dipping my duct-taped toes into insanity

Some context for your Thursday morning…

I rolled out of bed at 10:30 this morning (yes, it does happen…occasionally) to find my electronic “Weekly Escape” update from Backpacker Magazine in my inbox, featuring the headline, “DREAM IT, DO IT: The John Muir Trail.” Needless to say, my undying urge to go forth and adventure seems scarcely appeased by the fact that I will be departing on Sunday evening for 1,000-mile-long thru-hike across the Alps in Italy, Austria, Germany, Lichtenstein, Switzerland, France, and Monaco. In my recent quest to find easy outlets for procrastination from packing three months of gear into a 58-liter pack, I started skimming Michael Lanza’s December 2007 article, “The Hike: John Muir in a Week.” In light of my recent overnight offensive into the wilds of the Grand Canyon, my interest was piqued by Lanza’s concern for his hiking partner’s stamina and his buddy’s subsequent response: “No problem, just a little vertigo I get hiking in the dark. I’ll be fine.” Sounds familiar. Upon perusing a few more paragraphs of Lanza’s all-too-resonant article, I stumbled upon the following commentary:

“Which, inevitably, started me thinking about long trails. I soon learned that fit hikers going überlight were sailing “America’s most beautiful trail,” as the JMT is often called, in just 10 days. A Muir Trail veteran told me that “30- to 40-mile days are totally doable.” Unfortunately, where another hiker might think that pounding out 31 miles a day for a solid week sounds just slightly over the top, I’m like Evel Knievel contemplating the Grand Canyon: My altered brain chemistry rationalizes, “How hard could that be?”.

My sentiments exactly. With ample training, food, water, and planning, and perhaps most importantly, an early enough start time, what could possibly go wrong? Well, a lot…but then what is adventure in the absence of some genuine stumbling blocks? And furthermore, despite my friends’ chuckling and insistence that I am “insane” (or a “raving lunatic,” according to SK), I would haphazardly argue that I am simply dipping my duct-taped toes into the reservoir of possible “ultra-hiking” experiences.

Post-Grand Canyon, I certainly identify with the passions–and desperate rationalizations–of the ultra-hiking camp. My raw blisters thus started to pulsate when I read the following response in the “Readers Comment” section below Lanza’s article:

“Is the purpose to enjoy the serenity, vistas, and nature…or to break a record? I am all for going light but much of this in my opinion is so contradictory to the backpacker philosophy of take your time and smell the roses?”

I am firmly in the camp of soaking up all the beauty, but I would offer the following: first, the possibility of achieving a fine and tangible balance between reveling in the natural splendor of your environs and maintaining quite a sustained pace; second, in accordance with the truism that “there’s a time and a place,” the consideration that fast-packing and “smelling the roses” are equally worthy, but are simply on different planes; and third, the premise that moving at a superhuman, almost-Dean Karnazes pace could somehow heighten the already-life-giving experience of being in and experiencing nature.

Before heeding Lanza’s call to the wilds of the John Muir Trail (which doesn’t present any of the solar problems that reign high and mighty in the Grand Canyon and in similar environs), I may try my hands and feet at quite a craggy course across Zion National Park…start time, hours of car-sleeping, and quantity of sausage rounds to be determined.

How hard could it be?

Special thanks to a certain ZBOK for a steady stream of inspiration. For a clearer image of this terrain profile, click here.

Disclaimer: I wrote this post from the comforts of my own bed with the shades safely drawn. 

4 thoughts on “dipping my duct-taped toes into insanity

  1. Hi Annie, just want to wish you a good start on the Via Alpina, I am very much looking forward to your updates!! It’s a great cause you are hiking for, and I am sure there will also be plenty of room for lunacy – lots of times and places for everything! Take care & srecno, buon viaggio, gute Reise et bon voyage!

    Nathalie (Via Alpina International Co-ordinator)

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