“The best way to physically train for hiking is to put on a backpack and hike.” I have seen this mantra repeated on numerous blogs, forums, and websites, so I suspect that there must be more than a grain of truth to that phrase. So, in the spirit of going with the flow, I have adopted the essence of that statement and have started to shift away from the gym towards spending more time walking with my fully loaded backpack.
Lucky for me, there is a system of trails nearby that lends itself perfectly to pounding out some miles. Starting on the campus of The University of West Florida, this “gateway” trail is the Edward Ball Nature Trail, a boardwalk loop that winds through a beautiful hardwood swamp at Thompson’s Bayou. The nature trail connects to the UWF West Campus Trails with over 20 miles of mountain bike trails, maintained by the Pensacola Off-Road Cyclist Club, in a 1600-acre nature preserve. It sounds like a great place to work out to me! You can click here for a map.
Beginning this year, I committed to taking four hikes per week to help train for my Appalachian Trail thru-hike. To date, I have completed 56 miles of hiking with my full pack weight, but there are a lot of miles left to go. I have no preconception that these “hilly” Florida trails can compare to the difficulty I will experience in the Southern Appalachian Mountains of Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee, but at least I can get outside and walk in nature while building strength in the muscles that will support the weight of my backpack for six months.
Sometimes, due to the parking situation at the university, it is just easier to leave the house and walk down the road. The aesthetics are quite different, but I feel like the workout value is similar. Not as much natural beauty and lovely views, but I guess that dodging road construction crews has its own rewards.
As these training hikes increase in length and difficulty, the amount of time that I devote to this activity has increased as well. I know I made a promise to provide a video series on how I make my own backpacking food, but it is coming down to the wire and that project must go on the back burner for now. I shot most of the video, but just don’t have the time to edit the footage into a cohesive story. Someday, my friends, but I just can’t do it now.