James 'Jupiter' Hoher is an ultralight backpacker that lives and breathes thru-hiking. You may know him from his YouTube channel, where he shares helpful how-tos, tips, and documentary-style videos. He grew up in Jupiter, Florida, and claimed his hometown as a name long before his first thru-hike, and it has stuck ever since.
He is an artist going back as far as the second grade, when he and a classmate made the plan for Jupiter to illustrate and his friend to write a dinosaur book. In their second-grade minds, they thought they would be rich!
He attended a magnet school for visual arts, which left him feeling jaded due to all the structure and rules. “It just wasn’t as fun as being creative by myself.” So he stopped for a while, but after seeing graffiti, he was inspired by the use of colors and the fact that these nameless artists’ work could be painted over the next morning and may never even see the light of day.
Seeing this dedication with no recognition rekindled his love of painting, where he enjoys using unnatural colors like purples and pinks in a green landscape, “because I kind of want it to just be like my own little fantasy world.”
Intro to Thru-Hiking
With a mother who was a volunteer for the Florida Trail Association and a grandfather who lived in Franklin, NC, right on the Appalachian Trail, it was only a matter of time before Jupiter found his way into the mountains on a long hike. One time while visiting his grandfather at a young age, his dad told him that the trail would take him all the way to Maine.
“I had no idea where Maine was. As far as I knew, it could have been the city next over, you know, I was so young.” But that stuck with Jupiter, and he knew that this was a long trail, one that couldn’t be completed in just a week.
After graduating high school, Jupiter didn’t feel drawn toward college, so he started working at a grocery store, which he grew not to enjoy. His mother recommended he hike the Appalachian Trail and think about what he wanted career-wise and life-wise.
He refused to do any research for this long trek and knew nothing other than it was a backpacking trip, and he had set up a tent before, so what more is there to know? After a trip to Dick’s Sporting Goods to buy an 80L backpack and other essentials, he was dropped off just north of Springer mountain.
Some fellow hikers asked if he was going all the way, to which he replied, “Yeah, I’m doing the whole thing.”
“But aren’t you going to go back to start on Springer?”
Jupiter’s response: “Why would I go back that way when the trail goes this way?”
Then a 19-year-old Jupiter headed north with a 7 lbs bag of trail mix and a week’s worth of food, never touching the southern terminus.
Jupiter met lots of great people and saw beautiful landscapes, but at Hot Springs, NC, the weight of his pack became too much for his ankles, and he got off trail.
Hiking around Jupiter, Florida
Returning home after his hike, Jupiter backslid and started to get into drugs and alcohol. This unhealthy cycle of work and drinking went on for two years. With the help of some friends, he broke the cycle, went clean, and even started the journey to becoming fully vegan.
After stepping away from that downward-spinning lifestyle, he had more time on his hands than he knew what to do with. Then he remembered, “Hey, the Appalachian Trail, that was a really cool thing. You know, I know that there are natural areas around where I'm living. I'm going to go out there, and I'm just going to go camp for a night.”
That thought is what rekindled his love of backpacking.
For the next two years, he lived and breathed backpacking. The day before his weekend, he would leave for work with bags packed, and as soon as he clocked out, he would head for a trail.
He started with ten miles a day, but would see a YouTube video about someone doing 20s on the PCT and soon found himself trying that. Then he would see someone doing 30s on the CDT and would try that.
He paid very close attention to what gear he didn’t use and therefore didn't need. Remembering hikers’ gear he saw on the AT, he saved up money to upgrade his tent.
Eventually, the local trail that took six days only took him two. He hiked year-round in Florida and learned how to manage droughts, thunderstorms and insects, and also how to fuel his body.
At the time, Jupiter wasn’t big into social media, but in his thousand or so miles on his favorite local trail, he never saw another person; so he decided to make an account to show people what's right in their backyard.
The Eastern Continental Trail
5,000 miles from Quebec, Canada to Key West, Florida
Following that first AT hike, Jupiter fell in love with backpacking and all the gear and people that surrounded it. He watched and read everything backpacking-related he could find.
The idea of hiking the Appalachian Trail again kept floating around, but he really enjoyed his job (at that same grocery store, where he was promoted to the dairy manager and jokingly called himself the Dairy Queen); he didn’t feel that leaving for just four months justified quitting.
A backpacking friend in the area joked that he should add the Florida Trail to the AT, and then another said, “if you are going to connect those two, you might as well go all the way to Quebec.”
Jupiter knew they were kidding, but he couldn’t let the idea go, so four years after his first failed thru-hike of the AT, he completed the 5,000-mile Eastern Continental Trail. He averaged 24 miles a day on the trek that took seven months.
In the years since, he has set an FKT on the Florida Trail, attempted to Yo-Yo the PCT, and hiked the entire Arizona Trail. He has also completed the Sheltowee Trace Trail, the Uinta Highline Trail and half of the Pacific Northwest Trail, as well as return to the Appalachian Trail for a 500-mile encore.
Trail name backstory - He was dating a girl named Marrisa that went by Mars, and he said that he would start going by Jupiter after his hometown. This was long before thru-hiking, but after fellow hikers tried to name him Strider or Spatula on the AT, he named himself Jupiter.
Go-to town food - Any Asain buffet!
Luxury item - A yo-yo, “sometimes it just picks up my spirits. Sometimes it helps me get more miles because I'm playing with the yo-yo instead of thinking about how much my feet hurt or how tired I am or something like that.”
Advice to a new thru-hiker - “Have fun with it. If you're not having fun, then make it fun. Do something different — whether that's doing fewer miles in a day, whether that’s doing more miles in a day, whether that's carrying a novel with you, or carrying a book with you, or carrying a yo-yo with you, or making that fire when no one else is going to make that fire; you know, having that hot coffee when everyone else is stoveless. If it's not fun, make it fun.”
First night out of town food - An avocado to add to the first dinner or a long fat sub from Subway or Jimmy Johns.
Hardest day on trail - “In 2016, I set the speed record on the Florida Trail, and the first day of that hike, I pooped my pants, so that was rough. The second day of that hike, I came down with a cold, and that cold lasted for the next three days. All the while, while this is still happening, having a fever and just being sick as a dog, and having just pooped my pants the day before, I was still hiking like 36 miles a day. So that was really, really rough. But ultimately, I try only to remember the good things.” (He claims this wasn’t really that bad and still searched for a more worthy story. I personally think it sounds pretty awful to deal with.)
Jupiter is a full-time YouTuber these days, documenting his trips, giving advice, and making the occasional satirical videos. This wasn't always how he was able to fund his hikes, though; he has worked as a pest control technician, a dairy manager, a painting instructor, and a metal fabricator, which he really enjoyed but didn’t like only getting ten days off a year.
His first video was a 45-minute documentary of his seven months on the Eastern Continental Trail, which took him a year to edit due to an old computer that would crash after every edit. That’s dedication!
He then befriended John Zahorian, who helped encourage and guide the first videos on the channel. Using lessons learned from his paintings to frame his videos, he looks at his projects as a new form of art, one that can share a story.
Jupiter wants to use his YouTube channel to share lesser-known trails, and found the most traction on his page after sharing a documentary of his time on Kentucky’s Sheltowee Trace Trail in 2019.
In addition to YouTube, Jupiter also occasionally sells his paintings and collaborates with outdoor brands, such as the tee shirt design he did for Garage Grown Gear, available in both men’s and women’s styles!
Be on the lookout for videos of his most recent thru-hike of the Arizona Trail, coming soon!