Evaluating setbacks

Overall my recent training hikes have been very uneventful hiking. But I do need to evaluate what slowed me down and each individual ache and pain. Back when I was racing triathlons I was extremely resistant to making excuses. I blew off every reason that could have slowed me down or made perform less than my best. But while in a two-hour race my stubbornness probably helped, with such long distance hiking, denying any ache or pain can turn into a brutal lesson.

On my spring break trip I had developed achilles tendonitis in my left heel. By the end of the trip it was creaking and severely inflamed. Because of the grueling punishment I had put my body through, I couldn’t be certain of exactly what had caused it. I suspected going from the flatness of Norfolk out to the high mountains of Smoky Mountain National Park had put additional strain on my tendon on the uphills and that stretching may alleviate it. I had also wondered if it had to do with my ridiculously small climbing shoes I had been using for several months at the climbing gym in Virginia Beach. And of course there was the distressing possibility that my body simply didn’t want to tolerate 40+ mile hiking days.

But after thinking it through, I suspected it had more to do with the Saucony Peregrine 4 shoes I had picked up earlier in the year. The lightweight shoes were my top choice to hike the trail in because of their innovative design and super lightweight. But unfortunately, after a 10 mile run in the shoes set off my tendonitis, I was convinced they were the culprit. I switched out my shoes to my much heavier Mizuno Wave Ascends this past weekend and enjoyed pain-free hiking. Unfortunately, I noticed the weight difference and felt like I had weights strapped to me feet compared the Sauconys. I’ll need to find a better alternative before I start my hike and I’m still looking for some help covering the expense of beating up a few pairs of shoes on my trip this summer.

Additionally, I developed some tendonitis in my right knee and while it doesn’t hurt in the least while hiking, it can be a bother while trying to sleep. It’s not too big of a concern, but hopefully something that works itself out before I start my hike in June.

I sprained my ankle back in January on a run with a friend in Shenandoah and am still worried about a repeat injury on that front. I’ve been doing some at home physical therapy in my apartment to do everything to strengthen my ankle and develop better proprioception to prevent this on the AT but it is still a concern of mine. Hiking for such a long distance practically guarantees at least one minor ankle sprain. The goal is to prevent any significant trauma. Besides those kind of aches and pains, aerobically I fell prepared and my muscles have been handling the long days nicely. I’m excited for the long summer days where I can slow my pace down a bit and not stress about getting to camp too much after dark.

However, I think the most neglected part of my hiking that I need to pay more attention to is hygiene and personal health. Over the course of the day I’ve have a blister form, swell, pop, and rub raw without even noticing it until I see it in the evening when I take my shoes off. I had a rash form on my legs and become purulent on my spring break trip that I didn’t notice until I was back home. I know it will be easier to tend to these things with the longer summer days, but it is still something I need to be aware of. With the discomfort of long hiking days, I guess it is easy to overlook some issues that could be seriously detrimental if not taken care of early on.

The logistics of the hike seem to be playing out nicely but is still an overwhelming amount of planning. I’ve laid out a spreadsheet of caloric density for common foods and am trying to piece together a sustainable and enjoyable diet for the two month hike. Food weight is an often overlooked and poorly understood area in keeping backpacking weight low but obviously crucial for maintaining weight and health. Most people misunderstand that the purpose of diet out on the trail is to maintain weight first and concern myself with micronutrients later. And that usually means carrying tasty foods that I actually want to eat and depending on fortification for vitamins and minerals.

Overall I really can’t complain about how this is piecing together. It is a ridiculous trip and I’m certain I’ll have some decent setbacks. But at this point, I’m feeling very comfortable with the idea of the hike. I’m postponing my final preparations of mail drops till after my last exam in mid-May but I should have plenty of time to get things sorted out before I fly up to Katahdin.

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