5 Things I Learned While Hiking 8,000 Miles Across the United States

Words and photos by Tyler Lau. Follow #8000milesto800smiles or @hikingprodigy on Instagram, and donate to his efforts to promote diversity in the outdoors on GoFundMe.


Each year, thousands of aspiring hikers set out across the landscapes of America on National Scenic Trails. The three most well known include the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail. Each is over two thousand miles long, traverses multiple states, and goes through a variety of environments and ecosystems.

If a hiker completes all three of these trails whether on a thru-hike (hiking all of the trail in one hiking season) or section hike (hiking the trail in portions across multiple seasons), they have completed the Triple Crown of Hiking. This title is currently held by less than four hundred people, world wide! As the world of long distance hiking continues to gain popularity, more and more feats of endurance are being set and accomplished.

In April 2018, I set out to hike a Triple Crown in less than a year. This sort of hike is called a Calendar Year Triple Crown (CYTC), and in total the three trails add up to just under eight thousand miles. Before I started, only five people had successfully completed a CYTC. Most people take an entire lifetime to attempt a Triple Crown… I had just under nine months.

On December 29th, 2018 I became the tenth person to complete a CYTC, and first person of color to do so.

When you get to spend so much time outdoors, moving from place to place each day, you learn a lot about yourself and the world around you. Here are five lessons I took away from the hike and how they have impacted me in my transition back to society.


1. Less is more

Sure there’s a big decluttering push right now (thank you Marie Kondo!), but I’d like to think this is something most folks who long distance hike knew way before the trend. Everything I needed had to be carried, so it became imperative that anything going into my backpack had a use. There is no room for the “just in case” mentality. That’s not to say this will work for everyone, but less weight means less wear and tear on your body in the long run. As in your day to day life, the less “stuff" cluttering your desk, the easier it is to find what you need.

2. It’s worth it to disconnect

A lot of us go outdoors to escape the hustle and bustle of our daily lives. While hiking across the country, I made it a point to stay disconnected as much as possible from screens. I missed out on what people were talking about news-wise, but I became more in tune with my mind, body, and surroundings. Technology is a great way to stay connected and also distract ourselves when we need to. It is not to say I did not listen to music and podcasts or post social media updates when I had access to service in town, because I did. But while keeping my screen at a distance, overall, I slept much better, had more energy, and felt happier. It is important to reconnect with our world without worrying how many “likes” we’ll get on a social media post. Take some time to find balance and find yourself immersed in you. With so much happening in our day-to-day lives, it is important to remember that we humans inhabit the earth together. In doing so we can recognize the invisible connections all around us (and no I’m not talking about wifi!).


3. Nature will be Nature, so chill

My respect for the outdoors has grown exponentially after this hike. Nature, however, has a way of reminding you that you can only plan and prepare so much. Weather can turn quickly, animals may not run away from you, and portions of the trail may be overgrown and impassable. And yet, the beauty of it all is Nature has been doing this long before our species was here and will continue doing its thing after we’re gone. It is a great reminder that we can only prepare so much, plan ahead to a degree and yet our plans can change without notification. Stay flexible, adapt, and keep an open mind.


4. Magic is real

The phrases "trail magic” or “the trail provides,” get used a lot by thru-hikers. Trail magic often comes from complete strangers and can range from rides to town, a bed and shower, or even food and drink offered to hikers. If any of these things happen unexpectedly, then "the trail has provided". We shouldn’t expect good things to happen to us, but if my experience on the trail has shown, people are inherently good and good things DO happen. Kindness comes in all forms (sodas, hugs, doughnuts… definitely doughnuts). Sometimes it's the smallest gesture that can completely change someone’s day. Know that if you can do small acts of kindness in your life for others, then you too are a magician.


5. Stop to smell the roses

It is so easy to become desensitized to the beauty while hiking across vastly different landscapes. Part of what helps me combat this feeling is remembering to take the time to enjoy the moments, scenery, and shared experiences with others. Taking a photo helps, and it can trigger a memory later on as you look back. It is hard to relive an exact moment in time on a hike because photos can only do so much (but please do take photos), so remember to soak it in because that’s a moment only you’ll get to have…and that’s special. If you can find time out of your day to seek out moments like this, or if it happens serendipitously, then don’t rush it. Embrace the moments, experiences, and memories you get to make and soon you’ll start seeing them all around you.


On December 29th, 2018, Tyler “The Prodigy” Lau became the first person of color to complete the Calendar Year Triple Crown. He hiked 8,000 miles in 272 days. As part of his hike, he’s raising money for nonprofit organizations that provide opportunities for youth to build leadership skills and self-confidence through wilderness trips, and promote diversity in the outdoors. You can learn more and contribute to his campaign on GoFundMe.

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