Almost tempting to phrase this with "Is the Appalachian Trail paleo?" but I doubt our hunter-gatherer forebears would bother to consider the idea of strapping on a 35lb backpack to hike 2,000 miles just for the sake of doing it. But let's say they did.
Obviously the diet side of things gets a little bit tricky, but we'll imagine you've got that figured out as well. Where would something like the AT or the PCT or any other multi-month backpacking fall in the range of fitness? Ideal low-level cardio or chronic cardio? What would the effects of 2,000 consecutive miles be on your body? Would you come out of it healthier or is it simply too much to ask of your body?
I'd love to hear from anyone who's completed any such trip, and where science would come down on an extended endeavor of the sorts that thru-hikers undertake.
asked byJake__2 (671)
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on August 10, 2012
at 01:06 PM
It's tough to call it "chronic cardio." Such a hike would involve much more complex movement patterns than a typical run on a treadmill or even a long run on a flat surface. It would involve some periods of climbing, navigating through obstacles, lifting your own body weight and even some downhill movement which would actually mimick concentric lifting. Intensity would also vary throughout.
Ideally, the person doing this would also take time to rest when it was needed/available and absolutely would not intentionally "calorie restrict." They would eat, and likely overeat during times of availability. Often times it's not the chronic cardio that really hurts someone, but the combination of it with intentional, long-term calorie restriction that wreaks havoc on people.
My final take would be something like this would be nothing but beneficial and exciting.
on August 10, 2012
at 01:56 PM
Its endurance exercise for the most part. Several years ago a friend and I hiked the AT from Springer (GA) to Katahdin (ME) over the course of several summers by breaking it into 4 roughly equal sections and conquering one section each consecutive summer. In order to do this we had calculated something like 20 mile days each day with scheduled rest days that we could float if the weather got bad or we were just dog tired. You can certainly incorporate a number of interval-style methods like short bursts of rest-stepping up a really steep hill, or running down a steep incline. Or, as one campsite-dweller called it "indian time" where you go out for a fun trail run at dusk before retiring for the evening.
For the amount of food and water you need to carry you end up with a heavy pack - mine was in the 50-60 lb range, well above the max 1/3 body weight guideline. On the hottest summer in the hottest area (TN area) I think I started out weighing around 171 lbs and ended 159 at the end of 2 weeks! This was with constant hydration and eating tons of beef jerky, nuts, butter, cheese, pepperoni, trail mix, chocolate. Many areas will allow you to mail ahead a cache of food which they will hold at a ranger station for you - we did this several times. I remember specifically in one cache we put a bunch of extra dry socks and a bottle of Jim Beam! ;) Man, were we happy to see that after over a week in the wilderness. One time our cache got lost due to bad road conditions and we ended up foraging as the alternative was a one-week sentence of minute rice, curry powder, and M&Ms. :P
The thing that I have been thinking quite frequently since I have gotten more and more into paleo lifestyle in the last couple of years is how much this experience has informed my current lifestyle. One particular parallel is that after a long while on the trail, whereas you would have been super excited to see a resting point or restaurant where you could get real food, we would blow right through these areas because you were so in the zone you DIDNT WANT the cheeseburger, beer, or restaurant "goodies" any more. I notice this in my current practice of paleo eating and intermittent fasting as I rarely desire cheat foods or hunger during fast periods.
Long rambling post I know, and I could go on and on with all of the stories. The takeaway is that its a tremendous experience on so many levels if you have the time and means to accomplish GO FOR IT. It is something to remember and grow from for the rest of your life.
on August 10, 2012
at 07:37 PM
I hiked the PCT. I did it in two consecutive years, 1500 miles the first year and 1800 the second year (I overlapped some of the trail.) Hiking the PCT is what ultimately got me to paleo. I'm a 47 year old woman.
My daily miles progressed from around 15 to 25-30 miles a day. My highest mile day was 36 miles. I believe the AT is physically harder than the PCT so your miles may be fewer.
It is hard on the body to walk that far every day. There is the strong chance for repetitive stress injuries. All it takes is a blister to throw your gait out of whack causing a chain reaction that can affect any joints up the chain, ankle, knee, hip. Take very good care of your feet. Wear shoes much larger than you normally do.
My diet was horrible on the PCT. I have never felt so hungry in all my life. I experienced a lot of mosquitoes and rain through Oregon and Washington so I ended up resorting to a diet of things I could eat while walking wearing a head net or under an umbrella. Mostly candy and cookies. I was shocked how high my performance was on such a bad diet. The end result was severe insulin resistance, though. After the hike I gained weight extremely rapidly, could not control my hunger, could not exercise without triggering severe hunger. Only low carb paleo saved me. You might want to read this to see that my experience is not unique. http://cduane.net/WhyHikersGetFat.html
Recently I've been doing shorter backpack trips with better paleo food. I've made homemade pemmican. It tastes terrible but the effect is really positive. It is tasty cooked as a soup base. High fat foods seem to work well for me now. I think if I did another long distance hike I would spend a lot of time dehydrating sweet potatoes, yams and other roots and tubers, dehydrating my own meats including beef heart jerky, canned chicken, slow-cooked pork tenderloin and maybe even fish. I'd make tons of "hocky pucks", muffin tins of beef tallow mixed with dried beef (pemmican), coconut, and maybe experiment with other mixtures that include dried fruits/vegetables, nuts, spices or whatever, the important thing being having a ready supply of tallow to cook and eat. I'd probably start eating peanut butter and peanuts again. I'd probably eat grains on the trip to extend my meals, perhaps dry some cooked wild rice or other unusual grains, plus I'd probably do oats, corn, quinoa and regular rice. I'd probably also go ahead and eat whatever appealed to me in trail towns. I rarely ate pizza on my PCT hike, but I couldn't get enough egg and pancake breakfasts. I might skip the pancakes, but probably not skip the hashbrowns. And I'd probably just eat the bun with my triple bacon cheeseburgers. Next time I do this I'm going to go to town on ice cream and make sure I eat at least a pint at every town stop.
You have no idea how hungry you get doing a hike like this. I didn't know it was possible to be THAT hungry.
Good luck on your journey. It's an amazing thing to hike a long trail.