So much has changed for me since I started hiking the AT that it already seems strange to think back to the struggles I was having with my health. Before I left was having trouble climbing stairs, walking, and sometimes would even have to sit to take my shower because I lacked the energy to stand. It always reminded me of the scene in the Princess Bride where Wesley says, “maybe I am only lying her because I lack the strength to stand'”
Climbing the stairs up to my third floor apartment was a momentous task (never mind climbing mountains). I’d make it to each landing (or sometimes just up a couple of steps) and then I’d stop and stare accusingly at the next flight of stairs as if they were tormenting me on purpose. I would lean heavily on the railing, remember that I’d just used my rescue inhaler an hour ago and then I would pout for a minute as I waited and hoped that my breath would come back. Eventually I’d make it into my apartment and then flop down on my couch or bed for a while to recover.
Now I’m hiking 15+ miles a day, mountains and all! I haven’t tapered off of my daily asthma meds yet, but I have gone from watching the clock to see if I could use my rescue inhaler again (4+ times a day) to using it once a day at the most. I haven’t had an asthma attack in at least two weeks.
On the flat and/or downhill sections of the trail I have no trouble keeping up with the other thru-hikers, and am faster than many. The uphill sections I still tend to be just a little bit slower than everyone else on.
The uphill sections are also the sections where the change in my breathing is the most obvious. At the beginning, even the mild uphills would leave me gasping for breath. I would count the number of steps I was taking between breaks. First 20 steps, then 50, then 80… After a few weeks went by I stopped counting. I didn’t need to motivate myself to keep moving with the promise that I’d get to take a break soon anymore.
The longer I hike, the stronger my lungs and body seem to get, and the fewer breaks I need to take on those uphills. I like that I can really feel the difference and progress that I’m making and that even after 500 miles I’m still feeling gradual changes. Someone on the trail told me that it takes at least 8 weeks to get your body into peak physical condition (if you’re a 19 yet old in the army). I don’t know how true it is, but I like the thought because it means that that the best is yet to come for my lungs and for my body.