Dosu Dealing with the Thru-Hike Wither

If you have hiked a long trail before you’ve seen it. The 1,000 or 2,000 miles have taken their toll on hikers’ bodies, and many of us start looking like the walking dead. Our legs are in overdrive and our bodies naturally take protein from the muscles that we have hardly used to feed our legs, causing what I like to call “the wither.” Arms, shoulders, chest, and abs all cannibalized in a great sacrifice to our legs. It leaves our upper body emaciated like a neglected prisoner. I learned this all too well on my thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail.

It took me eight months to regain much of the muscles I lost on the AT. I’ll admit that because of my body type putting on muscle and weight in general has never been an easy task for me, so maybe others have had less difficulty post trail than I did. I made a pact with myself that on the PCT I would do my best to fend off the wither. When I got to camp at night I would do sit-ups, push-ups, planks, and the occasional bicep curls or pull ups when there was the availability to do so. Hikers often scoffed at it, saying I was a glutton for punishment or possibly just trying to be a show-off. For most, hiking 20 miles a day was enough of a workout. I knew, though, from my past experiences two years prior that if I didn’t use it, I would lose it. By using my abs, arms, shoulders, and chest every day for a small amount of time it would keep my body from cannibalizing it, so I kept up with it till I hit the Sierra the summer of 2017. The snow and river crossings took their toll on me. Accompanied by a lack of food for the stretch from Bishop to Mammoth. I lost 16 pounds. The wither was back despite my best efforts in the desert. When I made it to Mammoth I was beaten down. I lost 16 pounds in like 125 miles. I took three zero days in town to eat and recover before heading back on trail to Yosemite and then spent more time recharging in Half Dome Village.

When I left Yosemite and got back on the PCT I had my strength back. Mile crushing was again no problem but the wither had taken its toll on my upper body, and rest and food did not fix that. I started off slowly and decided to ease myself back into my workouts. By Sierra City I was feeling real good and started doing five push-ups with my pack on every time I took off my pack and every time I put it back on. As I continued my hike I added push-ups till it was 15 each time. I continued and by the time I reached Canada I felt and looked the best I had in years, possibly ever.

In the months following the PCT my level of fitness has come in waves based on my lust for ice cream, post-trail depression, desire to rock climb, and my thru-hike of the Wonderland Trail. Months away from my planned departure for my NOBO thru-hike of the CDT I am lying on my Z Lite trying to convince myself to do even 50 push-ups and 20 pull-ups as suggested by a friend. I recently went to my primary care provider for a pre thru-hike checkup and my vitals are not the best nor the worst.

I issue a personal challenge to myself in this blog. “Hey Dosu, stop being a lazy piece of shit. Get off your ass, stop watching YouTube, and do a little exercise. Keep up with your push-ups on the CDT, crush some freaking miles, and finish the CDT looking and feeling good.”

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Comments 3

  • Avatar
    Rick Morrow : Feb 11th

    I’m 65 y/o and am very concerned about the possibility of this. Us old guys lose muscle quickly. A 72 y/o female thru hiker said she saw older guys drop off the trail because of this. Any idea how much of a problem this is for older, healthy weight men?

    • Avatar
      Dosu ๐Ÿ’€ Kinuta : Feb 11th

      My guess is that it would be as bad or worse depending on your body. I definitely recommend doing some type of exercise every day or Atleast once every few days just to prevent it. Even if it means doing slightly less miles. Always better in my book to stay healthy rather than get those extra miles in. I’ve had friends become skeletons on every trail I’ve been on minus the Wonderland which took us less than 5 days. My friend Hiccup that I met on the Long Trail did a LT YoYo in 2015 and was sickly emaciated by reaching Canada again.

  • Avatar
    Arlene (EverReady 2015 AT) : Feb 14th

    I look forward to your posts as you hike the CDT. Take care, be safe and good luck!


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