2,000 MILE DEMOLITION DERBY
As far as the human body is concerned, an Appalachian Trail (AT) thru-hike is 2,000-mile demolition derby. Just showin’ up with a pearly smile for this beauty contest might not be enough.
Frost that cake with the Biblical ordeals endured by this year’s thru-hikers – endless winter, viral plagues and human tragedy – and you have to ask yourself, “Am I really ready for this?”
Recently a potential thru-hiker on the class of ’14’s Facebook page wanted to know if anyone was doing anything extraordinary to prepare for their hike next year. The right answer to a question like that has an infinite number of variables involving hiking experience, current fitness level, age, gender, goals and individual circumstances.
I didn’t respond, but the Facebook post did cause me to consider the question.
Like most Baby Boomers, I have an accumulation of injuries and insults to my body as well as many of the standard age-related maladies. These are off set with experience, motivation, and a healthy case of attitude known as sisu in Finland. http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Sisu
In pondering the question, the individual chronicles of this year’s hikers on http://www.trailjournals.com came to mind. More than half of them are Boomers.
Reading suggests that some of the Boomers projected the narcissistic mindset so often associated with our generation. We’re ageless with all-access passes to the Fountain of Youth. I mean we’re the folks who were never going to grow up or trust anyone over 30.
Sadly, along the trail this year, more than a few Boomers discovered a different reality. The Pepsi Generation is running into Mother Nature’s limits.
These natural limitations are compounded by the magnitude of the challenge we are attempting.
I will admit it. Reading about the class of ‘13’s travails definitely got my attention. I’d almost rather be hit by a NFL linebacker than endure some the trials and agonies they have recorded so far this year, and hiking season is only half over!
It’s no wonder that fate has so far forced hundreds of them to bite the dust and return home in the vertical and – tragically for a couple of folks – in the horizontal positions. Bless them all.
The take-away from all this caused me to rethink everything about my own hike from gear to my conditioning program. I need to improve my odds of success, but there’s more to that then meets the eye.
Since so many hikers are Boomers, a Boomer reality check might be helpful.
We’re still special, just not in the way we might fully appreciate. To paraphrase Humpty Dumpty, all the king’s plastic surgeons and hair colorists can’t stop time. That is unless your name is Cher.
For some of us, vanity is beyond passé. “Does your belly hang low? Does it wobble to and froe? Can you tie it in a knot? Can you tie it in a bow?” Humpty Dumpty was carrying his weight in all the wrong places. Maybe if his center of gravity had been higher or lower…
Even if you’re lucky enough to be still getting checked out, believe it or not Ripley, by now every Boomer has lost that fabled step or two compared to our more youthful counterparts. Try as we might, it just happens.
It works like this. When I “run” 10K races, stopwatch batteries die before I can finish, so now they time me with a calendar. ☺
That’s why I’m starting my hike in February. I may need the extra time, ‘cause my Maine squeeze isn’t going to wait beyond October 15 when the trail terminus at Mt. Katahdin closes.
Let’s dig a little deeper. As we age, our cardio capacity is reduced. Our less-elastic tendons and reduced bone density make us more vulnerable the orthopedic disappointments that frequently erase thru-hikers from the roles.
Even our eyesight is diminished. Everyone over 40 suffers from presbyopia. But, as TV pitchman Billy Mays used to say before he gave up the ghost, “…but wait, there’s more!”
I recently hugged my ophthalmologist when she told me that everyone over 60 develops cataracts. Oh joy! Did you know that cataracts diminish night vision acuity?
Just for kicks, imagine this: During those long cold nights sometimes prostate symptoms often force guys to wake up and get up. Add reduced night vision to an unscheduled pit stop and guess what? If you want to see where you’re “going”… better remember your flashlight.
So to sum it up, sixty is NOT the new 40. Who would ’a thunk that? OBTW, don’t trust anyone under 2 x 30…
Face it fellow Boomers, we’re about to star in a reality show that is more like a “Twilight Zone” episode inspired by the Bataan death march and the Shackleton survival ordeal, than Disney’s “Davy Crockett.”
As I sit here considering what I’m up against next year, the words of my drill sergeant long ago are echoing in my head, “Life is cruel. Get over it and give me 50 push-ups!”
Maybe if Mr. Dumpty had pumped a little iron and did his push-ups….? Just sayin’.
Exercising and pumping iron, working out? What a concept!
Don’t laugh. Long distance hiking is an extreme athletic event. Serious strengthening programs are insurance against the stress injuries that add up after 5 million relentlessly pounding steps and a couple of hundred turtles and face plants.
If we workout at all, most of us aren’t focused on climbing over boulders, powering up hills, recovering from falls, and in particular, controlling down hill movement where shin splints and patellar tendonitis love to live.
That heavy pack on your back? Its weight serves as an exponent in the joint injury and tendonitis equations. Packing less weight is good as long as you can be safe.
So then, if luck is when preparation meets opportunity, this year’s hikers taught us this. When adversity smacks you up side the head, being fit and strong can be better than trail magic, and that’s worth strong consideration.
Fitness Together helped me design a strengthening program appropriate to the challenges presented to AT thru-hikers. My bar tab at the Fountain of Youth ran out long ago, so I had no choice but to pay up front.
By way of full disclosure, I am a life-long athlete who will turn 65 somewhere along the trail next year. If I don’t make it, I want to know I did everything I could to be ready and Pam Stanfield, my coach at Fitness Together, was a big part of that.
If I crash and burn, I want to be able to get up, recover and hike on. Either that, or I’ll throw in the towel knowing I left it all on the trail and there was nothing more I could have done.
Irrational determination and perseverance is what “Sisu” is all about. Now all I have to do is eat my spinach and measure up. BTW, don’t discount dumb luck and the kindness of the good people I am going to need and hope to meet along the way. Thanks to all y’all in advance.