Friday, April 29, 2016

AT Aerobic Characteristics for Desk Jockies

I want to dedicate this post to Greg and Debbie, friends from high school and college. I would also like to preface this post by pointing out that from 1978 to last year I've had desk jobs. I took a couple of long hikes before retiring to shake out my gear (lowest weight I could work), but in general at most I did the occasional weekend overnighter or day hike. Every couple years recently I've gone on a strict Paleo diet to get the extra weight off.

I also thought of this post when my wife seemed surprised when I called her and was out of breath or sounded tired.

The point is, I've been a long term desk jockey. Obviously, this post is not primarily targeted at the 20 to 30 something crowd. 

Another point to make is there seems to be a good sprinkling of middle aged and retired folks on the trail, many of whom are a bit (or more) over weight. 

Prevailing wisdom seems to recommend that less experienced backpackers spend at least two to four weeks hiking only 8 miles per day--to avoid injury while your leg muscles are getting in shape.  If you cannot do that, you will have a hard time picking up the speed so you can finish in a late-March to early-October time frame. 

The Georgia to Smokies segment is supposedly the most difficult till you get up to the White Mountains. So most north-bounders are doing some of the toughest trail when they are the most out of shape. Some folks flip-flop (start at Harper's Ferry VA) to avoid this. 

Ok, so you frequently have 1500' or higher climbs and descents, sometimes more than one per day. Most of the trail has roots and lots of it has rocks. Lots of the time you are walking a path with steep drop offs or going steeply downhill trying to avoid a header. You want to conserve your knees and avoid twisting an ankle. Not to mention you are trying hard to avoid falls!

Photos of the trail usually show the somewhat rare nice flat trail--because that's when you can think of using the camera. 

So, a typical up would be say 4 flights of stairs up followed by 100' of flat hall, then repeat for an hour. But every other flat section is an up ramp. And all of it has rocks and roots. When you get done with the hour up, you get to do it going down. And while the 'stairs' down probably aren't steeper, they really feel like it.  Then you start the next hour up...

Every once in a while you get part of a day, where the ups and downs seem to be mostly 'gentle' ramps.

And you cannot forget the load you are carrying.  Carrying a couple of adult bowling balls/bags over your shoulders is probably equivalent to the pack.  Though the weight is mostly on your hips and not your shoulders, you still have to carry it up and down the hills!

When I'm going up I stop when my heart rate rises and I get out of breath. I breathe deeply for 20-30 seconds, then continue. The young folks mostly don't seem to do these micro-breaks. They also don't seem nearly as careful with their knees and ankles going down hill. The only way to 'keep up' with the young folks is to start earlier and hike longer. 

I take a 3-5 minute snack break about every hour when I can find a good log or stone to sit on. My lunch is usually a longer snack that lasts 15 to 20 minutes. I've noticed the young folks will frequently take s significantly longer lunch. 

So my typical starting time is 7:00 am. I stop sometime between 3:00 pm and about 5:30 pm. I've been taking it easier this year to minimize the chance of an injury. But a 10 hour hiking day is a middling kind of performance. 

You stop to call home on a mountain top where you have cell signal, and you are out of breath. If you happen to get cell signal where you camp, you are tired. 

Thrus may consider their hike a 'vacation', but it's hard work!

I've seen lots of folks with back or leg surgeries. I'm not sure how they do it. One guy, I won't say who, stops to use marijuana or some other drug to keep going. He's a little faster than me. He said if he didn't smoke it, he would have to use something less effective like oxycodone to keep hiking. I'm not sure how it can be good for you to hike like this if you have serious pain without drugs. But it's their choice. 

So bottom line, if you don't require a wheel chair, you can probably hike the trail. Though if you have significant pain walking, I wouldn't recommend a thru hike. 

You need to get your pack weight with food and water under 30 pounds. Mine is 22.5 with 2 liters of water and 4 days of food. Go to, Gossamer Gear, or Mountain Laurel Designs on line and get the lightest gear you can avoid. Do lots of research before purchasing or you will later find lighter equipment you want instead. 

Make sure your gear fits in the backpack you select. Then do as many overnighter and day hikes with a weighted backpack as you can. You won't be in trail shape until a couple hundred miles of the AT. But you can start slow and succeed. 

Please note this blog only addresses the physical aspects of the hike. Most people seem to quit because of mental or psychological pressures, for example they can't handle the repeated climbs or bad weather. In most cases, physically they could continue. 

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