Middle age and what that means for a thru-hiker

First: I am unable to post on-trail due to iPhone battery issues and data charges – that’s why I haven’t posted since April.

Second: I’m currently off-trail and this post will explain some of why.

Age is everything:

I’ve made my age clear in my posts, 54,  and I was delighted to join the ranks of flip-floppers and realize that most of them are over middle-age. That’s important for the reasons dealing with commonality; one being the “hardships” on the trail effect us differently than they do younger people.

I won’t synopsize all of the problems I have thus far encountered – I am only going to highlight those that effect older persons on the trail; my problems in particular.

Joints: not the extracurricular kind:

I’ve been home for five nights and last night was the first that I slept through almost the whole night. The problem is my legs: feet and knees to be specific. After the initial trauma to my feet (which is a common problem to those starting a thru-hike) I started experiencing extreme pain in my feet and knees.

I’m sure many, if not all, hikers will claim that they experience pain from the chronic pounding that our bodies endure backpacking but we older hikers have the addition of decades of using, and possibly abusing, our feet/knees. This means we experience more pain/injury with less exercise and much less ability, if any, to bounce back or recuperate.

My feet and knees are in chronic pain: throbbing, sharp stabbing pain, hot and swollen. Moving during the day is painful enough but it continues through the night, waking me multiple times and repositioning my legs – due to extreme stiffness – is almost unbearable. I’m not sure if this is temporary or permanent and it’s scary.

Of significance: I changed out my “trail runners” for “boots”. I learned through not only my own experience but noting what other ‘older’ hikers were wearing, we older hikers – we need the additional support and protection of BOOTS. Trail runners are for the youthful and perhaps those who have extra sturdy feet/ankles.

It’s a female thing:

The other issue I have encountered that only a middle-aged woman could is night-sweats (menopause). Thru-hiking means you carry as little as possible and that means the clothes you wear and the dry set (camp clothes) you carry. The problem with night-sweats I have encountered is that my only DRY clothes become soaked (literally) and with constant wet conditions – as it’s been this year – those clothes don’t dry. So now, through the night I went from being cold to wet and cold alternating several times a night = piss-poor sleep. There has been no change at home either. This is a new and unwelcomed experience.

Another “female problem” (explicit content):

I’m going to say it like it is: the constant sweat, rain and the lack of a shower and being able to be dry for any reasonable length of time takes it’s toll on the perineal area (that’s the tender space between the vagina and the anal sphincter). You can use a cleansing or baby wipe all you want, if you can’t get and stay dry at least some of the day/night, you’re going to experience a very unhappy peri-area; itching, swelling and possible infection. I tried to “air-out” while in the privacy of my tent but with frequent damp or rain and night-sweats, it was all but possible. Not fun.

Imbalance, fear of falling & fractures:

Everyone knows we older folks don’t move as easily or fluidly as the younger set. Bouncing from rock to rock or descending a rocky peak becomes a challenge – to not fall. Falling at my age (or older) means broken bones or torn ligaments/tendons. Once again, we are more likely to hurt or break something and less likely to bounce back than those in our younger thru-hiking community. We are extremely careful to place our feet ‘just so’ – in other words, we are s-l-o-w. I’ve moved aside to let those bouncy younger hikers pass. I’m glad to do so. Go, I say, go on your way so I can creep along at my own pace and not feel rushed.

You don’t necessarily have to fall to suffer a fracture: an older (than myself) thru-hiker in my bubble has been off trail for a week and will not be able to get back until July due to a “stress fracture”. Stress fractures occur, just as it sounds, due to stress. We take our everyday weight and activities and then place a backpack weighting upwards of an extra 30 pounds on our frame and then march our poor feet 10-16 miles a day over the most rough terrain and – BAM! – the small bones that support all that weight and work crack. There is no alternative but to remove yourself from the trail for 6-8 weeks so those fractures can heal.

Don’t let all this stop you:

Yes, I’m off trail right now but…I keep having dreams when I sleep, dreams of being back on the trail. I had not any idea if or when I’d return but I think I’ve decided to get back to where I left off. I do not have a burning desire (anymore) to complete the trail but I do intend to try; at this point it just feels a bit unfinished.

I will make some equipment and other small adjustments before I get back on – hopefully some things (lessons learned) that will make my next several hundred miles a little more “comfortable” – but, it’s hard to plan for the future when you are not sure what will meet you along the way.

I am hoping that with continued exercise, at a more moderate pace and more frequent rests *stopping when I need to instead of pummeling myself to the next destination* , my feet and knees will adjust and become less painful. If not, I’m not sure what I will do but deal with it when the time comes. I will not hesitate or feel like a failure if I do decide to get off the trail permanently (for 2017).

Not much can be done about menopause, it is what it is. I have a herb that I will bring with me and hopefully it will help alleviate the symptoms. Possibly an extra dry pair of clothes; there’s only so much one can plan.

Ultimately, I will have to make sure to hike-my-own-hike. I will not make a destination, mileage or my bubble be my daily guide. I will hike until I take a break or I’m done for the day. Trying to do as others do or keep up with the pack is only asking for problems – and, as satisfying as it is to be with people I have befriended and have much in common, it’s not why I am hiking in the first place.

And last but not least: to those who want to ‘comment’ to criticize – we older people, we don’t give a rat’s ass what anyone else thinks. When you grow up, you’ll learn what I mean.

~BuzzCut

 

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Comments 31

  • Anita O'Malley : Jun 3rd

    Thinking of you today!!!!! God Bless. Do your life! You pick your own path! Hope to see you soon. Proud to know you. Thanks for speaking for me also. This getting old thing.😛 Anita

    Reply
    • Buzzcut : Jun 3rd

      Hello Anita!!
      Thanks for your support. I sure do miss the dogs (and the simple pleasure of a “walk”)
      😉
      “BuzzCut”

      Reply
  • Therese coad : Jun 3rd

    I had noticed that you hadn’t written in the shelter logs recently. I’m glad to know that you are ok and are merely taking a break. Good luck…….I hope/ know you will come back and that we run into each other.
    Peace!!
    Bangles

    Reply
    • Buzzcut : Jun 3rd

      Hi Bangles! I hope we meet…I’d love the company. It looks like I’ll be out of my comfortable bubble now 😕

      Reply
  • Tony Tomacchio : Jun 3rd

    You are a rock star Mum! It warms my heart that you went after this 🙂 Love you!

    Reply
    • Buzzcut : Jun 3rd

      😘

      Reply
  • Katina (Arachne) Daanen : Jun 3rd

    I had similar pain issues (knees and feet) last year and got off trail after 1300 miles. I started taking Glucosamine a month before I left this year to finish the trail and havent had any of the same problems. Im in my 50s as well.

    Reply
    • Buzzcut : Jun 3rd

      Hi – I started taking glucosamine (chondroitin) about a week ago. I’m hopeful that it will work for me too! Are there any other changes that you made that you think helps?
      BuzzCut

      Reply
  • Gail Barrett : Jun 4th

    I’m so sorry you are off the trail. I totally agree with everything you said. Hiking is very different for older people. Nearly everyone we’ve met around our age has left due to injuries. We know that we are still here only because of luck.

    Other points you mentioned: our feet do better in sturdy hiking shoes (mine are Oboz, John’s vary). We need more days off. Lots of them. There is no possible way to do big miles so we don’t even try. Our muscles are stronger, but our knees hold us back. We hike slowly. A fall at our age could be life changing, so it isn’t worth the risk, and the fact is that our balance, vision, flexibility, strength, etc. just isn’t what it used to be.

    I will also say that if we get to a dangerous rock scramble and there is a bad weather alternative, I take it. Unfortunately there haven’t been many (only two so far), so we’ve been in some scary situations, but I don’t consider it cheating. I think it’s good judgment.

    So hang in there. You are not alone!!!!

    Reply
    • BuzzCut : Jun 4th

      Hi Gail!

      I’ve been watching your adventures. I agree about the ‘blue blaze’ – it’s there for a reason. I’ve done one blue blaze; it would have been two if the Knife’s Edge in PA had one!! That was awful.

      Thanks for input about your hike: shorter miles, more frequent breaks & possibly more nero/zeros. I’d only done two zeros in 37 days and I didn’t consider running around town/stores a “zero” – it was worse than being on the trail.

      BuzzCut

      Reply
  • Terri : Jun 4th

    The best of luck! I just turned 55 and this is still a dream of mine. Each year that ticks by I wonder if I could accomplish the trail by facing some of the fears you mentioned. My husband knows this is my ultimate and he knows it will be a very mental challenge for me. I can retire next year…..maybe just maybe.

    Reply
    • BuzzCut : Jun 4th

      Hi Terri,

      Best of Luck and definitely prepare yourself mentally – it’s going to suck but it helps if you really KNOW it ahead of time. Remember; only do what you can – HYOH – don’t try to keep up with a bubble (it’s very tempting to keep up with people whose company you enjoy but you will be sorry if they are faster and you have to push yourself to stay with them everyday). Some people I know were thinking of quitting but took a zero or two (away from the bubble) then they continued and felt better.

      BuzzCut

      Reply
  • Ruth morley : Jun 4th

    I am so sorry you’ve had to go through all of this. I enjoyed the time I spent with you at the Teahorse Hostel just before we hit the trail in April. After I finished my weeklong shakedown hike, I often wondered how things were going for you.

    I’ve been through hard times with the feet, knees and hips, also in my 50’s at that time. I understand how totally frustrating it is for the brain and spirit to be saying, “Go!” but the body saying,”Not right now!”

    I healed and hiked again. As will you. And lessons will have been learned which will help make the next excursion more successful.

    Hang in there and try again when the time is right. I know this won’t stop you.

    Reply
    • BuzzCut : Jun 4th

      Well Hello Chocaholic! *I was told you were ‘renamed’*

      Thanks for the input: I’m almost ready to go back out – I’ve made some adjustments to my equipment/pack/stuff (live and learn) and feel a little more ready this time. My knees are still very painful but hopefully they will adjust to a slower pace and more rest and I can continue. If not, well, I haven’t finished NH’s 48 yet and the I can always do the trail in sections –

      Speaking of equipment — how did yours work out for you. I thought of you in the last few days while I am trying to reorganize. I hope you had a great time.
      Keep in touch,
      BuzzCut

      Reply
      • Ruth morley : Jun 10th

        So glad to hear you’re back out on the trail. You are one determined person, and my hat’s off to you.

        I was very pleased with how my equipment worked out during my shakedown week on the trail, and thanks for asking. I really like the tarp/net tent combo, and my backpack served me well. I still hope to get the weight down a bit more before “officially” starting the SOBO part of my flip flop out of Harpers Ferry around July 18. It’s so hard giving up some items that you want but don’t really need. But you know your knees will thank you for it.

        And, yes, my trail name was changed from Yogi after Little Bear noticed chocolate smeared all around my mouth and commented that I eat it like a 10 year old. Frankly, I’m pleased she didn’t consider me a candidate for the toddler class.

        Hope to see you on the trail at some point. Meanwhile, I’ll be watching for your posts. Hang tough! Adjust your goals as needed. It’s your own A.T. experience, no one else’s. It can be whatever you want to make of it.

        Reply
  • Just Paul : Jun 4th

    Young age is wasted on the youth. You’re a winner the day you start your hike, regardless how far or fast you go. So many people are still on the couch thinking ” some day”, which never happens. I thur hiked the PCT at 54yrs old. Made me feel young again…oooh the painful feet!

    Reply
    • BuzzCut : Jun 4th

      Thanx JP – yes, getting out there is the biggest step, leaving your comfort zone, not letting the worries of ‘what might happen’ keep you from the beginning of ‘anything’s possible’. It’s such a unique feeling to have been “on the trail” for over a month (as miserable as it most often was) that I just can’t walk away without trying again.

      I could (and might) write another whole post about the “wasted young age of youth” – too bad.

      ~BuzzCut

      Reply
  • cindy : Jun 4th

    Loved this post and couldn’t agree more. I became a bit of a day hiker in my 50s after retiring, hitting most of the area in northern NJ and N.Y.. For me it wasn’t just night sweats, flashes would hit anywhere anytime and on some upward climbs in already hot humid weather..i often thought my head would explode. Now at 60 the little aches and pains are just a way of life, not complaining just fact. I love running into AT hikers, love hearing any story they wish to tell. I am impressed with any and especially the older hiker. I wish you the best. HIKE ON.

    Reply
    • BuzzCut : Jun 5th

      Thank you Cindy for your comments.
      The difference in the ages on the AT is noticeable: most flip-floppers are ‘older’ (I was the youngest in a few bubbles) and most of the Georgia set are much, much younger. There’s definitely a difference in attitude as well. That could be another whole post!

      ~BuzzCut

      Reply
  • AT 2016 : Jun 4th

    BuzzCut:

    After hearing all the physical issues you and some commenters to your story have had attempting thru-hikes of the AT at middle age, I feel all the more fortunate now that I was able to complete my thru-hike last year at 57.

    In fact, another thru-hiker with whom I hiked some in Maine and finished on Katahdin the same day I did was 61 (he had already previously completed his first thru-hike at 51).

    What got me through to the end was an ability to stay in relatively good shape throughout my life injury free, the experience and wisdom of age, and an I-don’t-give-a-shit/rat’s ass attitude about following anyone’s perceived notion of how best the trail is hiked. I could care less what the “bubble” did or how many outrageous miles some young whipper snapper of a hiker did a day.

    Hike Your Own Hike matters, as you so rightly acknowledge.

    By the numbers here are some facts of my hike:

    Start: March 16
    Finish: August 24
    Days Hiked: 148
    “Zeroes”: 14
    Average Miles a Day Hiked: 14.791216.

    Not bad for an “old” guy.

    You can do it. Good luck.

    Reply
    • BuzzCut : Jun 5th

      Hi AT 2016 and congratulations!! You started in Georgia, I presume. I was in a bubble (until I got off) with a gentleman who is 70 – “strong like bull”, I never heard him complain about his feet or knees but then most (men) people don’t really, I think it is all expected anyway. One has to really make the hike their own and sometimes that’s harder to do when you enjoy the company of certain hikers. Now that I’ve learned I need to give my body time to adjust, I will have no recourse but to HMOH.
      Thanks for commenting and telling me about your hike!!

      ~BuzzCut

      Reply
  • Benny : Jun 5th

    59 here you said only what I have wanted to say. All my hiking friends are 15 to 20 some 30 years younger than me. On long distance hikes i have a few that know thats the way it is and dont mind hanging back. The others well its a trail see ya.

    Reply
    • BuzzCut : Jun 5th

      Hi Benny.
      I honestly don’t know what the hurry is; perhaps our cultural immediate gratification (or – everything is a competition. Note the thru-hikers who are trying to set ‘records’ completing the hike ASAP).
      Anyway – I enjoy walking along and trying to pay more attention to the ‘now’ but it’s always nice to know there is a companion not far ahead or behind me.

      ~BuzzCut

      Reply
      • Megan Scott : Jun 11th

        Buzzcut,

        Thank you for your insight and honesty. I am a section hiker, because that’s all I can feasibly do at this time. I am 59 and still work full time. I am grateful for each day on any trail…I love nature, don’t have a need to complete any trail at this time. Give me a week…I’ll make it worthwhile. I look forward to being the hiker who suffers and conquers.

        Hats off to you…

        Megan

        Reply
  • Raggedy Andy : Jun 5th

    I will be 67 next spring. I am considering a thru-hike. As a former silo builder, I know how to be tough mentally. Will my feet and knees hold up? I won’t know if I don’t try. I have started training. Very long, steep hill nearby. I’m learning about equipment as I go. If my knees hold up to the training, I may give it a go.

    Reply
    • BuzzCut : Jun 5th

      Hi R-Andy!
      I don’t know how you feel about supplements but I’ll share with you what little I know:
      Glucosamine chondroitin is a supplement that, after about 4-6 weeks, works well for some people. I had been taking that and will continue until what I have is gone. However, visiting my local herb shop it was recommended that I take Omega Curcumin and Magnesium Glycinate (the ‘fish oil’ is good for joints, Magnesium for muscles and helps you sleep, curcumin seems to be a new thing as I’ve not heard of it before). I can’t relate verbatim what the woman told me but basically she was trying to address my joint issues, muscle fatigue and the hot flashes.
      I would recommend you look into taking something BEFORE you start your hike – trust me, no one over 50 gets away without some pain issues that linger long after the hike.

      Reply
  • Christina Shepard : Jun 7th

    Good luck Buzzcut! We are rooting for you here!!!

    Reply
  • Marcia Powers : Jun 7th

    Your most recent post really resonated with me. My husband and I hiked the AT in the very wet year of 2003 when we were approximately your age. We are still long distance backpackers. As I read your post I could think of possible solutions for most of your problems, recognizing that we are different and YMMV. I can only say what has been working for me.

    Reducing pack weight is the most important change that you can make because it will help beating up your joints and also with balance. My pack base pack weight now is under 10 pounds when I hike solo. I stopped cooking because I got tired of preparing meals and wanted to save the weight and space of pot, fuel and stove in my pack.

    I drink Korean ginseng tea daily to help alleviate hot flashes and night sweats.

    I sleep with my feet elevated and put my feet up every time I stop for a rest. For me, this helps with leg and feet fatigue. Even though medical opinion has changed on glucosamine for joint health both my husband and I take glucosamine supplements. I don’t know if it helps but neither of us has joint problem and we don’t want to mess with success.

    You may be happy hiking wearing a skirt or a dress, possibly commando style for ventilation. I always use ointment to prevent chafing or chapping. Ointment also helps to keep the entire area cleaner.

    Perhaps some of these ideas will appeal or work for you. I wish you all the best on the trail!!
    Marcia
    GottaWalk.com
    Trailjournals.com/gottawalk

    Reply
    • BuzzCut : Jun 9th

      Hi Marcia,

      Thanks for the input. Yes, pack weight definitely needs to be reduced (I’d already gotten rid of my stove). Spending the extra money on more light-weight equipment is the WISE thing to do – so for those reading this: if you plan on hiking in the future (2018, etc) invest in light weight equipment (tent, pack, etc.) now. You’ll thank me – or yourself.

      I will look into the tea and I’m already taking glucosamine x 2 weeks so hopefully I’ll notice a difference …soon.

      ExOfficio panties are very breathable and reduce odor so I have been wearing those. I dismissed the skirt and dress – I feel like I’m “too old” for those.

      Congrats on your thru-hike!!

      ~BuzzCut

      Reply
  • Marie Anne : Jun 9th

    Hi! Your travel seems incredibly difficult, and you should be proud of yourself no matter how far you choose to go. Take your time. You are an inspuration.

    Reply
    • Karyn : Jun 12th

      Thank you for taking the time to read and comment
      ~BuzzCut

      Reply

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