Thru-Hiking, or Long-distance Hiking – an Introduction

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The silence was abruptly disturbed by the hissing of the flames as Coen fired up the gas stove to prepare breakfast. This was the sign to wriggle out of my comfy sleeping bag and get dressed. I packed away the sleeping bags and mattresses, and threw all the luggage out of the tent, separating it into two piles: one for Coen and one for me.

I stepped outside, into a world of soft-tinged skies and the Ceramic Gulf. Smooth as glass, the waterway stretched in front of our tent, separating our wild camp on the Datça Peninsula from the Bozburun Peninsula, where we had hiked our first 100 miles.

Silence returned as Coen turned off the stove, scooped the oatmeal with raisins and cinnamon into bowls and handed me mine. We took in a daily moment of peaceful delight as we sipped our tea amidst the gorgeous countryside of forested mountains, clear-blue waterways, and pebbled beaches of Southwestern Turkey.

Our mornings had a blissful structure that required no thinking and no discussion. It had evolved over our thru-hikes in South Korea (465 miles) and Jordan (400 miles) and we now followed the ritual on the automatic pilot, both lost in our thoughts.

On this trip, the morning ritual would repeat itself 46 times.

This was not a weekend hike or a short vacation trip when we pitched our tent in a campground and went for day hikes; we were on yet another thru-hike. In the United States, thru-hiking, or long-distance hiking, is likely to conjure up images of the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, or the Continental Divide (hike all three and you’re awarded the triple crown).

However, throughout the world you will find long-distance trails (suggestions are at the end of the article) and a number of them are in Turkey, among which the 530-mile-long Carian Trail.

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What is Thru-Hiking?

While you can walk parts of any long-distance trail for a day, a weekend, a week, or just a particular section, thru-hiking essentially means that you walk from beginning to end in one go. While you’ll most likely take rest days in between you’re are not breaking your hike up in, say, section A this year and section B next year.

A long-distance trail may vary from a few hundred to thousands of miles and completing it may take from a few weeks to a couple of months. Many people traverse vast lengths of wilderness interspersed with stretches through urban areas, farmlands, bucolic settings, and/or historically and culturally rich areas. Long-distance hikes are divided into sections that often end at a point where you can get off the trail to stock up on supplies in a nearby village or town.

Being in new surroundings every day, getting otherwise self-evident aspects of life organized can be time-consuming — where you eat, get your food, find water and a (safe) place to sleep? At times these otherwise simple tasks are tiring, annoying, or eating up time that you’d rather spend hiking. Yet, simultaneously, they enrich your trip.

Filtering your water directly from a stream, pitching your tent under the canopy of oaks or walnut trees, meeting local people as they help you find a grocery store or the laundromat — what’s there not to like about that?

Recommended Books on Hiking

(click on the images to look inside)

The Land Beyond: A Thousand Miles on Foot through the Heart of the Middle East – Leon McCaron

Woman in the Wilderness – Miriam Lancewood

On the Narrow Road to the Deep North – Lesley Downer

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Why Go on a Long-distance Hike

Why put yourself through the strain of daily hiking many miles, and that for weeks or months on end, you may ask? Many of us pass our days frantically either in front of or away from the screen, generally finding it difficult to quiet down. Going on a long-distance hike offers the ultimate opportunity to slow down, to be off the grid, and focus on today and now.

Thru-hiking takes you to the wilderness for longer periods of time, allowing you to (re) connect with Mother Nature and find that sense of tranquility again within you, which is something most of us could use more of in our lives.

Quiet time for me as a writer means being away from my laptop. Not having that daily internet connection with all its social media interactions is incredibly liberating. Often we don’t even realize how tied up we are in our work we are until we’re totally away from it. To be away from work for such a time is a privilege for most of us but yes, a big trip like this does require planning and saving. However, I find a long-distance hike more than worth all the extra work and effort I have to put in beforehand as well as afterward.

As days grow into weeks and you start to forget what Facebook and Instagram look like (or how your boss’s instructions and deadlines sound), something happens to your senses and in your head. Colors become more profound, you become more tuned to the sounds of birds, insects, the wind and rustling of leaves. The never-ending to-do lists fade from your brains, allowing you to take in all the details of your surroundings, intensely and in full awareness.

Getting Fit or Fitter

During a long-distance hike, walking is the main activity of the day; after all, you have distances to cover! The additional challenge is carrying all your (camping) gear. Our mind may be ready for the trail but that doesn’t mean our bodies are up for the challenge. During the first ten days we regularly curse ourselves as the jagged stones jab into the soles of our feet. Our shoulders cry out that the backpack is too heavy, our knees get wobbly and we exclaim we should have gotten in shape beforehand.

Fortunately, we are among the lucky ones who are not prone to blisters — for all three hikes I bought new shoes and had no problem wearing them carrying 20+ pounds on my back.

This morning, as I was wriggling myself out of the sleeping bag and tent, I noticed my legs weren’t as stiff as before nor did my feet soles bother me much anymore. I smiled; I knew I was amidst that progress of becoming a fitter hiker. Soon our mileage would increase with little effort and the soreness would become a thing of the past.

My muscles were getting stronger, I adapted more easily to the high temperatures, I no longer felt as exhausted. On the contrary, I felt great! And I promised myself to stay this fit after the thru-hike, only to break that promise on my return when I got caught up in daily life again but hey, it felt good while it lasted.

Recommended Books on Hiking

(click on the images to look inside)

Wild by Nature: From Siberia to Australia, Three Years Alone in the Wilderness on Foot

Just a Little Run Around the World: 5 Years, 3 Packs of Wolves and 53 Pairs of Shoes

Tracks, by Robyn Davidson

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Enjoy the Thru-Hike

So, thru-hiking basically means being away from work for a long period of time, getting fit while enjoying Mother Nature’s majesty. But then, to make it even more interesting we add something else to the mix: history and culture. To us the combination of all these elements is key to a successful thru-hike.

In South Korea we hiked past the remains of the peninsula’s first kingdoms and stopped at monuments that pay tribute to the Korean War. There are Buddhist temples in the Korean mountains and having a meal there or staying there was part of hiking the 465-mile Baekdu-Daegan Mountain Ridge. On the Jordan Trail we passed biblical places, entered the famous ruins of Petra via the backdoor and drank tea with Bedouins in the Wadi Rum desert. Traversing a region on foot allows you to dig deep, feel the vibes intensely, be connected, and learn about cultures. 

The Carian Trail in Southwestern Turkey had it all! The paths snake through mountains and along the coast, regularly meandering through villages where elderly men gather in teahouses to catch up on gossip and drink lots of tea. Throughout the trail locals invited us to share a meal or to spend the night at their home. Not speaking any Turkish we communicated with hands and feet, or used the 21st-century technique: Google Translate.

Baekdu-Daegan, South Korea

The hike leads to the remains of ancient civilizations of the Greek and the Romans, the Persians, and the Carians. The ruins of larger ancient settlements have become tourist sites but it was just as enticing to roam around thousands of individual ruins that lay scattered throughout the landscape, their stories often lost in time. 

It was February and in southwestern Turkey nature had exploded into a profusion of wildflowers, bright yellow, soft blue, red poppies, white daisies. The almond trees were celebrating spring with soft pinkish flowers that attracted bees by the zillion, their humming a perfect concert for springtime and I felt their joy at finding such rich harvests. As I sipped my tea on that morning along the Ceramic Gulf and looked out over the blue water, I felt the richest person on earth.

Practical Information

What to bring depends on too many aspects (climate/distance/geography/season) and, most importantly, personal preference to discuss here. Having said that, let us share one tip which is good to keep in mind no matter where or how long you hike or what you gear: minimize weight as much as possible.

When hiking weeks or months on end, weight counts, including that fourth set of underwear, heavy torch, or that leather-bound dairy you love so much. Every ounce in your backpack starts feeling like a pound if you walk long enough. The weight you carry can make a difference of your hike being a joyful experience or exhausting drudgery, of hiking blissfully or having to cut your hike short because of an injury. You don’t want to be carrying a Bill-Bryson-sized backpack as he did on the Appalachian Trail (read the funny account of his hike in Walk in the Woods).

Tip #1 – the Backpack

At the foundation of all your gear is your backpack. The smaller, the less stuff you will bring. It requires you to sift again and again until only the essentials fit. A bonus: if you carry little weight, the backpack itself doesn’t need to be of heavy material. Sturdy yes; bombproof no. As such we have become fans of using the frameless Montane backpacks (the 32-liter Medusa and the new 44-liter Trailblazer; both well under 35oz), but more brands offer frameless backpacks.

Tip #2 – Shoes

Feet that hurt are destroying your hike. It took me some time to figure out, but the trick was wearing shoes being wide in the front. Most shoes, particularly women hiking shoes, narrow down in the front, and this was causing me sore toes and ultimately feet. So, wide shoes have become key to us. For men easier to find, for women we only know of Keens. Other things to consider:

Originally published in OutdoorX4 Magazine

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2 thoughts on “Thru-Hiking, or Long-distance Hiking – an Introduction”

  1. I was so inspired by the article that I hiked down to a fast-food restaurant and got a burger and French fries. 🙂
    No, I didn’t.
    As always, your articles are a delight to read. Of course, the photos are outstanding.
    I really like the one of Karin-Marijke crossing the stream. It’s not a scene I’d expect to see in South Korea.
    The rock cairns made an interesting photo. I know it has more meaning, but it reminded me of a town meeting with stone faced members. Or it could be a gathering of the stone people on the planet Z4TF.

    Reply
    • On a thru-hike you need breaks with French fries (and maybe burgers, but I never liked them) 🙂 This time in Nepal no such thing though, just 4 weeks of dal bhat – rice and lentils… I LOVE rice, want to eat it every day but after six months (india/nepal) with lots of dal bhat I’m ready for some Dutch potatoes and kale! 🙂

      Reply

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