuits of wild knowledge that I have made. Sources are listed in chronological order of completion with the newest items being added to the top.