Each year, the American Long Distance Hiking Association-West brings together a diverse group of hikers for a series of fun backpacking clinics, called “Rucks” across the Western States. New for the 2018 season, ALDHA-West and the Pacific Northwest Trail Association formed a partnership to host the first-ever Ruck in Northwest Washington.
The mission of ALDHA-West is to inspire, educate and promote fellowship among long distance hikers and those who support long distance hiking. Rucks help fulfill this three part mission; first time backpackers and experienced thru-hikers come together for a full day of hiking-themed fun, education, and fellowship.
This ruck included a special focus on the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail. As a trailside community of the PNT, Bellingham served as an ideal location for hosting the event. Local trail angels, Rebecca and John Roberts, and a few volunteers with PNTA partner trail maintenance organization, SWITMO also joined us for the day.
Left: ALDHA-West President, and Master Educator, Whitney “All Good” LaRuffa presented on Leave No Trace Outdoor Ethics. Right: PNTA Executive Director, Jeff “Siddhartha” Kish gave presentations on hazards, like lightning, and the 50th Anniversary of the National Trails System.
In celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the National Trails System and the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, PNTA Executive Director, Jeff Kish traced the the history of the Trails System back to its beginnings in President Johnson’s Administration in the 1960’s. The first National Scenic Trails designated by Congress, the Pacific Crest and Appalachian Trails, also share their 50th anniversaries this year. Today, this forward-thinking gift to America includes thirty National Scenic and Historic Trails. Each of these offers opportunities to enjoy America’s scenic beauty and to reflect on our nation’s history and the significant role volunteers play in trail stewardship.
Ruck attendees could also visit a pop-up history exhibit of the Pacific Northwest Trail, one of America’s newest National Scenic Trails. Exhibits included copies of the first PNT guide books, written by Ron Strickland, as well as an original copy of the historic “Trails for America” book, which became the blueprint for the the National Trails System. In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson charged the Department of Interior with the task of developing recommendations for a program that would encourage a “national system of trails.” In 1966, the Department of Interior Bureau of Outdoor Recreation (now defunct) published their research in this 156 page book.
Top Left: PNTA Communications Manager, Eric “Panorama” Wollborg, provided trail information to attendees. Bottom Left: Fellowship among long-distance hikers is an important part of each Ruck. Top Right: ALDHA-West Secretary, Kate “Drop N Roll” Hoch helps guests check in. Bottom Right: Our Nutrition and Resupply Panelists gave practical advice and some comic relief.
Leave No Trace and Trail Town Etiquette
An important part of preparing for any trip on our public lands is to practice the first principle of Leave No Trace, and Plan Ahead and Prepare. ALDHA-West President, and Master Educator, Whitney LaRuffa applied the Leave No Trace Seven Principles to common situations backpackers and long-distance hikers face. His presentation offered practical tips and guidance to minimize our personal and collective impacts while on the trail. LaRuffa also invoked the Authority of the Resource technique to illustrate how the Leave No Trace Seven Principles can protect our public lands and preserve the quality of experience for other backcountry visitors.
Co-presenter, Kate Hoch, the Secretary of ALDHA-West, helped to underscore the importance of serving as a good representative or “trail ambassador” of the long-distance hiking community, while on the trail, and during visits to resupply and take R & R in trailside communities.
Safety and Hazards
On the subject of backcountry safety, Kish and LaRuffa discussed the risks common to long-distance trails in the Western States. The presentation highlighted common hazards and those unique to long-distance hikers. Because of their siege-style approach to backpacking — facing foul and unknown weather conditions between resupply points — and because their long-distance hiking goals compel them to enter mountain ranges in the shoulder season, thru-hikers can face hazards more common to mountaineers than they are to backpackers. Risks posed by: storms, snow travel, high-running creeks and wildlife encounters, are a few of the hazards thru-hikers face on Western trails, like the PNT. Kish and LaRuffa emphasized the need for aspiring thru-hikers to learn risk assessment skills and pathways for in-depth outdoor education.
Things That Can End Your Hike
Not every thru-hike attempt is successful, and while preparation is key, other variables outside of our control, like weather, or even luck, can shape the outcome. Long-distance hiker, Kate Hoch, gave an insightful presentation discussing why some attempts are less than a success. Drawing on the collective experience of the community, she highlighted overlooked factors that can contribute to unsuccessful attempts at long-distance trails. Hoch also drew the connection between common sports injuries and failed bids, emphasizing the need to remain flexible and adaptable with one’s expectations and goals.
Top Left: Moderator Rudy Giecek of the Cascade Hiker Podcast led our panel discussions. Bottom Left: Thru-hiker, “Not a Chance” answers questions about tarp camping on her long-distance hikes. Top Right: Thru-hiker, “Half Pint” discusses her approach to nutrition on the trail. Bottom Right: Thru-hiker, “Arrow” discusses his lightweight internal frame pack.
Thru-hiker Panel Discussions
Panel discussions are another unique feature of ALDHA’s Rucks. Moderator Rudy Giecek, host of the Cascade Hiker Podcast, questioned panelists, each with different styles and backgrounds, about the equipment and resupply strategies each had used on their adventures.
Panels can help backpackers to evaluate different approaches and styles of long-distance hiking, by speaking directly to a thru-hiker with extensive field experience. As backpacking equipment becomes more specialized, the chance to explore a variety of options can lead to better informed decisions.
Our Gear Panel featured a spectrum of long-distance hikers with light and ultra light backpacking set-ups. Panelists spoke about their experiences with their gear and their strategies for reducing pack weight. The performance of tarps, free standing tents, and hammocks in a variety of field conditions was discussed in detail. Panelists drew upon their experience from past thru-hikes to discuss ultra light set-ups that were designed for speed and distance as well as light backpacking set-ups which provided comfort and versatility. Each panelist brought their personal equipment and made themselves available for one-on-one Q & A later on.
Planning food for an entire week of constant exercise can be a challenge; many thru-hikers suffer from extreme weight loss, and those with special diets must take extra care. The Ruck’s well-rounded Nutrition and Resupply Panel gave practical advice on these subjects and was a welcome source of comic relief. Our diets are deeply personal, and the debate over sports nutrition versus caloric intake lives on. While carefully balanced macro-nutrient ratios and whole foods are an important part of meal-planning for some, other long-distance athletes seem to perform well on convenience store junk food. Panelists gave their opinions, answering personal questions about how they planned meals to reduce “carried weight,” whether they had ever run out of food, and if the foods they ate affected how the felt and performed on the trail.
Trail Breakout Sessions
Later on, volunteers and staff with first-hand experience on long-distance trails, including the Pacific Northwest, Pacific Crest, Continental Divide, Oregon Desert, Wonderland and Hayduke Trails led “ask me anything” style Trail Break-Out Sessions with aspiring hikers planning thru-hikes and a variety of trips. Even experienced long-distance hikers can benefit and find camaraderie by speaking directly to a hiker who has gone before them.
Drawing to a close, attendees reconvened at the private balcony of Aslan Brewing to talk trail, trade stories, connect with potential hiking partners, and get inspired by friends old and new.
We would like to thank Aslan Brewing Company for donating event space as well as the sponsors of our gear raffle. Special thanks to ALDHA-West staff and volunteers: Whitney “Allgood” La Ruffa, Kate “Drop-N-Roll” Hoch, Miguel “VirGo,” Aguilar, Bob “Beaker” Turner, and our volunteer panelists: Randy “Arrow” Godfrey, Kate “Swept Away” Pickett, Amanda “Not A Chance” Timeoni and Lori Jo “Half Pint” Erlichman and PNTA volunteers, Rudy Giecek and Suzanne “Xana” Bess-Wollborg.
All proceeds from the event helped to support the Pacific Northwest Trail Association and ALDHA-West, non-profit organizations which build, maintain, educate and advocate for trails in Washington and beyond.