Hike Your Own Hike – Book Review and Interview with Author Francis Tapon

I recently had the pleasure of reading Francis Tapon’s book: Hike Your Own Hike. In 2001 Tapon thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail allowing his experiences to teach him lessons about life along the way. Hike your Own Hike details seven basic life lessons Tapon discovered on his 2,181 mile journey from Maine to Georgia.

In a nutshell, Hike Your Own Hike encourages everyone to approach life in a way that makes themselves happy. Imagine life as one big long-distance trail. Along that trail different people are going to find different ways they like to hike and ways they don’t like to hike. In the same way everyone has their own way of living life. People may give you advice along the way, and Tapon will tell you it is important to listen to that advice, but in the end you have to hike your own hike. You have to live life in a way that makes you happy.

Tapon does his fair share of giving advice. Each of the seven principles outlined in the book offer guidance on ways to hike your own hike in life. Tapon gives advice on finances, employment, health, charity, taking life too seriously, and even gives advice on listening to advice.

Toward the end of the book Tapon admits not everyone will agree with his advice. He says: “If you’d rather just grab the ideas you like and toss the rest of the book into the campfire” then so be it…”that’s your way of hiking your own hike.” While I’m not going to toss the book into the campfire, there certainly were chapters I didn’t agree with. Most of the criticisms I have Tapon, himself address at the end of each chapter, he even address some criticisms I didn’t think of. He warns that it is possible to follow each principle to the extreme, and that each chapter has to be balanced by the others. When your done reading the book and consider everything Tapon has to say…it all balances out to be pretty good advice. Like him I warn against listening to any one principle without considering the others. At the same time, I believe the world would be a better place if everyone tried to follow Tapon’s advice.

To wrap up my review of the book I conducted an interview with Tapon. Below you will find his answers to various questions I asked. In addition to these questions Tapon answers a number of other FAQ’s on his website:

Francis Tapon

What long distance trails have you hiked? Which one was your favorite?

I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail southbound. And I yo-yoed (did a round-trip) the Continental Divide Trail. Only a handful of people have done the Triple Crown southbound. I recommend it. My favorite was CDT because it’s so wild and unstructured, but most hikers would put the PCT in first place.

Where did you get the idea to write this book?

From thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail.

Did you set out on the AT expecting to discover life lessons on the trail?

Yes, I figured the AT would give me profound lessons. I just didn’t know what they would be!

Did you have any pre-existing ideas of the type of lessons you would learn while hiking the AT?

Yes, I had three principles in mind before I set off, but I reworded them in my book. Those principles would become chapters 1, 3, and 7. Therefore, you could say that the AT confirmed those three principles that I had a vague idea about before setting off. The other 4 principles I discovered on the journey.

Do you have a family of your own?

No. On the CDT (which I soloed), I thought I should add an 8th Principle: Don’t Hike Alone. In other words, don’t go through life alone. Form a community or a family. I don’t have a family, but I have community.

The chapter “Hike with a Passion” suggests that we should all be doing what we love. Do you think this is practical for everyone?

No, but most people overestimate how hard it is to do. We’re scared of the unknown, but pursuing your passion is surprisingly accessible for most people. So I devote the chapter explaining how to find out what your passion is and how to pursue it.

The book has a lot of religious references. Are you religious and if so what faith?

I’m agnostic, but my college degree is in Religion. I used to be Christian, but after studying so many faiths, I threw up my arms and became agnostic. I make religious references because religions hold profound wisdom.

I’m sure there are people reading this that dream of hiking the AT someday (myself included). In the book you almost discourage people for doing so. What advice would you give to someone dreaming of hiking the AT or other long-distance trail?

Be realistic. You’re right that at the end of the book, I half-jokingly discourage people to do the AT mainly because I don’t think most people would enjoy a thru-hike, even avid backpackers. The numbers prove it: the vast majority drop out (and it’s rarely injury-related). The problem, as I explain in the book, is that there’s a big difference between backpacking for a weekend and thru-hiking. It’s apples and oranges. The best way to prepare is to pretend you’re a thru-hiker. That means hiking more than 10 miles a day with a fully-loaded backpack, not showering, and eating the same food for several days. Then imagine doing that nonstop for six months. If it seems like fun, then you’re well prepared.

Do you write and promote your books full time, or do you work in addition to your writing?

Full-time: it’s my only job and source of income since 2006.

As part of your wander learn plan you hope to visit every country in the world…how is that going for you?

I’ve been to 80 out of 192 countries, about 40% of the planet. I’ll make big progress when I go to Africa in 2012-2015. With 55 African countries, once that trip is done, I’ll have been to 80% of the world’s countries.

How do you fund your traveling?

I have savings from my time in Silicon Valley and Microsoft. My books, videos, and coaching also help. It’s little, but the great thing about being an experienced thru-hiker is that you’re an expert at traveling frugally.

How do you get sponsors for your trips?

I wrote about how to get sponsors. Basically, you have to explain why your hike is interesting and how you will help promote the sponsor’s products.

With all you’re traveling…how do you find time to write?

I have to take breaks and write. For example, I’ve spent months in Slovenia, Croatia, and Estonia just writing my second book, The Hidden Europe. I paused my travel in those countries. Otherwise, it’s impossible to write a book on the road—too many distractions. In my current place, I have no radio, TV, phone, or Internet: PERFECT!

If there was one campsite you could go back to…or even build a house on…which one would it be?

Ugh. Too many options! OK, I’ll take a spot where I did the most dangerous and extreme backpacking of my life: near Mt. Triglav in the Julian Alps of Slovenia in Europe.

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