Pre-Dawn Walks and Physical Therapy: 2023 Hike Prep

In Spring 2023, I will hike sections of the Appalachian Trail, creating videotaped presentations on the cultural and natural history of each section. I’ll be documenting the preparation here, so sign up for updates as the project comes together…

I hoped that I would reach the age of 61 in good health, with energy, focus, and purpose. I didn’t imagine I’d be a working journalist. I didn’t imagine I’d be living in Houston. There is a lot I never would have guessed half my lifetime ago.

Of all the things I might have imagined, being sidelined by a worldwide plague never, ever crossed my mind.

But COVID-19 arrived on our shores during a time when I had the luxury of staying home and staying safe, and that’s what I did. And I became dormant, sedentary and unmotivated. I gained 30 pounds on top of weight I had already gained the few years prior. I lost much of the endurance I had developed in prep for my planned but aborted 2018 thru-hike, which never panned out in 2019 or 2020 despite my intentions.

When I conceived of my 2023 interpretive hike, it had been a long time since I had walked any distance, much less hiked.

On top of – really because of – the deconditioning, I developed a painful right knee. I saw a sports medicine physician who diagnosed me with arthritis and prescribed physical therapy and a topical medication.

I’ve been to PT a few times and have started on a home exercise program. The therapist and I discussed my aversion to the gym (COVID, self-consciousness, cost) and she told me that the home exercise regimen wouldn’t be enough to sustain my goal of a month’s worth of backpacking. I have my work cut out for me.

Of course, the first thing is simply to start walking regularly again, and since I live in Houston and it’s summer, I’ve had to confine my walks to starting at shortly before dawn, when the temperature is usually below 80. I carry Mace in my pocket to fend off rabid coyotes, escaped pit bulls or aggressive people (all unlikely but possible where I live). Normally, however, my only companions are the moon, various planets, parts of the Zodiac, and some bats winding down their night before making way for the birds who begin their song at sunrise. Eventually two or three regular walkers join the path and we nod or mutter “good morning” as we pass. I listen to spiritual lectures through my earphones most mornings. My Fitbit tracks my distance, currently just under 2 miles.

Setting concrete goals is critical to big change, so here are my weight and endurance goals:

  • Lose 50 pounds by April 15
  • Walk a minimum of four miles a day at least five days a week
  • From October to December, one overnight hike with a full pack each month
  • From January to March, two overnight hikes with a full pack each month

I didn’t expect to be 61 years old, fat and sedentary with a bum knee. But I hope that when I leave for my trek on my 62nd birthday I will be fit enough to hike carrying a pack that includes the extra weight of gear needed for my video project (more about gear in my next post!).

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Comments 2

  • Jhony : Aug 21st

    Thanks for a great article and video. I am now 75 and I will heed your advice about the 4 mile walk as often as I can. I have only been doing 2 miles every day. Time to plus it up.
    BTW I like to start before dawn. I shoot for, though don’t always make it, to start out at the crack of Civil Twilight (I get that on the weather channel I subscribe to)

  • Pat Tucker : Aug 30th

    So interesting to read your posts, Ruth. Will you be heading north or south on your hike? I am also contemplating a section hike next year, starting in Harper’s Ferry going south. I will probably wait until early September to start, and am also drafting my hubby to provide some logistical support, since he won’t actually be able to join me. If you go south, I will be following your posts with particular interest, so I know what to expect! Keep training, and I look forward to reading more from you!


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