Unique Experience-LiveI am James "Attrition" Lunning, and I am a swordfighting vagrant who has spent the last 30 months hiking over 15,000 miles around the US.
Aug 23rd 2017 by Appliers • 62 Questions • 5643 Points
At the ripe young age of 21 I quit my job as a machinist to hike around the US. I've hiked across the US nearly 4 times, thru 29 states, and over 15,000 contiguous miles. Currently taking a rest day after watching the Solar Eclipse, in the last state of the Continental Divide Trail: Montana.
When I set out on the Appalachian Trail on February 12th of 2015 I had planned to hike until I ran out of either money or trails I could reasonably connect, but it was sort of a joke and I couldn't have understood what I was really up for. I've snowshoed across the High Sierra in November, the San Juan Mountains in May; trekked across the Great Plains, Death Valley, the Mojave and Sonoran deserts; shiverred my way through the Upper Midwestern winter; been swept down rivers and steep icy slopes. I've cried at the sight of grocery stores, and been kicked out of buffets for staying too long/eating too much. All the while carrying my trusty longsword.
If I had to pin down why I'm doing this, flippantly its because I played too much (or not enough) Dungeons and Dragons. More seriously would be that many things conspired to give me this opportunity, not least of which was my father having a cancer scare just before retiring, which made it clear as day that I couldn't count on retiring, so if I wanted to go traveling I needed to make it happen. The dumb heady reason is that I don't believe in free will so this is all post-fact rationalization anyways. Hiking was chosen as the mode of travel as combination of having started on the Appalachian Trail, and an inspiring meeting with another hiker doing a similar walk to what I've been up to, I am considering Kayaking the next leg of my trip. I carry the sword partly as a dedication device, I study Historical European Martial Arts (mainly Fiore if we have folks from /r/wma) and figured if I didn't bring it along then I wouldn't be likely to go back to it when I returned; but also I like the frame of mind carrying it puts me in, very adventurous and kindof like I am on some sort of quest.
I am not independently wealthy, but I did go to a low cost trade school to become a CNC machinist, and worked for about a year while pinching my pennies pretty tightly. I bought food in extreme bulk before I left and my parents help me by mailing boxes of it to post offices along the way. I do pay the postage but I'm trading the labor with my Mom, in exchange I'm planning to take her on a thru hike of the John Muir Trail in CA, during the summer after I call my hike complete.
Sporadically updated Blog: https://www.attritionhike.com
So, this was all started with DnD, how how often do you get to do it now? Have there ever been instances on the trail where you've played? Or is your DnD addiction satisfied by basically living the story out?
I think about DnD a lot on trail, and have been writing a campaign while on trail. I don't see enough people with enough regularity to really play DnD on trail. I've heard of trail families playing DnD on the Appalachian Trail, but it didn't happen to me.
This is a really hard one to nail down to just one.
Death Valley is a strong contender; Badwater Basin is really surreal. When I went through Glacier last summer I was in maybe the perfect spot mentally to be totally overcome by Mountains, having spent the past month and a half walking across the plains of Western MN, ND, and Eastern MT. Wyoming's Wind River Range is maybe my favorite mountain range in total, especially after having seen the eclipse from there. Other Mentions would be the Pasayten Wilderness in North WA, Pictured Rocks on MI's Upper Penninsula, and the White Mountains of NH.
If I had to pick one in absolute though I think making the top of Katahdin for sunrise at the North end of the AT was probably the most powerful singular experience of the trip.
Woe be to thee who pilfers mine croissant.
Do you have a favorite type of socks/footwear? How many have you gone through? Have your feet become the pinnacle of human adaption or are they now the barnacle-seized rudders on the ship that is your body?
Darn Tough socks, footwear I like Asolo Restons, but I would recommend trying out different footwear, everyone's feet are so different that getting footwear advice from someone on the internet seems really fraught.
EDIT: Missed the 2nd part of the question, My 7th Pair of boots are almost on their way out, and socks... probably been through 10 pairs before I switched to darn tough about 6000 miles ago, and have burnt out 2 maybe 3 pairs since I think.
Asolos are kind of the shit, I've had a pair for like a decade now and they're still holding up like a champ.
I like them quite a bit. I wish that the Piumas were built better though, they'd be my first choice for sure over the Restons if they could hold up for more than 500 to 800 miles.
What are some of the things that you miss most about regular living other than having shelter and convenience?
Also, what are some things that you're relieved you don't have to deal with from society?
I miss people and my cat the most probably, I miss good pizza quite a bit. Tap water is pretty rad too.
Very happy to not have to deal with cars very often, maybe with a side of news.
How much does your pack weigh? What do you have in it?
I haven't taken a good base weight measurement in a long time, if I had to guess I would say Minimum 16ish pounds (~7kg) Maximum 30ish pounds (13.5kg) depending on how much food and water are in there.
water bag w/ hydration tube
empty gatorade bottle
ursack (bear-proof food bag)
long Ti Spoon
misc repair stuff for people and gear
that's probably about it
Wow, what an amazing experience. Can I ask how you charge your batteries? I once spent 6 months living in a tent over winter in the highlands of Scotland - I used portable solar panels to excellent effect. I have a small 10w 5v panel that fits on a rucksack - it outputs a steady 2-4w in cloud and 5-8w in uk sun.
Also, food? Dehydrated vegetables? Tins? Hunting/foraging? MREs?
stop into coffee shops or somewhere with an outlet in towns, and be conservative with my battery use. I can go up to 16 days from a full charge when I am using my phone for maps and being conservative. with paper maps I don't even really worry about my phone. On the AT my phone was dead for like 400 miles once.
I was recently given a solar panel so I am thinking about how necessary/useful it'd be, and how to integrate that into my systems.
mostly bulk staples (Lentils, Quinoa, Pasta, Rice) Peanut butter, Dried fruits, and stray nuts. I'll forage a little, but I'm not familiar with edible plants throughout the entire US so...
What style of longsword to you have? What are the specs? Do you carry it in a scabbard at your side while you hike?
Also have you ever read The Book of Five Rings? This story reminds me a little bit of the story in that book, although I would hope without the maiming.
Thats the sword that I carry, no real scabbard, I have/had cuben fiber rain cover for it that has disintegrated into almost nothing.
I have read the book of five rings. I'm a big fan of Musashi, and also try to keep the the precepts of the Dokkōdō in mind.
I am also curious about your sword. What type of steel is it made of and how well do you upkeep it. I would assume without many opportunities to get it in a dry environment, it could be prone to rusting. I can only imagine that you carry/use lots of oil and give her time out of a scabard.
As a fellow backpacker and blade enthusiast I have to wonder the task at hand for your longsword. However out in the middle of nowhere I have found it very therapeudic to find and care for ones belongings.
So how difficult is the upkeep and is it worth it to carry on your travels accounting for the passion you have for it.
I use Olive Oil and a tiny bit of red scotchbrite for sword upkeep. Olive oil doubles as food.
EDIT: its pretty easy upkeep, if it wasn't worth it I'd mail it back to my parents house.
I think I passed them in Yellowstone, hoping they caught up while I was off trail for the eclipse. I bet they're by Chief Joseph Pass.
I am an experienced hiker with pretty extensive knowledge in survival. I am currently planning to hike around 500 miles along the "Ice Age Trail" in Wisconsin (waiting for it to cool off a bit because mosquitoes up there are horrendous). My question is (I will PM you as well), would you like a hiking partner? I believe we would both benefit from each other's knowledge and company.
do you have your trail legs on already? I'm gonna try to knock out some miles pretty soon here, I've been on a kick of side trips and visiting people who are near trail for a while and am pretty stoked to get back at it. I'd hang out with you if we keep a similar pace, but trying to stay with people who you have mismatched pace is bad practice. Sometime after I am back home though, I'd be down to hike with another midwesterner.
Its in reference to the fact that I am hiking until I run out of money, sort of like a war of attrition. I got it from my friend Nemo, whom I hiked the first thousand or so miles with.
Is 2nd lunch a food truck?
Is Nemo a Ultra-light repeat AT thru-hiker who is small built?
Not my Nemo, my Nemo is also a machinist, Springer to Harper's Ferry is his thru hiking resume.
Haha, was the person doing something similar named Mamouth? I met you on the AT at a shelter when I was going sobo (I did a flip flop) and watched you practice your sword skills after dinner, you're definitely the real deal. I love that you're still hiking, that's awesome man!
Yeah, I've Met Mammoth a couple times, we've met up a couple times, and still keep in touch! He's an even more hardcore budgetter than I am.
Have you been hassled about the sword at all? I know that has got to be above approved carry blade lengths for most states!
Honestly, not really. The few times I've been stopped by police or park rangers have all been for other reasons.
So when you walk into a buffet or a grocery store with a big ass sword strapped on your back people are just cool with it? That's kind of awesome.
I tend get more comments on it from other hikers than from townspeople.
Any medical close calls? I feel like there would be far more than normal while out there that much.
I had IBS for like the first year or so, and that kept me on my extra toes about getting dehydrated. I've gotten sick a few times, but so far I've always been able to find somewhere to lay low for like 5 days and rest. Nothing too serious, although I jokingly worry about getting stung by a bee (never been stung before) and finding out that I am allergic, cause that could just be death.
Your way of life seems stimulating!
What would you say has been most dangerous about your travels?
River crossings and traversing icy slopes are probably the most dangerous things I've done. Quite a few people have been killed or injured on the PCT this year in river crossing incidents as a result of the high snow this past winter.
Maybe staying in the homes of strangers, but I think that's overhyped.
Have you ever had fight off bandits with your sword? Or maybe a wild beast?
I've definitely scared folks off with my sword (not intentionally, just throwing practice cuts at the top of a mountain pass) I'd like to think they were bandits, and that I wasn't just terrorizing dayhikers. I killed some giant spiders with it in PA.
Do you carry any fencing treatises with you? It would be a good way to keep studying on trail and explain the art to the people who don't know about it.
I have a ton of them downloaded to a tablet, Flower of Battle is what I always go back to, but I read some Meyer and Ringeck too on occasion.
What food do you recommend for long quests?
Can you think of any improvements to the national forrest/parks? For the land, campers, through hikers, etc?
Lentils, Quinoa, Peanut Butter, Raisins / other dried fruit, Butter and or Olive Oil. That right there is probably like 70% of my food. A little spice kit helps a lot, just having spiced your food yourself seems to have an outsized psychological effect on how good it tastes.
"You fight like a dairy farmer!"
1 pair of shorts, 4 pairs of pants. Also I'm on my 5th shirt I think, and 7th pair of boots.
How did you get started with the hike? What advice do you have for those considering through hikes or even something like your journey? Any sage advice gleaned over the course of your trek?
Starting a big hike like this with a thru-hike of either the AT or the PCT would be a great way to learn the basics, and I am very happy that I did the AT as the first.
Its all about not quitting, nearly any individual section of my hike hasn't been so tough that most people couldn't tackle it. The trick is entirely to keep going, managing your mental state and motivation are the most important things. I've seen people get off trail for minor injuries, and also heard catastrophic stories that still end with someone finishing the trail.
eh sorta... I was on a forest service road on the way up a mountain and I heard a biggish rustling behind me, and out came a huge badger looking guy standing maybe 3-4 feet tall, or so with some grayish stripes about 25 or 30 feet away. I pulled my Bear Spray out, unchecked the safety and we stared each other down. After maybe 5 or 10 seconds of this, the Wolverine slumped down and trundled off the other way down the road.
I've always wanted to do this! I love the idea of being a wandering swordsman in an era that never expected one. How much money did you start with? And is budgeting difficult?
Thanks! Budgeting was tougher at the beginning, I started with about $15,000. I have an automatic payment from savings to checking that keeps me on budget decently well.
well... I did go home for Xmas. So I guess it probably doesn't count. ;)
I have a feeling you would make an excellent dungeon master.
I don't shower very often, mostly wash myself in rivers. So its hard for me to actually consider anything a shower habit, but I have pee'd in the shower before.
Do you have much outdoors experience? I wouldn't necessarily be opposed to gaining a party member.
Going for the triple crown?
Purest or more take it as it goes?
I met a guy named Lord Bearclaw on the AT last year he has a sword. That sucker was a pound and half I think. Have a weight estimate for yours?
Got about 650 miles left before I finish the Triple.
I keep a continuous footpath, but I dunno that I would call myself a purist, the esotericness of being an every-fuckin'-incher isn't what I derive the value of hiking from.
Mine is just under 3 pounds, was he NoBo or SoBo? I would've loved to have run into someone else carrying a real sword. doubly so if we were headed in opposite directions and could spar right where we met.
Would you say that while we chumps were at work, you have been studying the blade?
and cultivating Inner Strength
yes, but the good weirdos vastly outnumber the bad weirdos in my experience. I've met a couple of people who were probably compulsive liars and one vaguely started to impersonate other people I was hiking with. I've gotten rides back to trail that went on pretty unexpected detours.
Any tips for female thru hikers? This issue seems like the biggest barrier to me
There are a fair number of people thru-hiking who are just weird, and they can be off putting. In general women I meet on trail seem to be pretty unafraid of creeps, although I have met a few who've gotten off trail because they were really sketched out by someone.
I dunno if I have anything that's real female targeted advice, but don't let it stop you if you want to do it. A lot of the most hardcore thru-hikers are Women. Look up Anish, and Not a Chance. Their blogs might have better info for you.
Do you live solely off of your savings, or do you have some way of generating funds? Costs for clothes, food, and phone service (that is, assuming you have it) must really stack up.
I have been living solely off of savings, You'd maybe be surprised by how frugal you can get.
I've been on a family plan for phone coverage since MN, but thats mainly because my parents want to be able to talk to me occasionally. I had a flip phone prior to that that was only turned on once or twice a month. you can do a lot just finding wifi at libraries with a cheap tablet.
This is awesome! How possible would this be with a baby and a wife? Could you see a small family doing this?
You wouldn't be the first, look up Buddy Backpacker. He's a 12 year old who has probably 7 or 8 thousand miles behind him. I've met 4 different parent child duos/groups who were thru hiking one of the triple crown trails. I think you could find a way to do it for sure.
Interesting story, thanks for sharing!
You mentioned you have supplies mailed to you, but do you find yourself ever needing to live off the land and source food yourself? If so, what's been your favorite meals so far?
I'll forage for food on occasion, but for the most part foraging for actual sustenance isn't super compatible with the pace I try to keep.
Best trail food so far non foraged would probably be: spicy lentils and quinoa, with a sauce made from butter, whole milk powder, diced dried mango, curry powder, and tajin. (dehydrated lime and cayanne)
Best foraged food, massive Morel mushrooms fried in butter.
Have you ever had any moments where you were close to quitting the hike and giving up?
I give myself decision points at the end of each trail where I decide if I want to keep going, and I am very stubborn. At the end of the North Country Trail was probably the closest I've come to throwing in the towel, crossing the great plains was very mind numbing. I'm glad I did though, the west has really lived up to its hype for me.