Saturday, May 25, 2019

35-50 km a day?!?!? .... 20-30 miles a day?!?!?


To trek across Canada in 3 years from the Atlantic to the Pacific to the Arctic along The Great Trail, I need to only average 35 km a day.  Which – believe it or not – is not a huge or insurmountable distance to walk in a single day.  

 
From my experience there are several types of reactions from people when you mention how long and how far you walk each day on a long distance trek or thru-hike:

(1)    “How long?  Oh my goodness, I could never go that far.  You can’t physically walk that far in a single day that is impossible!”  This reaction usually reflects people who don’t know their bodies or their potential.  Even those many of these people walking at work, at home, and around the office walk almost that far each day themselves. 

(2)    “How long?  Ya well I do that everyday, anyone can do that.  Geez actually you should be going further!”  This reaction, unless you are talking to a triple crown hiker, a global trekker, or an Australian athlete – all of whom likely do hike further than this regularly, also reflects people who don’t know their bodies or their potential. 

(3)    “How long, how far?   Hmmm.  Ya not bad, if you can’t do it now you will be able to in a week or so, take your time, listen to your body, you’ll get there.  Best of luck.”  This is the voice of experience, patient, and encouragement.  This is the voice of those who have done it, are likely still out there, and want others to be safe and enjoy their treks. 

On my first two thru-hikes I frequently became unnerved by the first two answers.  I spent days alternating between thinking such distances where impossible, and feeling frustrated as those more experienced and athletic individuals raced past me on the trail.  I have spent weeks in my tent at night wondering whether I should even be on trails.  Did I have the physical ability?  Could I complete the trek in the set amount of time?  What must others out here think of me hiking so slowly?  In short I became burdened with questions that only led to more and more worry, more uncertainty....and which did not nothing to improve my hike and which ultimately were beyond my control.  I was hiking other people’s hikes, and determining my pace and achievement by the standards set by others.    

 
Months and years later I have come to see that the expectations of others, the judgments and critiques got to me for one reason – I didn’t know my own body, what my limitations are, and what my full potential is.  I didn’t know myself.

I don’t think most people – who like me drive each day, use public transit to go a few blocks at lunch time, or who live at a desk – actually know their physical abilities or their own potential anymore.  It is one of the vices of modern society – we have lost our connection to nature, we don’t know what our bodies can do, or what our limits are.  In fact, I suspect a large number of people who being walking along urban trails, set out to tackle the AT or take a off to venture along the Camino De Santiago want to undertake a personal challenge and reconnect to the world in a way that our lives often just fail to do anymore.

 
I know lots of people – who are skilled and athletic (I am not) – who feel that walking 10-15 km or 5 miles a day is an impossibly long distance.  The concept of regularly trekking 20-35 km a day for weeks or months on end is simply not believed as possible.  I am not physically adept, nor do I work out.  I am the sort of person who prefers ice cream and chocolate over vegetables and health food.  Even my own mother describes me “as being so frail that a wisp of wind could blow me away”.  Yet, after about 4-5 days of regularly hiking 20-25 km or 12-15 miles, I got used to it and that “impossible goal” soon represented my morning’s trek. To put this into perspective even a leisurely stroll of 3 km per hour would get you 15 km in 5 hours which means you can also hike 24 km in 8 hours! This meant that that after about 2 weeks I was regularly pushing 30-40 km by the early afternoon. 

On my more recent long distance and thru-hikes I have begun to listen to the third answer more and more.  Yes it has taken me a long long time to get to the point of not judging how I am hiking, not pushing myself beyond my comfort zone or being worried at night about the distances others are covering.  These days I figure, we’ll all get there in our own ways – like life, we all hike our own hike - but for now I want to enjoy the moment.

Now lets be clear I am talking about hiking on flat terrain, along pathways, or roadways – not bush whacking up the sides of mountains there.  I am the first to admit that terrain changes everything (looking at you Pyrenees! And you Rocky Mountains!), but even then, you do get used to it….and after some time and some adjustment (and yes some tears) you get to know your body, you begin to push your limits, and you are hiking just as well as the next person!  

 
So as we enter the busy season for trekking – with people setting off to begin their AT, PCT, and CDT in the USA.  With hikers getting ready in the spring to get to Santiago for the Festival of St James in Spain and as the intrepid throughout Europe people begin to set out along the GR trailways – I have two pieces of advice.   First, get out on the trail, see what you can do, see what you are comfortable doing, and then day by day push it a little further.  Listen to those who want to help you, but most of all listen to your own body.  You aren’t in a competition with anyone else, don’t be set back by the abilities of others – you’ll get there.  Then one day, step by step, you will have completed the AT, the PCT or the Camino de Santiago.  The dirty secret of thru hiking – is that anyone can trek long distances – it is in the deciding to get out there that is the real challenge. Every voyage seems challenging and impossible when viewed as a whole.  500 miles across France of Spain, 2100 miles along the AT, 2700 miles along the PCT, 3100 miles along the CDT, and 15000 miles along Canada’s Great Trail are too large to get into your head.  But today’s hike of 10 or 20 or even 35 miles is manageable.  Get up the next hill, through the day, get to the next resupply point, get to the next state line and step by step you will be amazed at what you can do….when you get to know your body and your own potential. 

Second, be patient with those who are slow strollers, those who are burdened by their equipment or who are the last to stumble into the camp, albergue, or gite late at night.  We were all there at one point.  

 
To those setting out on a trail for the first time, challenging themselves with a long distance trek or thru-hike in the coming years is to take your time, enjoy the moment, recognize that everyone struggles at the outset, and in time (actually in surprisingly short period) your body will get used it and get you exactly where you need to be.  Enjoy the moment, enjoy your hike, and enjoy your time in nature.

Remember we are all pulling for you and want you to succeed. 

See you on the trail….


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