The prospect of carrying a heavy pack for eighteen straight days through hills and valleys, prairie and roadside, all under the summer sun, is a daunting one. So, I have to ask myself—“Physically, have I had the kinds of experiences that lead me to believe I can complete the proposed trip?” And honestly I have to answer, “Nothing quite like this…”
When I think back on the majority of my hiking and camping experiences I want to say that I have a fair amount of experience doing activities along the lines of what we are attempting with this hike across North Dakota. But as I’ve gotten more serious in thinking about what a trip like this is going to be like, it’s occurred to me that most of those experiences aren’t exactly relevant. Most of them include gearing up the day of, driving out to a park or reserve of some kind, spending the majority of the day hiking and looking around, setting up camp, sleeping, and then getting up and going home. Obviously, this is not that kind of trip. This trip involves getting up, packing up, hiking, resting, hiking, setting up camp, sleeping, getting up, finding time to eat in-between, and repeating that routine eighteen (or so) consecutive times. Doing that, say, five times in a row would be a significant challenge, eighteen times will certainly exhaust us.
Now, most everyone has been on a day-hike. I’ve done a ton of them. Honestly, at least a hundred. They are a fun, healthy way to get out of the house, exercise, and check out nature. But I suspect that when it comes to hiking for more than one day in a row, fewer of us have gone the distance. And, as much as I’d like to cite my experience, I can only think of one trip where I for more than 3 days (1/6 of the proposed trip); two years ago I went on an eight day backpacking trip on the ‘North Shore’ of Lake Superior with Jeremy (also a member of this expedition.) I can safely say that that was a rigorous trip, and seeing as this upcoming trip will be twice as long, I might have reason to be worried. After all, even if one can cope with the sheer physical demands of the trip, there’s always the additional risks of getting sick, breaking or spraining a limb, getting severe blisters, getting lost, losing appetite, losing motivation, and (heaven forbid) having animals interfere. Many of the things in this list did happen to us on the Superior trip.
For some (perhaps foolish) reason, I’m not too worried. And neither, I think, are my cohorts. Maybe it’s because the prospects of adventure and achievement have, so far, masked the need to carefully think through what lies before us. Maybe we’re better off not worrying too much about what can go wrong. Either way, by my estimation it seems that this trip is going to take a combination of idealistic adventurousness, reasoned concern, and probably even flat-out stubbornness to get us started and get us to the end. I hope we will be willing and able to give it. In some ways, it already seems to late to turn back (and I like that.)