Pushing to get out of the woods, off the Long Trail, no cell service, on the Ham radio every fifteen minutes as planned..."Radio check, radio check..." no response.
I'm out of cell service and out of radio range, but I still have the trail. Another peak, the fourth in half as many days, I'm tracking it on my phone, and then the trail is gone...my phone was wrong (not surprised).
"Radio check, radio check..." no response. I'm nearly an hour late to the scheduled pickup time. My right hip has started to pop and the weight of camera equipment and gear is starting to really drag. So what the hell now...panic? Give up? Wait for my ride to call in the rescue helicopters?
Well that's just not an option.
This is a common predicament. All the electronics have failed (or aren't being used adequately), my body is worn out and time is getting thin. How do you prepare for this? What does it take to get through it? Sure, I'm experienced in this situation but I wasn't always and learned many (most) lessons the hard way.
Start by preparing your brain and understanding your surroundings. In preparation for any adventure the first step is researching where you're going and how you're getting there. This involves studying maps, water sources, weather patterns and anecdotal stories from the area. This hike involved four peaks and nearly 2,000 vertical feet climbed in approximately 18 hours in fair weather. Sure, this is no problem for the average wilderness athlete but is my body capable of lugging 50+ lbs in that terrain? If the answer is no then what do I need to prepare?
At first, logic told me I need big beefy quads to power me up those inclines, do a billion crunches to shore up that core, and jog 7.5 minute miles to get the cardio in shape. Then my body told me I was horribly wrong and I started using my brain to research. Here is what I've found:
If you find your brain is mired in cannots ('I simply can't make it up that hill' or 'I can't find any shoes that fit' or 'I can't find time to prepare') you will need to change you thinking and be creative. Start small and allow yourself to experience minor successes. Take an hour and go for a brisk walk, even if it's 3am. Do as many squats as you can before bed. If you become creative you'll find many of the cannots turn into maybes and the maybes turn into success and success turns into confidence.
Strength training is important but only really in the interest of injury prevention. Having those beefy quads will help protect knees on those inclines but won't protect the lower back when I lose balance and my pack swings wide.
Mobility (and immobility) training will make sure the structure is moving correctly and teaches our bodies how to move properly. The flip side to this is teaching joints to be mobile a way they're not supposed to will increase the risk of injury. For example, all those crunches teach your lumbar to move unnaturally.
A fast jog that gets the heart pumping is good but before that building a cardiovascular base is imperative. I started jogging slower and focusing on light cardio work which improved my body's ability to maintain energy levels over a long duration. The cardiovascular base is often overlooked and can lead to overreaching and overtraining at which point you are d-o-n-e done.
"Radio check, radio check..."
This little four peak walk certainly wasn't my first, last, most or least intense. I've built conscious knowledge with research and subconscious resilience with experience. I am cognitively aware of my emotional state and the benefits and dangers it can present. I understand where my mental ability of grit can push me and I know when that runs out I can still push a little more, albeit at increased risk of physical injury and ailment.
So on a little mound by a gully in the middle of nowhere I took off my pack and radio checked, got my bearings, calmed my nerves and focused on the mobility of that hip. I gave myself a moment of what I came here for, the serenity of midsummer birds, the winking of the sun between the leaves. I reset, gear up, and find that dude in the truck.
"Radio check, radio check..."
A mile down a dirt road the answer came back over the radio and before long I was back in air conditioning posting pictures of the trip to social media.
The wilderness athlete perseveres through thick and thin. They've dedicated themselves to athleticism. But what about us laymen with kids, work, chores and obligations? What about us folks who strive to find that little more life can offer us but can't dedicate the hours, days, and weeks to training? Or don't have the money for personal trainers? Well, that's me and there is a way, but first it takes commitment to the goal and an honest appraisal of your mental and physical health.
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