Preparing For The Trek: Mind, Mail, and Body
The percentage of Northbound thru hikers that quit within the first week is 25%, these hikers don't even make it out of Georgia. Another 25% don’t make it to Damascus, VA. Only 10-15% of thru hikers will complete the 2189-mile journey to Katahdin this year. Why do most people quit? Well besides the fact that it’s hard, they don’t follow the “6 P’s”. Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance. Andy and I have been planning like madmen over the past month gearing up for our March 15th start date. Some people will say that’s not enough time but we will find out.
When planning long distance hikes knowledge is power; you need to know the terrain. The best way to get to know the area you plan to hike is get out there and do some day hikes or long weekends but I’ve been out of the country so guidebooks have had to fill in. Lucky for me the Appalachian Trail has a fantastic guidebook, AWOL, which is updated yearly to show the slight changes on and off the trail. On the trail the AWOL guide shows mileages and distances to campsites, water sources, shelters, and by passing roads to get into town. I cannot stress the utter necessity of this guidebook. It also has detailed maps of all towns near to the trail with hotels, grocery stores, post offices, and even veterinary clinics. Here’s to hoping Zoey, Andy’s two-year old Boxer who is accompanying us, doesn’t need to visit any of those!
Thru hikers have two options when it comes to resupplying. First is the “mail drop” method sending boxes to a post office or place of business every 3-5 days with prepackaged food (store bought or homemade dehydrated meals). Those of us who are truly on top of things choose to commit themselves to dehydrating food because it gives you tons of dietary options, can be much less expensive, but is time extensive. We are on it, but maybe not on top of it. We lacked the foresight for this but come on this is our first time tackling something of this scale, give us a break.
The second option is buying food in town. We chose option two for a variety of reasons. First, it’s easier, less planning, less headaches. I’m a bit lazy. Sue me. Second, your appetite will change. You will get sick of trail mix. You will not be able to stomach another damn oatmeal raisin Cliff bar. You won’t even be able to look at a box of Kraft Mac n Cheese (I pray this day never comes!) Buying as you go gives you the freedom to change things up. Finally and knock on some wood, what happens if you cant finish? Come home and there are 15 labeled boxes ready to go just mocking you. Getting punked by some inanimate objects, that’s the last thing I want in defeat.
We do have to send six resupply boxes, mostly in the northern half of the trail where towns and stores become far less frequent. But we humans are not the only ones who need food on the trail. Zoey will have a total of 21 boxes sent her way as we don’t want to change her diet and are unsure if we can find her food brand along the trail. Along with her 7-10 day supply of dog food we will send premade breakfast shake powder that only needs a few cups of water and BOOM one meal down.
That’s the paperwork prep but three other types of preparations are much more important. Physical preparation for a long distance trek is not easily duplicated. You cannot replicate trail conditions on even the most advanced treadmill / Stairmaster at least I don’t think so, I don’t mess with gyms. The terrain changes from dirt to rock to muddy riverbanks then you might have to forge the river. Oh, and you are carrying 25-35 pounds on your back. I have been hiking as much as possible but Central America doesn’t have much mountainous terrain. One thing it does have plenty of is volcanoes. During my month in Central America I made it a point to climb as many as possible. I think I totaled nine. Only time will tell if I prepared my body well enough.
The mind can be a powerful tool or the toughest adversary and the mental preparation is a must for any thru hiker. You have to know why you’re out there roughing it and putting your body through hell because there will be plenty of times when that question arises in the back of your head. You better have a damn good answer! I know why I’m doing it, I’m hiking to raise money for MS research, get back in touch with nature, and to push myself in both mind and body.
Check back next week to find out all the gear preparations and needs on the trail!
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One step at a time,