Training for the Trail While Traveling

Before hiking the AT, I delayed training for too long, began a rushed routine, then had to maintain it while traveling across the country from Oregon to begin the hike. Here’s how I did it.

I made the decision to start hiking the southern portion of the AT last fall. With a launch date of April 8, and a body that was somewhat out of shape, it felt like I had plenty of time to firm up before we set out. Of the three major types of long-distance section AT prep, I could (and did) spend hours researching gear, budgeting, making mileage spreadsheets, and reading (and writing) blogs. Exercise happened sporadically or not at all.

I made a spreadsheet for working out. I blocked out times on my Google calendar for gym or fitness classes. I swore I’d do a hike every weekend. I hiked twice, went to the gym three times, and took zero classes. Time was passing but it just didn’t seem urgent yet.

Sometime around mid-January, I realized I was unprepared for the challenges my body would encounter and began to worry. I luckily found a Groupon deal and hired a trainer from For U Fitness who kindly set up a hiker-specific boot camp for me during my last six weeks in Portland. (Corey was amazing. Check him out if you’re ever in the area and need of motivation.)

We concentrated a lot on legs (squats, lunges, etc.), some core, and some cardio. I even ran voluntarily. Anyone who knows me knows I only run in airports. It’s a rule I was willing to break in exchange for maybe not breaking my actual body. I got more fit.

Then we had to leave. A March 23 departure date from Portland, Ore., and an April 8 launch date for the AT hike left many days in between for me to potentially lose all I’d gained. Here’s how I solved the problem.

Choose a route where you can hike on days off

Snowy shakedown in Montana — found on Alltrails.

We drove through Montana on the second day, which was just filled with trails begging to be climbed. It was also snowy, so it was a good opportunity for an impromptu shakedown of our cold weather gear. We used Alltrails to find a decent hike near our Bozeman motel room and set out to slay the afternoon. We hiked as far up as we could until snow became a barrier we couldn’t cross (and it was snowing more), and returned down the mountain. While we didn’t cover more than five miles (if that), we both found we were sore the next day — in a good way.

Tip: Alltrails is fabulous for finding hikes in unfamiliar cities and countries. I highly recommend it to determine your routes in a flash. (I also recommend swapping out to a different app for off-grid navigation or fitness tracking.)

Make your hotel room work for you

Substituting a dog for a kettlebell in a Fargo motel room.

Many hotels or motels offer gyms. Airbnbs may also have bikes or workout gear. But that’s not going to be a guarantee. If you end up in Fargo, N.D., with none of these (like I did), no worries. I tried to remember the routines my trainer had taught us and also googled a few exercises. I wasn’t traveling with the 20-pound kettlebell we’d used back home, so I improvised with my adorable little dog. She was thrilled to get the attention. My quads were less thrilled but made it. Some crunches and planks and we were back on the road.

Explore a new city on foot — all day long

Hiding workout gear under a long dress while exploring Chicago on foot.

Next up was Chicago, where we’d never been. Instead of hiring a tour bus, or Ubering around the city, we decided to walk everywhere for the entire day. As we wanted to do some things that were a little nicer than workout attire, I simply wore a long, breathable dress with workout leggings and a tank underneath, and lace-up leather Clarks. You can easily walk miles in these without the worry of a doorman turning you away. I recommend them for travel in cities regardless of AT prep.

We walked our dog around the Airbnb’s neighborhood and dropped her at a doggie day care, then got to exploring neighborhoods, restaurants, architecture, and more. At the end of the day, we saw way more of Chicago than we would have otherwise and maintained our routine.

Get nostalgic back home

Walking in the park back home at Easter.

We landed on the East Coast a couple days before Easter and visited family in Pennsylvania and Virginia before departing for the AT. As we grew up around these parts, we were familiar with some of the old walks and trails. Going back to familiar places to walk or explore can be stimulating and good for the soul. Searching faces of passersby for recognition, comparing what it used to look like (they put in a playground!), etc., is a great way to mentally forget you’re actually exercising.

Now that we’re nearly a month in, I’m happy to say the training worked. We’ve been sore a few times, but nothing terrible. My only regret is not training more specifically on foot care (arch supports, blisters, etc.) but that’s a different blog for a different day.

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