Hike Your Own Hike (HYOH) is an overall strategy or philosophy for trail success and happiness. It’s imperative you master the concept early and remind yourself of it often.
Everyone hikes for slightly different reasons and everyone hikes in slightly different ways. For example, I am a stronger overall hiker than my husband, but MAN can he crank it going uphill! I realized long ago that I can’t keep up, but who cares? Although backpacking can very much be a social activity, when it comes down to it – it’s just you and the trail. No one talks on a steep uphill grade anyway – you’re all too busy huffing and puffing!
When I try to force my husband to hike with me, I end up feeling guilty and try to hike too fast, and he ends up hiking so slowly (from his point of view, of course) that it actually makes the hill MORE difficult for him. No one is happy (except the dog, who prefers we stick together)!
If you are backpacking with more than just yourself over the course of more than one day, there is no way you will stay exactly together the entire time. And you know what? You won’t want to. HYOH! You’ll run out of things to talk about anyhow and it will frustrate you (or even sabotage your trip) if you try to always hike the same way and pace as everyone else in your group.
If you are separated at times, each of you will experience something different along the trail, and then you can spend time telling each other your experiences at the end of the day around a campfire. Someone saw a beautiful bald eagle. Another person tells a story about mistaking a tree stump for a bear and having a mini “freak out”. It’s fun to have slightly different experiences on the same trail! I once rolled my ankle and fell when my two hiking partners were well behind me. Thanks to my hiking poles, I caught myself and didn’t get injured, but down I went anyhow. The 40lb pack and gravity worked against me and I landed half on my back. If you are envisioning a turtle, you are correct! I was momentarily stuck, half on my back, rolling from side to side in an effort to create enough momentum to spring back to my feet. No one saw it, thankfully, but it made for a great story and spirited reenactment over lunch!
If you’re slower on the downhill sections, don’t fret! If you try to go too fast, you’ll likely strain a muscle or start feeling the dreaded knee pain. Better to go at your own pace and enjoy yourself. Nothing kills backpacking quicker than an overuse injury! I once had to sell my hiking poles to a fellow backpacker with ongoing knee pain far from civilization – he had been going too fast on the steep, long downhill sections in an attempt to keep up with his friend (and he probably hadn’t trained enough, either).
If you are on a lengthy backpacking trip, it’s OK to hike on your own for longer periods of time, perhaps even a few miles or more than an hour. But make sure your entire group knows and agrees on the “rules” up front. Consider things like:
- When should the lead hiker in your group start looking for a spot for lunch?
- On a lengthy up or down section, will the lead person stop at the very top or bottom, or somewhere in the middle?
- Where is the pre-planned place to make camp for the night and how many miles is it from where you started?
- How will you handle trail junctions safely to make sure no one makes a wrong turn? One way is to have the entire group meet at every trail junction and no one moves on until everyone is accounted for. Or you can “leapfrog” it: the lead person waits for the second person at a trail junction. Once the second person gets there, the lead person can continue on and now it’s the second person’s job to wait for the third person. Once the third person arrives, the second person can leave, and so on.
- What’s the plan if someone does get separated and makes a wrong turn? Always best to avoid that in the first place, but you do need an agreed-upon plan. Make sure everyone has their own map and knows the route.
If you need to snack frequently, don’t wait for the others in your group to stop for lunch. Snack when you need to. If you happen to be hiking alongside someone, don’t hesitate to ask them to stop with you – it’s a long day with nothing else to do but hike, they won’t mind stopping for a bit.
One last tip – don’t typecast yourself. Just because you are in the lead one day does not mean you will be in the lead the next day. And just because you were the “slow poke” before lunch doesn’t mean the same will be true after a hearty meal (and perhaps a Snickers bar).
HYOH is a mantra to live by every day while backpacking. You will thank yourself and it will provide for a much more enjoyable experience for you and those around you.
“Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit.“ – Edward Abbey