The indicators are all there. School has started. The first college football games play this weekend. The automobile companies are ready to unveil next year’s models. The TV networks are unwrapping their new fall lineups. It’s fall. My favorite time of the year.
As Labor Day approaches the anticipation of autumn excites the senses. The pending ascendance of nutmeg as top spice in the kitchen helps complete the fashion shift from polo shirts to polar fleece. By the time the frost is on the punkin’, snow can’t be far behind if you live far enough north.
If fall is a-comin’ then my mid-February Appalachian Trail start date is just around the corner. Time to focus on the task at hand and lay down some boot tracks.
In any sport, cross training helps improve performance. But, no matter how much cross training you do, you still have to get the reps in for the sport itself. Football players lift weights, but they also block and tackle, baseball players hit, catch and throw and runners run. It follows that hikers should hike.
The trail is pulling me out of my comfortable rut and telling me to start putting one foot in front of the other, get funky and stress test the shelter, sleep, food, and clothing systems that will be used during my thru hike. Only a long trek can produce the realistic conditions needed.
The first item on the fall dance card is a joint National Park Service/Potomac Appalachian Trail Club two-day advanced trail maintenance workshop September 21 -22.
We’re scheduled to build erosion control structures with big rocks. Think Triassic tinker toys, building blocks and Lincoln logs all rolled into one giant play set.
This stuff is fun, especially the part where we’ll be car camping at Mathews Arm Campground in Shenandoah National Park. We get to bring a camp chair and coolers! They’ve got showers!! They’re even cooking the food for us!!!
I wonder if the cooks could just follow the class of ‘14 up the trail? We could all chip in…
A couple of days after the workshop, it’ll be happy trails for for me on the 160 miles of AT from Waynesboro, Virginia to Harpers Ferry. That’s enough miles to find out what needs fixing.
It has another advantage. It simulates the longest leg without resupply that I’m planning in the spring. That stretch is from Fontana Village, NC to Hot Springs, NC. I’m not particularly high on the options in between, so a simple by pass strategy seems reasonable caveated by a severe weather opt out proviso.
Here’s where it gets personal. This particular test hike is not happening by accident. It will determine whether my body will stand up physically to a thru hike. With all the weight training and running, you’d think it would be a cinch. Let me clue you in on a secret. It’s not even close.
Six years ago I severely injured my right ankle. The injury includes the effects of tibial nerve damage that may not withstand the continuous pounding and dynamic stresses that long distance hiking generates over time. If the outcome is going to be negative, it will be unambiguous and show up before the end of this little jaunt. My thru hike could be over before it even begins.
If that isn’t enough, a chronic running injury called piriformis syndrome adopted me several years ago. When the piriformis muscle gets irritated, it is literally a pain I the butt that hurts like hell.
Of course the hurt has a bonus effect. The swelling irritates the sciatic nerve. And that my friends is a joy to experience, not to mention a potential show stopper! Both injuries are in the same leg. Has anyone ever hiked this thing on one leg?
I’m actually shocked that my right leg and foot haven’t filed a class action law suit for abuse.
The effects of these injuries can be moderated by systematic stretching, religiously limiting miles, and frequent rest. But in spite of everything, piriformis misbehaves on its own schedule. Moreover, the neuropathy in my right foot attended the same reform school and they’re both frequent recidivists.
Drama aside, there’s plenty of optimism. After all, I’ve made it through a year’s worth of heavy duty trail maintenance without problem. My intermittent hikes with a full pack have gone well. We just need more a more realistic test before actually reporting for duty in Georgia.
Triassic rocks and a little long haul truckin’ – a couple of nice shows for the fall schedule wouldn’t you say? Ah, but it gets even better. Get this.
Following a successful hike to Harpers Ferry, it’s immediately home to refit and head out to rendezvous with a member of the class of ’13 who flipped and is now southbound for Harpers Ferry on a Thanksgiving deadline. I get to observe a real lab rat performing the act itself.
The social benefits of having a compatible hiking partner aside, a medicinal traipse through the Pennsylvania rocks will notch up the difficulty factor enough to be an absolute validation of my body’s ability to perform over six months. Can’t wait.
What comes after Thanksgiving?
Last December I saw someone who gave me a great idea. This guy was decked out in REI’s finest while hiking with a ginormous pack on the Capitol Crescent Trail – an old street car line that’s now a nice walking path from Silver Spring, Maryland to Georgetown, D.C. Only later did I realize that he was training for the AT.
Thanks to the anonymous hiker, I’ll devote several hours each day, regardless of weather, to following his footsteps while wearing a full pack until it’s time to do an about face, jump in the car and motor to the Peach State.
BTW, I used to work at Georgia Tech. Georgia is a nice place if you haven’t been there.
If everything works, I’ll feel a lot more physically prepared to play my part in the 2014 Appalachian Trail reality show. I can only hope it’s not going to be “Survivor – the Earnest Shackleton Edition.” Whatever mamma nature plans to throw at us, it’s coming to Trail Journals in February. Hope to see you there. Sisu
If the weather is ugly, ole Sisu is comin’ anyway. He’s got backup.