October 13, 2006
I have decided to call off the “How Far? How Fast” Challenge. This was a frustrating decision to make, though I think it is a wise one. The reason is that my training has been woefully inadequate for this hike, and I feel that my body is unprepared for the stress it would incur, both from the heavy pack and the high mileage. The risk of injury is extremely high; and even if I were to stay healthy, I would probably be unable to go as far and as fast as I’m truly capable of doing because my fitness and strength levels are relatively low.
Since mid-August I have been pulled ever-deeper into an “injury vortex.” This happens often to athletes — we get hurt once, come back too quickly in order to minimize lost time, get hurt again, come back even faster, get hurt again, and so on. I first got hurt on the unsupported Colorado Trail attempt, when my right IT band became inflamed. It took two weeks to get better, and immediately afterwards I was hiking 30 miles per day through Yellowstone. During that trip my left IT band became inflamed, and I was unable to get rid of it before I began the unsupported Long Trail Yo-Yo attempt, which I quickly aborted. Two weeks later I was able to start training for the How Far? How Fast? Challenge, which I was planning to start the following week. Within a few days of strapping on a 58-lb pack I developed a minor case of peroneal tendonitis, most likely due to walking diagonally across angled slopes, thus putting undue pressure on my ankles.
I took these last symptoms, which were fairly minor, as a sign: I need to start fresh, and I need to start slowly. Now is a good time to begin.
This reality was tough to accept. I had grand visions for the latter part of 2006, but I was successful in only half the things I had hoped to do. Certainly, I’m fortunate that I was able to see the entire 1,726-mile California section of the Pacific Crest Trail in 45 days; hike the Colorado Trail for a second go-around, this time with a partner; and spend a week exploring Yellowstone National Park. But this year would have been way more amazing if I had succeeded in the other hikes I had planned as well. Unfortunately, because the hikes were tightly scheduled and because they became increasingly more difficult, once I got knocked off track I was unable to get back up to speed.
It has been frustrating to watch the hiking season fizzle away, though in at least one respect it’s also been somewhat comforting. Since my Sea-to-Sea hike I have become something of a “celebrity” in the world of backpacking. (I laugh as I write that because it just sounds ridiculous.) I have sponsors that treat me well; my website gets a good bit of traffic; Backpacker magazine puts me in the company of Conrad Anker and Jim Whittaker on the cover of their December issue; etc. The problem is that when your passion becomes your livelihood, it’s possible for your motivations to become twisted — Do I hike because I love hiking? Or do I hike because it pays the bills? It has been reassuring to see that, in the face of these failures, I am absolutely most upset about being unable to hike, to challenge myself, or gain these awesome experiences. Sure, I don’t like disappointing sponsors or missing opportunities to share my experiences through the media, but those are pretty much afterthoughts. Darn it, I just want to go hiking! Is that so much to ask?
My schedule for the rest of the year is not entirely clear. It’s likely that I’ll be leaving Massachusetts within the next few days for Colorado, where I will be developing content for GoLite’s website. That should take me through mid- to late-November. Afterwards I may drive down to western Arizona and southern California in order to scope out a water-rich off-road route that would connect the Arizona Trail (near the South Rim of the Grand Canyon) with the Pacific Crest Trail (near its junction with I-10 at San Gorgonio Pass), which is a critical piece of a BIG hike that I am planning for next year. More details forthcoming.
Thanks for your continued support and interest.