Right before the Continental Divide Trail and the Appalachian Trail, I joked that I was on a strict training regimen, mostly consisting of eating ice cream and drinking beer. Skinny and tired from back-to-back thru-hikes, I was more worried about regaining lost pounds than maintaining my trail legs.
Now, thanks to a year of quarantine and stay at home orders, I have the complete opposite problem. When quarantine first hit last year, my daily amount of exercise plummeted. I’ve never been a gym person, but I could no longer go rock climbing. Overnight hikes or canoe trips were suddenly illegal. I ran 5k laps around our neighbourhood, feeling more and more like a mouse stuck on a wheel. My weight crept up past my ideal thru-hike start weight, and my fitness withered away.
While I’m happy to finally not have to worry about losing too much weight, I know the Great Divide Trail will be much more fun if I’m not trying to get into shape on the trail. Ottawa is flat, and the nearest “hill” is off limits since it’s over the border in Quebec. I don’t really like exercise for the sake of exercise- I’d rather just go on an adventure that involves moving my body. Still, I’ve been trying to increase my weekly mileage. This means more runs and more time on my feet even if it’s just walking the dog. Hopefully this will translate to fewer blisters and muscle pains this summer. Every weekend, we’ve been loading our backpack with our overnight gear, despite the fact that we’re still not allowed to go camping. My hips and shoulders are getting used to carrying weight again. My feet are starting to callous. I know the first few days on trail are still going to hurt, but every ounce of fitness I gain now will make this summer easier.
This weekend, we packed up our bags and drove a few minutes to a local rail trail. Flat and dusty, the pea gravel pathway runs 70km towards Montreal. Our plan: walk 25 km and turn around, for a total of 50km. That’s a little over 31 miles. We’d tried this last year, at the very start of the pandemic, and had to stop after 48km, calling a friend for a rescue. This year we vowed we’d do better.
We picked one of the first really warm days of the year. Even at 9am, I was sweating through my shirt. Chester panted behind us, but perked up and dashed ahead every time a squirrel chirped at him from the trees.
By lunch, I was nauseated, my head aching from the heat. Chester refused to leave the shade, digging in his heels and tilting his head back at us. Shake’nBake picked him up, sliding him inside his pack. A breeze picked up, and Chester soon stopped panting, although it would be a few more hours before he’d be happy to walk again.
I put my headphones in and listened to my old thru-hiking playlists. The rail trail was dull: flat and straight through farmland. But it felt good to move and stretch my legs. As the heat of the day faded, my feet began to ache. I could feel blisters forming on my heels, the way they had on the PCT. But as the sun descended towards the horizon, my nausea and headache dissipated with the heat. We made it to the car just as dusk fell, Chester darting back and forth, fixated on the small creatures rustling in the bushes.
We still have a lot of work to do before the summer. I’ve lost a lot of fitness since the Long Trail, and I know the GDT is going to be both physically and mentally intense. We’ll keep going out every weekend we can, until the stay at home order is lifted and we can finally go backpacking.