5 New Lessons from My (2nd) First 5 Days on the AT

Ahh, here I sit in the lovely Budget Inn in Hiawassee, GA, belly full of Miller Lite and McDonald’s, supremely content and full of joy. Like a happy little hiker Buddha, of sorts. My first few days back on the trail were interesting. I had plenty of time to think, of course, and plenty of time to feel all those old emotions only long distance hiking can conjure. I learned that even I am not immune to the 5 Things to Expect in Your First 5 Days on the AT – I had several “What the hell am I doing out here?” moments, sore feet, and of course, got back into my groove. I thought for a moment I may have to quit 20 miles in at Woody Gap because of some pretty intense knee pain (I’m wearing a knee brace on my left knee as a preventative measure) and got extremely upset, angry, and sad. Only the AT can invoke such a mix of emotions at the onset of some knee pain. But, I sat down, stretched, closed my eyes and said “My knees are fine, my knees are fine” about a hundred times, got up, and finished a 16 mile day on day 2. No more knee pain. My knees have hurt slightly here and there, but nothing that I don’t remember as normal knee pain associated with carrying a backpack up and down mountains all day. I’ve also learned a few things that, perhaps, age and experience prevented me from accepting during my first foray on the trail. Here they are:

1. Take Breaks 

My first time hiking was during Fall and I wanted to get as far North as possible before the cold weather set in, so I barely ever took my pack off, even when snacking. I’d grab a Clif bar from my hipbelt, peanut butter from my side pocket, and smother the little guy while shoveling it it in my mouth. My arches ended up collapsing and all my toes went numb  (I had squished all the nerves connecting to them) because I barely ever sat down. This time I’ve been hiking 3 or 4 hours in the morning, getting to a shelter or clearing, doing 15 or 20 minutes of yoga, eating lunch, drinking plenty of water, and just relaxing. You are in no hurry – sit back and enjoy this beautiful time off from work and the stresses of modern existence. Appreciate the simple act of chillin’ the eff out.

2. Stretch

I fully attribute my lack of sore muscles and ability to hike 16 and 19 mile days on days 2 and 3, respectively, to doing 15-20 minutes of yoga three times a day while hiking. Your hip flexors, glutes, and every muscle involved in propelling your body up those damn mountains need to be stretched and moved out of the repetitive, tensing motion of walking upright for hours on end. I am extremely surprised at the number of hikers who do not practice any sort of stretching regime.

3. Take Care of Your Insides

Fish oil, glucosamine, acidophilus, daily multis (which actually only need to be taken every other day) – vitamins are essential, I don’t think I need to explain why. Use them. Again, I am surprised at the number of hikers who do not take any sort of supplement.

4. Get Enough Calories

Indulge. Indulge. Indulge! Seriously – rapid weight loss is a HUGE contributor to injury. I’ve heard many stories of hikers losing too much weight and becoming too weak to hike, or feeling lethergic and malnourished, rapidly decreasing their mileage and/or desire to hike. Not to mention, without adequate nutrition, your body can’t repair damaged muscle and joint tissue, increasing the risk of pain and tearing of ligaments or tendons. Don’t let this happen. I always say an extra pound of food is worth not ending my hike, and you can just eat it if you don’t like the weight anyways.

5. Get Rid of Unnecessary Items As contradictory as it is to adding extra food weight on purpose (again, which can be eaten), I found an extra sock and burned it. I shipped a second pair of headphones home. I chug two nalgenes at most water sources so I don’t have to carry water. Extra and unnecessary weight, even from very small things, adds up. An ounce here and an ounce there and eventually you’ve got a pound, then two.  A heavy pack is one of the easiest ways to injure your feet or knees – suck it up and hike with only things that you need and will be using every day.

This second go round is already shaping up to be a completely different, more pleasurable, and much more spiritual experience. I even got my trail nname, Jukebox, from playing music from a speaker carribeanered to my pack all day long (don’t worry, I turn it down to almost inaudible when I see people in front of me). Could’ve seen that one coming from a mile away. I wish I had taken more time to have a lighter pack and be more prepared my first go round. Please, if you’re reading this and have never hiked before, SOAK IT UP! Take your time to consult a multitiude of resources to ensure your hike is as comfortable and enjoyable as possible.

I guess I’ll leave with the famous old adage, “I’m tired, sore, and loving every minute of it.”

See y’all at the NOC!

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