Hiking

How to Train for a Thru-Hike (Especially when you live at 522 feet above sea level)

There is a magic amount of training that should be done for a long hike, without overdoing it. Injuries can happen due to over-training just as much as they can happen from not training. Here are some areas that we think are worth addressing before setting out: 

FEET - No matter what you do to prepare physically for a thru-hike, your focus, first and foremost, should be on your feet. A hard lesson to learn is that what we do to our feet now affects what our feet will be able to do later. Most feet can handle long distance, that is a beautiful part of being human in that we are truly endurance animals. However you can thank evolution for the fact that our feet are so prone to sprains, plantar fasciitis, and the other ugly faces of foot pain. Discrepancies between the potential of our feet and reality of our foot health date back to the beginning when we became bipedal creatures. Whether or not we live an active lifestyle, foot pain is merciless and can cause not just discomfort but also a change in our daily lives. With all that said, it is crucial to always take care of your feet from the very first step we take, unfortunately we may not be graced with the advantage of knowing from the beginning that we some day will want to hike across the country. Some of us will just have to settle with falling in love with our feet the moment we decide to take our thru-hike dream and turn it into an attainable reality. So where do you go from here?

  1. STRETCH - Stretch, Dammit. It is not complicated, and most of the time you can actively stretch while sitting at a desk, in class, in a meeting, wherever your want! There are no excuses. Here are some of our favorites:       

  • Ankle Circles- Sitting down, or standing, isolate one ankle by drawing air circles with your toes. Continue for 30 seconds before reversing the direction of the circle. Repeat with the other ankle.

  • Flex Stretch- Sitting down, flex one foot by slowly pulling, with the toes, the foot towards your shin. At the top of the flex, slowly point the toes away from your shin, stretching down the top of the foot. Continue for 30 seconds, and then repeat on the other foot.
  • Roll ‘Em Out- Grab a tennis ball, lacrosse ball, Nalgene water bottle, or foam roller. Sit the roller underneath your arch and roll your weight around on the roller. You are the judge of how much weight to put into your foot. Repeat on the other foot. If you really want a treat, freeze water in a water bottle before rolling ‘em out.       

Stretching will be a huge factor in maintaining and building strength as well as decreasing the chances of injury.

     2.  STRENGTHEN- The best way to build foot strength especially for a thru-hike is to hike. Add miles incrementally, and hike with your weighted pack when you can. If you are taking on extra work to save up money for a thru-hike, we can relate, you might not be able to hike as much as you would like to during the week. Try out these simple exercises to get your feet in tip top shape to hike the distance:

  • Calf Raises- Standing tall rise up on the ball of one foot. Lower your heel towards the ground, without resting it on the ground. Repeat for 20 reps, and then switch to the other foot. This can be performed on a flat surface or on the edge of a step.
  • Toe Crunch- Place a towel or handkerchief on the ground and step one foot on the area. Spread your toes out wide, and then scrunch the towel up with your toes as you bring them back in.  Repeat 15-20 times before switching feet.

    3. SOAK- Treat your feet to a weekly Epsom Salt soak. All you need is some hot water, Epsom Salt, and 20 minutes to revive your feet. Do not forget to drink lots of water afterwards!

   4. SUPPORT- Wear good shoes. The definition of good shoes is a pair of properly fitting shoes that provide the support and matches the profile of your foot. It is extremely easy to go by the shoe your friend recommends or your friend’s friend, but in reality, everyone’s foot needs are different. What shoe may be best for one hiker, may not work for you. Do your research in the field, not just online. As you start hiking around, pay close attention to your posture and how you distribute your weight on your feet. Do you roll your foot outwards when you walk or during normal motion? Do you roll your feet inwards? Overpronation and Supination are important to address before you get on the trail, don't ignore it. Do you have a high arch or a flat arch? These are all factors to take into consideration when picking out a trail shoe that works best for you. A good tip if you do not know where to start is to hit up a knowledgeable gear shop to have an expert check out your gait and offer recommendations.

CARDIOVASCULAR - Hiking, and just simply staying active, during the months leading up to your hike is important. Your body will have a lot of adjustments to make as is. Practice climbing elevation by hiking more difficult trails. If you live only a couple of hundred feet above sea level, pick a hill and repeat climbing it over and over. Your heart will be happy and carefree on the trail. Plus all of us low elevation dwellers will need any little bit of help for high altitude and peaks when we get there.

HIPS/LEGS- Another good reason to hike before you hike is to get your legs in shape. We mentioned before but can mention again the benefit of hiking especially with a weighted pack. It is a good idea to experiment with different paces to see what is comfortable for you, what you can work towards and what is too much. To supplement the hiking, stretching is a great way to maintain mobility and to help with recovery in between your hikes. In addition to hip flexors, the IT band is not one to leave out! There are so many stretches out there that target the hips and supporting muscles. Here are a handful of our favorites and what they stretch:

  • Frog Pose (Inner Thighs)- Begin in Table Pose. Take your legs out a little wider, keeping your knees in line with your ankles and feet. Take getting into this pose slow, and know your limits - don’t push it! Walk your arms out on the floor in front of you. Your elbows can rest on the floor, if you are there. Exhale slowly while pushing your hips backwards until you feel the stretch in your hips and inner thighs. Spend 3-6 breaths here.

  • Low Lunge (Hip Flexors)- From standing fold forward to place hands on the floor. Step back with one foot and set your back knee on the ground. Push your hips forward to actively stretch your hip flexors. Bring your torso tall while breathing into the stretch. You can gradually deepen the stretch. Hold here for 30 seconds before switching to the other leg.

  • Thread the Needle (Gluteus Maximus attaching to IT)- Laying on your back with you feet on the ground and knees in the air, place your right ankle just above your left knee or on your thigh. Holding your left leg around the thigh, pull your left knee towards you. Make sure to keep your back flat on the ground. Hold for 1-2 minutes before switching to the other side.

  • Standing Forward Bend (Hamstrings)- With your feet slightly apart, bend forward with your arms reaching towards the ground. Here you can use a block or a step, if you cannot reach the ground. You can also keep a slight bend in your knees as to not lock them out. Hold for 5-6 breaths.

Listed are just a few of our favorites. There is a wide variety of stretches that target different components of the hip-leg system. Stretching your legs will benefit your feet as well as your back. Always remember to take new stretches slow, and know your limits. Also remember that everything works like a machine. While you can isolate one muscle to stretch or strengthen, in order to keep the system working efficiently, you have to give attention to all of the components.

CORE- Core is crucial. No, you do not have to take on the trail with a chiseled six-pack. However, core is responsible for balance, agility, and good posture. With a weighted pack on your back, your core will help you keep upright and strong. Our daily movement on and off the trail is far from just frontal movement, or a single plane of movement. Therefore, just working out on one plane is not quite beneficial. Instead, try out strengthening exercises that target multi-planar, or rotational, movement.  

  • Plank- Starting on hands and knees in Table pose, step your feet back. Image a string starting at your belly button pulling straight up into the sky. You should feel your abs working here not your arms. There are tons of variations to a basic plank; you can always make it easier or more challenging. Hold 30 second to 1 minute. Repeat as many times as you want.
  • Side Plank- Come to your side on the ground. You can either take this pose from your elbow or go all the way up on your hand. The key here is to lift your hip/buttocks off the ground and to keep it from sagging to the ground. Likewise to the plank, there are lots of variations here. One of our favorite modifications is to begin to lower your hips and then take them back up to a full plank. Another modification to deepen the exercise is to thread your free hand underneath your supporting arm, twisting through your obliques.

  • Superman- Laying on your stomach with your hands straight out in front of your long ways, raise your chest off of the floor powering from your lower back. Rise up and hold or carry through the entire movement. Lower back to the ground slowly. These movements should be controlled. Repeat for 20 reps or 30 seconds. 

CLEAR HEADSPACE- It is simple. Being comfortable in your own mind is crucial to being able to handle the inevitable moments of loneliness that come with a long hike. Meditation, even in the smallest doses, is good for you. The ability to calm your mind will also help out in situations of distress, discomfort, or with anxiety. If you have trouble with your mind wandering or thinking about what is next or dwelling on what has past, focus on your breath. Practice this before hitting the trail.

 

HAPPY TRAINING AND HAPPY TRAILS!


 

Canyons & Caddisflies: Our day on the Cumberland Plateau

In Tennessee, all creeks seem to lead to the Cumberland River, but it is when you leave these mosaicked waters and head deep into the rhododendron wrapped forests that you find the true mightiness and potential of water.  Once a seabed hundreds of million years ago and now sitting 2000 feet above sea level, the Cumberland Plateau is a mecca for the most beautifully unique, yet perfectly carved rock formations this side of the Mississippi. Shaped by time's erosion and the persistence of water cutting through the sandstone, you would think the hand tools of man carved out each wrinkle, smoothed out each slab, and painted the rocks using the most beautiful palettes of purples, oranges, reds, and greens. However, the greatness of these rocks do not overshadow the other features of the land. A crystal creek flows over, around, and under glistening stones as the old growth frames the serpentine path, yet there is so much vastness. It is a rather delicate creek home to rather delicate creatures, yet here they flourish. Each bend in the trail leads to a furrow of rock herding us back into the gorge. In one corner of the rock wall, runs just enough water to create two tiers of falling water yet not enough to roar and rip through the canyon. Everything is coated with moss and beads of water, even the humidity captures rays of daylight giving this particular area a foggy glow. It immediately feels like we are in a far away rainforest, far away from human influence, and far away from the Tennessee we call home. Yet, home we are. 

Our Day in the Big South Fork

Hiking trips that we plan seem to synthesize themselves in the same manner. They begin from overhearing some small comment about a beautiful place near us, or by glancing over a map and a small name or geological feature quickly catches our attention. From this initial occurrence, the place begins manifesting itself in different ways, whether it be through photographs, conversations or even dreams. Before it can become forgotten, it begins to take over all thoughts and cannot be avoided. The only thing that can satisfy it's continuous begging is to purchase a map, do a little research, and set out to find this place. In some cases even after wondering through the lands we intended on conquering, it continues to call us back. This is when we know it is an extremely special place. This was exactly the case for our trip to the Big South Fork National River. 

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A few hours after leaving Nashville we found ourselves pulling onto an oil and chip road, overlooking the white capped Crab Orchard Mountains, that soon turned into a gravel pullout with  a small kiosk. We got our day packs out of the trunk, put Milo's harness on, and started towards the trail. The ground was freshly coated in a light dusting of snow and the naked trees enameled in a thin layer of prismatic ice. Each step we took crushed the crystalized ground beneath our feet, although we took care not to step on any of the delicate frost flowers. It was evident that we were the only few creatures to pass through this area within the past few days. Within the first few hundred feet we had already realized that this day had already exceeded any dream or idea we had envisioned in the previous weeks of looking at maps. We inhaled the cool crisp air and felt alive. 

The trail began to descend down a relatively steep trail before leveling out and paralleling a spring fed brook. All around us, small rock outcrops and cascades invited us to stop and observe their beauty. From within their porous sandstone, water seeped onto the moss and leaves below, encapsulating them with a thick shell. The brook gurgled alongside the trail widening into a stream and fanning out over smooth boulders. How many millennia had it taken for this stream to carve out the side of this plateau? How did we have this paradise completely to ourselves?

We took care not to fall on the thick sheet of ice that had accumulated on the trail under the edge of each rock house. Soon after we descended down a slick rock by holding on to a twenty foot piece of fixed rope and made our way through towering boulders. We rounded a bend in the trail, passed a small waterfall and were once again stopped in our tracks at the sight of a towering escarpment. This wall towered high above any rock face we had climbed in the Southeast, and it was clean. No bolts, no pin scars, no chalk, just pure Tennessee sandstone. Although we both enjoy climbing and even imagined routes up the beautiful face, we knew that some rocks were better left unscathed. That even with the most extreme care to leave a minimal impact, any influx of climbers would destroy the delicate micro ecosystems existing in each crack and crevice. Despite the cold air that nudged us to keep moving, we stood and stared towards the icicles hanging from the roof and followed them as they broke off and fell hundreds of feet to the ground. 

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It's so refreshing to have this slight element of danger. Although hiking is relatively safe, the possibility of having to dodge icicles, getting stung by a bee, twisting an ankle or being steps away from a thousand foot drop is a nice change of pace from the monotony of everyday life (unless you are a professional alligator wrestler, then most things are probably pretty bland). People sometimes forget that the most memorable moments are usually the times that involved an element of fear or discomfort. It is usually a lot easier to recall a hike that took place in a snow storm than it is a hike on a sunny day. As we walked, we thought about this. Despite a few moments when we thought Milo would slide down an icy slope into a creek in subfreezing weather, we were thankful to have such a unique winter day. 

We ventured closer and closer towards the muddy Big South Fork of the Cumberland River at the base of the plateau. At the lowest point in the trail, we began heading due west. This was when the trail began to feel less like a trail and more like a jungle gym. The next two miles would consist of boulder hoping, ladder climbing, exploring rock houses, and navigating a winding trail that crossed back and forth over an icy creek. The people that designed and built this trail should be put into the trail builder's hall of fame. Waterfall after waterfall and boulder after boulder, we carefully danced up the trail holding Milo as we jumped across gaps too wide for him to muster up the courage to jump himself. Pulling ourselves up steep rocks by the frozen knobs of ice that had accumulated over them we could not keep the smiles off our faces. We felt like we were kids again. This trail had rekindled the feeling of childlike exploration, void of fear and absent of time. A giant rock house with a wooden ladder into its mouth called for us to come closer. Even Milo tried to climb the ladder out of curiosity of what existed inside the cave. In the middle of this wild expanse we decided to sit down for a few moments and eat a couple trail bars and split a Snickers. 

Shortly after eating, we allowed no time to rest our legs out of the sheer excitement of what the trail had to bring. The trail led us along the ridge overlooking the valley we had just been walking through. We came to a waterfall tucked twenty feet inside of a small cave created by multiple house sized boulders. We hopped across stepping stones and climbed a few rocks to get to the other side of the falls. All of the sudden, Milo stopped in his tracks and started growling in a deep defensive growl. We looked ahead and saw something sitting on top of a mossy boulder.  He would not stop growling in this uncharacteristic manner. Walking closer we realized it was just a sleeping bag in its stuff sack. Naturally, we called out to the owner of this bag. After five to ten minutes of searching and calling and no response, we started reeling through a list of possibilities for the strangely placed bag. Was someone setting up camp here and just left the bag to save weight while they wondered, had someone camped here the night before and simply forgotten to pack a large five pound sleeping bag, or had someone gotten lost or hurt on their way to filter water? After examining the bag closer, we realized that ice crystals had accumulated on the inside of the bag, leading us to believe that it had been there for at least a couple days. We did not want to leave someone stranded without their sleeping bag if they were still out hiking, but due to its condition and our proximity to the trailhead, we decided to pack it out to the trailhead. 

For some reason this strange encounter left a strange taste in our mouths. Nevertheless, the trail called back our attention with a small bridge and a few more waterfalls. One bigger than any of the others we had seen all day, with a deep pool below it, which we added to our list of swimming holes for the upcoming summer. The trail climbed away from the creek and we said our goodbyes to one of the most magical places in Tennessee. 

A mile or so later, we approached the trailhead and got cell signal again. We called the ranger station and made sure there were not any missing persons at the time. He confirmed no one had been reported lost and told us he would be by in a couple hours to pick up the bag. He grilled us about anything suspicious we saw on the trail, such as a smoldering campfire or empty beer cans, but we had not seen either. We got in the car and headed back towards Nashville, leaving behind a wonderland. 

Just as our trips come together in a similar way, they usually end with silent reflection due to a lack of words to describe the joy that comes from a day spent outside exploring. Originally drawn to what looked liked the smallest trail on the map led us to what became one of our favorite places in Tennessee. A place that might not look like much topographically can become so much more once you actually are surrounded by the boulders, the rivers, and the unique flora and fauna that the area has to offer. As the sun lowered in the sky, our day came to a very happy end. 

 

For more photos of our trip to Big South Fork, give us a follow on instagram at @ourtrailingthought.

Frozen Head

This past Friday we woke up at 5:30 AM, loaded up the car with all of our backpacking gear and Milo, and drove east through the frigid Tennessee countryside. Only two and a half hours later we were transported from the Nashville basin to the towering mountains of Frozen Head State Park. After a few glances at the map, we were off walking on frozen trail through seemingly untouched land.

As we wound around the mountain, switchback after switchback, we climbed in and out of the morning sun up the primarily oak forest of the Chimney Top trail. As we moved into the sunlight, sounds of distant birds and squirrels were constant, as the trail switched back into the shadows it became eerily quiet and the only noises we heard were our footsteps and Milo’s breathing. It quickly became apparent that we had the entire park to ourselves apart from the workers in the valley below. M.E. noticed in the shade there were thousands of hexagonal ice crystals lining the trail just underneath the top layer of leaves. A thick layer of crystals had formed underneath the dirt pebbles on the trail and gave the appearance that we were walking on floating rocks. It was magical. We were not necessarily happy that the park was empty, but excited that we got this incredible mountain all to ourselves for the cold December day.

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After a period of time we followed the trail the the top of Rough Ridge where we stopped to look at the small sandstone capstones that littered the top of the ridge. For a brief moment we were unsure if we had reached the top of our climb, but as we looked towards the east we noticed a peak at least a thousand feet taller than where we were standing. Then the trail began downwards. One of the things learned after thousands of miles of hiking is that trail builders usually do things for a reason. It seemed that the only reason we would be descending off of a ridgeline was that there was a water source at the bottom of the valley. About fifteen minutes of descending later, the prediction stood to be true as we crossed over Rocky Fork Branch and then immediately began ascending again.

There are things in the eastern United States that unfortunately are uncommon; the beautifully colored darters, the high towering American chestnuts and Hemlocks. While we did not get to see any of these, we did get to walk through a very old growth oak and hickory forest as we reached the top of the mountain. The trees towered high above our heads and appeared to be well pruned upwards of seventy feet. Even though we see trees everyday in Nashville, and even big trees when we hike in Percy Warner Park, the size and multitude of these trees stopped us in our tracks. Eastern Tennessee’s rich history of logging and mining extracted most of the large timbers in the state to use for large buildings, structure for coal mine shafts, fuel to melt iron ore and removed trees to clear land for agriculture (link below). At that time, resources seemed inexhaustible and there was not much care taken to preserve the trees. One hundred year old pictures of the American chestnuts show trees rivaling the redwoods of the west. Trees that are now nearly extinct in our region. To walk through a forest of massive trees that had to have preceded this time is a very powerful thing.

Soon we arrived on top of a steep ridgeline and decided to go ahead and eat a couple snickers and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (Milo had dog food and a few treats of course). Even on a short hike, maintaining energy to continue is crucial for an enjoyable day. Although it is possible to hike a long distance with little food, hills that would normally seem easy become more and more difficult. A few hundred feet later and we came to the fifteen to twenty foot tall sandstone capstones of Chimney Top. Icicles hung over a small overhang in the rock that appeared to create a perfect campsite. To the south a small trail led up to the top of the rocks where a sign read “Chimney Top Elev. 3120.” This prominent overlook felt massive compared to the elevation of Nashville (~500 ft) only a couple hours away. The Crab Orchard mountains appear to form out of nowhere from the surrounding farmland, making them feel even taller.

After hanging out at the top for awhile, we decided to head back to the ranger station before the trails closed. We talked and laughed about the amazing day on our way down the mountain, filled with the happiness and joy that only comes from spending the day outside. We had not even been phased by the sub freezing weather and gusts of wind due to the excitement of the beautiful hike. There is something to be said about this feeling. What causes it? The fresh air, the solitude, the physical exertion, the silence, or even just the visual stimulation. No matter what the exact reason is, these are all reasons that we are hiking the Continental Divide this summer. Just the opportunity to prolong that feeling is refreshing to think about. That feeling drives both of us everyday.

Below the ridge, our car became visible again and we had completed another beautiful hike in a beautiful park. A park that is not as well travelled as some of the others in the state and does need donations to continue to maintain and protect its beautiful trails. To donate to Frozen Head State Park or to just find out more information, visit the park or click the link below.

 

 

Heading to The Great Divide

Working in an outdoor store is a lot tougher than most might think. Not in a physical workload sense, it is not a dangerous environment and our co-workers are not terrible. In fact, the people we surround ourselves with everyday are some of the most interesting, talented and friendly people we have yet to meet. The trouble comes from spending our days inside the store outfitting people for trips we dream of doing. After awhile, even with the hospitality of a store like Cumberland Transit, cabin fever sets in and your mind begins to reel. You feel the rivers tugging at your shirt tail and the mountains whispering in your ears. When the store slows down and the customers are sparse, the air is filled with stories of past adventures and dreams of new ones.

We did not formulate this grand idea together. We both had preconceived the dream on our own and then loosely mentioned it to each other one day. After a few weeks of denial and deciding our plan would never work out, we pulled a wildcard out of our back pocket and concluded that actually it just might work, it would definitely work. We are going to hike the Continental Divide Trail in 2017... together.

So there you have it, there is our big announcement for anyone that has not heard from us both already. Even though we both are not ones to talk about our plans and lives very often, we are going to post them all over the internet. If you happen to find us here and read our stories, scroll through our pictures, and follow us on this journey, then we hope we can provide inspiration, tips, and hopefully some laughs to your own journey. If your own journey takes place in a charming outdoor store, behind a desk, or any other occupation, we hope that we could spark a desire to be outside or even a crazy plan to hike across the country. When your days at work are slow, your mind is wandering and you are having trouble staying focused, here is some direction for your trailing thoughts.