Why thru-hike the National Trails System?


To honor the 50th year of our National Scenic Trails System, I am planning a 20,000-mile, 2.5-year thru-hike, connecting an otherwise fragmented system. It's a massive idea, and I am going to attempt it in my own unique style. I don't even know if I can do this hike, but I'm damn sure going to try.  

But why attempt such an unforgiving task? In short, I fell in love with walking. 

In the summer of 2014, I had completed the wildest journey of my life thus far: a thru-hike along the 1,200-mile Pacific Northwest Trail. It challenged me in ways I never expected, and over my 53-day journey I felt a new sense of peace, clarity, and belonging in the world.

With backpacking role models such as Justin Lichter (who has over 40,000 miles of hiking underfoot and recently completed a winter traverse of the Pacific Crest Trail) and Andrew Skurka (who claimed such thru-hiking firsts as the 7,800-mile Sea-to-Sea Route and 6,875-mile Great Western Loop), the immensity of my dreams surprised me. It was clear that the next big thing in backpacking was going to be a colossal undertaking. I wanted a piece of what these brave individuals accomplished: to add my own journey to the backpacking story.

Thus, a vision of hiking the National Trails System in its entirety came into view. Currently our National Trails System is a fragmented patchwork of long trails that lacks the continuity originally envisioned in the National Trails System Act of 1968. Such visionaries as Ron Strickland (Sea-to-Sea Route conceptualist and creator of the Pacific Northwest Trail) have dreamed of a connected system, and I intend to further advance the realization of a truly unified trails system with a continuous walk connecting these links.

The idea is to connect the National Trails System in one continuous thru-hike: a 20,000-mile, two-and-a-half year journey on foot. Furthermore, I intend to begin my hike in January of 2018 to honor the 50th anniversary of the National Trails System Act.

I am chasing my dream, for I believe if I do not at least attempt to, I will regret it for the rest of my life. 

Some questions race through my head daily, and repetitively . . . 

·      Will I still have the desire to continue hiking after the first 6 months? 12 months? 24 months?

·      Can my body physically stand up to the task?

·      Can I endure the mental hardships of hiking through two winters on top of all the rest?

·      Can I maintain a healthy and sustainable diet along the trail?

·      How will I fit into society after the hike?

·      Will the climate’s changing weather patterns prevent me from completing the hike?

Although the list is long, prodding, and ever growing, I remain resolved to attempt to complete the hike. I refuse to defer my dream, continuing onward as long as I am able. 

In contrast to the feed of negative thoughts, I have had as many, if not more, with positive intent. For this reason, I believe I will be able to overcome the hardships that lie ahead. A few of these thoughts are as such:

·      I wish to do something great that has the power to inspire.

·      Human powered transportation is pure and free; long-distance hiking is an extraordinary way to experience America’s wild places.

·      I know not what will become of these beautiful lands in the future and wish to see their beauty before it is changed forever.

·      This journey will allow me to capture America’s beauty as it currently is, and share its wonders with people from around the world.

·      Being outdoors for long periods of time gives me a sense of freedom and inner peace. I feel at home in the natural world.

·      The efforts of pioneering individuals are what influence others to overcome hardships and become their best self. More rewarding than achieving my dream would be influencing others to achieve theirs. 

There is one path in the world that none can walk but you. Where does it lead? Don’t ask, walk!
— Friedrich Nietzsche