Now that I have walked both the Camino de Santiago and the Appalachian Trail, I have been asked by many people which one I liked better. Making that choice would be as hard as picking a favorite child or pet. They both are great places to take a long distance walk.
For purposes of this discussion, a long distance walk is one long enough to become a lifestyle rather than a brief interruption of your life. The biggest obstacle for most of us in attempting a long distance walk is finding the time to do it. And if you can’t swing the time for a long walk, the shorter walk that you can find time for can be just as wonderful. The Camino and Appalachian Trail are also great places for shorter walks.
But if you can find the time for a long distance walk, it will become what you do, day after day, week after week. It will be a lifestyle of simplicity, clarity, equality, and freedom. It will be a wonderful experience and may be one of the best things you will ever do!
In anticipation of the upcoming release of the movie version of “A Walk in the Woods”, the Summer 2015 edition of AT Journeys (The Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s magazine) has an interview with Bill Bryson (author of A Walk in the Woods). In the interview Bryson mentions:
Trying to hike the Appalachian Trail was the hardest thing I have ever done. I have never been so cold, wet, sore, and generally wretched. It was also the best thing I have ever done. I have never been so healthy, self-reliant, spiritually uplifted, and at one with nature. That is the thing about the Appalachian Trail. It is immensely challenging but also immensely rewarding. You can’t have one without the other.
If you’ve read the Bryson book, you know that family responsibilities and the inability to overcome some of the difficulties of the hike prevented him from completing his walk. A long walk does have some difficulties, especially on the Appalachian Trail, but as you get stronger many of them will go away. And no matter how hard the difficulties may seem to be, they will be much easier than the stress and responsibilities that most people have to deal with in their everyday life.
The reality is that once you have the strength to reduce the physical challenges, completing a long distance walk will shift to your having the mental discipline to engage with your surroundings and finding joy in every day of walking. If you are unable to do this there is a good chance you will tire of your walk and get off the trail.
As the many posts in this blog illustrate, cultivating the mindset of wandering will go a long way in helping you enjoy and complete a long distance walk. When you fully engage with the world around you and allow yourself to see with all your senses you will discover that we live in an amazing world with so much going on no matter where you are. Once you engage with the world, every day will be exciting. And that excitement will keep you going until the very end of your long distance walk. It is this feeling of joy every day, day after day, week after week that makes a long distance walk such a wonderful experience.
As for comparing the Appalachian Trail and the Camino de Santiago, they are two different animals. The Camino de Santiago is a pilgrimage route that runs from town to town through beautiful countryside, mountains, and communities. The Camino is a route that people have been following for over a thousand years and you will see traces of that history every day of your walk.
On the other hand the Appalachian Trail is a rugged backpack trail. Most of your day will be spent in the woods going up and down mountains. Like the Camino, the Appalachian Trail offers incredible scenery and an abundance of little things all along the way to keep you going all day long. While on the Trail, you will be totally immersed in nature.
What makes the Camino and Appalachian Trail so special for a long distance walk is that they both have the necessary logistical infrastructure to support a long distance walk. It is this infrastructure that makes it possible for someone with decent strength, health, and stamina to attempt and complete their walk. Both the Camino and Appalachian Trail are accessible adventures.
By going from town to town, the Camino has plenty of places to obtain water, food, lodging, and supplies. Because the Appalachian Trail is in a wetter and more settled part of the country, there is abundant water along the trail and a sufficient number of road crossings to resupply every few days. With both water and supplies readily available, you will be able to make steady progress and keep your pack weight within a tolerable range. Without readily available water and supplies, you would have to carry more weight and might have to hike at pace faster than you find comfortable.
With both the Camino and Appalachian Trail being popular, you will have the opportunity to be part of a walking community. Having this community available will not prevent you from finding solitude on your long walk, but it will make it possible for you to have a shared experience and it will be there for support if you need help. For most people, being part of a walking community has been a very pleasant surprise.
Although there are many great places to go for a long distance walk, I believe that the combination of infrastructure and community found on both the Camino and the Appalachian Trail should put them at the top of your list. Other locations on your list may not be as accessible and could require more preparation on your part.
If you do choose to go on a long walk, you can find more information on the Camino and Appalachian Trail on this website. Regardless of where you choose to walk, I hope you enjoy your long distance walk as much as I have enjoyed mine.