“Hiking and happiness go hand in hand (or foot in boot).” ― Diane Spicer
I started of on February 8th with a dull ache in my left foot. A trip to the doctor confirmed I had an old bone chip floating around. There was nothing they could do, and they recommended I stay off of it, wrap it, ice it, and ultimately....rest. That's counter-intuitive to a training thru hiker. REST? Ha.
I did hobble around at work for the remainder of the week and much into the next, but eventually the pain began to subside. I purchased a pair of Vasque Breeze boots, the ones I planned on using for my hike. They seemed to keep my foot stabilized while at work. Thankfully, the pain began to subside toward the end of the week. Crisis averted!
Living in socal, we've had quite the storm in the past week or so, with more rain on the way. That leads to gorgeous seasonal waterfalls and the streams the feed to be very plentiful within the San Gabriel Mountains. I took my days off to do two short hikes to test my boots and my now pain free foot. The first trail was located in Tujunga Canyon, and I was no prepared (foolishly) for the deeper water crossing that turned me around about 2 miles in. But a short 4 mile hike after 2 weeks off was enough for me to realize that my foot pain was in fact gone, and not going to flare up on short hikes. The next day, Max and I explored a more popular trail closer to home, with much more shallow water crossings. He was definitely happy to be out and about instead of cooped up at home with me. Again, we only did about 3 miles that day as well, but i'm easing back into mileage again. I'm hoping, weather permitting, to get a good 10 miles in hiking Saturday, with a moderately weighted pack.
I can definitely feel a little pre-hike anxiety kicking in. Will I have enough money saved up in time? Will I be ready, physically, mentally? Will everything work out? Will Max be ok? It's more of his hike, than mine, after all. I feel like I have so many loose ends to tie up before I begin, and time is ticking. With my permit officially approved, it all just seems so much more real. This is happening, and I can't wait. Time to fine tune my gear list and start logging miles!
Week 2. 148 miles. 275/643 complete (days turn to weeks)
Due to the patchy nature of phone coverage the further West you go on the SWCP it's been harder to get to a place where I can comfortably blog. I may unexpectedly get a signal on a windswept hillside at 7am but frozen fingers aren't very good at typing.
The hike has been going well, with no further injury and strength building on what are now becoming incessant short, sharp hills. Before I set off I made a mileage chart between major towns and colour-coded it with severity. All the green and yellow (easy, mild) are now gone and we're into big blocks of red.
The daily mileage has dropped, mostly due to my aversion to walk clifftops in the dark, so now I'm limiting the day to 07:00-17:00.. 10 hours hiking into which I have to fit the regulation Full English Breakfast, lunch with a pint of local ale, and an evening fish supper. This is turning out to be more a culinary tour than a hike.
The weather has been amazingly good so far, with crisp clear sunny days and mild nights. I've only had bad frost once which froze the condensation inside the tent, but my layers and down bag coped well, and I still have a fleece and long sleeve top in reserve. I think it got down to -7c and not knowing what temperatures I'll encounter on the AT, I may add a microfleece liner to the bag. Just to be on the safe side. Nobody wants to be carried off the mountain as a human popsicle.
Training hikes I attempted Mt. Wilson, a fixture of the San Gabriel mountains. From every area of the San Gabriel valley, the large towers and observatory are visible.
But the trail, it's gruelling and not for the faint of heart. My first attempt was a success a few years ago for my birthday, despite the cold temps and hail that began at Manzanita Pass. I've hiked it in it's entirety 3 or so times since.
A 7 mile climb with 4,000'+ elevation gain is sure to help you figure out where you stand fitness wise. Needless to say, this past Sunday was a certain reality check for me.
Max and I hit the trail at 6:45 Sunday morning. LA had quite a bit of rain the week before and Sunday was clear, the pollution levels finally down a bit, also. Water was flowing through various seasonal water fall and canyon streams. It was an ideal day to tackle my favorite trail.
Max did great, as always. I did not have him wear his pack for this trek, as we've both been slacking on training. I carried my pack, with a few items to add weight to 20lbs including water.
This trail kicked my butt this past weekend. I made it to Manzanita ridge before the familiar twinge in my back started to make an appearance. I figured instead of pushing myself and potentially injuring my back, I decided to call it a day and head back down. I was very happy to tackle 10 miles and a considerable amount of elevation. I work all weekend this week, but plan on trying again the next. We'll see if there's any improvement.
Day 6. 22 miles. 128/643 complete
After a lot of patching, fixing, washing and drying last night I packed away all my clean, dry kit and set off towards Exmouth in beautiful sunshine. It was bitterly cold to start with but a huge improvement on yesterday's rain, and with a cloudless sky the temperature soon climbed and I was eventually walking in a Tshirt.
The section from Seaton to Sidmouth was marked as "Challenging" on the SWCP website, and though there were plenty of short, sharp hills I was still taking things easy trying to protect my knee as much as possible, so felt relatively fresh and decided to continue on to Exmouth.
The day passed without event until I reached a field of ponies. One was standing by the gate and I had to shoo him away to get through. As I walked up the hill he followed closely behind, stopping each time I turned around. As I got my phone out for a picture he nipped the foam mat at the back of my pack, pulled from the webbing and galloped off with it, so I chased. Eventually the pony realised it wasn't edible and dropped it. Apart from some mud, a hoof print and some minor nibbling it was unscathed.
Last time I trust ponies. Keep your kit close, people. You don't know what's out there.
Days 4+5, 21+6 miles, 106/643 complete
Day 4 started in the rain with several miles of shingle underfoot. This stuff is awful to hike on as it forces you to take small, flat-footed steps. Try to stride out and you end up wasting energy as the pebbles shift under your feet.
Then I left my gloves on a bench when changing out of my waterproofs, tore my trousers on barbed wire climbing a stile and twisted my knee on a couple of downhill slips. Bad things happen in threes and by the time I got to Charmouth I was looking forward to a warm pub and a pint. Then I saw the "closed for 3 days" notice. OK.. 4.
Knowing the next section to Seaton was technical and with it getting dark, I decided to camp out and found a great spot under a conifer between two roads. There were lots of cars passing but no pedestrians, plus the tree branches almost reached the ground with just enough clearance by the trunk for my tent. I also found out my gaiters make a good groundsheet for the doorway.
Day 5 started off misty and wet. I packed up and set off to Lyme Regis, but as soon as I stepped away from the tree a spear of pain shot through my knee. I took some ibuprofen from my medikit and limped the two miles into town. Initially I thought I'd have to take a zero day, but as the painkillers kicked in I found it easier to walk and after several coffees I decided to carry on and clear the tough section to Seaton.
Going slowly and watching every step I got through the innumerable climbs, dips, steps, twists and tree roots and got to Seaton by dusk. It was still raining and getting cold so I found the nearest bar and booked into a hotel. Once there I washed and dried all my kit, sewed up the tears and got some new gloves from town.
All set for the next 100 miles.
Day 3. 23 miles. 79/643 complete
The day started damp with drizzle already soaking the tent as I woke. With the outside being cold and wet, there was quite a bit of condensation inside so I'd have to remember to unpack at lunch and dry out the tent.
The climb up Merchants Incline followed grooves cut into the rocks by the gravity railway used to transport Portland stone down to the town. I love to see the marks and indications of history and the scars and quarries from it's stone-producing past are all over Portland.
As the rain passed the whole south coast opened up revealing mile on mile of cliffs, the same ones I'd slogged up over the last few days. From here they looked tiny sawtooth bumps stretching out to the horizon.
The views around Portland were stunning, and there were so many grassy ledges close to the cliffs I wished I'd have walked on further last night so I could wake up to the views. But then I'd have missed the abandoned hospital and the views during the climb. Noted for next time.. Camping at Portland.
Once back in town I toyed with the idea of walking Chesil Beach but the map showed a firing range further up the coast and it would be a long walk back if it was in use, so I took the correct path which wound around the lagoon so much the 12 muddy miles to Abbotsbury were only 6 as the crow flies.
On arriving in town I could see there was a pub marked on the map (I use OS 1:25,000 scale on the Viewranger app) and hoped it was open. I always carry two sets of dry socks/briefs/Tshirt and was going to try to dry my Cheviot fell shoes and change socks. The pub was open, warm and very welcoming so I checked online to see if it had rooms. Double with en-suite for £35. I was booked in like a shot and showered within minutes, as the tent hung over the wardrobe to dry I also did some sink laundry. That's me set for the next few days under canvas.
The forecast tomorrow is for rain. I don't have waterproof shoes but will try a trick I picked up in the AT forums - sandwich bags on feet..
Day 2. 28 miles. 56/643 complete.
Waking up to daylight usually causes me some concern. Having wild/stealth camped for the last 30 years my golden rule is "pitch late, pack early" to avoid any problems with landowners.
This morning I knew I was OK as I'd found a lovely secluded spot in woodland well away from roads and footpaths, so I listened to the morning birdsong for a while before packing up in mild frost.
A few miles of road walking completed the diversion round the firing ranges and I was back on the SWCP and glorious sunshine. Even though the sun was mostly behind me all day I still ended up with mild sunburn from the intensity as it reflected off the sea.
Today's trails were taking me along the course of my first Ultra; the Dorset Doddle in 2012. Back then I was a distance walker, regularly taking on 40-50 mile hikes on a Sunday (in competition with others using GPX tracking app Endomondo). I hiked the first half then realised I was feeling OK with the hills so ran the second, my first and last negative split :)
Passing Durdle Door I took 30 to enjoy the view and realised I was still in ultra race mode.. I was in a hurry to get moving and begrudged talking any downtime. The ethos used to be "constant forward motion". It's going to take some time to learn to slow down and smell the roses.
Rain finally caught up with me as I approached Weymouth so as tradition dictates I found a pub and sat it out with a pint. It soon cleared and I continued down the causeway to Portland Bill, finding a spot behind the visitors centre by the fort.
Just as I was settling down I was treated to a 10 minute firework display, which was nice, but my birthday was yesterday. Appreciate the sentiment through Portland, and thanks for the welcome ;)
Day 1. 28 miles. 28/643 complete
The hike started with a ferry ride from Poole to Studland Beach where we had to find a path through the dunes due to the high tide.
We stopped off at a cafe at around 10 for breakfast and then got to grips with the wind over Old Harry Rocks. The forecast was clear and 5c but with biting winds from the NW the wind chill had us both wearing multiple layers and a buff to protect the face.
Unlike my happy-go-lucky approach to the hike, Chris had done some checking and the military ranges at Kimmeridge were in use all weekend, meaning a 13 mile detour. 13 more on 13th. A good start.
But it is what it is, so we chatted, slid around in muddy patches, pushed through brambles on a "short cut" that turned out to be a sheep track and chatted about life, the universe and everything.
Pretty soon it was getting dark, but there was still just enough light to make it to Kimmeridge Bay and take the road detour up to Wareham. We stopped at he local chippy for battered sausage and chips (all good calories) and a couple of birthday Guinness, then headed in opposite directions, Chris back to Poole and myself towards Lulworth in search of a grassy spot to set up camp.
Within a couple of miles I found a wooded grove a few hundred feet from the road so pitched tent, set up the sleeping gear and was sparko within minutes.
I'm worried. I can hike 10-14 mile day hikes with a 30lb pack on, but frankly I am out of shape. Please bare with my novel. Backstory:
In 2014 I moved to California. I got a job as a vet assistant full time, and a groom for a horse barn 2-3 days a week. I loved it. I was active and finally losing the weight I had packed on. I was 210lbs when I moved, and dropped 15 in probably the first 3 months.I was eating healthier, stopping after one serving. I was too active to sit at home and eat all day, haha. I was happier, more confident and felt like I was figuring myself out.
I started hiking more, something I had loved when I was a kid. Some of my best memories are of my dad taking me to the waterfall in Monrovia Canyon when I was younger. I started adding on miles as I became more fit. The weight continued to drop. I started running a few nights a week, a three mile loop in my neighborhood.
It got to the point where I was doing 10 mile day hikes close to my home on my days off, and more if possible. It was great! The weight kept coming off. At the height of my fitness level, I was a healthy, muscular (even if I still had some areas I wanted to improve) 165lbs. I remember going on my first multi day trip and my pack weighing 35 lbs and realizing I had carried that extra weight around for years, without a second thought. It was an epiphany for me. Until I broke my back.
In June of 2015 there was a stupid accident riding horses. Helpful hint, don't fall off a 16.2 thoroughbred at a full gallop down a hill. Involuntary dismount or not, I was pretty badly hurt. I could barely drive to work without my back spasming and being in pain. Backpacking seemed like a distant memory. I wasn't sure I'd ever be able to cover distance like I was, much less with a full pack.
I also switched jobs to a different vet clinic, as a receptionist and was wayyyy more sedentary. I couldn't ride. I couldn't hike. I couldn't run like I used to.I got depressed, I turned to food. Today I am presently 218lbs and hate it. I have very little stamina.
I told you that, to tell you this.
I am trying to hike on my days off, usually just a 7 mile up and down with some good hills by my home, but have only been able to squeeze in weekend trips 3 times in the last year. I did a trip with some fantastic ladies at San Bernardino peak and was exhausted. But I was able to summit the next morning, in icy/snow, and make the full descent and kept up. My legs were shaking at the end of it, but I made it. I did my first overnight solo up and down devils backbone at Mt. Baldy in SoCal and was wiped out when I reached the summit. In September I did an overnight at cottonwood lakes....and realized I get altitude sickness around 10,800 feet. Needless to say, I plan on taking elevation climbs painstakingly slow.
I realize I am not in the best shape. I still try to eat well, but I am staying off horses for the time being. I am trying to squeeze in hikes whenever I can, but have trouble with anything really over 10 miles right now. I have 3 months give or take before I set off for the PCT.
Is there hope that I will be able to work up to 15 mile days? 20 mile days? I just feel downtrodden and depressed. I feel like I'm counting myself out before I even start. Are there any "plus size" hikers out there? I feel like every hiker I see is way more ready fitness wise. I feel foolish. And yet I'm still hopeful. I need this. I need to prove to myself that I can make it. That I can push myself and rely on myself. That I'm capable. If I only make it 2,000 miles, 1,000 miles, or 500 miles, that's more than if I had just stayed home. That's more than if I never tried.
I just needed to express my anxiety that I have right now.
And on that note, time to pop in that Insanity workout and dream about being on the trail instead.
Being a gear and data nut (previously a data Analyst for banks. And before you ask, I joined well after the crunch), I just have to put up my kit list. It's taken me 30 years of hiking, running and wild camping to pare it down from a week hiking the Lakes with a 60L pack and cheap leaky tent to being comfy at -10C with 22L. All of it is trial and error, picking up ideas from FB forums, blogs, websites selling bloody expensive crap and (most valuable) recommendations and reviews. So:
The "big 3":
And that is the sum total of my 14lb pack. Guess I'll see how it holds up in the next few weeks.
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