“Long distance hiking will end up giving back more than you put into it. It will change you. You don’t have to walk all the way from Mexico to Canada to get something huge out of it and to have it change your life.” — Liz Thomas
Liz Thomas is among the most experienced female hikers in the U.S. and is known for backpacking light, fast and solo. In 2011, she broke the women’s unsupported speed record on the 2,181-mile-long Appalachian Trail, besting the previous record by almost a week. She has completed the Triple Crown of Hiking—the Appalachian Trail, the 2,650 mile Pacific Crest Trail and the 3,100 mile Continental Divide Trail—and has backpacked over 15,000 miles across the U.S. on 16 long distance hikes, including the pioneering traverse of the Chinook Trail across the Columbia River Gorge and the pioneering traverse of the Wasatch Range, which she did solo. Liz is affectionately known as the “Queen of Urban Hiking,” having pioneered and completed routes in five cities across the U.S.
When you decide to head out and hike across the country, there are a lot of questions. Many wonder how you can afford to do something so drastic, and family and friends are concerned about safety and keeping in touch. After her experiences with long hiking, Thomas decided to write a guidebook to help those who want to hike, and those who want to learn more about hiking.
SGB sat down with Liz last week at the Crown Trails Headwear booth at Outdoor Retailer to talk about her latest book, Long Trails, upcoming projects and the joys of hiking.
What inspired you to write a book about hiking? When I was first getting into long-distance hiking it was pretty intimidating. There’s some information on the internet, but it’s hard to tell what’s a reliable source, and it’s not super easy to sit and read like that. So it really seemed like there was a need for a book that wasn’t just about gear or wasn’t just about food, but kind of took the whole experience into account, like how do you explain it to your family, how do you leave your job, that kind of thing.
What inspired all the long distance hiking? I’ve always been interested in hiking and climbing mountains, and I would see signs for trails saying they went from Mexico to Canada. I thought “whoa, I’d love to do something like that!” I got so excited about the things you can see and do when hiking along a trail.
What was the process like for writing this? Were you doing a lot of planning while you were hiking, or getting it all together after the fact? The book was based on twenty different long distance hikes that I’ve done. The first time I went on a long hike there were some major gear mistakes, and every time I go out, I get ideas of how I can do things differently to make it easier for me next time. So it’s all based on the process from the very beginning of going on a hike, when you’re dreaming but it still seems like so many steps, and kind of breaking it down into these chunks, like “What can I do this week; what can I do next week,” that sort of thing.
How was the process of finding a publisher? Did you have to search a lot, or did someone approach you? I was already writing for Backpacking Magazine, and they have a relationship with Falcon [Publishing], so we all just kind of got together and decided it would be really cool if we could talk about long trails, and if we could turn this into something people could get before they go on a hike.
What’s next for your? Are you writing another book? That’s a really good question! I am working on another book; it’s not so much a guidebook though. It’s a book about waterfall hikes. I really want people to come out and get outdoors, and the thing about waterfalls is that it’s enough incentive, people will get out there just to check one out.
Is there anything specific that you would want to highlight from the book? Any sections that you think really stand out? What I really like is this planning and prep section. Whenever people go on a long hike they have a lot of questions, like how they will be able to spend the time and money, and it really helps with some of those planning sections of the hike, not just food and logistics. Another thing I’m really proud of is that it’s not just my advice; I talked to people of all different ages and generations. It has counterpoints. I’ll make a suggestion, but then there are these “Hike Your Own Hike” sections that offer different perspectives. I love how much individuality and personal preference I got to include.
Were there any moments that especially stood out to you as far as your favorite moments, or your inspiration for the book? There were some pretty amazing experiences and funny stories that went into this book. I would say the big factor for the way I put it together and had so many people in the community contribute is the sense of community that comes from hiking. I would meet people on the trail, and we would have seemingly nothing in common, but just because we are out here on the trail and we meet each other, it’s like this power of nature, and we are the type of people who want to go on long hikes; we become instant friends, and some of these people have become my best friends. Being able to share not just my voice but all these other people’s voices was really awesome.
Is there anything else you would like to add? I can’t take too much credit for this, but I’d say that one thing that is really awesome about this book is the design and layout. The book is broken up into chunks, and really digestible over breakfast or during a hike. The photos and layout really make it very approachable and very casual for light reading.