Rehab and training

“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower

As I plan my attempt to thru-hike the Arizona Trail this fall I am forced to consider myriad topics – gear, water & nutrition, injuries & pain management, navigation & pace, resupply, gear repairs/replacements, and the inevitable mental challenges that all long distance hikers face.  They all deserve considerable attention.  In truth, those obstacles aren’t what I’m worried about.  It’s my body.

You see, I’ve added a few pounds over the years.  In addition I have some nerve and structural issues in my back and lower legs.  It appears that years of hard living (football, Marine Corps, mountain biking, gravitational-assisted earth impacts, etc) followed by inactivity leads to chubby, broken people.  I’m worried that my body just won’t take the abuse, injuries notwithstanding, despite my mental & intestinal fortitude.

The reason I’m most fearful of this outcome isn’t because I will have failed, but because I will have failed a long time ago when I decided to live plushy.  I have no doubt in my mind that I could prevail over the mental challenges and loneliness; but to be physically incapable of finishing, not as a result of injury, is a reflection of myself.  It speaks to my ability and desire to take care of myself.  I believe that one of the cornerstones to happiness is a thriving physical existence, as far as your body can take you.

I went to a massage therapist who specializes in structural issues of the human body the other day.  She was a professional – she asked a series of questions, made me do some basic movements then flopped me on the table and began prodding.  She was surgical with those fingers!  The short story is that after 90 minutes of poking she’d released a multitude of issue points.  I feel better today than I have in months.  The changes she made make it possible for me to actually exercise; before it was a self-inflicted torture session.

It was never a question of whether or not I was going to attempt the hike had I not stumbled on to this therapist.  It was more of a question of how bad was it going to get.

Living vicariously

Mike left last week for his thru-hike of the AZT.  I’ve been following his blog (Protect the AZT) and it appears he’s having the time of his life!  Sure, there are already challenges, but conquering them is half the fun!  Anyway, it was a real education watching him in his last few days of planning.  The experience was great for two reasons: first, I was able to watch someone in planning mode during the final days prior to departure.  The second was because I really was able to think about how I wanted to serve the hiking community.

Mike had attempted the hike last year but Murphy decided to tag along; he was forced, for various reasons, to bail early on in the attempt.  It’s probably a good thing though, because if you read his account of the incident you’ll realize that he hadn’t planned properly.  The opposite was true this time around and I was able to benefit from his learning experience.  In fact, by living vicariously through him during the 6 days he was here was invaluable!  In fact, I learned about two awesome spots along the trail that I hadn’t originally counted that can be counted on for resupply.

The most valuable lesson was coming to the realization that I would love to run a thru-hiker basecamp and help others achieve their dreams of completing the AZT.  I’d been thinking about something like this for a while but it wasn’t until Mike stayed with me that I was able to really put the idea to paper.  I’d been doing casual research on the subject as I read stories of hikers on other trails like the PCT and AT.  I’d also read horror stories about hikers gone wild.  I wasn’t sure how to make it all work, but this week I came up with a plan.

So, I posted my ideas on a few Facebook pages and within minutes I had two people that were interested.  At this point you’re probably thinking “how awesome; you’re going to do great”!  Well, my first thought was “shit, now I have to figure out how to price this so I’m not losing money or wasting time”.  So, I did what any smart business person would do and I made up some pricing that sounded reasonable and sent some estimates.  Since I haven’t heard back from them I’m not sure how well they liked it.  Live and learn . . .

Anyway, to make a long story less long I’ve outlined what we’re going to provide – a base camp, in-town supply shuttles, border drop-off/pickup, gear receiving, and a few other small services.  We have a great property, centrally located, with ample camping spots and a 15 passenger van.  It’s a start.

The best part about helping hikers is that I get to hear the stories.  A person can learn a lot about themselves by just listening to others’ tales of chasing dreams.

 

A dry run – literally

When someone says they’re going to “thru-hike such-&-such trail” you’d assume they’d done some research on said trail, right?  In my case, you’d be right.  Back in 1996 when I heard about the Arizona Trail (AZT) I immediately conjured up this idea that I’d hike the entire thing in one long push.  I thought I was on the cutting edge of something – walking long distances.

The whole “Edward Abbey” thing aside, come to find out there’s this whole community of people that do this kind of thing – they’re aptly called “thru-hikers” and apparently these cretins are everywhere.  As I started doing some research I learned about these huge, long-distance trails – there are three very popular trails in America; there are quite a few more, but the “Triple Crown” is the Appalachian Trail (AT), the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and the Continental Divide Trail (CDT).  The shortest of these three (AT) is 2160 miles and the longest (CDT) is 3100 miles.  By contrast, the AZT is about 800 miles.

I’m the kind of person that gets excited about things.  As I started my research I came up with a grand plan – I was going to do the AZT first, then the AT, the PCT and finally the CDT.  I was going to do them in succession!  I didn’t even give second thought to the fact that I had obligations, a company, a wife . . . all of whom probably wanted a chance to provide input into my plans, but that’s a whole blog entry in itself.  Anyway, I now had a mission.

My first step was to read as many of the biographies as I could get for free from Amazon Prime; there were a few.  Then I started purchasing books; there are many.  I spent about 2 months reading about 15 books on the trials and tribulations of thru-hiking.  To make a long story . . .less long, the underlying current of the books was that these thru-hikes are a struggle, both mentally and physically.  It took a decent amount of intestinal fortitude to complete these hikes (among other things like enough time, money, permission, etc).

I must admit that my first thought was “I’m a former US Marine; I have the mental ability to conquer this hike!”.  My second thought was “I’m a beer lover; this is going to be painful”.  Not going without beers, that’s going to be easy (I’ll bring scotch); it’s that I’m a bit chubby right now.  The good news is that I’ll burn far more calories than I can carry so I’ll lose some weight.  I hope.

This week I’m sending off a new friend, Mike Cavaroc from Free Roaming Photography.  He’s going to document the segments of the Arizona Trail that are the most at-risk from encroachment.  Anyway, he’s staying with me for a few days as he’s getting ready to launch.  I get to enjoy the excitement as he plans his meals and mail drops, checks his gear then re-checks it again.  I can sense a duality about him too.  On one hand he’s hopeful and excited, but on the other he’s naturally apprehensive.  The physical and mental challenge is daunting enough – he knows that!  It’s the unknown that really weighs on a mind – there are more “what if” scenarios than there are answers.

I guess, in the end, that’s what pulls me.  That unknown factor.