On long-distance backpacking trips we don’t take the same things for granted that we do at home and as a result we can gain some insights into our privilege and how it affects the way we hike our hikes, and pack our packs. In this series of three posts I’m going to talk about how science and privilege influence the way I pack my pack. Using science as my guide, I’m going to break the discussion into three parts (requirements for physiological homeostasis in the wilderness):
- Food: Our ability to regulate blood sugar levels (glycoregulation).
- Water: Our ability to regulate water and minerals (osmoregulation).
- Shelter/Heat: Our ability to regulate body temperature (thermoregulation).
I was looking back at my old posts and saw The Hunger. Back at Day 22 & 23 I thought I was hungry. I had to laugh, I had no idea what hunger felt like then. Sure, I may have thought I was hungry, but it wasn’t the kind of all consuming thought removing hunger that was to come later. The kind of hunger that demands your attention and starts making your decisions for you.
Hiking 20 miles a day through the mountains with a full pack means that we are burning lots and lots of calories, probably 8000 to 10000 calories a day. The reason why thru-hikers are hungry all the time (and why we keep losing weight) is because most of us are only able to carry about 2500 calories of food for each day. That means that all of us are working with at least a 5000 calorie per day deficit. We try to make up for some of those deficits by going into town and eating as much as we can in town, but it’s not enough.
When I started the trail I weighed 185 lbs and was wearing women’s snug size 14. By day 22-23 those pants were falling off of me. When I got to mile 500 I weighed about 155 lbs and bought myself a new pair of pants (size 8). I don’t know what I weigh right now, but with 500 miles to go those size 8 pants are falling off of me.
Size 4 pants and shorts are the ones that fit me now. I’ve dropped 10 pant sizes since I started this trip and I’m back to weighing what I weighed when I was in high school. When I catch a glance of myself in mirrors I barely recognize the person I see there.
Thru-hikers tend to be very calorie conscious… We’re counting calories to make sure that we get as many as we can. As a rule we try not to put anything into our packs that is less than 100 calories/ounce. For breakfast I eat a meal replacement protein bar (~400 calories), a cheese wedge (~120 calories), and have some shot blocks (~200 calories). For lunch I eat 3 more cheese wedges (~360 calories), 4 fruit roll ups (~400 calories), another protein bar (~200 calories) and another shot blocks (~200 calories). For dinner I usually have a mountain house meal (~800 calories) and tuna fish in olive oil (~190 calories). All of these calories are heavy and after I resupply I tend to be carrying about 10 lbs of food.
One of the best things the trail angels do for us is to give us food, or leave trail magic food and sodas at places where the trail crosses the road. After a long day of hiking, finding a trail magic cooler full of food at a road crossing is truly magical! Fresh fruit, vegetables, and snacks… Beautiful beautiful calories. It is sometimes enough to bring tears to our eyes.
My mom and my grandma are some of my favorite trail angels. They make me my favorite meals and snacks and try to keep my calorie counts up. It is truly a joy to be able to eat so many of my grandmother’s homemade doughnuts!