In my last post I outlined my goal of completing multiple days of high mileage running/hiking and the gear I chose to carry (read here). While I figured out the gear I decided I would do my running and hiking on the Appalachian trail, where I could stay in shelters at the end of each day. I have hike most of the Georgia section numerous times and I am familiar with the challenges. The lingering question remaining involved figuring how far… how many miles of running and hiking could I cover in consecutive days.
In my past backpacking trips, eight miles seemed to be my range. I often would hike this distance from eight or nine in the morning til five to six in the afternoon. Usually I would be worn out by the time I made it to the shelter. Even worse was the day after, the return trip. Waking up and hiking the next day I often found my legs in a state of refusal and the hike back to the car was painful. This was often followed by a week of debilitating soreness. Long trips in the past had been canceled after a few days due to extreme muscle soreness.
In planning my trip I was thus torn on how much I could handle and how far I could go. Unlike past trips I was intent on running when possible and on the rest I wanted to push myself. I had a goal of getting this two day trip as close to a long run experience as possible. I am in better physical shape than ever before, but the doubts lingered.
I decided I would shoot for a tough early section starting from Springer Mountain parking lot, the start of the Appalachian Trail, and finishing at the Gooch Gap shelter 15 miles away. I knew from past experience that if all else failed I could stop at the Hawk Mountain Shelter which was 7 miles in. I also knew that if all else failed there were plenty of Forest Service roads available that could get me to civilization or my car if absolutely necessary. If I made it to the Gooch Gap shelter then I would get in thirty miles for the two days. The prospect seemed daunting and I was worried I would be hobbling for weeks. More importantly I had decided that I wanted to run as much as possible. I knew there would be sections where the trail would be too unstable or would entail steep uphills and downhills and on these sections I would have to hike. I figured if I rapidly moved over these then I would still get the same benefit as running. With a plan in hand, my pack loaded I was ready to try out fastpacking and see how challenging this undertaking truly would be.
Before I headed out I looked at the weather and saw that the weather could be chilly. At the last minute I added a long sleeve shirt and a pair of tights to my pack to help add some warmth to my 60 degree sleeping bag. My plan involved leaving early on Saturday morning. Of course this meant I dd not get to start my trek til closer to twelve in the afternoon. I was worried about completing the longer distance with the reduction in time for hiking as I set out. It was cold and I had decide to hike in long sleeves instead of my shorter sleeve shirt. I moved along, often running when possible, otherwise scrambling up or down steep climbs or dancing on rocky surfaces.
After a couple of hours I found I had completed eight miles fairly easily. I stopped to have lunch at the Hawk Mountain shelter and then quickly moved on. Then the trail got difficult as I had to climb 670 miles up Sassafras Mountain and then back down just to then go up Justus mountain and back down(approximately 403 feet). After a little over seven hours including a quick lunch break I made it to the full shelter. I talked myself into a small section of space and commenced to prepare for dinner and then bed. While my food budget was light, I managed to eat like a king with a dinner of chicken and gravy, loaded instant mashed potatoes and cheesecake pudding for desert. That night the temps dropped and I found myself wearing all my clothing available to keep warm.
When I awoke the next day, after a long night of tossing and turning, it was cold and wet out. I ate breakfast and drank some coffee and eventually got myself ready to go. One of the great things about a light small pack is that its very easy to quickly pack and get moving. I knew that I had some tough running and hiking sections ahead of me and I had another fifteen mile day ahead of me. My legs felt a bit sore, but not too bad so I gingerly set out in the cold and wet day. Everything was grey and drab and most of the hiking was uneventful. I did enjoy feeling so good after completing 15 miles of running and hiking the previous day. But basically Sunday was more of the same from Saturday except my legs felt a bit less fresh. After a couple hours I got to the Hawk Mountain shelter where I once again ate lunch. After lunch I got moving and found that I had no more “run” left in my legs, they were good for hiking, but walking was a no go at this point. Eventually I made my way to my car and could not help at smiling at the fact that I had completed 30 miles of running and hiking in two days, something I would have never dreamed possible a few years ago.
- Planning was everything. Food, gear, clothing everything was planned down to the ounce. Could not have gone this light without planning.
- Everything in the pack has to be looked at as a system. I did not get this concept til I started my trek. Everything has to support everything else and should all work together.
- Fewer pack off breaks. When I used to backpack with my fifty pound behemoth I used to take numerous pack off breaks just to give my legs and back a rest. With my new pack I found I rarely needed to take it off and took very few breaks. The lighter pack almost felt like it was not there.
- Lighter pack made scrambling up and down climbs easier. Also the lighter pack made it easier to navigate creeks and boulders.
- While I could not run the entire time I felt like my legs got a very exhaustive total muscle workout. Most climbs and descents involved sections with knee to to chest climbing and hopping/dropping controlled falls. I feel completing the fifteen miles in seven or so hours with a lunch was a pretty good time for completion and I still enjoyed the scenery and trip.
- I could go heavier to support more days of food, but preferably no heavier than fifteen pounds.
- Need to figure out how to extend this trip further to incorporate more mileage and/or day.
I surprised myself with this trip. When I started planning I knew I was in better physical shape than in the past, but I was unaware of the overall effects my athletic pursuits would have on a trip of this nature. Two days of running and hiking for fifteen mile each, both completed within eight hours went beyond my expectations. Most of my gear and backpacking system were unproven when I struck out. Now I know I can cover some big miles and extend my mileage. The effect of this trip was more intense than a long run as the various climbing and running required by the trail forced every muscle in the leg, ankles and hips to work hard. I am treating these two days as back to back long runs as I feel they had the desired effect of two back to back long runs. This week of course is aimed at recovering as my legs are shredded from the trip. Overall it worked better than expected and I achieved everything I planned. Now I just need to find another weekend to get out and do it again. Til next time.