Thursday, January 29, 2015


by Drew Hanson

There is a game played this time each year in which the athletes are getting a lot of attention. It would be hard to overstate the amount of media and money these people are getting. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy watching a good football game too but step back and ask if so much attention is warranted. Are their physical feats really deserving of so much fanfare?

Let’s take a few minutes for some perspective, stop short of hero worship and peek at a different group of heroic athletes.

Lint after walking the 2,600-mile Pacific Crest Trail
Thru-hikers are people who complete epic end-to-end pilgrimages of long-distance hiking trails. They don't do it for wealth, parades or Good Morning America interviews. Some of us do follow their statistics because, well, some thru-hikers have amazing numbers. But their fame is modest compared to athletic heroes of pop culture
ball games.

So who are they? You ask.

First, let's be clear that there is no one kind of thru-hiker. They are old and young and of all political stripes and vocations. They are a cross-section of America. The few I mention here are extraordinary, even among thru-hikers.

One of my favorite thru-hikers is Lint. (Oh, by the way, thru-hikers have trail names.) Lint’s first thru-hike was of the Ice Age Trail in 2003. He has gone on to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail (three times!), Pacific Crest Trail (three times!), Continental Divide Trail (twice), Colorado Trail and Arizona Trail. This adds up to somewhere around 20,000 miles! So this guy averages hiking 30-40 miles a day for the weeks or months of a thru-hike. Wow! Now that’s strength and endurance. Check out his website at

Another of my favorites is the The Real Hiking Viking. He is an Iraq War veteran with a thru-hiker resume that is shorter than Lint’s but he’s got some serious splash. In addition to his website, he’s active on Facebook and Twitter.

Luke, Jingle and Ya Comi,
the 10th, 8th and 3rd people to thru-hike the Ice Age Trail
Most thru-hikers prefer a low profile, like another of my favorites: Jingle. She has thru-hiked the Ice Age, Appalachian, Continental Divide, Pacific Crest and several other long distance trails. But she’s not just a hiker and registered nurse. She volunteers a lot of her free time to improve her local trail, the Ice Age Trail. Wow!

Like Jingle, most thru-hikers humbly accept the recognition that non-profit trail clubs offer and seek no other attention for their amazing accomplishments. They’re not looking to be heroes but we can find many of their names on the web. Here is a sample of thru-hiker lists:

There’s no chiseled granite statue of any of them. But their accomplishments are truly impressive feats of human strength, prowess and achievement. If you haven’t already, you really should click on some of the above links, pause for a moment and ponder the journey each of them endured as they covered hundreds or thousands of miles on foot.

If you are inspired by thru-hikers and curious about long-distance hiking, there are, of course, resources on the web to help. Here are a few:

Maybe something us regular folks can learn from thru-hikers is that this business of heroes is overblown. To paraphrase a line from Ray Zillmer: Spend more time using your own body and less time watching other people use theirs.

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