Long-Distance Hikers Love Fantasy

Take away the Ents, the Nazgûl, the Orcs, and all those pesky battles and Elven deliberations from The Lord of the Rings, and really what you have is a series about one very epic hike. But how epic is it? Well, it depends on who you ask. Tallying up how many miles it took for Frodo and Sam to get to Mount Doom is a popular past-time for LOTR fans, and if you visit New Zealand, where Peter Jackson’s trilogy was filmed, there are plenty of hiking tours designed to put you in the Hobbitses’ foot-steps.

The Venn Diagram of Tolkien-lovers and hiking fans doesn’t end there. As it turns out, there’s a whole sub-culture of thru-hikers—those who hike long-distance trails end-to-end—who are also huge fantasy readers.

Writer Rebecca Booroojian—a thru-hiker herself, nicknamed “Gandalf” on the Appalachian Trail—wrote about it in a thoughtful essay over at Outside Online.

From “Not all who wander are lost” graffiti and Instagram captions, to second breakfasts on the trail, to thru-hikers with elvish tattoos, Booroojian explores all the ways these intrepid questers incorporate their love of fantasy into the way they approach hiking—like visualizing often-extreme hiking conditions as part of an epic quest. She herself marked down where she’d pass the Frodo/Sam/Mt. Doom bench-mark, and named her love of fantasy novels a huge influence on motivating her to thru-hike.

“The obvious connection is a fascination with adventure and the unknown,” said one fellow thru-hiker she interviewed. “We want to picture ourselves as Frodo or Bilbo, stepping out our front door on a journey to the ends of the earth.”

While Booroojian’s essay focuses on books, there are some other fantasy works we can think of that would make for some epic hiking motivation. Open world fantasy games like Breath of the Wild and Horizon Zero Dawn are particularly great for this, and some hikers here at Tor.com HQ have definitely mapped out how long it’d take for you to cover the entire map of Skyrim in IRL miles. Also, The Witcher? Great hiking simulator, with some horseback riding and rowing included for variety.

Are you a hiker whose treks are inspired by fantasy? If so, drop your recs in the comments!

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