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Trail Personality

Posted: Mon Nov 02, 2020 11:42 am
by sekihiker
During a long overdue decluttering of my desktop, I ran across a paper copy of one of the best essays of its kind. It's Phil Heffington's post on the "Trail Personality" which is no longer available at his website. Topics include characteristics such as; tolerance for healthy discomfort, flexibility, risk taking and six more. It is an excellent reminder of the kinds of attitudes needed to carry out a successful hike.

Re: Trail Personality

Posted: Mon Nov 02, 2020 2:19 pm
by Wandering Daisy
There as many variations of "hiking" as variation in "personalities" so I hesitate get into lists of characteristics. A lot of the characteristics on the list are more what I consider skills that can be learned, not inborn characteristics.

I have regularly been surprised by people I meet backpacking, some being the farthest from the type I usually associate with backpacking. Someone's "discomfort" is another's "pleasure". Backpacking does not necessarily need to be either risky or uncomfortable. Some backpackers love "epics"; I hate "epics". Comfort can be managed just by stopping for rest, a snack, or camping instead of pushing on as well as well pre-trip planning. I can choose UL gear if comfort is a priority. I can choose a gnarly route if I seek challenge.

Solo off-trail backpackers are different from trail hikers. Thru-hikers different from over-night hikers. Just be yourself and hike your own hike.

Re: Trail Personality

Posted: Mon Nov 02, 2020 4:14 pm
by fishwrong
That's an interesting read, and I liked it. He makes a lot of good points. Seemed pretty clear the characteristics he's mentioning about successful long distance hikers are really suggestions for folks to enjoy themselves. Each one is more of a "you're going to encounter this, here's some recommendations for handling it", than a psychological entrance exam.

I think the same traits/tips apply about as much to a successful work or love life. Particularly the tolerance of discomfort part... Or maybe I'm projecting????

Good read. Thanks for sharing.

Re: Trail Personality

Posted: Mon Nov 02, 2020 4:42 pm
by balzaccom
I particularly thought this one was funny

"After three miles of essentially just walking in the woods, can you find entertainment within yourself, or at least in the small things around you? Only 10% of the trail is scenery and, believe me, there is a saturation level at how much you can enjoy rhododendron. The rest is doing the same thing, and seeing the same view of trees, hour after hour, day after day."

Really? I guess I am easily entertained. I rarely find this to be the case. If you've seen one rhododendron, you haven't seen them all.

Re: Trail Personality

Posted: Mon Nov 02, 2020 5:04 pm
by Wandering Daisy
I am not saying the article is not appropriate for a specific set of hikers - thru hikers. It is just not the whole story.

Backpacking is recreation, not a job. I do not quite agree that the skills and attributes you need to succeed in today's stressed-out rat race work world is what you need or even want for backpacking. Backpacking is life at its basic level and many who may actually have trouble in life, succeed in backpacking due to its simplicity. Solo backpacking even gets rid of dealing with other people which is one aspect of working that some people find difficult.

As far as tolerance for discomfort-- rather than just tolerating discomfort, you can take action to mitigate. thirsty? take a drink; tired? take a rest; cold? stop and put on clothing; hungry? stop and eat a snack; exhausted, maybe it is time to call it a day and set up camp. There are those few unavoidable times of discomfort but they have been few in my years of backpacking. Sometimes I choose to be a bit uncomfortable and start out with a heavier pack than I like, but that is my choice, not unavoidable. Same with risk. With proper training and planning you can reduce the risk to be within the range that you have in everyday life.

I taught at NOLS for seven years, getting students from all walks of life. Some kids had never even stepped foot off pavement, some had never seen stars, some actually were on their way to becoming juvenile delinquents. They all finished the courses, some obviously did better than others, but I felt they ALL succeeded. In fact those who started with the least attributes and skills, in my opinion, were more successful simply finishing than the students who came already equipped with better skills and personality attributes. Humans have an amazing ability to meet challenges put in front of them.

Re: Trail Personality

Posted: Tue Nov 03, 2020 6:07 am
by rightstar76
Agree, WD, that people who are socially awkward do well at backpacking. In contrast, I have observed people who are outgoing get really uncomfortable when they find themselves alone. I think car camping with lots of people around works better for them. As for me, I don't score high in the tolerance for discomfort category. I like sunny warm backpacking where the days are long and you can take a dip in the lake or creek to wash off your sweat at the end of the day. I am always impressed by November backpackers who sweat each day in the cold and then endure long freezing nights without being able to go for a swim. You have to have a high tolerance for discomfort to enjoy that.

Re: Trail Personality

Posted: Tue Nov 03, 2020 10:54 am
by balzaccom
rightstar76 wrote:
Tue Nov 03, 2020 6:07 am
As for me, I don't score high in the tolerance for discomfort category. I like sunny warm backpacking where the days are long and you can take a dip in the lake or creek to wash off your sweat at the end of the day.
Yes indeed. Guilty as charged, although I have backpacked in every month of the year except November (go figure!) but those "winter" backpacks were on sunny days, and often in warm climates like Death Valley...

Re: Trail Personality

Posted: Tue Nov 03, 2020 11:18 am
by Wandering Daisy
I read the PCT journals and the very out-going backpackers seem to flock to the PCT. I have really noticed a change over the last 50 years- when I started backpacking/climbing, I went in organized groups mainly due to the safety factor when climbing. Socializing was a very low priority. We were mainly out there for the wilderness/mountaineering experience. Now I see young solo hikers, who hike alone but seek out tons of socializing with others on the trail. I read the book "Quiet" - a real interesting discussion on how our society has transitioned from introvert to extrovert values. I see that reflected on the trail too. Whereas I cringe sometimes when seeing people on the trail, the young folks seem to thrive on it.

One of the oddest "trail personalities" I met was a fellow who was decked out in ancient equipment, obviously unbathed for weeks, and I suspect was either homeless or thought he was John Muir reincarnated. After about 5 minutes of conversation, I realized he also had some serious mental issues. But there he was, regardless, enjoying the wilderness. I hope his trip was helping him heal from whatever his issues were.

Re: Trail Personality

Posted: Tue Nov 03, 2020 8:19 pm
by Lumbergh21
I can certainly see how those traits would be important to hiking for months on end. However, the longest hike I have ever done is 18 days with some socializing when getting two resupplies. For me, the biggest break through, and something I still need to remind myself of when I start a hike, is that I'm out there for fun. It's supposed to be relaxing not work. Many of those other traits, e.g. flexibility, sense of adventure, etc., help in achieving that prime objective, but just letting go of those plans you made on a computer at home and enjoying the mountains, woods, and trail is the one trait of every successful hiker, no matter what kind of hiker you are. Because if you didn't enjoy your hike, how was it a success?