Shilatha Curtis’s lungs were screaming, and her legs were twitching. “I was, I’m not ready for it!” He remembers arriving in Georgia to hike the approximately 2,190-mile Appalachian Trail, and although he trains on his local Pennsylvania Trail six days a week with full backpacks, the more steep 5,000-foot climbing Appalachians to the south has given up his struggle. “I didn’t have muscle tone. I didn’t have abs,” he says.
Six months of rapid advance on White Mountain in New Hampshire: “My feet were like rocks,” Curtis recalls. “My arm was fit to push me up the hill using my poles. I was probably carrying 25 pounds on my back, and it didn’t feel like anything. And instead of needing a break in each fire, it was like 10 or 20 every. Burning.” (Blazes are trail markers, FYI)
It’s no wonder that starting a through-hike – the last backpacking trip on a long-distance trail – changes your body. The health effects are both physical and emotional, with long-lasting consequences after the hikers return home. “Being in nature and doing something challenging for a long time helps you learn to be in the moment,” said Corey Namora, Saidi, a sports psychologist and founder of the Sports and Psychology Center at Endurance. “It helps you develop a sense of self-confidence and resilience – and the ability to endure adversity or pain.”
Hikers gain “leg legs”
No matter how much the hikers train, nothing really prepares the body for the day and night to carry your life on your back, except to do it. “You will feel a lot of pain at first,” said Christy Fox, DPT, a physical therapist at Special Surgery Hospital in New York City. “It’s called ‘getting your tail foot’ and it usually takes five to seven days, depending on the person.” The calf muscles, the quads, the glutes, and the small support muscles in the legs and ankles all beat until they are accustomed to hiking.
“It also challenges the control of your core and spine, because you’re controlling a heavy pack on your back,” Fox added.
Curtis faced this struggle when he landed in Georgia in February 2021 and felt a lack of muscle and strength. Gayle Story, who attempted the 2,663 mile Pacific Crest Trail with her husband Porter at the age of 55 (and wrote about it in her memory) I promise not to bother), Says it took him two weeks to hike the 20-mile day to get his tail foot. He trained six miles a day with a full backpack, and strength-training and sometimes two jazz sizes. “But I didn’t have much experience in long-distance hiking,” he says. “I had to get it out on the trail.”
Eventually, the muscles adapt and become much stronger. “All the girls I hiked on the trail with, we finally got ready,” Curitz said. “Men looked like bearded skeletons.”
Although the muscles usually return to normal after the end of the hike, the intense physique persists. “I’m still in the best condition I’ve ever been,” said the 74-year-old. This path has taught me about body-mind connection. As a woman I love to have that dynamic relationship with my body. “
Appetite increases এবং and becomes essential
Since through-hikers have to carry food worth several days and eat much more than usual, food can create a challenge.
“My appetite for jumping was terrible,” said Curtis. “I was eating 15 to 20 snacks a day.” He also felt strange appetite like raw lemons and sweets. “I’m usually very careful about sugar because my family has diabetes, but in the forest I’ve got a serious sour glue bear.”
Sugar and fat cravings are common because the body wants এবং and needs সেই that quick energy. But eating so many high-calorie, processed foods creates its own problems. “Digestion is a big problem,” Fox said. “You need to carry lightweight grab-and-go snacks. When you get off the trail, you can get some healthy things, including fiber, like fresh fruits and vegetables.”
Fox, who hiked Vermont’s 273-mile long trail in 2019, also felt the effects of not getting enough calories: at one point, he became so tired and stingy that he just “sat on the lawn and cried,” he said. He called his brother, an experienced through-hiker, to tell him he was leaving. “He said, ‘At the next stop you have to get a sneaker,'” he recalls. She listened, refreshed and continued.
For the story, however, her trek ends three months later due to not getting enough to eat. “I was so weak that I was losing muscle,” he says. At a replenishment stop in the northern Upper Sierra, he decided that the weight loss had increased too drastically; She did not want to slow down her husband, and potentially put both of them at risk of getting into dangerous situations. So she returned home, regained her weight, and finally reunited with her husband for a short hike on her two-and-a-half month trail.
The legs are particularly beaten
Some hikers make it freely with a trail. Hiking in the mountains with a heavy pack puts a lot of weight on the body – especially when descending. “You need to make sure the muscles are stretched, keep them moving at a gentle pace,” Fox said. Injuries from slips and falls are not uncommon. “Everyone on the trail takes a ton of ibuprofen. We call it ‘Vitamin I’,” says Story.
Probably the most common part of the body is the legs. “My thighs are stiff, my arms are toned – and my legs are weak,” said Curtis. Wearing the wrong shoes can cause plantar fasciitis or foot inflammation, and when he arrives in Pennsylvania, his ankles are paralyzed. Without access to ice, he improved by dipping his feet in cold water whenever he set up camp near a river or lake.
Sweaty socks and inflexible shoes are more likely to cause blisters. “You have to protect your feet,” Fox said. “Wash your feet, look for skin breakouts and let them breathe.” (Although it can be hard to admit in cold weather – Story recalls waking up in an iceberg with his socks frozen.)
The skin can be chaotic and radiant
If hikers can avoid sunburn, they may consider nature to be their best skin care method. “I usually fight acne but my skin was radiant on the trail,” said Curtis. He attributed this to the fact that he did not touch her face as often as usual and bathed every three to seven days. “I put lots of mud on my body to protect it from the sun and mosquitoes.” The technique has not only helped prevent burns and bug bites, but he believes there is a therapeutic effect of not washing away good bacteria.
Not all leather rentals are so good. In addition to blisters on the legs, chafing can be a problem where packs of hikers hit their chests and backs (especially for women with large breasts who have difficulty finding a good fit). “It can cause a lot of skin rubbing and wear,” Fox says. “You have to make sure you get the right fit.” Looking for a pack with an adjustable chest strap, as well as an extra support around your waist and can allow you to customize to suit your body shape and size.
Mental strength is mainly challenged
There’s a common saying on the trail: “Suck and hug.” While people stuck behind computers can romanticize the idea of being in nature 24/7, endless churning and fighting against the elements can be physically and mentally exhausting. “Being there sometimes gets heavy,” Fox said.
The story says hikers need to come to terms by giving up control over things like weather conditions and injuries. “Being weak has increased my resilience, wealth and confidence,” he says. “I have learned how to be happy even in the face of intense discomfort.”
Dr. Namora suggests that when things go awry, hikers plan ahead. “Be prepared to want to leave,” he said. “And be clear with yourself – that’s why I’m leaving.” The temptation will happen, he said, so it is important to prepare for it (and also for hikers so that perfectionism does not allow them to exceed their healthy limits).
Yet it also has the benefit of mental health through regular exercise and exposure to nature. Curtis, who lives with depression, ADHD and panic disorder, finds his through-hikes give him the opportunity to practice more mindfulness. “Getting out on the trail was the best thing I could do,” he says.
Social bonds are accelerated
Dr. Namora noted that hikers don’t just have to learn to rely on themselves, they are sometimes forced to rely on others – for city trips, for advice on the next pass, or just to talk to someone. “You’re being pressured to connect with strangers,” he said.
Sensitive experiences make everyone very raw and many open their mouths to each other in a way that we do not normally feel in everyday life. Some hikers end up sticking together as “tramily”. “It’s like a socialist society in the forest – we help each other,” said Curtis.
The biggest challenge may come after the finishing line
After spending so much time concentrating on a goal – and getting used to a steady stream of endorphins from regular physical activity – going back to “real life” can be the hardest part. “Moving from a place that was so meditative, where you took a break from juggling all the details of our normal lives, can be annoying,” said Dr. Namora.
Post-trail depression can hit hard. Story missed hiking so much that she found herself backpacking in her shorts and hiking shirt at a grocery store two miles away. Curtis said he “felt like throwing a puppy out of the world” and had not been out of the house for a month, explaining that he was unable to relate to other people who did not feel what he had just felt.
“I am After doing something like that, don’t think that you are really the same, “he says.
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