Reflections on a Long Day [long]
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Mark Larson
(mlarson) - MLife

Locale: Southeast USA
Reflections on a Long Day [long] on 07/02/2006 08:11:08 MDT Print View

The Trip
So, yesterday was one of my more ambitious hikes I've done solo. This was on a very familiar piece of trail on the southern AT. The course was an out-and-back trip along the 8.8 miles AT Approach Trail, and the first 7.6 of the official AT. That made for just under 33 miles in 11hrs trip time, about 9.5hrs walking without the [much-needed] breaks. Top it off with beautiful cloudless weather in the high 80s.

I left the car at 7am. I started off too fast, I knew it, and I couldn't help it. This was my first decent hike in about a month, and I was ready to GO. The first section is a rocky, rooty roller-coaster that starts near the base of Amicalola Falls, goes up to the top of the falls, then leaves it behind for higher ground on the ridge to Springer Mountain. Cool weather and adrenaline made for smooth sailing. I made the first 8.8 in 2:20--much faster than normal for me. The next section of trail is one of my favorites in Georgia, which dives down from Springer into a river valley and ambles along Stover Creek and the Three Forks area. Lots of rhododendron tunnels near the river banks; hemlocks guard the further slopes and keep a beautiful, open, understory. From there, I walked up a long gentle climb through mostly pine. The next several miles were on a grass-lined trail on a hardwood ridge that wound it's way out to Hawk Mountain shelter, my turn-around point.

It was 11:45 at Hawk Mtn, and I called for a 45-minute nap... 12:30 rolled around too soon, and I was off to do it all over again in reverse, but this time with the afternon heat. I made good time back into the river valley, and about that time I hit my first wall. I recognized it when I had this primal impulse to find a walking stick. Next thing I knew, I was digging in the brush. I found one eventually, and was able to keep chugging on through.

Leaving Stover Creek, I had the 2.5 mile climb back up to Springer Mountain. At this point, it was legitimately hot and my hiking was getting a bit listless and uninspired, to say the least. What else, but dehydration? I took a break about half-way up, then another at the summit. Thirty minutes and two liters of water later, I was ready to go again, although I hadn't gotten my appetite back. I was physically sore and getting a bit cranky and just wanting to be done. But all there was to do was keep walking.

An easy 1.5miles down to the ridge, and a rolling trail to the last major climb out of Nimblewill Gap. After that, I knew I was home-free. More ridge-walking, another easy ascent up Frosty Mountain, and then I was able to do an exhausted-but-sure-to-finish shuffle-jog for most of the 3-4 miles downhill back to the car. I passed along my trusty walking stick to a family going up the trail to the falls. Then I went straight for the Gatorade and laid down in the parking lot in the shade of my car :)

The only bit of gear news to report is that the Inov8 Flyroc 310s are wonderful shoes. My foot muscles are a little tired today, but that's about it. An all-around great trip for my feet. This was also the longest time I've used a lumbar pack [an old-model Ultimate Direction Naviti], and it was fantastic. I love the freedom of movement and all the ventilation I got the whole day. The only gear downer was that I wish I'd brought my trekking poles. I'm not sure why, but I just didn't remember them when I was packing up. They would have been a huge help in the final 1/3 and probably helped me keep some leg power in reserve at the beginning.

Thinking
What really surprised me about this trip was how much good thinking I got done about hiking and also about 'real life'. The mental activity was just about as intense as the physical. I started thinking about writing this very post, and thought I'd share some of the ideas I came up with to get through a hard day of walking. I'd been using these for years before, but never really 'codified' them. But now I have a little grab-bag of mental tricks. Basically just some things to take my mind away from negative thoughts and help stay focused and/or moving. Do y'all have any to share?

Minor Landmarks
When your chips are down, just take it a little bit at a time. You all know this one. "I'll walk uphill til I pass that rock... Okay, now I'll walk to that tree... Good, now I'll make it to that sunny spot..."

Best Segment
This works best on familiar trail, an expanded version of the Minor Landmark method. The idea occurred to me to start thinking ahead a little bit. In other words, knowing what I know about the stretch of trail ahead, what do I need to do to make it a good one? Approaching Nimblewill Gap southbound, I knew I had a long, rocky, sunny climb ahead. I went down my checklist before I got there: eat some salty-sweets; chug some water; wet down my face/ neck/ arms/ legs; etc. By the time I was at the foot of the climb, I knew exactly what I needed to do to make it work smoothly. Piece of cake. Repeat as necessary.

Just Keep Swimming
For some reason, at the start of the day, I was really time-conscious. I'm not sure how I got the crazy idea that I needed to finish by 6, but there I was, counting down the hours. I tend to do a lot of mental math anyway, but the 'deadline' was new to me. Anyway, it dawned on me that time would take care of itself, I just needed to keep walking.

Systems Check
I think I ought to do this one more often. Basically just starting from my toes, and slowly working my way up, I think about each body part. How are they? Any changes from earlier today? Anything I've igored? Any soreness? Are my socks falling down? Are my shorts riding up? Is my nose dusty and clogged? etc.

Post-Planning
Thinking about what I've learned so far. What I plan to do with what I've learned. How I'm going to record it, when I'll take care of the photos, who I'm going to talk to first when I get back.

Pre-meditated Rewards
e.g. Gatorade and a change of clothes waiting in the car.

Gratitude
This one hit me hard. It's nice to take a little time-out just to think about and enumerate how lucky I am to be out there, how lucky I am to be physically able to enjoy it, how fortunate to be able to learn and apply what I learn from groups like BPL, TLB, and WB, etc.

Hope y'all had a good weekend.
-Mark