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Thorsten Hoyer seems to have a “behavioural disorder”. It’s a characteristic that was once attributed to him by the Editorial Director of Wandermagazin, (Germany’s leading hiking magazine) after he’d supplied him with a ridiculous number of crazy hiking stories. “I just have to get out as much as I can!” is how Thorsten explains his itchy feet. “After two weeks sitting at my desk, I become really restless.” Born in 1968, in Germany’s Hesse region, Thorsten has since taken the reins as Editorial Director of the same magazine. The path he took to get there has been just as varied as the paths and trails he’s walked throughout the world. “Whenever I had the time or money, I always spent it on travel.”

Becoming a keen professional long distance serial hiker followed a stint in education. First stop: Trainee Chef. But he was soon disillusioned. “During my brief career in the kitchen, I worked under four different Head Chefs – every one of them a psychopath.” In 1996, he hung up his apron – professionally at least – and boarded the education train once again. Second stop: Tourism Management. After completing his studies, he secured a job in the hiking department of a Tourism Association. One of the first three hiking trails in Germany to be certified – the Kellerwaldsteig hiking trail in northern Hesse – can be attributed to him (and his feet). Today, he’s added journalism, writing books and tourism consulting to his repertoire, and refers to himself as a ‘hiker’. It seems he’s landed on his feet – quite literally. “It’s more like a calling than a job. I get to do what I love.”

Sleepless in Celle

The journey to becoming an addicted long distance serial hiker just went onwards and upwards. Decades have passed since  his first backpacking trip in 1988 and his more recent, some might say, more extreme, hiking projects of recent years. “As a child I didn’t get socially conditioned into hiking”, explains Thorsten. To start with, during his studies, he was more interested in mountains. He spent his weekends in the Alps whenever he could.

He wrote about his experiences – and sent them off to magazines. At first, his articles were ‘awful’, but they soon became ‘suitable to print’. When not at his desk, he was hiking around the world. A small sample of his trips: Through the rain forests of Tasmania, across the Tibetan Plateau, traverse of the Namib Desert, up Mount Elbrus (5,600 m) in the Caucasus Range, and through the wild mountains of Albania. Like so many of his hiking projects, when he tackled the Arctic Circle Trail in West Greenland, he did it solo.

“Walking over long distances is more of a mental challenge than a physical challenge, especially when pushing your own boundaries.”

He traversed the Icelandic Highlands without stopping to sleep and in one stretch – it’s a speciality of his. But why? “At some point, I just felt like seeing how long I could walk before I wasn’t able to go any further.” Thorsten beat his first target of 150 kilometres without sleep by quite a way. “But I really overworked my whole body in the process – tendons, joints, blisters – for five days I could barely walk.”

He promised himself at the time he’d never do it again. But it wasn’t long before he chose to ignore his own advice. “I learnt about how to walk long distances and not have to sleep.” His next target was 300 kilometres, in one go without sleep. And in 2019, on his second attempt, he achieved that too: from Bad Oldesloe near Hamburg to Celle, 302 kilometres, in 71.5 hours. In the autumn of that same year, he completed the Snowman Trek in Bhutan: 28 days, 365 kilometres, 15,000 metres height gain and 26 nights in a tent (with sleep this time), up to an altitude of 5,300 metres and across 14 mountain passes. Thorsten lost almost 12 kilos in the process.

But less than a year later – in September 2020 – he decided to undertake his longest route yet: The entire length of Germany’s Green Belt. 1,250 kilometres along the former border between East and West Germany. “Walking long distances is more of a mental challenge than a physical challenge, especially when pushing your own boundaries,” he says. During his sleepless projects, the first night is usually fine. But come the second night on the trot, “there comes a point when you think to yourself – What the hell is this all about?” What a relief to hear. Thorsten Hoyer might ultimately never be completely satisfied. But it feels like this is something that he’s aware of. Maybe that’s how he likes it.

5 questions for Thorsten

How many kilometres have you hiked in your life so far?

I have no idea. But it must be a big number.

Which was your favourite hike?

Ouch – I’ve been on so many fantastic hikes… But I suppose the most impressive of them was the Snowman Trek in Bhutan. (–> Thorsten’s story about the Snowman Trek)

Which country/area would you like to visit again?

A while back I spent some time in Rwanda. I’d love to go back there. The country really made an impression on me.

Your favourite saying?

Nothing is impossible.

What would the title of your autobiography be, if you wrote one?

‘From nothing to 300’. Why? Because I grew up pretty much without a father and things weren’t that easy. At school, I was the kid who’d always be chosen last in sports. There were times when I really felt like a nothing. But at some point, I made a decision… I found myself – and in 2019 I ended up walking 300 kilometres in one stretch. That’s how the numbers break down.

HANWAG Tatra II

Thorsten's favorite shoe: HANWAG Tatra II

“I love my Tatras. They’ve been through so much with me. And in such a variety of places too. I have to admit, I’m a bit of a leather fan. The Tatra was my very first HANWAG boot – and it’s never ever let me down.”
(Thorsten Hoyer)

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