Train Like A Thru-Hiker
Bill Bryson learned it the hard way. Conquering the 2,175-mile Appalachian Trail takes physical preparedness. Bryson was decidedly out of shape when he set off. His companion, Katz, even more so.
“Katz was panting, and I was bug-eyed, breathing hard, heart kabooming alarmingly,” he recounts in a 1998 Outside article, a precursor to A Walk in the Woods (Broadway). “I was astounded by the scale of my tiredness.”
Learn from his mistakes and train like a thru-hiker before trying to become one. Fitness is important for anything that’s longer than the weekend. People need to understand that even a five- or six-mile hike is stressful on bones and joints.”
Bryson surmised he’d get fit along the way “after years of waddlesome sloth.” Not the soundest approach, experts say. Tackling biggies like the Appalachian Trail, in whole or part, demands serious body conditioning.
Begin with a combination of cardiovascular and strength training, targeting the muscle groups used while hiking. You’re reducing your chances of injury. Running, cycling, or speed walking every day is the way to go; weight lifting every other day.
The real preparedness, though, comes from practice hikes on rugged terrain. There is nothing like putting your pack on and walking the hills. The more the better. Build up endurance by increasing distance over time, say, from eight to 10 to 12 miles. And work toward carrying a thru-hike load.
It’s amazing how many people drop out in the first 30 miles. Watch the mileage. Don’t start with the expectation of doing long days.
In addition to jogging, change your diet during training. Some guys lose 35 pounds during the training phase. Become lean and mean. It will make the hike, physically, very easy.
The right food makes a difference, particularly on long treks, when more calories are needed. Nutrition is important. Folks who are planning to eat granola bars and ramen noodles for five months are advised to rethink that.
A steady diet of Snickers bars and other junk food can lead to vitamin or mineral deficiencies. Have at least one serving of milk a day to boost the protein. Meals also should incorporate healthy carbohydrates (think whole grains) and good fats like those found in almonds.
Calcium is very important. Ready sources include cheese and sardines. Another trick: mix powdered milk with peanut butter.
Of course, not all hikers take heed: “Among the foodstuffs Katz thought would transfer nicely to the camping milieu,” Bryson writes, “was the full range of gooey and evidently imperishable pastries produced under the label Little Debbie.”
Little Debbie, well, she should stay home. Katz, too.
Courtesy of the Appalachian Mountain Club