Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A Long Way Yet to Go

My camera has a tendency to flatten images, yet clearly here you can see the incline to reach this point on the AT.

Wisconsin, Illinois, doesn't matter. These hikes I've done this Spring and Summer have been the minor leagues. Heck, many not even that. Perhaps the Rookie League, or Little League. Tee-ball even, if I'm being honest about Moraine Hills State Park.

This realization hit me about halfway up the Slaughter Creek Trail. The trail, which is almost 3 miles long, goes from the edge of Lake Winfield Scott up to a junction with the Appalachian Trail near its approach to the summit of Blood Mountain. As such, it's pretty much uphill the entire way. Despite taking frequent breaks, my legs were beginning to feel tired from the uphill grind. I moved at a snail's pace, and yet I struggled mightily to get up to those white blazes, where a slackening of the difficulty was promised by the hiking book.

No, I didn't fall into the creek headfirst. Why?
I made it, as made clear by the picture above. It pretty much encapsulates my feelings at the time. Sweaty, tired, and probably dehydrated, I nevertheless smiled to the camera. Making it to the ridgeline and the trail was an accomplishment. But damn was it humbling.

Sure, I walked a few trails that were effectively flat during my post pneumonia/frigid winter ramp-up of the past few months. Newport State Park, the aforementioned Moraine Hills, "Snake Road" in Southern Illinois. Although most of these trails are long, I hiked them without too much difficulty. They made my legs stronger, but not strong enough to take on real hills.

Even the places that have hills didn't help me that much. Several of my hikes centered around one or two hill climbs which I did slowly and with necessary breaks. Only the tall (for the Midwest) hills of Devil's Lake rendered a challenge anywhere near as rough as what I encountered in the north Georgia mountains. It is no surprise that that trail beat me up the closest to my six mile trek up and down the ridges near Lake Winfield Scott.

I can't be this ill prepared next March. Sure, I expect it to be grueling those first two-three weeks, but it can't be this grueling. I must train my legs and lungs to better handle going up hill. There will still be a need for breaks, as I know I will never be the greatest up hill climber. But I can get better. I will get better. I must get better.

And there it is. No matter what, each weekend I do training hikes, I will make room for serious uphill work. If I'm back home downstate, I will go out to that wretched Hawk Hill and walk up its steep incline. I might do it twice, just because it's important. There will be easy flat sections and hiker highways galore, it's hard to avoid these in the Midwest. But there are hills, whether it be Devil's Lake, Mississippi Palisades, Pere Marquette, Starved Rock, or countless other places where the ground isn't flat and isn't covered with corn. I'll make it up those hills, so when I make that first incline to Springer Mountain it will be hard, but not unendurable.

*The trails used to meet in Slaughter Gap, but as this gap had been loved to death by a flood of hikers, the trail junctions were moved out of it to let it restore itself to a more natural state.

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