August 6, 2017

With the beginning of my Long Trail thru-hike just a week away, I set out for my first training hike with a full pack. That’s right, the first time I’d hiked with a full pack. And, yes, just a week from step-off. No, the hike wasn’t a last-minute idea. My friend and I have been planning this for a year. What can I say?

I have hiked several times with a partially loaded pack, and I’ve been walking or hiking six miles almost every day this year. So my feet and legs are conditioned. At least for Ohio terrain.

Why haven’t I been training more seriously? My friend has procrastinated as well. For one thing, life sometimes gets in the way: work, family, other obligations. But surely there’s something else. Early on, we realized we were being rather flippant about it, because we’d already backpacked the Appalachian Trail. Sure, 16 years ago. And this hike would be “only” one month, not six. I never did really figure out why I was being so resistant to training. Did I think I wouldn’t be able to make it the whole way, and I wanted to be able to blame my lack of physical conditioning?

Whatever the reasons, there I was, trying to accomplish weeks of training with a single loaded hike. I struggled into my pack; the hardest part is simply hefting the thing and swinging it onto my back. Ugh. If this pack is only 32 pounds, why does it feel like I’m carrying a cow across my shoulders?

The approach to the main trailhead at the local park is 0.2 miles. I staggered; my thighs quivered; I wasn’t sure I could do it. But then… . Many times 0.2 is how far a shelter is off the trail. Ever since the AT, that distance has been embedded in my mind, a solid reference I can use to gauge distance. Now, the first glimpse of the trailhead sign was like sighting the shelter at the end of a long day. For an instant I was back on the AT, when the heavy pack wasn’t just on my back, it was part of my body.

Things clicked into place. I smiled through brief tears at the feeling of coming home. I continued and finished my loaded training hike with 5.5 miles and six hill climbs, and I felt just fine. I can do this.