Q&A: Hal Summers of Hike Every Day

A 40-something dad with a full-time job decides to get in shape by hiking every day for a full year. Could you do the same?

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Hal Summers is likely the envy of many: For the last four months, and for the rest of the year, if all goes as planned, he’ll hike at least once each day. A bold goal—maybe not as instantly impressive as climbing Everest, but Summers can always crow that he’s already hiked more vertical than it takes to get to the top of the world. Summers started the blog Hike Every Day to stay in touch with friends and family, but in the process, he’s picked up loads of followers and even a few eager fans.

Now, this inspiring everyman tells the Daily Dirt how he manages to balance work and family with tons of trails, and why it’s important to “just go”—even if it’s only in your own backyard.

BACKPACKER: So 365 days of straight hiking—where’d you get the idea for that?

Hal Summers: I was reading about New Year’s Resolutions and came up with the idea: Going to the gym is boring, and I don’t like to diet, but I enjoy hiking so to get in better shape, I’ll try to do that. It was more of a whim. I started the blog because I thought it would be fun for my friends and family, and it would make me accountable for going every day.

BP: Where have you racked up most of your hiking miles?

HS: Most of the hikes I’ve done have been pretty close to home—I live in the Palm Springs area, and it’s not well known, but we have over 1,000 miles of hiking trails within an hour of here. It is also possible to hike cross-country in the desert very easily—just pick a ridge or canyon and go. There are also a TON of “unofficial” Indian trails and use trails. I thought I knew all the trails in my area, but since I started doing this I’ve found a lot of trails I never knew existed.

I have been most excited to find new things right in my own “backyard”. I found a Native American gravesite about 20 minutes from my house, and have discovered lots of other monuments, hunting blinds, and other artifacts. I also love Joshua Tree—there are so many things to discover there, I never get tired of it.

BP: Beyond your backyard, do you have any places on your hiking hit-list to visit before the journey’s over?

HS: I am planning a trip to Havasupai that will hopefully come off in the next few weeks—I’ve never been to the Grand Canyon, so I’d love to go there. I have a friend who lives in Kauai and I’m hoping to make that trip before the year is out. I also have some friends who are going to do the High Sierra Trail and I’m hoping to meet up with them to do some of that with them.

BP: Has it been tough to balance work, family, and a whole lotta hiking?

HS: To manage family, work, and hiking I have had to just take it one day at a time. Once I get my work schedule, I figure out when I can hike, think of how much time I’ll have, and then make a decision based on that. Sometimes, I just start driving and look for someplace that looks interesting and try to find (out about) access.

I work at a resort as a hotel bellman, and the the job has been extremely flexible, and that allows me the freedom to get out and go places. It is also helpful working in the hotel business, because I always have places to stay when I travel—my hiking partners love that. I’ve been saving up vacation time so that when summer comes I’ll be able to make some bigger, more adventurous trips.

BP: Lots of people probably wish they could get outside as much as you. What advice would you give them to make it a reality?

HS: Just GO! There are times that all I have is my camera and a water bottle. A lot of people won’t go unless they have planned an outing, have an itinerary, have set out all their maps and have sufficient time to do something special. I don’t have time for any of that—I just go without preconditions. No hike is too short, too long, too easy or hard, hot or cold, too lonely or crowded. If I have a couple of hours or all day, it doesn’t matter.

Also, go someplace you’ve never been whenever possible. I know people who hike the same trails over and over and over again. I try not to do the same thing if I can help it, and it’s been wonderful. I can discover more in thirty minutes than some people can in a month.

BP:  Any setbacks or close-calls that might’ve gotten you off-track from your goal ?

HS: I took a fall off the trail a couple of months ago and hit my head on a rock. I was very lucky that I grabbed a bush and was able to not fall straight down and break my neck. It made me much more cautious.

BP: Have you discovered any favorite or essential pieces of gear on your quest?

HS: I am not a big gearhead and I often go with minimal gear. That said, I have a few pieces I have come to rely on. I have a Patagonia Micro Puff Vest that bunches down to nothing, but (it’s) kept me from freezing on more than one occasion. My iPhone has been a backup camera a couple of times when I forgot a camera, and I’ve been able to look up maps online when I wasn’t sure where to go. And Smartwool socks—I love those.

BP: We hear you’ve picked up some pretty ardent fans.

HS: My wife actually had the strangest reaction from someone. One day she was waiting outside my son’s school, and some lady drove up and yelled out, “I’m a big fan of your husband!” She literally started looking around to see who this lady was yelling at. She then yelled, “No, you!”

She told my wife that she and her husband are big hikers and read my blog all the time. She was blocking traffic, so my wife didn’t get to talk to her much. We don’t know who it was, or how they found it, or how often they read. But my wife was very amused that I have fans.

You can follow Hal Summers quest to hike every day for a year at Hike Every Day. And if you’ve got a monumental quest of your own, give us a shout in the comments section below.

—Ted Alvarez