Subscribe to the Show
Get the latest show each week with FREE access to TRANSCRIPTS. You'll also get FREE YOGA, TAI CHI, and MEDITATION resources with the Urban Monk Reboot.
Between undergrad and graduate school, Robert Moor took 5 months to hike the Appalachian Trail. This inspired him to write On Trails: An Exploration, where he discusses trails of all sizes, from ant trails to hiking trails, ancient to modern.
Through-hiking while hunting and gathering has proven to be essentially impossible for the modern person. With the large amount of calories spent while hiking 20 miles per day, people need a good amount of calories at-the-ready. Robert suggests dehydrating a lot of various foods ahead of time and shipping packages to be picked up at post offices along the way. Community and teamwork is often also a requirement as hiking can be isolating and challenging. He recommends getting pack weight as low as possible and prioritizing light weight shoes over waterproof.
Leave No Trace
With movies and books about people hiking the Pacific Crest, John Muir and Appalachian trails, more and more people are on the trails. This is putting strain on the natural environment, leading to a need for built areas, which feels less natural. A lot of people don’t like the experience of things like built campsites and outhouses, but it’s what’s needed to reduce the hiker footprint.
Tech On the Trail
With apps for flora and fauna identification, GPS, instagram updates, note-taking, etc. people often want to bring their technological devices on the trail. Does this distract from the experience? Tune in to hear discussion on the tech topic, how a hiking trip can be an aid for people whose lives are in transition, and other takeaways.
Does nature and wilderness have ALL the answers? Probably not. But after hearing Robert’s story, disconnecting from the world, recording your thoughts, and bringing them back home to the modern world WILL make you a more centered, focused, and peaceful person. Finding yourself is a step by step process, why not take those steps on trails?
– Hey, welcome back to the Urban Monk, I’m Pedram Shojai here, talkin’ about one of my favorite subjects in the world, which is hiking. In particular, we’re talking about hiking long long miles, and really spend a lot of time back in the back country. I did a fair amount, I mean, I consider the High Sierra as my church, if you will. I did a fair amount of backpacking on an annual basis before I had kids. The last kinda big trip I took was the John Muir Trail, back in 2012, in the filming of the Origins movie. We ended up doing it in just over two weeks. It’s a couple hundred miles in two weeks. Just about 16 miles a day, with a bunch of camera gear and a bunch of stuff. No, it wasn’t fun, but it was beautiful. There’s a whole culture, right? There’s the John Muir Trail, which is up here, but then there’s the Pacific Crest Trail, which the John Muir Trail is a part of, that runs, basically it’s from Mexico to Canada. The other famous one in America is the Appalachian Trail. My guest today, Robert Moor, basically took off after grad school, and got to do the five month Appalachian Trail. I’ve met a lot of people that have done these types of adventures, and I felt like it was appropriate to bring someone who can speak about it onto the show, to really contextualize what life can be like. Five months from now, you’re gonna be five months older either way, or you could decide to go hike the Appalachian Trail, and have a life-changing experience that will always be with you. Let’s have an adventure. Without further ado, Robert, welcome to the show.
– Thanks so much for having me.
– Yeah, so what drove you? You’re in Brooklyn. You’d finished grad school, and then suddenly you’re like, yo, you know what? I’m gonna go do this thing.
– Yeah, I’d actually finished undergrad. It was in between undergrad and grad school. I’d gotten into the grad school, but I had this break, this really neat break, because I knew I had to be at school in September. I was working freelance job for this subsidiary magazine of National Geographic, it was a step above temp work really. I didn’t have a whole lot holding me down, holding me back, and I knew that if I didn’t take this opportunity, once I got into the flow of grad school and then hopefully out of grad school, you know, getting a job, I would be in that rat maze of life, and it would be harder to take this break. So I saw my little glimpse of sunlight and I took it.
– Good for you. We were talking about this before the show started, is you gotta have some sort of interlude in life. You don’t just say, “Hey boss, I’ll be back in five months.” That’s not how reality usually works, in the working environment. People do take sabbaticals, there are opportunities to do so. That pause between undergrad and grad, that’s the time to do it. Career pauses, it’s like I’ve finished this job, I’m moving to the next one, I need some time. What is it about taking five months to hike, that’s transformative?
– I think with the Appalachian Trail in particular, it’s always had a history of people doing it, as a way to take a step back from life, from their conditioned life at home, and to instead go out and reassess things. So the very first guy who hikes the Appalachian Trail was a guy by the name of Earl Shaffer, who’d come back from the war. He was actually trying to, I think as he calls it, walk off the war. That’s something you see a lot. People returning home from Iraq or Afghanistan, who have some things they need to sort through, and maybe they don’t wanna go through traditional therapy, and they have all these skills, right? They can hold a pack for, 20 miles a day, and that’s not something that’s really valued when you get back home. You see a lot of soldiers, you see a lot of college graduates who are kind of lost, you see a lot of people who’ve just gotten divorced, or just retired. You see a lot of people in their 60s out there, who are all at the point in their life where they’re thinking, what’s next? It’s something I look into a lot in my book is, what the wilderness symbolizes for us, as a space that’s separate from the civilized, cultured, however you wanna call it, the world of human, that human hands have shaped. The wilderness has always been defined as the out there. The beyond the fence. In that space, a lot of things can take place. A lot of religious cults are founded out in the woods. People have orgies and do drugs and bury bodies, all sorts of stuff happens out there. It’s a free, unconstrained space for good or ill. One of the things that’s happened out there, over the last three, 400 years in Europe and the United States especially, and Canada, is people have made it into this kind of wilderness temple, or place that we go to commune with nature, and to re-examine ourselves. There’s this secular spirituality to be found out there. For some people, it’s not secular at all, it’s highly religious. You meet a lot of Evangelicals out on the trail as well.
– That’s interesting. So just to kinda set the table here. You’re not going out there with a bow and arrow and hunting beaver. Most people aren’t living off the land for five months, doing this. You’re mailing food ahead and all that. Let’s talk about the logistics of making this thing happen.
– As an interesting side note, there’s actually one person, who sort of lays claim to having hiked the Appalachian Trail, while hunting and gathering. You may have heard of him, his name is Eustace Conway. There’s a book about him by Liz Gilbert, called The Last American Man. I was so fascinated by this notion of hiking the Appalachian Trail and hunting gathering the whole way, ’cause having done it, I knew how difficult that would be. I went out to interview him, and he kind of admitted to me, “Well, I had some oatmeal, and I had some packets” “of mac ‘n’ cheese, and I would bum food off of” “people who were passing by.” He wasn’t really, but he would see a porcupine, and he would run up with a stick, and he would bash it’s brains out and he would cook it up right there beside the trail. He was foraging for wild food. But if everybody who did it tried to do that, it would be impossible. Already, there’s barely enough wild food there to subsist upon, while walking 20 miles a day. I mean, that’s what I was amazed by, is that you could cover the mileage, and spend the time to set a trap. What I did was, I dehydrated a lot of food. The biggest challenge, I think, about the Appalachian Trail, logistically, is nutrition. Obviously, the hardest challenge is mental, and then physical, but a lot of what plays into that is people allow themselves to get malnourished, because you’re just eating crap that you find in grocery stores. The stuff that you can find that cooks up really fast is ramen noodles, pop tarts, stuff like that. A lot of people I saw just subsisted on that the whole way. Instant mashed potatoes. These are all hiker staples, true hiker staples, and I didn’t wanna live off that. I did some research and I knew that wasn’t gonna work, so I cooked up a whole lot of healthy stuff. Quinoa and brown rice and whatever, black beans, and I dehydrated it. You can actually make a delicious pasta sauce at home, tomato sauce, and dehydrate that, and then bagged it all up, mailed it to myself, to post offices along the trail. Every five or six days I would hitchhike into town, I’d go into the post office, I’d pick up my package. I would then go to the grocery store and buy all the good stuff. Cheese and whatever that I wasn’t gonna mail myself. But I used that stuff I mailed to supplement the diet and get a little bit more whole grains and vitamins, I mailed myself, and all sorts of stuff, just to try and stay healthy and somewhat happy.
– Even then, it’s really hard, going at the burn rate of 16, 20 miles a day, and not getting malnourished, and not getting into catabolic state, where you’re breaking down your own muscles, so it’s just a matter of time before you are … You’re on your way out at a certain point, so then it’s just a question of are you gonna make it to the end or not.
– Yeah, and I saw that again and again. My book, just so your listeners know, the book is a book about trails. It’s called On Trails, because I’m looking at different trails of all sizes. I start with tiny insect trails and fossil trails, then I zoom out to game trails in the forest, and then ancient indigenous trails and modern hiking trails. One of the people I was following in my book, was a guy named Gil Jackson, who’s a Cherokee guy. He thinks he’s the first full-blooded Cherokee, and maybe the first full-blooded Native American guy to ever hike the Appalachian Trail. I watched him, I met up with him, I’d actually met him for several purposes reporting the book, and then he wrote to me and said I’m through hiking. So I met up with him in Vermont and New Hampshire, and he’d been eating, what he thought was very healthy, and which was very healthy food, and very traditional food, a lot of dried venison and dried jerky, and dried fruits and things like that, but he was in his 60s and I watched, I could actually see the point where he just broke, physically, he said, “I cannot do it anymore.” Because he was so malnourished and his feet were just in terrible shape. While he was with me, he said, “I gotta quit. I’m gonna go home.” The most beautiful thing happened. His fellow hikers who he’d been hiking with, which was this motley crew of people he’d met along the way. Some kids in their 20s and 30s, all came together, and said, first of all, here’s some food for you to eat. Eat this jar of peanut butter, get some fat in your system, you’ll feel better. Second of all, give me your tent. Let’s share. They really lifted him up and ended up getting him those last 150 miles, just through teamwork, which is another thing that people don’t often realize, is that communal space on the Appalachian Trail can be really beautiful.
– Oh yeah. I mean, there are people … I mean listen, you are with three, four people maybe, for hundreds of miles. There’s nobody else around. You’re in the wild. There’s bears, there’s stuff. People become … I often marvel at this, because I grew up in L.A., and there’s just people everywhere so people become people averse, right? It’s like, ah shit, there’s traffic, and all these. When you’re out in the wilderness and you’ve been going for three hours and you’ve not seen a single human, and then you come across someone on the trail, you stop. You say hi. You ask what’s coming. You tell ’em what’s behind you. It becomes this really pure form of human interaction, that I think has been lost in urban settings.
– Yeah, that’s true. There’s also a level of … It’s funny, when I was leaving to hike the Appalachian Trail, I was living in New York, and people would say to me, “Aren’t you worried about getting murdered?” “Are you worried about hiking alone?” There’s actually a great deal of trust that’s built in to hiking, ’cause it’s a self-selecting group, and right away, you all have something in common, and you’re all out there, as you said, without a safety net, so you band together really quickly. I’m someone who has a lot of natural trust in other people, and obviously also I have this force field of white male privilege around myself, so I can go into these dangerous situations with a little bit less anxiety. I hitchhike, I go on these long hikes, and I’ve had a couple of hairy run ins, but never, overwhelmingly, 99% of all the interactions you have out there are positive.
– Yeah. It actually restores faith in humanity in a lot of ways. You get to understand human nature, and just that story of the tribe carrying his weight, and giving him food, and getting him across the finish line, that’s compelling, they don’t have to do that.
– No no. You run into these people along the trail, called Trail Angels, who do that for the whole summer. They’ll go out and just help people for no payment, no expectation of reciprocation, they just go out and do it ’cause it makes them feel good. It’s a kind of gift economy, and everyone’s paying things forward, it’s really nice.
– It’s interesting ’cause we would know the PCT through hikers, a mile away when we’d see ’em, ’cause they’re just like, fuck man, gotta go, gotta go, gotta go. They’re just hoofing. You gotta put in the miles, and when you finally get to a place where you’ve engaged with them, it’s the same thing. It’s like, hey, you want some food? Because you’re like yo, I’m doing 16 miles, but you’re doing this for five months.
– It’s funny, I spent a little bit of time in monasteries in India and Burma, as a terr botta monk, and they often thought that there was a similar, that you fulfill a similar role, and that people, when you’re a monk, you go around and you’re alms around, and people feel good. It brings you good karma, it’s a meretricious act, but it also feels good to give to the Sanga. It’s the same with the hikers, when I’m out there on a day hike or a weekend hike, and I see a through hiker passing through, I love sharing food with them. Through hikers say nothing tastes better than food you didn’t have to carry. It’s the sweetest calories. That’s absolutely true. For example, when I met up with Gil Jackson, then I would mail him these care packages along the way afterwards. You’re just so much more grateful, you’re in this open and receptive mode, that allows you … I even had people give me cash. I’d be hitchhiking, and somebody would just give me 20 dollars. I don’t need it really, I’m okay. I’m not gonna spend it in the next five days. I’ve got enough money to get me there, but they just wanted to give you something to help you along, ’cause they feel that you’re doing something big and significant, to you. It’s a reciprocal form of giving.
– That’s really sweet. Again, it’s hard when you listen to the news today to not have a pessimistic view of humanity. It takes experiences like this to really remember what humans are about. There’s so much goodness that one encounters in situations like this. You said something in the book that I found compelling. “When we eat, we convert living matter into waste.” “When we walk, we create trails.” “The question we must ask ourselves,” “is not whether we shape the Earth, but how?” This is obviously the ongoing theme in your book. Let’s talk about trails. Let’s talk about the creation of trails, and what that is, and how that becomes our wake.
– That realization was one that I came to from … It’s kind of hard without going into a great deal of detail, but I think we all grow up with this assumption that there’s this thing called humanity, and there’s this thing called nature, and there’s been a schism and now we need to somehow get back to nature, and that everything we do, there’s a natural way of living upon this planet which leaves no trace, which leaves no marks. Then there’s our way, which is hugely destructive. I agree with the latter premise. I think our way of living is hugely destructive, but I think it’s a fantasy to think that we … It’s an unhelpful fantasy to think that we can live in a way that does not in some way shaping this planet. In fact, the planet is the communal shaping of all the species who live upon it. When you shift your thinking to that, it’s kind of a subtle thing, but when you shift your thinking to that mode, you start to see how we need to work together with other species in order to create a planet that we all wanna live on. Trails are a really beautiful, elegant manifestation of that. Because animals of all kinds share trails, they work together on trails, in order to navigate the complexity and the chaos of landscape. If you’re trying to get from here to there, and you stumble on a deer path, that deer path is probably gonna lead you to the lowest pass through the mountains, and across the shallowest ford, across a river. In fact, that’s how many of our trails were formed, people following game trails, which then became roads and then became our road network. I love that idea of us working together, of course, it can also backfire. If you were a hunter, if you were an animal that’s hunting another animal, oftentimes, they’ll evolve to learn to recognize trails, follow those trails, then hunt down their prey. Which of course, we do as well.
– Yeah. That’s a different story altogether, but that’s also a part of our history, right? Is you’re looking for food. It’s interesting, I did, back in the days, I used to read a lot of Tom Brown, Junior, and kind of did a bunch of wilderness survival stuff. A lot of the narrative around that is treading lightly, and really knowing your wake, knowing the imprint of your footsteps on the substrate, and just being more mindful of how you trudge. When you go on the John Muir Trail now, there’s so many people. Ever since, there’s been a couple movies and lots of books, and all this, the same with the Appalachian Trail.
– [Robert] Yeah, the Wild Effect.
– The Wild Effect, yeah. There’s so many people going through there, and they all gotta take craps. They’re all peeing, so it actually becomes an issue, because everyone wants pure unadulterated nature, and everyone wants to take a dump in the woods. You’re like, no actually, there’s an outhouse now. Watch that. Because the wake is also that. Everything that you’ve eaten, you’re also putting back there.
– Yeah, and that’s an interesting challenge. Some places, like I’ve climbed Aconcagua in Argentina, and you have to haul out your waste in a garbage bag there. We have different approaches to it, but one of the ways … So the whole Leave No Trace Movement is really an outgrowth of the fact that in the ’70s, you just had too many people hiking at once. We needed to find ways to minimize that impact, because if everyone wanted to just go their own way, camp where they wanted to, which is the way that we used to go hiking and camping, in the ’20s and the ’30s, people would go out and they would cut down a tree, and build themself an A-frame, and put some pine boughs on there and that was camping. It was very natural, in one sense, but it was also incredibly disruptive. Your footprint was huge. Leave No Trace was this effort to minimize your impact, but part of what that means is creating … Like one of the Leave No Trace principles is travel and camp on durable surfaces. Sometimes you gotta create durable surfaces. You have to build trails with gravel treadway, or you have to build tent platforms, and a lot of people don’t like that, ’cause it doesn’t feel natural. It is actually the best way of concentrating everybody’s use in one area, rather than spreading it wide and destroying more of the landscape. It’s ironic, sometimes we love certain places so much, that we end up changing the nature of them, and in the process, making us love them less.
– We see it reflected in society. I can’t tell you how many friends I have who live in Austin, Texas say, who are so pissed that the town got cool. It’s the same principle. It’s like, dammit, now L.A.’s here. That continues to be reflected in everything that we do, but the purity of that transaction, of your interaction with nature, it’s unparalleled. For me, like I said, you can’t go any further by saying, that’s church to me. I love it. For my listeners and viewers, if they’re interested in hiking the AT or the JMT or the PCTA, these trails, what advice would you give ’em?
– Well, I have a couple points of advice. These are maybe a little bit controversial. My first piece of advice I always give people is, I would say hike from South to North, which is a traditional way to do it. From Georgia to Maine. There are growing numbers of people who do it in the opposite direction, which gives you some advantages, you can leave later in the season, you can leave in June rather than March. Ultimately, I think the topography is destiny in that sense. It’s such a beautiful progression going from Georgia to Maine, I often say that going from Maine to Georgia is like starting out in Mountain Dune and hiking back to the Shire. It’s anticlimactic. ‘Cause Katahdin especially is just this fantastically raw, rugged, tall mountain. Georgia has some big mountains, relatively speaking, but they’re kind of rolling, and green, you don’t get the same views. I would say do it the traditional way, there’s a reason why people do that. Maybe leave at a less conventional time. I would suggest people mail them, dehydrate and mail themselves food. I did that, I think that worked out really well. Obviously, the biggest one is get your pack weight as low as possible before you leave. It’s the biggest mistake I see people make again and again. They leave with their uncle’s old LL Bean backpack, and their big leather boots that they’ve had since their high school Outward Bound trip, and they’re big old Walmart sleeping bag, and then they get on the trail and immediately realize it’s way too heavy. You can’t do 20, 30 miles every day with that gear. Then they have to go to some outdoor store along the trail, having done no research, and have some guy sell them whatever the guy wants to sell them ’cause they don’t have, they just don’t know what they’re gonna get, and it’s more expensive. Do a lot of research, buy stuff online, before you leave. It’s an investment, but it’ll pay off in the end.
– One of the things, sorry to interrupt. One of the things that we had when we did the JMT, was, we all had some sort of hybrid hiking boot, where it’s just like okay, I got these waterproof boots, support and blah blah blah blah. You know, one of our guys, who’s like an internet nerd, who actually sat down and did research, got the Brooks trail shoes or whatever. The Trail Runners? We’re like, dude, sneakers? It was like everyone, everyone was envious, ’cause guess what happens every time you take a step, you’re lifting that damn thing.
– Exactly, yeah. Almost every through hiker makes that transition. I don’t know of any, maybe I know one guy who did the whole trail in those heavy leather hiking boots. That’s something that we learn when we’re kids, right? We go out on hiking trips and they make us wear those big boots because we have heavy packs, and we have heavy packs ’cause you’re probably using some tent that your summer camp lent you or whatever. It’s all relative. If you have a bigger pack, of course you need heavier boots. If you can get your pack weight down below 20 or 15 pounds, what they call your base weight, which is just everything except food and water, then you don’t need those hiking boots. You can wear running shoes, and the runners are so much better at drying out. People think they need waterproof shoes, but no shoes are waterproof ultimately, because they all get wet. If it’s raining, you’re always gonna get your feet wet, on the inside. Unless you’re wearing something that’s so water repellent that it makes you sweat more than the rain gets you. Just let your shoes get wet, and then dry ’em out. The trail runners dry so much faster. I wouldn’t even bother getting a Gore-Tex lining or any of that. I think that’s a scam, those Gore-Tex running shoes. Just get lightweight runners with good support, good tread. You’ll be fine as long as you don’t have too much stuff on your back.
– And swap ’em out, right? These things, a lot of people don’t realize that you got miles on shoes that expire. When you’re putting, if you have 40, 50 pounds on your back, how many miles is a pair of those good for? I don’t remember the conversion at this point, but you need new shoes at some point.
– I think I went through three or four pairs, and that was actually using these, they were ultralight, they were basically high top trail runners called, by a company called END. I don’t even know if they exist anymore, it was a kind of sustainable running shoe company that was really cool, and I think they may have gone out of business. I bought a couple pairs of those on sale and mailed them to myself along the way, and they wear out, you just burn through them, ’cause you’re doing so many miles per day.
– It’s a thing. So sorry, I interrupted you. You were also gonna drop another piece of wisdom, after that.
– The last one is this, and this one is especially true if you’re a writer, or someone who likes to record your thoughts. Is to bring a recorder, a separate recording device to record your thoughts. I had a little notepad I brought, and I had it in my pocket, and I would have to stop and write down when I had a brilliant idea that I didn’t wanna forget, I would stop and write it down. It became so frustrating, that I just stopped stopping. What I’ve learned over the years is to bring a little recorder with you and do a note to self along the way. You can record so much more detail, so many more memories ’cause, the other thing is when you get into camp at the end of the day, you set up your hammock or your tent, and you’re tired, you don’t wanna write in your journal. My journal is just useless, it’s just a description of what I ate that night, and how much my feet hurt. You cannot summon the mental energy necessary to describe all the beautiful things, and all the funny anecdotes, that you’re gonna want later. Even if you’re not a writer, you’re just gonna want to remember that stuff. If you can record it while you’re walking, that’s real useful. Also, I think a lot of people find their brains work better when they’re walking. It’s when we have our best ideas. There’s something about the rhythm of walking and thinking that go hand in hand.
– The tech has really changed too. I don’t know if I’d use an Apple watch, ’cause it can’t hold charge in town, but you know, something that actually has real easy accessibility, because you’re right. People go back and forth with the walking poles and all that. You’ve gotta have shit on you, so it has to be easy, and if every time you stop, it’s taken the wind out of your sail.
– That’s why … When I did the trail, we didn’t have iPhones. I mean, maybe a couple of my friends, this is 2009, so maybe a couple of my friends had iPhones, but by no means were they as pervasive as they are now. On the trail, it’s really weird. I feel like an old man, ’cause when I hiked the trail. Everyone would stay at night with their headlamps writing in their journals. Now, everyone sits in their sleeping bags, and they type on iPhones. It’s almost universal. Also, everyone has enough cell coverage to where they can update their Instagram and Twitter and whatnot. That’s something that’s really changed. I have a writer friend named Rahawa Haile, who has written some really great stuff about her through hike last year. I urge your listeners to look her up. She, I believe, did most of her notes on her phone, and wrote all of her journal entries on her phone, and did maybe some voice memos as well. I don’t even know if it’s necessary to bring a separate recording device any more. If your iPhone can hold enough of a charge, and not die for five days, which I’m not sure it can. The iPhone is just an incredible hiking tool, in that sense. It’s all in one. It’s the greatest army knife ever made.
– It’s a beast. What I did with my, in 2012, I had an iPhone, and so I would keep it on, take off wi-fi and airplane mode, you get all the signal waste stuff out, because you don’t have any bandwidth. You have it for pictures, really handy. You have it for voice memos. I had apps that would help me identify flora and fauna and stuff. I’d be like, what’s this flower? It’s just like, here’s the answer, right? It would be offline, so it wouldn’t have to access the internet and stuff. You can do a lot with very little now, with the tech that we have. What a great use of tech. If you’re sitting there trying to check your Twitter feed, then you’ve probably missed it.
– It really takes some discipline. It’s a debate that’s going on right now in the outdoor community, is whether they should extend wi-fi and cell service into National Parks. Whether the National Park Service should be taking upon themselves to make sure you have a wi-fi signal, while you’re in Yellowstone. I’m kind of against it. I still like the wilderness as a refuge from connectivity. That’s one of the themes in my book, is that trails are a connective structure as well, and trails become roads, become railroads, become telegram wires, become telephone wires and the internet. It’s all one and the same of information flowing easier and faster across the landscape. The wilderness is a refuge from all of that. It’s a question, do we want to on the one hand, have all that great stuff? If it’s easier for you to identify plants, and if it’s easier for you to call for help, then maybe it is worth it to extend the wi-fi into the wilderness. But on the other hand, we’re losing that refuge, that sense of this is refuge, and I don’t have that much willpower.
– It’s hard. It’s hard. We took a satellite phone, because we have the camera crew, insurance all this kind of crap, so I had a satellite phone. I made a point of not using it as much as I could, although when my wife found out I had it, it was just like, why aren’t you calling me? You have this whole tethered thing to society again. Look, people do fall. People crack their heads. There are life-threatening emergencies. But there’s also a network back there of hikers that will then go communicate with the Ranger station, which is 10 miles down the trail. It usually works out, right? That’s how it used to be. Your neighbors would come to your aid.
– Exactly. We figured these things out before cell phones. There are ways to not die. One of the most interesting people I talked to in regard to this, is this old hiker named Nimblewill Nomad, he was right at the end of my book. He’s a guy who made a lot of money, he was an optometrist, and was doing pretty well in Florida, and he went and hiked the Appalachian Trail, got to the end of it, kept hiking along the International Appalachian Trail, which went back then to up to this place in Quebec. It was like 4,000 miles. He wrote a book about it called Ten Million Steps. It’s an unbelievable journey. He loved it so much that he never really stopped hiking. He came home, gave away almost all his possessions, gave away his money to his wife and kids, and started walking. He did all of the national scenic trails in America. So the AT, PCT, CDT, Ice Age Trail, all of them. Then he ran out of those, so he just kept going, and started making up new ones. I wrote to him and I said I’d love to hike with you, and he doesn’t like journalists. He’s kind of a cranky, conservative guy. He didn’t like the writing I had done for environmental magazines. He was not interested in talking to me, and I said, but I’d really love. He’s just such a fascinating person. So he said, all right, if you can find me, I’ll be walking on this stretch of highway in Texas, on this day. I said, all right, and I flew down to Houston where my sister lives, and we drove out along the highway, and there he was on the side of the road. I got out, and he said, “Well, you found me.” We walked together for three days, and one of the things that surprised me most about him, was that he’s a fanatical minimalist. He’s the most intense minimalist I’ve ever met, in terms of hikers. He has no toothbrush, he only uses a toothpick. He carries no, almost nothing. No books. Obviously, nothing like that. No toilet paper, he only uses water, and if he doesn’t have water, he uses his own urine. He has nothing in his backpack, but he has an iPod and a cell phone. Not an iPhone, he has an iPod and a cell phone. He carries them both because, I don’t know why he doesn’t have an iPhone. He doesn’t have very much money, ’cause he gave all his money away, so it might have something to do with a pay as you go plan. He said, I like to call, he has a girlfriend. After all these years, he’s in his late 70s. He’s like, I don’t wanna be away from her that much, and it’s also a safety thing. She made me start carrying it, but now I like carrying it. The same with the iPod. He goes into McDonald’s every once in a while, and he catches up on his emails. He said, you know it’s really about finding a sense of balance. You can’t cut yourself off from all these things altogether, because there’s a lot of good that they offer. You just have to learn to use them in a balanced way. He said, I think I found that balance.
– It’s funny, ’cause you have this kind of fundamental pendulum swing that happens by people that are overwhelmed by their tech. So then they wanna go out and be in a loin cloth, and eat squirrel. It’s just like okay, let’s start with a hike. Once you’ve spent some time out there, you really appreciate what an iPhone can do. Frankly, if you’re still looking at wedding gowns on Facebook, you’re lost. The tool is what it is, and it doesn’t overwhelm and crowd your consciousness. The book is called On Trails, an Exploration by Robert Moor. It’s a Simon and Schuster title. I think it’s coming out soon. Fourth of July, from what I see here.
– Yeah. Paperback is out Fourth of July, that’s right.
– Excellent, excellent.
– Actually I would urge your listeners, if they’re listening to this now, go on Amazon and get the hardcover, ’cause it’s on sale right now, it’s really cheap. It’s actually a good deal.
– I love hardcover, it’s just so much better. I’m gonna actually do a trip next year. We’re doing one trip with my buddy Matt, going through Indonesia and doing a 16,000 foot mountain. I’m gonna do some kind of back country stuff, and try to maybe take a few people from our community, because like I said, this is church. It’s such a powerful thing for me, having grown up spending hundreds of hours out there, that it’s really hard to explain, unless people have gone out and had a wilderness experience along these lines. It teaches you minimalism. It teaches you sticktoitness. It’s zen in its finest. You are breathing and stepping and listening to the breeze, and paying attention. There’s so many things that it can do for you. I highly recommend it. Check out the book, let me know what you think, and hey man, thanks for writing it. Thanks for doing what you’re doing. We’re outta time. I could talk with you forever about this, so maybe we’ll have you on for a part two. Catch up with your next projects or so.
– Yeah. Thank you so much for having me, this was fun.
– Yeah, thank you, and keep on doing it, man. I love the culture, I miss the culture, and so vicariously through you, I can at least appreciate some of it through your book. Let me know what you think, and I’ll see you next time.