Let me start by getting right to the point. I am not the first to attempt a SOBO winter thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. And if I complete this hike, I will not be the first to complete a SOBO winter thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail.
The writer (it should be noted that he is a freelance writer) of the Outside Magazine (OM) article did a wonderful job in professionally gathering facts from me about my hike and did a great job writing about my experiences on trail. We had a great working relationship. He made sure he was always getting his facts straight and I thoroughly enjoyed the whole process of it. The story he wrote was great and more importantly all true. About a week or two before the article went live on OM’s website, he informed me that he got a quote from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy that they had no record of anyone having completed a SOBO hike of the AT with a start date in December. I thought that was pretty interesting information coming from them but I didn’t really take it to be much of a big deal because really it wasn’t a big deal. I knew other people had done a winter thru hike before. Namely Trauma (Justin Lichter). In fact, he was someone who I resourced in the week or two prior to starting my own hike to get advice and information to better prepare me. I didn’t really have the foresight at the time to think that OM would run with that piece of misleading information as the sub-headline for the article. Once the writer submitted his final draft to the editor at OM (someone I had zero contact with) it was out of his hands and the editor took liberties with that small tidbit of information and shaped the tone by adding a sentence or two. I can only theorize that the editor looked at that as a way to get more eyes on the story. I suppose at this point I can’t say that I’m surprised by that but I don’t think that whoever that person is understood the ramifications of what that would do. And this blogpost isn’t about blasting that person, the writer, or Outside Magazine.
The hiking community, more specifically the long distance hiking community, is a tight knit community. I’d be a fool if I didn’t think that what I put out there shapes my reputation. I want to have a good reputation. I want to be an ambassador of good will within the long distance hiking community. I don’t think Outside Magazine meant any harm by taking liberties with their claim that nobody has ever completed a winter SOBO thru-hike of the AT. But I do believe that it does the entire a community a disservice by allowing people to believe that. And most importantly it does all the hikers who may have completed a SOBO winter thru-hike before me a great disservice. After getting a message from a good hiking friend within the hour of the article going live, it became clear to me that this needed to be addressed. I, myself, didn’t even consider the ramifications of the article until that conversation. We agreed that I should contact Trauma. At this point I actually began feeling terrible about the notion that I was likely already receiving recognition for something that was at best misleading and at worst completely false.
After speaking with Trauma, it became clear that I would need to clear the air. Even though he completed a SOBO winter hike of the AT (as part of his Eastern Continental Divide Trail hike in 2005-2006 which was was also part of his larger mission to complete the Triple Crown in 12 months) he had said that even he was uncomfortable laying claim to being the first to do so. Just because the ATC has no record of anyone starting in Decenber and completing, doesn’t mean that nobody has done it before. We would go on to discuss the extreme popularity of the AT and how it would be impossible to know who has hiked what in the past. Computers, the Internet, social media, these things are only very very recent in the grand scheme of the trail’s history. Even on Trauma’s hike he was still using actual mail, PocketMail, and pay phones to keep family, friends, and sponsors abreast of his hike. That should be noted when considering the history of hiking and “records” on these trails. Too many people have been up and down the Appalachian Trail to, beyond shadow of a doubt, know who was the first to do a SOBO winter thru-hike.
But then comes another can of worms. What the heck defines a winter thru-hike? Trauma hit Baxter State Park on his hike in late November basically a week before my start. So does the fact that I started from there in December make any difference just because it’s a different month? November or December means nothing in the grand scheme of things. One winter is very different from the next. Some winters in the Northeast can have winter weather start early and be brutal. Other winters it can start slow and then get worse as the season rolls on. And then comes the fact that you’re likely not finishing your hike within the recognized season of “winter”, being December 21st through March 21st. Sub freezing and sub zero temps and torrential snow storms can occur outside of that range in any given year. On the reverse, winter’s can see mild temps and weather throughout. It’s a crapshoot. It’s next to ridiculous to compare one long distance hike one year to another long distance hike another year. Like I said, it’s a can of worms.
Hopefully these thoughts will help people to understand that for some, it isn’t about a record. It doesn’t need to be about being the first to do something. And not that there is anything wrong with that!! I’m a competitor. But to me, this winter hike isn’t about beating any competition other than myself and the elements themselves. It’s about challenging myself. Maybe someday I’ll be the first to do something. Maybe some year I’ll make or break a record of some kind. This is not one of those times. I have a great admiration and respect for those that have come before me. Particularly anybody who decided to challenge themselves in winter on ANY long-distance hike. In no way would my conscience allow me to be recognized for anything that anyone before me has achieved.
“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”
– Sir Isaac Newton
I have admittedly kind of always been an attention-getter most of my life. Being the youngest of four children has probably had its hand in shaping that in some way. But I am definitely very new to receiving the kind of attention that I have been garnering lately. And with that comes responsibility. I am learning that. I am learning that on the fly, too. I think that if I’m not constantly learning and applying what I’ve learned to future situations, than I’m being ignorant. But if my ignorance affects others, then we have a problem.
Getting back to building a reputation, in the United States Marine Corps we are taught to internalize many things. Our core values are Honor, Courage and Commitment. Our leadership traits are Justice, Judgement, Dependability, Integrity, Decisiveness, Tact, Initiative, Endurance, Bearing, Unselfishness, Courage, Knowledge, Loyalty, and Enthusiasm. I could go on all day with how these can relate to any person in any walk of life but I want to touch on two of these. Courage and Integrity. Courage comes up twice, and rightly so. In my life I want to be able to continually have the courage to stand up for my own integrity before, during, and after any mistakes have been made as well as doing the right thing. We are all far from perfect but I believe I owe it to myself, those that came before me, and the rest of the hiking community in general to make right what was wrong. No matter how big or small the issue may be. Thank you for your time and for following along on this journey of mine. It’s not just about the miles.