Your Body is a Miraculous Machine!
Thru-hiking has taught me a lot about my body, which I feel is empowering. It’s shown me that we humans are amazing and capable!
As I feel my body adapt to backpacking, I marvel at the anatomy and physiology that support this extreme level of movement.
I had a thought one morning, as I ached during the first few miles of the day. I felt myself slowly gain mobility and lose my tiredness. It felt so energizing to gain strength as I went. Momentum. My body needed time to understand what I was asking of it.
Endurance activities like backpacking and running get a bad rep. I think it’s because we don’t do enough movement in general. A personal example is that any person I’ve met who loves running has done a lot of it. When we rarely engage our cardiovascular and muscular systems in such a way, the body struggles to enjoy it. But I get really excited over the fact that this exercise gets easier with consistency. Even cooler, we can get BETTER from added load. This, most of all, supports the idea that we are made to move! (Again- empowering). The miles are getting easier, I’m getting farther along the A.T., and that momentum is a powerful force.
Parts of my body have healed because of gaining strength in others. Using poles helps a lot with body awareness while navigating rocky descents. Changing the tightness of my backpack straps to reduce or add weight to certain areas (ie; hips or shoulders) has allowed me to feel my center of gravity in relation to the mountain slope. Not only can you gain physical strength- you can come to know your body so much more intimately than you’ve ever known. And it all starts with moving it!
Aches and pains were ample in the first 3 weeks. My body was responding to the heightened physical activity with inflammation. After backing off and taking several zeros, the start of my injuries settled down. Now four-five weeks in, I feel my body is getting better at recovering. I have more energy to go a few more miles at the end of the day and my post- 15 mile hiker hobble is replaced with a steady gait. My lungs have expanded and I feel my breath is calm and controlled on the biggest of climbs. These things felt far off in the beginning, especially with injuries creeping in. Don’t get me wrong, thru-hiking will be hard no matter the fitness level. Like running, it gets easier, but it’s never “easy”. It fires me up that there are so many people who embrace- and chase- this sweet discomfort.
If you are a thru-hiker hopeful, I want you to have faith in your body’s ability to transform and do this work. It’s an enormous undertaking, but there are many before you who have felt themselves gain strength, stamina, and agility because of patience with the process (and grit). The body is miraculously efficient machine, and will learn to adapt to what you’re teaching it. Be gentle and be intuitive to help yourself with this process. Proper care and maintenance of your body is what will support your thru-hiking endeavors.
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