And Then There Were Two…

Along my thru-hike on the Colorado Trail last year, I was bored out of my wit. Around every couple miles or so, I would find myself talking to trees and praying that someone would cross my path just so I could wave and say hello. For the most part, I enjoy the comfort that the solitude in the backcountry provides, but too much of it for me can create a bit of anxiety and I begin to lose focus, motivation, and energy that I could be using towards busting out miles. I’m ready for a new challenge. This year’s challenge: The John Muir Trail. Did I mention this is a reservation for two?

Planning a thru-hike can be grueling enough for one person. Planning for two is more than twice the work, but the effort pays off. Since my partner has never done a thru-hike, let alone done much backpacking, there is so much I am learning by being “the leader” of this journey. Aside from the mental aspect of hiking solo which I’ve honed in and am constantly working on, there’s the mental preparedness of my partner which has so many entities. There’s the gear selecting process. There’s the food selection and packing. And then there are the miles of training to get us both ready. Here’s our story and how we got ready for 240 miles of epicness.

“Sure, let’s do this. Sounds like fun.”

For a lot of people, a thru-hike can be scary, seemingly unattainable, and an absolute waste of time. I mean who the heck wants to walk around in the woods for a month, catching that gush of cold air up your rear end in the mornings, and eating astronaut food? When I mentioned that I was planning on hiking the John Muir Trail, I got asked the normal things like, “How far is it, is it tough, and how long will it take to finish?”

I tend not to get too excited when explaining these sorts of things to people, because I’m honestly tired of people telling me I’m crazy or listening to their reasons as to why they could never do something like that. I began getting asked more in-depth questions at random times like, “What sort of gear would I need to do something like that?” “How do people get food out there for so many days?” I began to see a pattern in these questions, so with not much time left until I was scheduled to hit the trail, I jumped right at the opportunity to ask if they wanted to do it with me. It wasn’t long before I heard, “Sure. Let’s do this. Sounds like fun.” Taking all things into consideration, I tried to not let my excitement get the best of me. Instead, I allowed my experience and apprehension take the lead and explained, as best as I could, the ups and downs of hiking a long trail and some of the things that come along with it…and many that don’t come along with it. Instead of taking my word for it, I suggested she join some of the social media groups that focus on thru-hiking, thru-hiking for women, for the John Muir Trail, and to do her own research on this before she was completely committed. My partner for the JMT is an Alaskan born, Army Veteran, and lover of all things outdoors…except spiders…and it didn’t take long to for her to commit.

Let’s go hiking…

So now there’s a little excitement in the air. The endorphins are running high and thoughts of completing her first thru-hike are brewing, but before this rabbit catches too much speed, I wanted to go hiking to learn how she hikes and to see if we would even be compatible on the trail. Over the years, I’ve learned the hard way that not everyone can hike together. There is nothing wrong with that by any means, but if two people are going to spend a month out on the dirt together, they had better make sure that we are beyond well-suited for one another. Both physically and mentally.

Conveying the difference between hiking and backpacking to someone is a fragile task. I don’t always have all of the answers to her questions, but from my little experience, I’ve learned that the last thing anyone wants to do is tell someone, “Go buy a 50L backpack and fill it with this list of things.” Even though we don’t have much time to train and prepare, easing into the whole process takes patience and an open mind. My partner was in the military but didn’t spend much time in the field, so strapping up with a 30 pound load was the last thing I wanted to ask of her.

I set forth a “training program.” One that would allow her body to prepare for the potential hazards that come along with backpacking. I’m not a doctor (although I have spent a few nights at a Holiday Inn Express), nor am I an athletic trainer, but my trail runners have seen their fair share of dirt while supporting the load of a 165 pound male carrying a backpack for miles on end.

After a few conversations, I implied the importance of easing into this whole hiking game slowly. Basically, I just wanted to get her body use to moving longer than distances than she was used to. From there, we’d amp things up and add little weight slowly along with increasing the miles she was training.

Here are her notes she took while we talked about training

Here’s the breakdown of how we would train:

Hiking three times per week:

Day 1 – Short & Light – less than 10 pounds total weight for 3-4 miles
Day 2 – Short & Heavy – 12 to 15 pounds of total weight for 3-4 miles
Day 3 – Long & Heavy – 15 to 20 pounds of total weight for 12-15 miles

We still train using this program, but now we’ve increased the weight and mileage. Not so many of the shorter hikes these days since our start date for the JMT is nearing. Our focus now has more of a “backpacking vibe” to it, as opposed to day hiking so much, but we’ll get into more of that later. Thankfully, living in Colorado has its perks. The biggest one being the elevation. With the strenuous climbs and altitude we’ll be facing on the JMT, Colorado provides a suitable training ground.

Some of the things I wanted to learn about my partner while out on the trail were how she handles things that I take for granted; such as the elevation and the ability to maintain consistency on the trail. Any of us can strap up and hit a 15-mile day hike, but it takes a different person to be able to maintain that consistency for days on end. We all know of the physical necessities required to complete a thru-hike, but more importantly, there is a mental fortitude that one has to possess as well. Without too much involvement, I wanted (and hoped) she would fall in love with this backpacking game just as I have.

Guess what? She did.

During our day hikes leading up to getting into the more backpacking oriented stuff, she asked a bunch of questions, pushed herself when she needed to be pushed, motivated me to push my limits, and most importantly found happiness and enjoyment while being on the trail. For me, having fun and enjoying all the things that the trail has to offer is more important than anything else. We’re not out to set any land speed records, so I hope that our time on the JMT is exciting and enjoyable for the both of us.

Hiking so much with the same person teaches us so much about ourselves and about our partner. We quickly found our ability to maintain a comfortable pace with one another; even though she is much faster than I am. Without saying a word, we have learned of each other’s strong points and weak points and have been able to feed off of one another’s energy. Like with any relationship, harmony, balance, and communication are key to whether or not we successfully negotiate the John Muir Trail later this year. Our military backgrounds, love for all things outdoors, our stubbornness and willingness to reach our goals, and our ability to communicate all play a vital role in our relationship both on and off the trail.

Stay tuned for updates on our gear selections, food prep, and more training…


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