Pre-dawn Walks and Physical Therapy: Backpacking Prep

In April and May of 2023, I will hike sections of the Appalachian Trail, providing videotaped presentations on the cultural and natural history of each section. Most of it is still in the planning stages, but I’ll be documenting the preparation here, so subscribe and get continuous updates as the itinerary and subjects come together, and as I learn the skills I need to become a first-time video presenter.

I had hoped that I would reach the age of 61 in good health, with energy, focus, and purpose. 

Of all the things I imagined happening within my lifetime, being sidelined by a worldwide plague was never, ever a possibility.

But COVID-19 arrived on our shores during a time when I had the luxury of staying home and staying safe, and that’s what I did. In the process, I became dormant, sedentary and unmotivated. I gained 30 pounds on top of weight I had already gained over the last few years. I lost much of the endurance I had developed in prep for my planned but aborted 2018 thru-hike. 

When I conceived of my 2023 interpretive hike, it had been a long time since I had walked any distance, much less hiked. 

I also developed a painful right knee. I saw a sports medicine doctor, who diagnosed me with arthritis and prescribed physical therapy and a topical medication.

I’ve been to PT a few times and have started on a home exercise program. The therapist and I discussed my aversion to the gym and she told me that the home exercise routine wouldn’t be enough to sustain my goal of a month’s worth of backpacking. I have my work cut out for me.

Of course, the first thing is simply to start walking regularly again, and since I live in Houston and it’s summer, I’ve had to confine my walks to starting at shortly before dawn. I carry Mace in my pocket in case of rabid coyotes, escaped pit bulls or aggressive people, but normally my only companions are the moon, various planets, parts of the Zodiac, and some bats winding down their night before making way for the birds who begin their song at sunrise. Eventually two or three regular walkers join the path and we nod or mutter “good morning” as we pass. I listen to spiritual lectures through my earphones most mornings. My Fitbit tracks my distance (currently just under 2 miles).

Setting concrete goals is critical to big change, so here are my weight and endurance goals:

  • Lose 50 pounds by April 15
  • Five days a week, walk a minimum of four miles a day
  • From October to December, one overnight hike with a full pack each month
  • From January to March, two overnight hikes with a full pack each month 

I didn’t expect to be 61 years old, fat and sedentary with a bum knee. But I hope that when I leave for my trek on my 62nd birthday I will be fit enough to carry a pack that includes gear necessary for my video project (more about that in my next post!).

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