Friday, November 12, 2010

Conditioning Hikes #1 and #2 at Fort Mountain and Brasstown Bald

October 23, 2010

From what I can gather online, all the conditioning and preparation one can do before attempting to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail still doesn’t come close to the experience. However, years of sitting in my chair eating Cheetos, drinking Yuengling, and dicking around on the Internet has left me with a rather soft exterior. In order to just be able to make it through those first really tough weeks, I need to be in considerably better shape.

Thus, over a year before the big day, I’ve begun using my weekends, vacations, holidays, and sometimes even evenings to take conditioning hikes. As I’ve yet to acquire any backcountry gear, my hikes are limited to dayhikes for the time being. They come in three flavors: relatively short hikes up strenuous terrain to fortify the legs and lungs, much longer hikes (sometimes as much as 10-15 miles) over gentler terrain to build endurance, and a combination of both.

My first two “official” conditioning hikes were undertaken three weeks ago in the mountains of north Georgia. As both hikes were less than 1.5 miles each, consisting mostly of moderately steep inclines, they qualify as “Climb” hikes.

I suppose the trail up to the overlook at Fort Mountain is an easy hike. It’s fairly wide and in most places is well trod. It’s steep, but it isn’t that long. Had I been regularly walking for several weeks, I doubt it would have been much of a thing. However, this marked my first conditioning hike, and I had only been “exercising” using my WiiFit for a week. Thus, mere yards into the hike I was huffing and puffing. I took it slow, resting when necessary, and finally made it up to the overlook. By far this first part was the roughest climb, although the part of the trail beyond the overlook was narrower and rougher, and the climb from the opposite side up to the “stone wall” trail was not a gentle stroll through a meadow. Fortunately the trek along the “Mysterious Stone Wall of Fort Mountain” back to the overlook trail was mostly downhill and gentle, the highlight of which being a small snake slithering in the grass off to the side.

If the hike up to the overlook at Fort Mountain was a challenge, it paled in comparison to the 0.6 mile walk to the top of Brasstown Bald. The highest point in Georgia, it is a popular place to visit, with a large parking lot and a shuttle to the top for the old, the handicapped, and the lazy. If you choose to hoof it, it’s a 428 foot climb in just over a half a mile. Obviously this would be a bit of trek.

Up and up I went, stopping far too often to catch my breath before continuing up. The trail had started with a few informational placards, and I had hoped those would continue, so I could assuage my ego by saying I was stopping to learn. Unfortunately, they were few and far between. Slowly I made it up each switchback, until I finally crossed the road to the top and hit the home stretch. Finally the sign announcing you were at the top, and the large interpretive center/observation deck behind it, came into view.

I took the requisite pictures, refilled my water bottle, and enjoyed a delicious apple I had purchased at Kroger earlier that day. I was proud of my accomplishment, as difficult as it may have been. That pride was tempered somewhat by the sights of a dachshund walking the path with its owner, and a small woman pushing a baby-occupied stroller. Sure, it was something I had acheived, but I still have a ways to go.

On our Next Episode: I attempt my first endurance hike.

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