Gear

gear list for the Te Araroa

Backpacking: An extended form of hiking in which people carry double the amount of gear they need for half the distance they planned to go in twice the time it should take.
– Unknown

The Blissful Hiker does it!

Packed weight for five months on the Te Araroa under 15 pounds and she’s still taking professional audio gear. Praise the ultralight gods, and all my pals at Minnesota Public Radio.

I want to give a big thank you to Granite Gear, La Sportiva, Tarptent, Leki, Balega, SawyerWestern Mountaineering and Midwest Mountaineering for supporting me. I’m grateful to advocate for these fabulous companies while I (heavily) use their gear on the trail.

And also a huge thank you to John Reamer and Associates for supporting the making of my audio narratives.

hike blog

ten reasons to add hot yoga to your thru-hike prep

The very heart of yoga practice is ‘abyhasa’ – steady effort in the direction you want to go.
– Sally Kempton

In barely-there wear preparing for ninety minutes of intense sweaty work in 108 degrees.

A little over a year ago, I started practicing traditional Bikram Hot Yoga. Yes, he doesn’t have quite the reputation you’d want to follow these days with bankruptcies, lawsuits and sexual misconduct, but his strenuous and intense series of twenty-six hatha yoga poses has been one of the most effective workouts for me, proving both energizing and therapeutic. Does yoga cure all ailments? Probably not, but I feel so good that I believe yoga is a crucial addition to my life as a long distance backpacker.

Here are ten reasons why you should add Hot Yoga to your thru-hike prep.

You will learn to manage heat.

Granted, hypothermia is a real danger in any outdoor activity, particularly when you backpack and are fully responsible for your shelter. But hyper-thermia can also be a significant risk, especially if hiking in the desert, beach or other shade-less region. Hot Yoga is typically practiced in conditions far more intense than any you’d encounter on a hike with the room set around 105-108 degrees Fahrenheit with high humidity. Just entering that heat can make you feel overwhelmed, like something is pressing on your lungs. To survive a 90-minute class – and a thru-hike – you’ll want to consider loose-fitting clothing to let the sweat flow. You should also drink a lot of water, not in gulps, but in many mini-sips, and, perhaps most importantly, come to class already well hydrated. The yoga poses are difficult and teach you to push hard while still keeping the heart rate – and breath – under control.

You will discover how to stay focused when feeling unfocused.

Hot Yoga is a tough program that claims to work every muscle, bone, joint, ligament, tendon, gland and organ in the body. I wouldn’t necessarily say that the halfmoon pose, for example, is particularly difficult, but trying to bring the mind to holding it correctly with the arms straight at the ears, knees locked and the body in one line while the torso gently folds over your hips requires attention to detail. With the encouragement of a superb teacher, you are continually asked to bring the mind to each aspect of the pose from wherever you are that day. A long hike over many days can also catch us in a variety of moods and levels of commitment. If we learn to stay focused on one step at a time, we can string together all the steps to walk a trail.

Which brings me to my next point…

You will learn how to see something through.

Hot Yoga is designed to keep you from pushing beyond what you are capable of doing, because it’s so hot. At the very least, you’ll need to leave the room to cool off or simply sit down to catch your breath. At the worst, you might pass out from being overheated, though more likely you’ll simply back off. What you begin to find in your practice is the tools to see it through. A friend of mine just hiked 100 miles of the Colorado Trail. She says on the first days, she hadn’t quite figured out her rhythm. It was very hot and exposed and she arrived at her campsite completely wrecked and uncertain she’d finish the hike. So she adjusted her speed, and her expectations. It wasn’t so much that she completely rerouted or changed her itinerary, but rather that she tuned into her body in a different way, much like is required in every yoga practice to see it through the full 90 minutes.

You will improve your balance.

Classic hot yoga runs through a series of twenty-six poses that include demanding balance ones like eagle, standing head-to-knee, standing bow, and balancing stick. Each one is built on a premise of locked knees with the hips in line. To do them well, and to hold them for a full minute, you must bring each side of your body into balance while not overcorrecting or over-muscling. Yes, concentration plays a role, but so does discovering the body working optimally. This translates directly into thru-hiking when walking a ridge, crossing a river, or traveling down a steep slope. Injuries usually happen when we roll our ankles or lose control and fall. A yogi who can hold what is aptly named awkward pose – sitting back in an invisible chair with the thighs at right angles and the feet on tiptoes while the arms are locked out straight in front of them – will have an edge on any stumbly parts of the trail.

You will also improve your core strength.

All of that balancing works the legs, but also tightens the core. For sure, you will be a buff hiker, but what really prepares you for the stress of thru-hiking is the floor series. These are all inversions from a prone position on your stomach. They are evil, sadistically working muscles you never knew you had, especially in your back. You will hold for what seems an eternity four poses, and then, repeat them. Each increases in difficulty too; cobra, locust, full locust, and bow pose. And if that’s not enough of a work out, between each subsequent floor pose is a full sit-up from the corpse pose. Why is core strength so important to hiking? You are using the strongest part of your body to stay upright and move. Even if you’re an ultra-light backpacker, you carry some weight on your back and you don’t want to stress the legs compensating for a weak core.

Tree Pose – Tadasana – improves posture and balance, increases flexibility in the ankles and knees as well as the hip joints. It also looks cool.

You will stretch and loosen tight muscles.

About how far into a hike are you unable to squat anymore? For me, it’s usually day two when I go off to pee and find I need to hold onto something – or someone – for balance or I’ll topple over. Why? Because my quads have tightened up to the point they won’t bend properly. Fixed firm and half tortoise poses begin with the yogi sitting on her heels stretching the quads in half. As you focus on the upper body requirements of these poses, the quads eventually let go of their tension and allow the body to move more deeply. Hiking is repetitive in its motion and is bound to tighten up parts of your body. The looser you go into the activity, the more likely your body will remember what it feels like to work at its most supple and you will also have tools to loosen things up on the go.

You will get the juice flowing to your joints.

After the standing series, hot yogis lay down on the floor in the aptly named corpse pose for two minutes before a very relaxing pose called wind removing. It is very simple to do as you pull your bent knee towards your armpit. It’s done on each side and then all at once, as you attempt to lay the spine out on the floor. I am nowhere near getting mine down, but it’s fun trying. Wind removing can be done in your tent to massage the muscles and your insides as well. It’s said that it’s good for the gut and digestion. Tree and triangle open the hips and spinal twists have the sensation of squeezing out the bad juju. Hikers can begin to look hunched and gnarled into themselves if they don’t twist the spine and open the hips. I am convinced that yoga has slowed down my arthritis by bringing heat and blood into the joints.

You will learn how to be still and notice.

Lately I’ve been annoyed that people are bringing their music to the trails. If you want to be in the outdoors with headphones jammed into your ears, by all means, do it, but please don’t bring speakers that force everyone to listen to music while we’re enjoying the simple pleasure of the wind in the trees and the birds singing or maybe just the silence of nature. I’m also, by nature, not a record-seeker and prefer to enjoy the beauty of where I am to the speed at which I can get through it. If either of these describes you, you might want to consider the slow pace of hot yoga. You won’t have a phone to look at in class and talking is discouraged. There’s something of a cloister in yoga that begins to relax the mind to the point that you notice things in a far gentler way. Thru-hiking takes time and is not always blissful, but when you slow down and focus on your breath or the movement of your feet or hips or the swing of your arms, it can take on a more mindful atmosphere.

You will begin to breathe with the world.

Classic hot yoga begins with parayma breathing, a super long deep breathing exercise done while standing. Your hands begin under your chin and fan out like wings as you breathe in and then move forward, elbows touching as you breathe out. It tires you all over even as it energizes, your feet and legs locked into place and touching, your shoulders holding your arms as they move in slow motion, your lungs trying to control the timing of your breath, far harder to do on the inhale than exhale. After ten repetitions, then another ten, you suddenly discover your motions are in unison with everyone else around you, like you’re one giant organism. As a thru-hiker, you want to be connected to your own breathing up steep climbs and after long arduous days, but you also want to find a kind of sympathetic rhythm with those you meet. We all need to learn to “hike our own hike,” but that being said, we also share the trail and want to bring our best selves to it.

You will find that yoga is a practice the way a thru-hike is a kind of practice.

Hot Yoga is a practice. I love that word. It’s not a workout, not an event, not something to just tick off your “to-do” list. It’s far more integrated into wherever you are in the moment. When you start a thru-hike, the end is very far off indeed. To think of finishing – even of planning every day – can be overwhelming. You don’t know how your days will go, whether you’ll move faster or slower, how the weather will affect you, if you’ll need a rest or want to move on. In yoga, you learn to not so much seize the day as let the day unfold. This non-judgmental attitude creates room for surprise and allows you to say yes to what is, rather than pre-determine what success means.

Namaste.

Photo courtesy Bikram Yoga Antwerp

 

 

hike blog

training is life; life, training

Training is everything. The peach was once a bitter almond; cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education.
– Mark Twain

I “trained” to Orchestra Hall last night, but after the broadcast, rode 12 miles home. Bliss!

I admit it. I am a bit of a curmudgeon when it comes to training. It feels too much like homework. Not that I haven’t done it. I have, and even happily. I successfully trained to run 100k with 11,000 feet ascent, to ski 31 miles uphill and down hills three different times, and to bike all the way from Saint Paul into Canada. That being said, each and every time I found that my biggest successes came when I went easier on the schedule and more intentional on the changing of my lifestyle.

You might call me an “active middle aged woman.” So when people ask how I’m training to walk the 3,000 kilometers of the Te Araroa, I usually say, “By staying active!” with a smile, though that never satisfies.

Ok, then. How about, “By walking to work every day?” They usually look at me oddly either because they realize that 20-30 miles walking per week is never going to come close to the amount of walking I’ll do over the course of five months.

Or maybe it’s because most people don’t relate to my walking every day, rain or shine, snowstorm or heat wave. It’s at about this point in the conversation when I feel like a slacker and wonder just who I think I am planning to simply warm up as I go on this 3000 km stroll. That’s more the perspective of the 20-somethings I’ll meet along the way, out-of-work or in their gap-year with young lithe bodies that can adjust fast to the conditions, and pick up long distance walking “skills” as they go.

At 53-going-on-54, that does not describe me. The not-so-young-anymore part, anyway. The out-of-work part is still TBA, though I do protest my calling myself a slacker. Welcome to my head-space!

Walking to MPR is not always passive. I usually carry a fully-loaded Olive Oyl up over 400 steps.

Truth is, I move a lot – and in varied ways – and I find it translates more directly to my needs as a thru-hiker: to move steadily, quickly (enough) and over long periods of time.

Let’s look at the evidence:

Walking

Walking to work requires me to obviously move my legs briskly for two miles to and from my job in downtown Saint Paul. I live on Summit Hill, so it’s usually downhill to and uphill from MPR. But I have gotten creative in adding a roundabout course that forces me uphill both ways. It entails a good deal of stair climbing, and not that I’ve counted, but it comes to some 400 steps, and that’s first thing in the morning keeping my knees nice and juicy. Sure it gets my blood pumping to take them on, but what really “trains” me is the discipline of setting aside 40 minutes each morning. I have to make the time and I have to get there whether I want to or not.

Biking

I am so lucky to live in the Twin Cites with the finest network of bike trails in the country. They are heavily used even in winter. And I must point out here that Minnesota is no place for sissies; we have real winter. While I stopped commuting by bike in the winter the second year we lived here, mainly because I didn’t want to get flattened by an impatient driver, I do bike everywhere else I can get to in town, for groceries, to my friend’s houses, even when I broadcast from Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis. Biking has got to be one of the most efficient forms of exercise. It takes all the stress off the joints, builds muscle, and gets your breathe going. And look at this, without even thinking about it, by combining biking with walking I am “cross-training,”

Skiing

I do not have great form. Let’s just get that out there. My friend Rob says I look like an eggbeater, but, boy howdy, can I can push up those hills. Next to biking, cross country skiing is a sport you can participate in until you keel over of old age, frozen in a snow bank with a big smile on your face. Part of why I’ve gotten a little hinky about the whole “training” attitude is that Minnesota is home to some seriously awesome skiers – remember when our relay team stuck it to the Norwegians and nabbed gold? They were born here, popping out of their mother’s wombs with little skis on their feet. So I feel pretty self-conscious about my late start in this marvelous sport. It’s no wonder the Nordic Track is offered at gyms across the country, when you ski you become a four legged creature, using your arms as well as legs to propel yourself. I have never felt so fully fit then when I am skiing. Sadly, this year I have three summers in a row. Hey, that’s not sad! But I will miss ski season.

Rock climbing – or more accurately barn ceiling climbing – is the most Zen of sports.

Climbing

My climbing partner Patrick is 22 years my junior. Why does he climb with me? He’s explained it’s because I never quit. Well, sometime I do, especially when leading as I simply chicken out, unnerved by fall consequences. So I am happy to be a reasonably advanced follower. Climbing is the only sport that totally and utterly focuses my mind. I am unable to ruminate on issues or even carry on a conversation when climbing. That in itself is freeing. But it also is a kind of training for all things physical because climbing asks the body to be flexible, balanced and strategic. You can’t simply possess upper body strength and muscle-it through moves; you have to plan them. Oddly enough, climbing enhances all I do even when on-air because it makes me think about how I am engaged and if I am using my body efficiently. Furthermore, climbing is the great humbler forcing me to listen to myself for signs that it’s time to quit and leave a “project” for another day.

Kayaking

I am happy in my boat on small lakes and rivers, but happiest in “the big lake” Gitche Gumee, Lake Superior. Kayaking has its own set of skills including paddle strokes, and “wet exits” and rescues and requires a keen sense of balance and a strong core. Using arm strength will just tire you out, so you have to engage your torso when moving and bracing. There is also the element of knowing your limits and leaving the lake when weather moves in, all good skills for a thru-hiker as she plans her day and creates a backup plan. My back and arms are much stronger from kayaking which translates to less stress wearing a pack day in and day out.

Calm day, big berg.

Yoga

A few years ago, I was told that I had “advanced degeneration” in my left hip. It hurt so badly I could barely walk up the stairs and I thought a joint replacement was imminent. The docs administered a cortisone shot and then tried to figure out next steps with therapy. I was aghast at the cost for treatment so I hunted for ways to give myself PT and that’s when landed on Bikram Yoga. You may not be a fan of the namesake, but the practice is amazing. The premise is to heat a room to about 108 degrees and work through a series of 26 poses in the course of 90 minutes. It is extremely difficult to do correctly but has meant a world of difference to my joints. Hot yoga worked like a charm and I am pain-free from whatever locked up my hip muscle/tendon/ligament. Again, what captures me – in addition to the physical benefits – are psychological ones that yoga is a “practice.” When you bring to class an attitude non-judgment and simply do your best, you stay in the moment and take pleasure in the surprises that await. Translated into thru-hiking it means I don’t so much seize the day and force it into my pre-conceived ideas, but I allow the day to unfold. Obviously not without planning or an assessment of what I realistically think I can accomplish, but with more of a sense of wonder and acceptance.

…So, do I “train?” or do I just “do?”

It’s hard to say. Though I wouldn’t plan to run a marathon anytime soon as that kind of continuous pounding would require more focus on the specific requirements of non-stop continuous pounding.

Maybe what I am really saying is not that I don’t want to train, but that I am not looking for an end result of a specific event – a marathon, an ultra, a fkt (ok, maybe when I’m 80 I’ll go for the record somewhere) – but rather I want more all-encompassing result – to be strong and healthy enough to keep walking and climbing and biking and paddling and stretching – as long as possible. And that’s why training for the Te Araroa is an every day thing, with each activity feeding on the physical, psychological and emotional demands that I will encounter.

And frankly, it’s just a whole lot of fun, too!

 

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