When I started travelling in the backcountry I was fortunate to have my uncle, the original Suburban Mountaineer, be my mentor when I was only eleven. Having a mentor like my uncle was an advantage because of all the trails he’d covered and his talent for sharing lessons like I was a buddy rather than a nephew.
As I have noticed from ads at the local outfitter around here in Peaklessburg, a lot of people new to hiking learn how to be prepared for a day hike or an overnight trip through instruction at an Eastern Mountain Sports, REI or Erehwon, for example. Despite the way I learned, a lot of people don’t just go hiking. They prepare — as they ought to.
While we all need to know the Ten Essentials, how to navigate, how to tend to blisters, and how to keep our food and ourselves safe, which can be taught in the classroom, getting the feel of a hike — especially a long one — can only be gained truly by experience. I always recommend new hikers read A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson. His thoughts and reactions of the trail are true. I also recommend Jeff Alt’s A Walk for Sunshine. Both are about hiking the Appalachian Trail. Regardless of whether a new hiker plans to do a through hike, the lessons and experiences from a long hike can be analogous to our shorter hikes.
Author and Thru-Hiker Jeff Alt has done a number of slide shows, particularly in Shenandoah National Park, where he shares pictures and his stories from his hike. He has also come out with a DVD of the slide shows, A Walk for Sunshine Appalachian Trail Show. It is definitely something I would have enjoyed watching when I was just getting into hiking; maybe I would have shared something with my uncle.