What I Learned on This Year’s LASH
At the end of every hike, it’s a good idea to look back and reflect about what you learned and resolve to do some things differently next time.
When I seriously got into backpacking back in the 70’s, I often observed that I had to be on the trail for a few days before I started to feel like I was truly comfortable there. In my 20’s it seemed like this transformation took 8 days. I speculated that this might of had something to do with finding my trail legs or eating enough food to get my pack down to a comfortable weight. As I aged, I knew that feeling of total belonging was still attainable, but it took longer than 8 days. We were all designed to hoist packs and walk great distances. For most of human history, that’s what we did. Given time, our bodies remember. I thought this period of adjustment was a critical element in the process. As I started my third AT LASH, I was shocked to find that I was wrong. I felt home from the very first day. My long section hikes last year have changed me forever. I’m hiker trash for life. This year’s hike strengthened my resolve to hike at least a month a year until it’s a joke.
Could it be that I just can’t pull off a thru hike? Am I just a LASHER?
I’m going to say that I don’t know the answer to these questions, but here are a couple of observations…
The hardest part of my hike was when the rest of the family was hanging at the beach. The beach for us is all about being together. The TV is never on. It’s board games, good food and naps. My original plan was to take a break from the trail and go to the beach before going back to finish. The impending birth of my second grandchild made me give up that part of my plan. The trail is my second home but my missing family is leaving a hole that can’t be filled by the transient relationships of the trail. We FaceTime when I’m in town, but there gets to be a point when that’s not enough. Any hike I plan I need to schedule a family visit if I plan to be out more than a couple of months. Eventually I just have to hang with my wife who has been my best friend for 36 years and experience the unfiltered joy on my grandson’s face as he recognizes his George through that trail beard.
Wear and tear
At the end of this section hike, I was pretty dinged up. I needed to take a break anyway. Zero days helped, but my accumulated aches needed more than a day to heal. Based on my observations this isn’t just a geezer thing. The trail is 2189 miles of trip hazards. You hike the AT, you’re going to fall and some of those falls are going to hurt. Vitamin I isn’t always going to be enough. Sometimes you need to walk away and give your body time to heal. Given the impending birth of my grandson, it made a lot of sense to go home. If you’re going to thru hike, plan for the unexpected. Leave room in the budget for a break.
I’ve backpacked for years, but all my trips before last year were no more than three weeks long covering no more than 200 miles or so. My last three hikes covered, 480, 540 and 725 miles. Might be I’m just building up to a thru hike.
Real life kept me from thru hiking for most of my adult life. I’ve found that even in retirement, real life can get in the way. The trail is an incredible place, full of wonder, but Springer and Katahdin are just arbitrary places to start and end a journey. I’m going to follow my heart. Sometimes it’s going to lead me to wild places…other times, it will take me home.
Things learned from other geezers
I met a bunch of other boomer backpackers who burned miles like a millennial. I learned a lot from them.
I have to accept that I can do more to keep myself in trail shape. I met a guy named Ultra whose trail name came from the ultra marathons he regularly runs. He’s inspired me to run to stay in shape. I’m using the app Endomondo to track my training runs. I’m slower than Christmas, but running regularly and gradually lengthening one of my runs a week (currently 6 miles) and doing some of the interval work Endomondo suggests to get faster. When I was in my 30’s, I was a serious runner. Achilles tendinitis eventually ended that part of my life. I’d take a month off, start up again and it would return. When I eventually got over it, I was slow and I couldn’t stand it. Now I seem to be more accepting of the slower pace, but hopeful that the runner I was is still lurking in there somewhere.
Red Goat (I think that was his trail name) used Amazon Prime to resupply. I have to say I admired the delightful simplicity of this approach. As I hiked I gradually cut the number of days between resupplies. Your foodbag is almost certainly the heaviest thing in your pack and this is often the easiest place to cut weight. Don’t do without, just shoot for smaller, more frequent resupply options. Toward the end, I carried no than four days. It is easy to do this through New England. The beauty of Red Goat’s approach is its flexibility. I can never accurately estimate how long it takes me to cover miles. First of all, all miles are not created equal and secondly shit happens. On the trail, all plans are subject to change. But a week out, you can be certain that your ETA is no more than a day off. If Amazon’s delivery drones become a reality, I hope to God they stick around to pack out the packaging. I had enough cell service most days to download podcast, so submitting orders isn’t so hard to do. I know some think technology is evil and one of the reasons they seek the trail is to escape its clutches. This is a way that technology can simplify your planning. Why not take advantage of it? The trail can be hard enough.
One thing is certain … Next year, around the middle of July, I’ll be heading to Hanover to finish up the AT. I have some other things to take care of…the beach, moving to Maine… but next year I finish, if real life doesn’t get in the way.
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