I recently read over a list of songs someone had compiled that they associated with their hike of the Appalachian Trail. I found it very interesting and realized that I too had a hiking soundtrack without ever having really thought about it. Mine is less specific to the AT and more just a general hiking playlist. That said, it was heavily influenced by my long distance hike and is well suited to longer hiking trips where you are more likely to run into a range of emotions associated with the hike. So, without further ado, a list of songs I feel most strongly represent my own long-distance hiking style.
1 Almost any light classical, orchestral or symphonic
I have a hard time specifying any single one. So many seem to suit various points in the journey. There is something about nature and this music that just goes hand in hand. Something epic for the start of the journey to something slow and haunting as it nears the end.
2 “Idaho” by Yonder Mountain String Band
If ever there was a ballad for the revelry of nature, this is it. You might be put off by the bluegrass nature, but give it a chance. It really grows on you. The descriptions of beauty of the place where the narrator of the song considers the most ideal spot on earth. Listening to this song draws out memories of similar places I have been and it springs to mind when I run across them again.
3 “The Blood of Cu Chulainn” by Mychael Danna
As with number 1, this is all about the sounds and without words. I first heard it in Boondock Saints, but had all but forgotten it for a while. It recently came back to me in no small part thanks to the other list mentioned above and I think it deserves to be on this list. Of course it fits perfectly hiking through anywhere with the word ‘highlands’ in its name, but even in other areas like mountaintops and foggy morning walks it seems to bring a hop to your step and draws you into an almost otherworldly sense.
4 “Unwritten” by Natasha Bedingfield
This song became something of a theme song for me along the Appalachian Trail in 2006. If you are undertaking a long-distance hike, you almost certainly are facing down a sense of limitless possibilities. You are opening yourself up to hardships and being rewarded by something very special. I found that this song helped the most when it was raining. The refrain directly references rain, reminding you to open yourself up to it rather than shrink away. When there were days strait of endless rain, it helped me to take the good along with the bad instead of just focusing on the bad. It doesn’t hurt that as a writer, the book analogy hit home as well.
5 “This Ain’t Nothin’” by Craig Morgan
As I mentioned in number 4, rain was at times a hardship. There were other hardships as well and there always will be with any long-distance hike. Full shelters, poor water sources, grueling climbs, etc. It is an inescapable fact of life. This song is good when those times start getting to you, because it reminds that even the worst situation can be considered minor when compared to other events. Sure it was a killer climb in the pouring rain and all your gear is soaked, but quit complaining. There are so many others who are dealing with far worse and this was a choice you made.
6 “Can’t Go Back Now” by the Weepies
And then there is that moment when everything hits you at once. No amount of logic is going to make you change your mind. You hit a wall you never expected and now you feel that you can’t go on. You are ready to drop out. It happens to almost everyone and one of the key elements to overcoming it is having others who care with you at the moment of decision. This song is for that lowest moment. When you feel like it is going to be over by your own choice, consider the people you have met along the way and give this song a listen.
7 “Rhythm of the Heat” by Peter Gabriel
Years ago, I watched this AMV. I am not a particular fan of Peter Gabriel, but the nature of the song along with the message of coexistence between nature and humanity really strike home. It is hard not to feel the rhythm sunken deeply in the music and the sense of an almost native beat. The song flows along a wilderness path with you as if it was meant to be there.
8 “Blue Planet” by Donna Lewis
Far more mellow than the rest of the list, this is a deeply relaxing song and one that can be truly appreciated while immersed in nature. Donna Lewis has an unusual voice that few artists can match and when she does a song like this, it seems to work its way into the soul of the listener.
9 “Standing Outside the Fire” by Garth Brooks
A second country song (third if we count the bluegrass) in a list from a guy who claims to dislike country. One thing country music is very good at is a narrative song. This one is all about diving in feet first even when others can’t really understand. It is about taking the meaningful choice instead of the safe one. I suspect everyone who has done a long-distance hike can empathize with how this fits perfectly into that choice. Even now people either think I am crazy to have done any such hiking or say how they yearn to do the same thing. The difference between the latter and I is simply one of action. I had to be in it while they are content to watch longingly from the outside.
10 “Petroleum People” by Dana Hubbard
This song is soft and folkish, but sums up a lot of the returns to town while doing a long hike. You can tell how close you are to roads and towns by the amount of trash on the trail. When you are nearing a town after a long time away, you can ear the unnatural sounds and smell an awful scent that we just never notice living among it. At one point in my 2006 trip, there was a town that seemed so unnatural that the approach felt like entering Silent Hill. Machinery churned out industrial noise, the ground swiftly grew littered with debris and a smell of human waste washed up the mountainside getting stronger with every step. I don’t think anyone does a long-distance hike without running into this sense from time to time. I also don’t know of anyone who completed the trail without it changing a number of their perceptions and aspirations. It’s hard to return to the fast-paced world of the modern age and to accept the sloth that leads to over-consumption and pollution.