View Full Version : Thru-hike transformation - Does age make a difference?

Just Jeff
03-04-2006, 21:15
Everyone talks about the changes that a thru-hike causes. Does age make a difference in how much or what kind of transformation a thru-hike generally has on a hiker? Will an 18 year old feel the impact more than a 65 year old? If not more of an impact, will an 18 year old have a different kind of transformation than a 65 year old?

Just curious.

(The fine print - Please don't let this degrade into guns, dogs, Lekis, pot, hammocks, etc. unless it deals directly with the transformation. I understand that everyone will have a different hike and some people will feel it more than others as individuals. I'm talking about general trends. I understand that some folks won't have any kind of transformation. I don't care if it's a purist, a yellow-blazer, or Bill Bryson - as long as it's a thru attempt and some kind of transformation took place, that's what I want to talk about. And no stupid jokes about Autobots and Decepticons. Please.)

03-04-2006, 21:41
I'm not sure being older automatically makes you wiser or more introspective, so I think it can't have very much to do with age, but just which people stop to reflect on their hike.

ok, so an Autobot and Decepticon go into a bar.....

Just Jeff
03-05-2006, 01:48
I'm not sure being older automatically makes you wiser or more introspective

Agreed. That's only one aspect of what I was thinking. Do younger hikers tend to party in towns more than older ones, for example? That may impact the kind of transformation they experience. Just thinking out loud. I'm sure there are many types of transformations for all ages...that's what I was asking.

And btw - I only used 18 and 65 as random ages of two specific groups of hikers...recently graduated and recently retired. Y'all feel free to comment on any other ages as appropriate.

ok, so an Autobot and Decepticon go into a bar.....

Just stop. :D

Old Hillwalker
03-05-2006, 12:11
I really hope that this thread gets some valid responses. Living up in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, I hike a lot winter and summer. I hope to attempt my thru-hike in two years when I'm 68. I say attempt, mostly due to not knowing how my physical self will stand up to the stress.

03-05-2006, 12:53
I think that it doesn't matter how old or wise we are. I feel as if we are here in this world to learn lessons. When we finish understanding one lesson we move on to another. The lessons never stop coming. The same lesson will come over and over again until we get it. (notice that some always have the same problems plaguing them whether it's their health, relationships or finances, etc.)

The trail will hold much for people of all ages. Obviously the older you are the more experiences you have had and the wiser you could be. Some people refuse to look inside at themselves and fight change so maybe one older person might not be as far advanced in finding themselves as a younger person who is searching.

The trail will provide all we need to learn as long as we let it happen and welcome the opportunities for us all to learn, young or old. I myself can't wait to get out on trail and see all that is waiting for me. Just another week or two and I am off!!! Barbie

03-05-2006, 19:28
My guess is that the changes depend on the hiker more than the age. The just graduateds (18 or 22) may be looking for a direction to their lives, or may be just looking for an adventure. The just retireds (55-65-70) may be out for a life-reflection. Or may be just looking for an adventure.

Then you have mid-lifers, like me (and maybe Barbie, or maybe not), who are at a crossroads in life and are trying to determine the next direction. Or who are merely trying to fulfill a life-long dream. That was my primary goal when I hiked. Sure, I was hoping for some crystal clear answers to the future, but I wasn't really expecting any.

My life changed after the Trail, although I don't want to claim a cause-and-effect relationship. Change in career (actually, a return to one abandoned a decade before), up and moved part way across the country within two years (a result as much of local economics as any life-change: spouse lost her job).

Most people, I think, get out of the Trail what they want, regardless of age. If it a major life-change, it happens. If it is just a break from the status quo, well that happens, too. I believe, however, that for many the change begins before, when they commit to attempting a thru-hike, rather than as a result of a 2100+ mile walk.

Like Hillwalker, I'd like to see some more responses, particularly from those who feel that their lives were fundamentally altered by their experiences on the AT.


03-05-2006, 21:22
I was 66 years old when I did my thru. How it has changed my life is the AT has become a part of it. I will always remember the folks I met and the places I saw. In my lifetime it has become one of the events of life that I'm most proud of.
A young person probably looks at a thru-hike as just another thing that they did while growing up.:-?

03-05-2006, 22:08
Everyone talks about the changes that a thru-hike causes. Does age make a difference in how much or what kind of transformation a thru-hike generally has on a hiker? Will an 18 year old feel the impact more than a 65 year old? If not more of an impact, will an 18 year old have a different kind of transformation than a 65 year old?
Just curious. ...
Well, we are all different. I had lived a long and complex life before retiring, somewhat unexpectedly, and hiking two years later. I observed my 64th birthday three weeks iafter my April 15 start for my hike.

I knew myself pretty well, by that time. But my 2,000 mile walk in 1993 certainly changed my life thereafter. I became more active in the trail, more active in land conservation, and more active in conservation and environmental protection in general.

For all practical purposes, trails have dominated my activities since leaving Katahdin on October 16, 1993.

I've reinvigorated my hometown land trust, increased my activities for MATC, served on a governor;s Land Acquistion Advisory Committee, been active in the Northern Forest Alliance, and become a founding director of the Maine Appalachian Trail Land Trust.

And, of course, I spend much of my days opposing an industrial complex of 410-foot wind turbines on rountains across a narrow valley between the trail and Redington and Black Nubble moutains.

Weary www.matlt.org

03-05-2006, 22:27
I think it has more to do with "how you're wired" than your age. I was 53 when I started at Springer in 2003. I had dreamed of hiking the AT since I was a youth Boy Scout back in the 50's & 60's. It meant a great deal to me that I got my opportunity to live my dream in 2003. Maybe it was the number of years I had looked forward to it ...don't know. But I can tell you that I hiked with many people several years younger than I who had decided somewhat on the spur of the moment to hike the trail and it didn't seem to have the same meaning.

For some I think is is an instant thing and for others it takes years to sink in. But I truly don't think that age is the dividing line.


The Hog
03-06-2006, 08:17
Towards the end of my thruhike, I was in a group of six. The oldest (who was 47), said, "For most of you [younger hikers], this is just a trip. For me, this is my life."

He had been looking forward to the trek for most of his adult life, and this was his lifetime dream come true. He knew that the rest of us had big plans for other trips after the A.T., so it looked like our A.T. thru hikes would be just one trip amongst many.

But so far, it hasn't turned out that way. Twenty-two years after our A.T. thru hike, none of us has attempted another trip of this magnitude.

The A.T. thru hike has, so far, turned out to be THE trip of a lifetime for all of us.

But, stay tuned. I'm section hiking the CDT, and, if all goes according to plan, will thru hike the PCT in 2010.

03-06-2006, 08:58
I find The Hog's comments very interesting. I haven't thru-hiked yet, but I have done a lot of other complicated things, including some extended adventures overseas, so I don't anticipate that, on the thru-hike, I'll find out a lot about myself that I don't already know. However, taking six months away from my family (husband and now-grown-up kids) is a BIG change for me. In the back of my mind, in that hazy area full of pipe dreams of future adventures, I have a bunch of other long-distance hiking planned. So the questions I ask of myself before the AT thru-hike attempt are 1) Can I stick with a hike for that long or will I be too weak/fragile/bored/lonely...? 2) If I do make it, will I want to do it again on another trail?

03-06-2006, 11:28
I first saw the AT at age 10 or so, that little stretch that passes the tower atop Cligman's dome in the Smokies. BUT I didnt actually get to hike on it till I was 40, & then only a few miles (Springer to Dick's Creek Gap) I was profoundly changed. This is just a guess, & there is no way to ever tell, but I think that had I been able to hike at 18, I would have been changed, but not as noticable. AND, I have now hiked the southern 400 miles, & have changed even more. Do I change more as I age? Don't know. It has taken me more than 11 years to get this far ($$$, time off, family stuff, etc) so would those changes have happened without my 4 trips on the AT? Again, I don't know, but I think the most profound thing in my life has been my hikes on the AT. Well, after getting married & having the little tax deductions.

BTW: I tried to get my dad to let me go at age 10. I still think I would have made it!!!!! Times were a bit different in 1964.


03-06-2006, 11:57
I agree that any changes will depend largely on the individual hiker and where they are in their life, regardless of age. I have not thru-hiked but have done several month long bicycle trips. At a time of a career change, I spent 5 months traveling across the country and throughout the northwest. That was a life-changing trip. My focus changed from "Reach the goal" to "Enjoy the journey". You know, live in the moment. It's not so much about where you are going as it is about where you are.

I must admit I lost some of that perspective over the years. Last summer, after retiring, I spent several months mountain biking from border to border through the Rockies. It was a fantastic adventure. Not life changing, but it did reaffirm the things I had learned earlier.

Now I hope to hike the 1700+ miles of the AT I have not yet done. Quite possibly, I'll do this in one trip. I don't anticipate it to be majorly life-changing, but I do hope to continue to grow and learn. I see it as another opportunity to do what I dearly love, which is to live outside in beautiful places.

03-06-2006, 12:25
I think experience is more important than age...you know..."It's not the years, it's the mileage."

The more life has kicked you around, the more experience you've got to work with and the more the Trail has a chance ot work On. This is why many people transitioning from one life stage or situation to another gravitate toward the Trail. Divorces, retirements, career changes, deaths, etc. all carry a lot of emotional baggage and a long hike can be a pilgrimage to settle that stuff, assimilate some of the lessons, and move on.