Setting a Pace

As I got used to walking all day on hilly terrain, I found that I needed to decide on a daily mileage target.  Trying to go too far would result in poor performance over the following days.  I also wanted to avoid gradually running myself down over the 4-5 remaining months of the trip.

I discussed daily mileages with Superman, an older gentleman who has done the PCT and AT as thru hikes and the CDT as a section hike.  He had legs that resembled tree trunks.  I met him as I was approaching Virginia, reputed to offer easier terrain, and I mentioned that I thought I would try to average 20 miles a day.  “Why 20?” he asked.  I told him I wanted to practice for the PCT, where there can be 20 miles between water sources during the first leg.  He said “You’re comparing apples to oranges,” meaning the AT with its comparatively rough terrain and tread is harder to make 20 miles per day on compared to the PCT.  “You think if you walk 20 miles, beautiful women will run from the woods and shower you with fresh fruit and moon pies?” he quipped.  I responded, “No, but maybe Barney would be there with balloons.”

As our conversation continued we crested the ridge and came upon a really rocky section of the trail.  Superman immediately increased his speed.  In my attempt to keep up, I took a careless step, slid on a slanted rock, and fell head long off the side of the trail, collecting a nasty gash on my left shin.  I took a break at the next creek to clean the wound and cover it with toilet paper and duct tape (always be prepared).  Toward evening, after I had walked an arduous 15 miles, I came upon a handmade sign in the trail that said “Thru Hikers, Come Eat!”  Following the side trail to which the sign pointed, I found a table and chairs.  Two attractive women were cooking potatoes on an open fire. One said, “Help yourself to the strawberries and moon pies.”

As the weeks have gone by, I find that 20 miles is a reasonable daily mileage target.  I generally get up at 7am and start walking at 8am.  I divide the daily hike into four 5-miles sections, each of which takes 2-21/2 hours depending on the terrain and the weather.  After completing each 5-mile segment, I eat a snack and rest for 20-30 minutes.  I usually finish around 7pm.  During really hot days, I find it best to take a siesta from 2-4pm and finish hiking a little later.  Hiking during the heat of the day risks heat exhaustion and uses up a lot of water.  About every 4-5 days I resupply, leaving the trail to buy food in towns within walking or hitching distance.  On resupply days I generally walk only 15 miles on the AT.

The 20 mile target seems to be popular among most of the thru-hikers I have met in Virginia and northward.  I plan to take things slower when Sarah joins me for he summer vacation.  I think I will enjoy having time to read and write, and to enjoy treats from the stores and delis near the trail.