What I learned from thru-hiking hopefully will help me with my bikepacking triple crown and possibly your next hike or bikepacking adventure.
My first thru-hike was the Appalachian Trail (AT) in 2001. It took me 153 days and 10 were zero days. As the AT was my first thru-hike I had a lot to learn and learned I did. Before the AT the longest hike I had been on was 2 nights.
If I was to do it again I would start with a shorter trail like the Long Trail (LT) first. Now that I’ve done the AT, PCT and CDT I would love to go back and do the AT again. To hike it with the knowledge I have now would be amazing. It certainly would be easier for sure. Going back now to do my first trail again isn’t so easy when it’s 2000+ miles long. If say I had hiked the LT first it would be much easier to go back and thru-hike 272 miles rather than 2000.
It’s no mystery that the more you do something the better you get at it. Unfortunately for me I haven’t done a ton of bikepacking to this point. I’ve have done the Kokopelli Trail and two other weekend trips, so I’m going to have to rely on my thru-hiking triple crown experience.
Just like with thru-hiking, bikepacking is a game of repetition. You get up each day and do the same thing. The key is to learn how to make your day easier. What items or acts during your day can you do without, resulting in more miles, more enjoyment or whatever your goal is.
One huge thing I learned early on during my thru-hiking triple crown was no matter what size pack you have, you will fill it. Less is more as the saying goes. If you want to carry less, limit your cubic inches. This applies to bikepacking as well. Every ounce counts, that’s why I’m counting everyone of them. Less weight carried means less energy used. Learning what you can do without is a big part of the triple crown experience. You learn what works and what doesn’t. You’ll find the best items are ones that serve more than one purpose. Checkout my post on cutting pack weight for ideas on how to limit your load.
Another key thing I learned during my thru-hiking triple crown was you have to be able to roll with the punches. Things are not always going to go your way. You need to be able to accept things for how they are and not try to force your will/perception on situations you don’t like. I’m not saying that having a plan is bad, you need a plan on any bikepacking trip or for a triple crown attempt, you just have to know when to be open to change those plans.
There are many more things one learns when thru-hiking but I’ll leave you with another major one. It’s so very easy to create your own limits while on the trail (or in life). I found that if I told myself I was going to do 25 miles I would do it. At the end of the day I would feel like I did all I could. But if I decided at mile 20 I changed my mind and was going to push for 30 it seemed very hard. Changing the mental gears as I call it was always tough. On the flip side if I decided to do 30 from the start and failed I had to be okay with that as well.
It wasn’t always easy but I learned to accept that my estimation of the trail and the conditions didn’t always workout with my goal. That’s where rolling with the punches came in but also being realistic with my goals without being self limiting. It is a hard task but can be done.
In the end it comes down to learning what works for you, adapting your gear to fit your own style, doing more with less, being open to change and listening to what your body and trail are telling you. Finally leave the creation of limits to the trail and the weather. You can’t control everything, so don’t try.