Hike Your Own Hike- one of the most commonly spouted bits of advice from hikers to hikers, used both as encouragement and also in leiu of "well, do what do want". Hike Your Own Hike (HYOH) is so commonly tossed around that it has become rather cliché despite its relevance and importance. It refers to doing your own thing and making your own decisions on your hike, rather than letting others impact those decisions. As thru hikers, we come to the trail for many reasons, sometimes with different goals in mind- our reason for being out here- our "why". Everyone has their own "why" for being on the trail: have an adventure before starting a career/family/etc, meet and connect with likeminded vagabonds, disconnect from society, work through trauma/life questions/etc, challenge their bodies and minds, or any of a plethora of additional reasons. Knowing your "why" for doing a long distance hike tends to be crucial both in completing it and in getting what you want out of it. It is also helpful to know when making decisions along the way.
I had a conversation with another hiker about their "why" and about the meaning that comes from the journey. So many of us consider reaching the terminus as the number one goal of a thru hike, and if we don't meet that goal, then we have failed. But is walking from one arbitrary line in the dirt to another arbitrary line in the dirt actually our "why"? What if you reach the terminus and still haven't fulfilled your original reasons for being here? What if you didn't meet your goals because you made some decisions along the way for someone else or just to get to that arbitrary line? When you are hiking alone, it is relatively easy to make your own decisions, but when you hike with others, managing everyone's "why" without compromise becomes complicated.
I had initially believed that this hike would be quite solitary and that I would spend the majority of the trail alone. Then, in the train station on my way to the northern terminus, I met a fellow hiker and we teamed up for our permit through Glacier National Park. This began a nearly 1,000-mile partnership that was highly rewarding but not without its challenges. We have different hiking styles and different speeds, different needs for space/solitude and social interaction, and different mileage expectations. We click well, have fantastic conversation, push each other in different ways, and share town time and tasks effectively. It was wonderful to share the journey with someone rather than experience it alone, to share both the joys and the occasional misery of thru hiking. Sometimes, however, the decision to keep hiking together felt like it sacrificed something- space, miles, social interaction, recuperation. Additional hikers joined our duo, further pushing our individual limits.
When I got off trail to visit a friend for a few days, my hiking partner hiked on. I had to examine my goals -my "why"- for this trail when I returned. Did I want to hike alone? Did I want to push hard and do big miles for weeks to catch up? The answer to both of these questions was no. I feel as though my journey and the people I meet while on it are more important than the miles themselves, so I opted to skip ahead to catch up. Simultaneously, my hiking partner had made the decision that solitude and space were a priority for their hike and communicated that they wanted to hike alone for a while. This was hard to hear, but we both were making decisions to hike our own hikes, even if they were incompatible with each other.
I have now hiked 450 trail miles alone and although it has occasionally been lonely, I feel like I have been much more in charge of my own hike, for better or worse. I went back and did the miles I had skipped, pushed my body in the basin, and took time off to recover. I feel good knowing that I am truly hiking my own hike and that my needs and goals are no longer causing anyone else to compromise on their hike. Sometimes hiking your own hike is not what you expect it to be and making the decision to do so can be tough, especially when those decisions impact other people. I have been catching up to my old hiking partner and we have been checking in with each other along the way. I am looking forward to seeing them again and to making sure that we both continue to hike our own hikes, whatever they may be.