Alternative Training Plan – No Walking Required

Conventional wisdom says that to prepare for a thru-hike, I should be walking around with my loaded pack. A lot.  But I live in downtown Seattle, so I already walk everywhere.  I walk to the grocery store. I walk to work sometimes. I walk to the bus. I walk to go shopping. I walk to visit friends, and I walk if I want to do, well, anything.  To be fair, I do go on shakedown hikes with friends, but when it comes to actually preparing for my thru-hike, walking is not really on the list.


In August 2017, I landed in the ER several times in a row shortly after a coworker passed away unexpectedly while hiking.  It took an ambulance ride, two MRIs, cumulative 15+ hours in the ER, trips to my regular doctor, a physical therapist, and also an acupuncturist before it was finally agreed that I was not in fact, having a stroke or aneurysm of any kind. I was having panic attacks.  I’ve continued seeing the acupuncturist on a regular basis, and when I told him that I was planning to thru-hike the AT, he immediately came up with a plan to get my body ready for the challenge.  I won’t pretend to understand how it works, but I go faithfully every week because I do believe that those little needles work a a lot of magic in my body.

Toe Spacers

I’ve always had uncooperative feet.  My toes smoosh together. I have an arch on the outside of my foot.  And an unusually steep bridge.  After a minor car accident sent me to physical therapy for a pinched nerve, I learned even more about my feet.  The reason I was having foot pain when running (unrelated to the pinched nerve) was the same reason I have such a hard time doing balance poses in yoga—my feet aren’t strong enough.  My toes spend so much time trying to snuggle up against each other that the muscles are just weak.  The Rx?  Gel toe spacers from the drug store.  To quote the internet: toe spacers “relax, stretch and realign the toes, improve balance, circulation and posture, decrease foot pain, strengthen the toes and improve the overall appearance of the foot.” I wear these almost all the time, whether at home on the couch or out and about town, and I’m definitely bringing them with me on the trail.

Balance Board

Ankle strength is important.  Since I insist on wearing low-top hiking shoes, and as the same physical therapist explained to me, “You’re kind of accident prone, your ankles need all the help they can get,” I got a balance board.  Not only does it help strengthen my ankles, but it also works out core muscles and is just plain entertaining on dreary days.


I don’t think anyone questions the bounty of health benefits that accrue from plank.  Core strength, improved posture, overall muscle definition, and reduced lower back pain.  It can even help improve mental state.  Nuff said.

One month from today I will be on the trail, and there will be plenty of time for walking then—but for now, I’m enjoying my preparation in a more tangential way.

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Comments 1

  • Cheryl N D'Ambrosio : Feb 13th

    Nice tip about toe spacers. I’ll be watching and learning as you leave little breadcrumbs for us to enjoy through your blog as you hike the AT.


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