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One Day on the AT – Not Three…

And I am disappointed, but mostly in my lack of preparation.  Do you remember that I wrote a Daily Sprout not too long ago, titled: Preparation, Preparation, Preparation?  It was all about making sure that the plans are set, and at the time, I was setting incredible plans.  Getting the gear right, dialing in my food and nutritional planning.  I had a host of Beyond Organic food to eat, as well as an upped level of Juice Plus going into my system leading up to the hike and during.

Everything was being planned, better than I usually do.  I had tested my pack out, had it form fitted then worked it into a routine of carrying, and did a 5 mile hike with it.  Everything was going as planned, except one fatal error.  Testing a full day of equal effort.

Look at this image from the right to the left (it shows elevation).  The right is North, the left is South.  We started 3 miles South of the NC border, then went to the North, hit the NC border, then turned around and came South.  To the left of Blue Ridge Gap, there is a climb that is equivalent to Kennesaw Mountain in my best estimation.  We rested at Dick’s Creek Gap.  Then climbed for 4 1/2 straight miles before descending back down to Addis Gap (my video was around this area – and I was wrong about only having 8 miles, it was 11 from that point).  Tray Mountain was awful, though it doesn’t look so bad here, then Rocky Mountain was brutal for a finish.  My group of three ended in the dark, descending with headlamps at 6:30pm (12 hours from our start).  We had anticipated earlier that we would be done at 4:30… big difference in trail time.  Andy, Angel and crew finished around 5-5:30pm.  

I have done 30 mile days before, longer.  I have gone with little to no rest for over 24 hours, so the plan of 10 hours a day seemed perfect.  I was assuming that it would all simply fall into place.  But as the video below can show you, even at this point, where I felt like all was going to be fine, I was showing signs that it was not fine.  Let me give you the setup.

Andy and I had discussed “running the AT” for years now.  The thought was to run it straight through from NC line to Springer Mountain.  Have water breaks, and food breaks, but just keep moving for 36+ hours, and finish the whole thing.  As we developed the plan, it was switched into doing sections each day with rest… first resting on the trail was the plan, but of course that requires a lot of gear.  When it was altered to doing the work on the trail, but having a support crew meet along the way to aid in refueling, and gear change outs, then camping back at one central campground each night, I felt like we might be missing some of the allure.

I was given the challenge by a fellow crossfitter/racer, who suggested I carry all my gear, and so I thought “good plan, this will still be like ‘hiking through’, and I will have a nice story to tell”.  The goal was to find the full allure of the trail, but in essence, I was hiking through, at a rate faster than people hike through.  The average through hiker goes 8-12 miles a day, with the 12 really being an above average amount of distance.

When fully loaded, my pack was about 40#, slightly less than my youngest daughter.  The distance that I was planning on hiking was a little over 80 miles in three days, and close to 30 miles on day one.  If I ever stopped to really put this together in my head, that I was planning on carrying my daughter on my back for 80 miles, up and down mountains… I would have changed the plan.  My preparation was good up until the point of never testing a day of carrying that weight.  5 miles was easy, I felt like 12 miles on the trail was easy.  But the last 6 of the day was really hard, and I wasn’t prepared.

It ended up, that only Andy, Brian (Angel’s husband), and his friend Matt made the whole thing.  Everyone else dropped out after day one (Angel was on this as well, congratulate her for her 30 mile day).  The funny thing, is if I had even thought that it was possible for the others not to make it with lighter packs, I would have had much more fear for this challenge, and would have never thought to try to make it “tougher” with a heavy pack.  Their packs ranged from 10-20#, with one of them carrying closer to 25#.  There I was, trying to make my pack heavier, adding extra wherever I could, and the reality was I should have been thinking 10# maximum.

Its funny how we can sometimes make large, difficult tasks into something small in our minds.  But the reality is, that more of us do the opposite, they take small relatively easy tasks, and turn them into mountains.  As I sit back and recollect on this weekend, I am glad that I have now “run” a marathon plus, over some of the hardest part of the Appalachian Trail, with a 40# pack on my back.  I failed to accomplish the task I set out to, but in so doing, I believe I might have actually accomplished a task that was the greatest physical achievement of my life.

As I listened to Toby Mac singing about God opening every door that he has walked through, and how his efforts have always been about the music, and hoping God would use it to set somebody free.  It made it easy for me to decide on the last few miles, that I would be done after day one.  That I pushed beyond my ability to recover for day two, but that in this there would be opportunity for God to use me, and this story, to benefit someone.  And I believe it is in the understanding that you are better off having incredible confidence and faith in your ability, than to have incredible fear and concern.

Right now, my back is really tight, upper back, mid back and low back.  Legs are sore, but not bad.  I felt deathly ill for about 5 hours, but I think pushing the Juice Plus in my system, then straight rest was key.  I probably could have kept going with a light pack, but I think I might have really messed myself up had I tried.  Now I can look forward to traveling over Thanksgiving week, without any serious issues.  I can begin planning for next year *(yes, we plan on having this as an event every year, and I would love for many of you to join us, at least in a one day attempt at 30 miles), and as I plan, I am going to consider that I would like to test more of the course.  One thing for certain, is that being on the trail for this day, has given me a desire to do more of it.  I can now see myself hiking a week at a time, taking down sections of the whole trail over time… but I want my family in on it too.

I hope you see this as an opportunity, next year will be here fast, and I imagine for many of you, there is a life changing experience waiting to be had.  Thank you all for your prayers and well wishes.  Be well, Be blessed!  – Dr. E

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