To turn this dream into reality has required some significant changes on my part. I am a software developer. To maintain the high level of attention to detail I need to be successful requires me to sit and focus. If I was busy I grabbed food that is fast. At I worked in an office, someone always brings goodies of some sort. Do that for a couple of decades and I became a bit pudgy.
The single biggest reason hiking works for me as exercise is that when I hike someplace and I’m halfway where I want to be, I have no choice but to go the rest of the way. Put me on a treadmill and in thirty minutes I’m bored and can find 101 excuses to get off.
The process I have gone through has been significant. I changed my diet and I got moving.
The first step was to change the way I eat. When I had a meeting scheduled after work it was too easy to stop at a drive-through. Now if I have a meeting, I stop at the grocery store for lunch and pick up something for dinner while I’m there, too. It is cheaper and healthier. I eliminated soft drinks. I eliminated salty snack foods. I avoid processed foods. I still struggle missing food I enjoy like fried chicken and pizza.
Second, I started to actually track what I’m eating. I do not track down to the item, although there are phone apps to do that. What I do is set a budget. I budget 500 calories up to lunch. For lunch, if I can eat correctly, I have a salad. If we have a work meeting and I cheat, I make up for it that evening.
Third, I actually measure what I’m eating. It is great if you eat something that has only 300 calories per serving, but you have to know how much is that serving and stick to that.
My bread and butter hike is called The Turtle. From my front door to this turtle statue on the Oak Leaf Trail and back to my house is exactly nine miles. It is almost exclusively on asphalt, which is not ideal, so I make up for it by hiking hard. I usually do a 3.5 to 3.8 m.p.h. pace with weight.
When I first started doing this hike, I would need to rest for a bit at the statue. Eventually, I was able to finish it without a rest. Then to make it more difficult, I started to carry a backpack with Smart Water bottles. Each filled liter bottle weighs 2.5 pounds. When I increased my weight to over 16 pounds, I purchased my backpack.
I try to do this hike three-to-four times a week with a 35 pound pack. I hike it in all conditions except for ice or lightning storms.
Ice Age Trail Day Hikes
The Turtle is great, but I also need to hike the bigger miles. For that, I have the Ice Age Trail here in Wisconsin. Ideally, my wife will come along. The IAT has more of the up-and-down that I will face on the PCT. It is also an opportunity to test out meals.
One of our IAT hikes is usually around 16 miles, but we have gone as much as 19.
Since I purchased all my gear, I’ve done two shakedown hikes. Both were on the IAT and they were opportunities to put it all together.
My first shakedown hike was a seven day hike up in Taylor County. My goal was to do 20 miles a day. However, I made a couple of mistakes. First, the conditions in Taylor County were much more rugged than the trails down south. My days were more like tough-mudders. There was one point that I hiked enough steps to walk sixteen miles, but I only walked five! I didn’t do a good job of pre-filtering my water before using my Sawyer Squeeze, and I clogged it the first time I used it. To save weight, I didn’t bring a method to back flush it. Without enough water to drink, I was dehydrated which meant that I wasn’t eating enough. It was a cascade of problems.
I also took WAY TOO MUCH. My pack was about thirty eight pounds with consumables. Much of the food I took, I did not eat. I was just carrying it for the week.
Finally, I tried to hike it like I do the Turtle, 3.5 to 3.8 m.p.h.
Fortunately, on the fifth day I ran into a terrible thunderstorm. As I was at a good water source, a natural spring that did not require filtering, I hunkered down as the wind blew and the rain fell. I only hiked nine miles that day, but now properly hydrated, I ate and ate and ate. The next two days went much better.
My second shakedown hike went much better. I did a three day hike starting in West Bend. I reduced my pack weight down to 28 pounds with consumables. More importantly, I slowed down. I hiked as fast as I could before I started to sweat. I found myself hiking for nearly eight hours straight without stopping for a rest. When I made it to camp, I still had a little bit left in the tank.
With poor weather conditions, it was a chance to test both my ability to keep me and my gear dry. The only mistake I made was leaving my contacts out in freezing temperatures. Not a problem. I had a spare pair.
I did back-to-back eighteen mile hikes and a nine mile hike on top of that. Overall, this hike was a huge success. I know that what gear I have will keep me dry and warm in the Sierra Mountains and Washington.
I have learned so much through these two shakedown hikes. I have used my gear and I know that it works. I’ve dumped the crap that I feared I needed. If the gear didn’t work, I’ve replaced it with something that does work. I still have a few unresolved questions, but they are small.
My plan is to do one more shakedown before I leave on April 3rd.