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Packing It Out: An Introduction

If you spent time hiking the Appalachian Trail last year, you probably saw a small amount of trash on the trail. If you timed it right, you may have seen a trio of thru-hikers named Packing It Out. Perhaps you met us individually? Goose, Spice and Cap were our trail names. Insubordinate beards, sweat soiled packs, and overly exposed legs had us looking like Hugh Glass at the starting line of the Boston Marathon. The Packing It Out crew looked… and smelled... like the majority of long distance hikers that year. What set us apart wasn’t our short shorts or wild stares, but our mission to inspire a greater sense of environmental stewardship in our communities by raising awareness of the litter conditions on America’s trails. We accomplished this by picking up every piece of trash we found during our 2,189.2 mile thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. We removed over 1,100 pounds of trash from the world’s oldest mountain range. This year we will do it again on the 2,600+ mile Pacific Crest Trail.

Attempting to clean a long trail from one end to the other is a new idea for many and downright asinine for most. This type of effort harbored endless questions from day-hikers and other thru-hikers. Below, I’ll answer the questions we heard most often on the trail. Who are you? Why are you doing this? By the end of this blog post, you should have a good idea of who we are, why we care so much about picking up trash, and what we plan to do this year.

Who We Are

This year the crew will include Paul “Spice” Twedt, Chris “Samples” Moore, and me, Seth “Cap” Orme. Unfortunately, Joe, also known as Goose, won’t be working with us this year so we added another dedicated member to take Joe’s place, Chris Moore. Paul, Chris, and I have all spent many years living and working in the outdoors.

Paul cut his teeth working for the Montana Conservation Corps and worked with me as a guide for an inclusive guiding service called Wilderness Inquiry, based out of Minneapolis, MN. Upon hearing the idea for Packing It Out, he wanted in! Paul loved the process of planning a long distance clean-up effort. Much of what we accomplished on the Appalachian Trail is thanks to his hard work. This year, he has naturally become our logistics technician. He knows where we gotta go!

Chris found his strength racing as a competitive Cat 1 cyclist. His time working with CLIF Bar & Co has taken Chris all over the country, where he uses his spare time to explore new places. We first met Chris last year along the Appalachian Trail. After spending three days together, we chatted about everything from working together next year to how far we could run on one tablespoon of almond butter. We haven’t been able to test the almond butter theory yet, but we did stay in touch. Packing It Out couldn’t be happier to have Chris on board this year.

My weekends as a child were spent exploring the Mississippi River with my family. In 2010, I dipped my kayak into the headwaters of the Mississippi. 2,350 miles later, the Gulf of Mexico came into view, marking the end of a source to sea adventure and solidifying my passion for the outdoors. The spark lit many years ago has become a bright burning flame. Since then, I’ve spent most of my time outdoors. From bike commuting through a Minnesota winter to running 50-mile mountain-based ultra-marathons, I’ve been doing just about every self-propelled activity I can get my hands on.

Time in the outdoors inspired me to start Packing It Out. I became tired of seeing trash and decided that I would clean up the trash I saw, hopefully inspiring others at the same time. Cleaning up a long distance trail was our way of proving that whether we have five minutes or five months, we can keep America’s trails clean.

Why We Clean America’s Trails

“Our ability to perceive quality in nature begins, as in art, with the pretty. It expands through successive stages of the beautiful to values as yet uncaptured by language.”

“We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”

-Aldo Leopold

These two quotes capture much of what Packing It Out is trying to accomplish and really explain why we do what we do. We want our communities to see the beauty and quality of nature when they go outdoors.

Unfortunately, our beautiful trails are often marred by trash and waste. If a scenic trail starts to hold the same aesthetic as an urban city street, it may lose its brilliance and be regarded as a throw-away commodity. By physically going out for five months and cleaning up every piece of trash we find on the trail, we hope to inspire a greater sense of environmental stewardship in our communities. We want to change peoples’ values and attitudes. We want to inspire folks to develop a deeper love and respect for our natural places. Our goal is to change the idea of a piece of litter from being someone else’s problem and create a higher ethic where any trash in the outdoors becomes everyone’s responsibility to pack out, regardless of who put it there. The more this ethic spreads, the less there is a need for Packing It Out. I know, our mission is somewhat self defeating. Regardless, the end goal is for the planet to not only be cleaner, but for our communities to develop a genuine respect and value for all of our natural places.