A Love Affair with My Trekking Poles
I never imagined that I would be the type of hiker to use such a luxury item as trekking poles. I mean, c’mon, I’m a young, fit, and coordinated woman Why would I need two extra limbs to simply walk over 2,000 miles? *slaps palm to forehead*
I am neither going to confirm nor deny that my youth size poles from REI have or have not saved my life a countless number of times in the past 200 miles. But I will confirm that I reach for those aluminum sticks every morning before setting off for the day.
You see, what I understood about the terrain, before I actually stepped foot on it, was that it would be a lot of inclines and declines with multiple rocks and roots and rivers sprawled across a beaten-down path. While I was not wrong about this, I did slightly underestimate the actual effort it takes to walk down this ever-changing path in the ever-changing weather WITH an ever-changing pack weight added to my body. I also underestimated the small amount of time it would take for my body to need the extra support as my feet, ankles, and knees began to show some wear and tear from the excessive use I put on them daily. So I am now here to give you a few reasons as to why you should consider investing in a pair of poles:
You would think that I would list the uphills first, right? Wrong. Welcome to another case of not fully understanding the toll that hiking daily takes on the body. Almost all hikers I talk to out here feel the same way about downhills after the first week… and that is that they are worse than the uphills! Why are they so bad? Knees. We all have them, and they all start to hurt after one to many declines. In my case, it is the right IT band. Never in my life have I had knee issues but I now feel that subtle pull on the outside of my right knee on almost every descend. You know what helps? Ibuprofen for breakfast, KT tape, and the physical support of my two lovely trekking poles. (Pro tip: Lengthen your poles a little bit to really assist in the elevation decline.)
This was the main reason I gave into the idea of taking my poles along. I want to try to keep my current upper body strength as much as possible so my thought was that I would use my arms as much as possible during my trek as to make up for the lack of gym days I will have when I insist that I use heavier weights than I can handle. So my uphill battles now consist of me propelling my way toward the top of every knob, bald, mountain, and viewpoint relying on the belief that my arms are doing more of the work than my calves. (Pro tip: Shorten your poles a little bit to reach up the slippery slope you are going to have to heave yourself up and over.)
Rain, rain, don’t go away but please try to cooperate with my enjoyment of nature! As you learn within the first few days of a backpacking trip, Mother Nature does not adhere to your idea of a Disney-like experience when it comes to living in the woods. She does what she pleases and it is up to you whether or not you fight her or dance alongside her. I’m continuously choosing to dance so a lot of my days end in the repeated phrase, “If I don’t suffer, I don’t grow.” So when it rains, it pours, and the terrain becomes more of a roller coaster than it already was. Everything becomes slick and even a former gymnast like myself will have a hard time not slipping and sliding. But just when you think your luck has run out and your body is headed toward the ground, your trusty kick stands reach out to deny your impeding downfall. (Pro tip: Angle your poles wide along the trail when it gets wet out there to keep you as vertical as possible.)
Heavy Days vs. Light Days
Some of the best days on trail are those in which you know that you are within reach of a town. More importantly, within reach of food that you wouldn’t even consider bringing out into the backcountry. Although I have seen some interesting food items out here. Anyway, the reason I like these days is because this means my food bag is light, which in turn means my pack is lighter. Because if we are being honest here, food is the heaviest thing I carry around. So on these days I seem to fly up and down the trail without much of a worry that my balance will betray me. This is when my poles become more of a tool to vault myself around as I hop, skip, jump, and yes sometimes run along the trail. But when the trail calls you back after a nice shower, laundry, and too much town food you have to fill that bag back up with unhealthy calories that will hopefully give you enough energy to conquer the next leg of your hike. And no matter how creative you are, those calories will be heavy. Now you weigh more overall so get ready to have to relearn how to navigate the trail. But again, those poles will give you want you need to make it to your next destination.
So what have I learned from all this? I think it is pretty clear. Hiking is not an easy task, but the tools that are available to us nowadays should all be considered when it comes to making the most of our experience out here. But hey, hike your own hike!
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