Health & Fitness

On Toughening Up!

Back in, I don’t know, February-ish, I got a wild hair and texted my brothers and asked if they would want to do a siblings-only hike.  I figured that the time was right – due to COVID, work schedules were more flexible, and I needed some incentive to actually do something besides eat, drink, and re-watch all of my favorite sitcoms.

Nate, my older (very adventurous) brother immediately said yes. I don’t recall if Benny (my younger, more cautious (Heather-like) brother) ever explicitly agreed, but by then, the seed of the idea was planted.  It was done.  We were going on a hike.

We did some preliminary (aka half-ass) research and decided on a beautiful 30 mile trail in North Carolina, The Art Loeb Trail. Nate sent us a list of gear we would need to procure.

I balked.

OMG.  Hiking gear is EXPENSIVE.

I tried to back out. 

Nathan pscyhotherapized me, reducing my objections to dust.

I bought all the gear.

ALLLLL the while hoping, praying, hoping that something would happen, and I would not, in fact, have to walk 30 miles with a 40 lb pack on my back up 8,257 feet of elevation.

While hoping it would all come to nothing by the grace of God, I still continued buying gear and even starting training!  Despite our best intentions to do practice hikes of 10-12 miles fully loaded with gear, the best we did was an 8 mile hike with 797 feet of elevation.

And Lo!  The week of the hike approached.

By some weird twist of fate, Russian hackers did a ransomware attack on the fuel pipeline servicing North Carolina.  This happened 2 days before we were scheduled to DRIVE to NC! 

We quickly convened a Sibling Zoom and discussed options.  Should we cancel?  Postpone?  Find an alternate?  Nate was coming from NYC, and we were coming from Iowa.  We decided that there is no time like the present, so we decided to “pivot” (the theme for 2020/2021) and meet up in PA instead, to do the 30 mile Tioga West Rim Trail.  At 4,356 feet of elevation, it was still no joke, but it seemed more doable (both physically and from a gas-supply perspective) than the Art Loeb Trail.  So we headed out, only one day later than planned.

I am sitting here, about a week after completing the hike, and I am SO HAPPY that the Universe did not grant my silent wish and put the kibosh on the hike. 

Living outside, with all that you need carried on your back, helped me feel more strong, resilient, and weathered.  Over the past year life has shrunk a bit. I have retreated back into a cozy, comfortable home cocoon, and in the process got raw, pink, and sensitive.  Hiking 30 miles helped me realize what I am capable of (to quote Glennon Doyle, “I can do hard things!”). 

It also helped me see how much my body and mind thrived when disconnected from modern life.  My eyes saw trees, hills, rivers.  My ears heard babbling brooks, the sounds of my brothers’ voices, and the occasional inexplicable noise in the woods.  My feet felt the earth, the roots, the slope beneath me.  My skin welcomed the sun and the wind.  I need more OUTSIDE time in my life!!

I also have some practical insights to share, for other first time hikers:

  1. REI has load of super helpful videos. 
    1. I was very concerned about the logistics of pooping in the woods and was seriously considering just holding it for 3 days (soooo not possible when one is eating a diet of beef jerky, nuts, seeds, bars, and freeze dried food).  But I ran across this video, and it answered all my questions!
    1. Here’s another video about how to pack a backpack – so many good insights!! 
    1. And this one, also from Miranda, had some good insights for beginner back packers.
  2. My shoulders were KILLING ME within 20 minutes on the trail.  I have very prominent, bony clavicles, and it felt as if the pack was resting right on the bone and also pinching all the nerves exiting my neck.  I was sure I was going to have permanent nerve damage from the pack.  Nate noticed my pack should ride a bit higher on my hips, so I shortened up the back, and then Benny suggested putting some padding under the shoulder straps.  I pulled out a pair of super cushy SmartWool socks (LOVE THEM) and tucked them under my straps.  It may have looked weird, but it made ALL the difference!!!
  3. BRING A PAPER MAP!  We all had AllTrails Pro on our phones, but we couldn’t tell where the campsites were located, so we just had to keep hiking until we found a suitable spot.  Also , the AllTrails map did not track to the real Tioga West Rim Trail; it utilizes a shortcut (Siemens loop) to cut a few miles off the trail.  We missed the loop (by accident), but then got really confused when our GPS showed us way off the trail, but the blazes showed that we were in the right spot.
  4. If you are doing a Thru Hike, make sure you have all the keys and wallets you need with you in your pack.  We left one car at the Northern end, and then drove another car to the South Terminus.  We were about 15 minutes down the trail when Nate remembered that his keys were still in the car.  Benny ran back and got them – crisis averted!!  Until we got to the Northern end and realized that Nate’s car only had 1/8 of a tank of gas, and all of our wallets were safely stashed in Benny’s car at the South end, about 45 minutes away.  We actually had enough gas to get back to Benny’s car, but the anxiety of potentially running out of fuel in the mountains took about 3 years off of Benny & I’s lives. Nathan was nonplussed, however!
  5. Do take the threat of bears seriously.  We got a bear canister and hung up whatever didn’t fit in it several feet outside of camp.  WE didn’t have any run-ins with bears, but we ran into some other hikers who, the previous night, had a bear come into their campsite at 3AM.  They eventually scared it off, but they didn’t sleep a wink the rest of the night, and they still had about 7 miles to hike to finish the trail!!
  6. Share your plans with people at home.  On Saturday night we could not get a cell signal, so our families went several hours without hearing from us.  My husband was all set to drive out to PA on Sunday morning to rescue us.  But he didn’t even know if we started at the North or South end, so if he really DID need to find us, it would have been tough.
  7. I was using my Garmin Forerunner 35 to track our hike.  But it died mid-way through Day 2.  I think if I had remembered to turn off the heart rate monitor function, it would have lasted the full hike.  I’m not sure how accurate its tracking was in the mountains, but at least it gave us some idea of how far we were.

This post is already miles long, so I’ll stop there.  If you have any questions about the gear we used, what we liked and didn’t like, or any other questions about the Trail itself, hit me up in the comments.

Happy Hiking!!