Category Archives: Opinion

Another new year for vegan hiking

Hiking on Mt. Cardigan, New Hampshire

Happy new year! Here we are again, it’s been nearly six years since my thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail while vegan, and I gotta say… I still can’t believe it was that long ago.

As I’ve repeated over and over on this blog, I started this site to support other vegan hikers with tips and inspiration, and so far I think I’ve been successful! Many people view the site every day from around the world, which is a pretty clear sign of how widespread the interest is in hiking more compassionately.

In most ways, vegan hiking is the same as non-vegan hiking. We just do it without animal products.

My concern for the earth, our communities, and farm animals led me to go vegan many years ago. I don’t consume any animal products (including meat, dairy, or animal derivatives like honey), and I try to minimize my use of non-vegan stuff as much as possible. I’m not dogmatic about it, and I try to be realistic and practical. I never make exceptions in my diet. But I also recognize that living a life that is 100% free of harm to any animals is a futile endeavor. That is just the terrible reality of a world built partly upon the wholesale exploitation of animals for meat and dairy. My veganism is an attempt to live a more conscious life and trying to do the best I can.

My personal commitment to veganism gives me inspiration in the rest of my life. It helps me focus, allows perspective, and is a daily reminder to put my life and actions where my beliefs and politics are.

Since I was thirteen years old I dreamt of thru-hiking the AT. The year after college I achieved my dream, stepping off of Springer Mountain into a new world of walking and mountain air. I set out to be a thru-hiker, not a vegan thru-hiker, and after the first few weeks I almost gave it up. But then I reflected on what was important to me and realized that I could safely and happily stay vegan and stick to what I had set out to do.

Happy new year, dear readers! Keep on vegan hiking, just one more climb before camp…

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What I did last summer: Taking youth outdoors! [Updated]

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This summer (2014) I had the coolest job. I worked for the Appalachian Mountain Club with the Youth Opportunities Program leading trips for urban youth from the Boston area to New Hampshire for four days/three nights of hiking, backpacking, canoeing, and camping! Each week from July through August I led a new group with a co-leader from their agency on these jam-packed adventures. Each week was very busy, giving these youth—most of whom had never experienced anything like this before—a taste of many different outdoor activities. The purpose was both to introduce youth to responsible, safe, fun in the outdoors and to support the co-leader in improving their skills so they can lead similar trips on their own.

The Youth Opportunities Program is pretty darn awesome, and if you work with urban youth in New England in the United States, you should really check them out. Their primary focus is on giving youth workers the skills and resources to take youth outside.

I maintained my veganism throughout the summer, of course, though I take a nuanced view of it in terms of leadership positions with youth. In these contexts where I am in a position of responsibility, I don’t think that it’s my place to impose my choices on the folks in my groups. For many of my youth, sleeping outside was already pushing their comfort zones enough. I want the outdoors to be as accessible and welcoming as possible, and I think that having big discussions about veganism in the first days of a trip would shade the experience. So I offer meat and dairy options to my kids.

When designing trip menus, I make meals that are easily vegan-friendly and include any dairy or meat as a component, and not a central piece. For example, for one of our nights in the mountain we made burritos with veggies, beans, and rice, with frozen chicken on the side. Nobody noticed that I didn’t have any, almost everyone had some vegetables, and it was easy to do without anyone feeling uncomfortable or put out.

I take my being vegan seriously, and I will happily talk about it with anyone. But I want the youth to focus on the woods, the mountain air, stars, camping, responsible outdoor recreation, and the experience. And not on the funny diet of their leader. This works for me. What do other vegan outdoor leaders do?

*It’s been a long time since my last post. I’m still here and committed to this blog, I promise!! Alas, the life of a grad student…

[Update] I just want to elaborate a little on why I wrote a post partly about providing non-vegan food to kids I took outside. I’m vegan, and I don’t view this as a compromise. Of course I want more people to go vegan, but I don’t think that a first-time trip for youth is an effective or strategic environment for that discussion, especially while I was working in a position of authority and responsibility. Most of the meals I planned were vegetarian or vegan, and when meat was offered there was a significant veggie option (which many ate). I believe that veganism is a powerful statement of personal responsibility against corporate environmental destruction and climate change, and is especially relevant to hikers. I hoped that the kids on my trips came away with a positive experience in the outdoors, and, if they were paying attention, noticed that I was doing just fine without any animal products.

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I did an interview with Sierra Magazine’s Explore blog

I did an interview with the Sierra Club’s Explore blog about vegan hiking and the Appalachian Trail! Check it out here.

I chatted with Mackenzie Mount about my motivation on the trail, the food I ate, and the half-gallon challenge.

As readers of this site will surely know by now, my main goal is to make vegan hiking more accessible by providing stories, tips, and inspiration! As always, I would love to hear from you if you have any thoughts or experiences with vegan hiking, or if you have any questions about an upcoming hike!

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by | February 13, 2013 · 10:38 am

Why I hike

“A footpath for those who seek fellowship with the wilderness.”

When I was 13 I spent a summer in Maine at an outdoor adventure camp. We camped every night, cooked our own food and spent our days hiking and rock climbing, hopping from activity to activity. It was fantastic and I loved it so much that I went back the following year.

Only that year was different, it featured a four day backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail, and it sparked inside me the burning desire to thru-hike. The hike that summer was hard, my whole body hurt and I was the slowest in the group, but was one of the only kids who loved every second. While everyone else was complaining, I was soaking it all up.

Even though I was the slowest in the group, I told my leaders that I was going to hike the whole thing one day.

There are a lot of things that drive someone to choose spending months in the woods instead of in civilization. For me, it was the idea of carrying my whole life in one backpack. I wanted to completely rely on myself in a way that was difficult to find while off the trail. I wanted to set out on an incredible adventure, and in the mean time fulfill one of my dreams.

Once on trail for a while, life changes and begins to revolve around your daily life of walking. It is very different than “off-trail” and perspectives of a thru-hike change in a big way. The big dreams and ideas of what a hike will be like start to fall away. The sense of accomplishment at the end is real. But along the way, the old ideas become less important, less tangible, and they change to accept the reality of what a thru-hike is like.

I remember coming home at the end of my hike and finding it very difficult to understand what the experience was, it was impossible to put into words.

It was the constant reassessment of what’s important and what isn’t. On one hand is the pain and challenge of getting up every day to keep going. On the other is the incredible feeling of reaching the top of the next mountain, and of having no worries except what is happening on the trail.

I think that before starting a thru-hike, many people have misconceptions about what they will find and what it will be like. Many expect to “find themselves” or just have a relaxing experience in the wilderness. A thru-hike is nothing like that. I remember a discussion one day amongst my trail friends a few months in, and everyone had different expectations than what the hike turned out to be. The truth is that this is what drives many people to quit before the end. On the other hand, the reality for me was that the changes and experiences I had on the trail will stay with me forever and have definitely helped shape and add perspective to some aspects of my life. But the immediate sense of “change” after completion that I was hoping for never came to be.

But my thru-hike was still incredible, and I still love the Appalachian Trail. When I encounter aspects of the A.T., I am washed over with nostalgia and a new longing to be back on the trail…

2108.5 miles to Katahdin (2178, the year I hiked)! My first time back to Amacalola Falls State Park since 2009.

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Two years since leaving Springer, already?

Today is my two year anniversary of setting out from Springer Mountain, GA on what would become one of the most challenging, rewarding, incredible, crazy things I’ve ever done. A thru-hike is hard. It’s physically hard to get up every day and keep hiking. It’s mentally hard to force yourself up every day to keep hiking. At some point you question what the hell you thought you were doing. But somehow you push through another day, letting little things like a sunny day or some trail magic keep you going. I know it’s cliché but completing a thru-hike is definitely all mental.

Hiking vegan was part of my motivation.

When I left for Georgia I had no idea what to expect; and I knew that staying vegan would be one more challenge. It was a big one, especially in the beginning.

For me, staying vegan at home is no big deal at all, I cook for myself and can eat and shop where I want. On the trail, choices are much more limited. It’s tough to turn down trail magic when you’ve been eating the same thing every day. But it’s not too hard.

Eventually, maintaining my veganism became a central part of my hike and one that kept me motivated. I encountered some people along the trail who said I couldn’t thru-hike vegan, and others who went out of their way to help me. The trail is funny like that. I like to think that because of the type of people who feel a call to the Appalachian Trail, being vegan is rather low on the scale of wacky things people do on a hike.

A few weeks into my hike, as I was becoming more and more comfortable with trail life, completing my hike while vegan became an important goal to show that not only can it be done, but it can be done just as healthily, safely, and happily as anyone else.

To my 2009 trail friends: I miss you! Newt, Miss Scarlett, Hellbender, Sunbeam, Half-Moon, Rapunzel, Squeegie, Greaser, Col. Mustard, O.G., and everyone else…

To the class of 2011, happy trails!

Samwise

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