|NATIONAL PARKS QUICKLINKS|
Backpacker Magazine – February 1998
He rocked the world of climbing, challenged the accepted wisdom in sea kayaking, and now Ray Jardine turned his renegade way of thinking to backpacking.
The following summer, the pair hiked the Continental Divide Trail, a cobbled-together network of existing trails that runs from Mexico to Canada mostly along the crest of the Rocky Mountains. By then a long-distance veteran, Jardine had begun not just formulating his system for long hikes, but implementing it. Both Ray and Jenny felt that the next logical step was to head East and hike the Appalachian Trail.
When they set off from Georgia on June 7, 1993, Ray and Jenny were putting his go-light system to its first real test. Each of their packs weighed less than 15 pounds, including food, a feat achieved in part by starting late in the season to avoid carrying heavy winter clothing and gear. Hikers along the trail took one look at their homemade packslittle more than daypacks, actuallyand couldn't believe the pair was thru-hiking the trail.
"Other hikers thought we were slack-packing or dayhiking," remembers Jardine. "The ones who did believe we were going all the way said, 'You'll never make it.' It was strange. Our lightweight gear left us open to outright scorn."
But Jardine had calculated the daily mileage he and Jenny could cover with their light loads. And the relatively short distance between resupply stations in the densely populated East made it possible for them to travel even lighter. Jardine cut the hipbelts off their packs because their light loads made them unnecessary. They hiked in running shoes, taking most of the weight off their feet, where it really counted. Both had umbrellas, modified by Jardine, which enabled them to hike in light rain or drizzle, and do so in perfect comfort. They did, however, make one bold decision they would soon regret.
"Too bold," laughs Jardine. They decided to hike the entire AT without a stove. They stayed healthy, but they'll never do it that way again. "The weight savings wasn't worth it," he says. "We felt like we could have made the journey even more quickly if we had cooked food to eat for breakfast and dinner, which I now think is better and more appetizing. It was a good lesson."
Speed wasn't the point of their trip, it was merely a by-product of The Ray Way. Jardine hates power hiking and thinks it's poor technique to "get the RPMs up," as he puts it. Instead, the couple's rapid progress was the result of putting in more hours on the trail. Simply put, they could hike longer each day without getting tired because they weren't encumbered with heavy packs. That in turn enabled them to enjoy the experience more.
"We started behind virtually every thru-hiker on the trail that year," says Jardine. "But by the time we reached Katahdin, we had passed all but a handful. The thing is, we never passed anyone on the trail. We move too slowly for that. We passed them while they were resting, or sleeping, or taking layover days because they were all so tired from lugging those huge packs."