Hiking For A Unique Sense Of Freedom
For thru-hiker Keith Foskett, a long-distance trail and time to trek are all you need for a life-affirming adventure
With previous professions spanning everything from car cleaning to refuse disposal, Keith Foskett hasn’t always led a life of adventure. But then he went on a hike – 1,000 miles along the Camino de Santiago – and became ‘addicted to walking ridiculous distances in remote locations’. The practice, known as thru-hiking, has since taken him across large swathes of the United States – on a seven-month trek along all 2,640 miles of the Pacific Coast Trail, and a 2,180-mile journey along the world-famous Appalachian Trail – Mexico and the Scottish Highlands.
From his trail travels, Foskett has written award-winning books, recounting his experiences at the hands of kleptomaniacs, local law enforcement, snakes, bears, mountains and no small amount of breathtaking natural wonder. The man from West Sussex has seen it all – and all it took was a backpack, boots and some walks on the wild side.
When I hike long distance I reach a point where I’m as close to freedom as I could ever hope for
Q: Walking seems the most accessible form of adventure there is, but are there any skills that need to be learned before setting off on a long-distance walk?
A: ‘I agree. There are few nuts and bolts to walking – we all do it after all, and always have done. It’s simply taking something you know, and magnifying it. The skills one needs centre around equipment, how to use it, and being safe outside. For example, pitching a tent is easy after a few attempts, but knowing where to pitch requires skill.’
‘Being safe also takes time, but comes with practice. Knowing how much water to take if you have a 24-mile desert section, being aware when thunderstorms usually hit the mountains – and getting your hiking completed for the day to avoid them – and knowing what foods to eat to perform optimally are all aspects of thru-hiking that need to be learned. A little research goes a long way but, once hiking, the actual practice is the quickest way to learn.’
Q: What bits of kit does every thru-hiker need to carry?
A: ‘It’s a big list! The main four are backpack, shelter, sleeping bag and ground insulation. With those you have the basics of shelter and warmth – enough to survive. Clothing is relatively simple: one long-sleeved and one short-sleeved shirt, shorts, socks, insulated jacket, waterproof gear and, depending on climate, cold-weather gear such as hat, thermals and gloves.’
‘One pair of hiking shoes – some take a pair of camp shoes to change into. A stove, fuel, one pot and spoon complete the cooking needs although many now thru-hike with no cooking equipment at all to save weight, preferring to ‘soak’ dried food over the day. The rest is personal preference: toiletries, electrical gear (phone, camera, navigation devices etc), water treatment devices. I’d always suggest a week’s hike to find out what you need.’
Q: What are your three most memorable hiking experiences?
A: ‘First, the Sierra Nevada mountain range, which I traversed for two weeks on the Pacific Crest Trail. It will stay with me for a long time – the scenery is astonishing, and it’s remote, just how I like it!’
‘Second, hiking through Maine on the Appalachian Trail, mainly because it just caught me unawares! It was the last state and I was looking forward to finishing, but it kicked my arse. Ludicrously steep ascents and descents, water crossings and inclement conditions, but it was knockout gorgeous.’
‘Finally, the Camino Frances. This was my first long-distance hike of 1,000 miles. The Camino taught me many things and it’s not so much a hike, more a learning experience. They say El Camino changes people, and it’s true. My adventure made me realise many things, namely to do what I really wanted to do, and not be afraid of it.’
Words: Issac Williams