Bike touring and AT hiking compared

x-post from r/bicycletouring

I’ve been on two bike tours – 600k and 1000k, nothing fancy. Earlier this summer I decided to hike on the AT. I made it 1000k, over the course of about six weeks. Here’s my thoughts on how long-distance hiking compares with bike touring.

HIKING!

-My favorite part about long-distance hiking is that you rarely have to worry about getting hit by a car. This is my #1 fear on tour. Also #2 and #3 fear. Sure on the trail there are the occasional road crossing, but they’re all quick and safe. (Except Wind Gap, PA. Fuck that road crossing so hard. But all the others were great!)

-A hiker never has to worry about riding during rush hour, or avoiding certain roads that will be more heavily traveled. On the AT in particular, you just go.

-In general, it’s just as safe to hike in the rain as it is in the clear, and just as safe to hike by day as it is by night. And if you’re night-hiking and your lamp dies… you just shrug and stop and set up camp.

-It’s kind of cool to know that you’re taking the same trail as a bunch of other people. It’s a shared experience. Maybe you get this same feel when you take an Adventure Cycling route; all my bike tours were self-planned, so I don’t know.

-On bike tour I didn’t meet a whole lot of other people. I never met a single other tourist. But on the AT I met one or two new hikers per day (and I was hiking in a very quiet season). I also met a lot of day-hikers – several of whom gave me a beer! And even more importantly, some hikers I met day after day. Like, I was on the trail less than two months, but I’m gonna be friends with a few of those people for the rest of my damn life.

-On tour I was self-conscious about being a smelly mess everywhere, particularly stores and restaurants. On the AT, every place nearby is used to hikers – most trail towns even make their whole livelihood off of our smelly butts. No trouble at all.

-When you’re long-distance hiking, you basically never have to worry about where you’re going to camp. Any moment of any day, you can stop, drop your backpack, and set up camp. One of the hardest parts of touring, for me, was finding good places to stealth camp. On the AT, it’s basically the easiest thing in the world.

-Every few miles of the AT there’s a shelter. Some are within a mile of each other; I think the average is about 5 miles (~2 hours’ hike). They have sleeping-space. Almost all of them have a water source, a privy, a firepit. A lot of them have bear boxes or poles, clotheslines, and even showers. And you can just show up to any one of them, drop your stuff, and fall asleep – it’s kind of magical, really.

-On tour I averaged a century a day. On the AT, even after a month when I was getting my trail legs, I was still averaging 18-20. I was afraid it would seem slow. Honestly, it felt just as fast – because it isn’t about the distance, it’s (for me) about knowing that I gave my all every day.

-Hiking with poles engages your upper body a lot more. You’d probably have to bike /without/ handlebars to get the same thing from biking.

-You never have to lock up your bike. Most stores in a trail town have a spot for hikers to leave their bags. Theft at shelters is basically unheard of.

-Hiker Boxes. <3

-If you need a hitch: it’s harder to get to a road to hitch a ride, of course, but once you’re there it’s much easier to hitch when you don’t have a bicycle with you!

-The trail maps (and GPS apps!) for the AT are insane.

BIKING!

-On the AT, you don’t get the fun of planning your route. Which is something I really love.

-It’s cool how you’re on the same trail as everyone else, but on the other hand you’re never going to discover something new. And a lot of the trail is super boring. (Granted, I’ve never toured in the midwest.)

-This is kind of true on any trail: you’re not really supposed to break your own trail, forge your own path. 99% of the time, you are just going north (or south), and that’s all.

-On the AT, a lot of the mountains you climb don’t have a lot of payoff. A lot of stretches of hiking are super boring, sometimes for days on end. And the northern half of Pennsylvania is rocky in a way which is really unbelievably hard on your feet, 0/10 would not hike again everrr.

-If you need something on the trail, you will get to it when you get to it. On a bike I went through or near a town all the time – at least once a day, sometimes ten times a day. On the trail, if you need a food or a thing, you probably need to hike several days until you’re at the next town. Fortunately the trail is pretty good about hitting a trail every ~5 days, so it’s not too hard – but it requires logistical planning.

-The bad news is, you will be exercising 12 hours a day while wearing a backpack. The good news is, hiking backpacks tend to be super efficient about sweat (a lot of people wear Osprey “AG” packs – amazing). The good news for me was, I even tour with a backpack, so I was already used to it! The bad news is, my hiking backpack was an ultralight with very little sweat mitigation – which was >:|

-Weight of Stuff matters way more on trail than it does on road. Not only does it reduce your speed/increase your exertion… but you have to physically carry it on your shoulders. This creates the infamous “hiker hobble.” It is not the most pleasant thing.

-On a bike, going up sucks, but going down is easy. On the trail, going down just sucks a different kind of suck. (Now, I have bad knees, so I felt it faster. But after a while everyone on the trail has bad knees)

-When you’re hiking, there’s no ambient wind to cool you down.

-A lot of hiking has you going through tick-infested grasses. You’re also a much easier target for mosquitoes.

-You’re also more likely to hike into a bear than bike into one. That being said, bears are fraidycats and it’s not a big deal. Also I did once have to stop my bike to let a moose cross the road.

-Google Maps for roads is still more insane than any trail map.

SIMILARITIES

Honestly, most things. Because these things I outlined are all important, but 99% of either activity is going, going foward, keeping going, and getting there. And the other 1% is mostly gear shopping. So at the end of the day, they really are mostly the same. Which, really, I rather like.

FINAL THOUGHT

I think I should take an offroad bike tour. I think this might be a thing that I would like.

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~ by davekov on 28 September 2017.

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