Round Top
Round Top

For the past five years I’ve been paralyzed by a prejudice against driving more than I’m hiking. It just seems aesthetically wrong to spend more time on the road than on the trail, especially when Bay Area trails can easily yield a hiking-to-driving ratio of 4-to-1 (that is, four times more hiking than driving.)

I’m also indignant about burning $3-a-gallon gas to convey me to a trailhead. In the woods I’m free of everybody — landlords, grocers, doctors, car dealers — with a claim to the contents of my checking account. After the whole communing-with-nature thing, the next greatest appeal to me about hiking is that I can’t spend any money while I’m doing it. (I suspect this frugality is widespread among our kind, given the cold-as-a-snowmelt response to all the gear deals I’ve been flogging.)

Yesterday’s hike to Lake Winnemucca, however, illustrated the paradox of thrift: the urge to avoid eight hours of driving for three hours of hiking was costing me the experience of being up there among the tall peaks on a perfect day. I could rationalize that the trails around here are good enough, but it’s so much better up there. Today it feels like the best deal I’ve found all year.

Getting into the mountains without breaking the bank

We can tell ourselves the experience is worth far more than the price, but you don’t buy groceries with experience. You also can’t fix the roof or mow the lawn while you’re burning an entire day on a hiking outing. Here’s how I think you can take the sticker shock out of an all-day excursion:

  • Never go solo. Taking even one extra hiker along cuts the cost of gas in half. A carload of four takes your $60 gas bill down to $15, which means you can get in four hikes for the cost of one.
  • Make it a social thing. I find the time in the car just talking to people to be almost as interesting as the hike itself. If you tell yourself “the hike is just one part of the outing and maybe not the most important part,” it’s easier to get your brain around more car time than trail time.
  • Make it a family thing. Keeping your kids entertained all that time is another matter altogether, but if you can pull it off you’ll be turning your kids into little hikers, which has to be a good thing.
  • Make it an excuse to go camping. So doing an overnight backpacking trip burns two days instead of one, but you really need to rise with the sun in the mountains to experience all they have to give.

As you’ve guessed, most of this is me talking myself into hauling myself up to the High Sierra. Got more tips? Let go with a comment.