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[pct-l] Aloneness and Foot speed (long)

As I ponder the did-it-really-happen quality of the PCT thruhike, and
listen to some of the comments, I realized that my being alone during most
of  the hike contributes to the isolation from the experience that I now
feel at home.

Lets get it straight from the beganning: I never felt lonely and there were
tremendous advantages to being alone.  I should nevertheless have liked to
spend more time hiking with others - not because I was afraid , bored,
incapable, or needed to lean on somebody else for the hike.  A thruhike is
a very HEAVY experience - humor , lightness,and a different perspective
helps in lightening the experience, but also it expands your viewpoint and
what you can absorb from your experience.  Most of all it allows you to
share.  I can not tell you how many times I wanted to turn to somebody and
say: "Wow, Look at that!" 

In section O, I and Tom did a 28 mile slackpack. By 3pm we had only done 14
of the 28 miles, and all the routefinding problems were yet to come.   Then
it was  dusk, I had a reasonable idea where we were but no actual
indications to tell me for sure, we were getting into more recent logging
and the trail was getting difficult to find, Jim Brunton and his truck were
still about 4 miles away, Tom was behind me and out of view , and then here
on the trail was this small unusual pink snake.  Hum!! Tom ought to see
this.  I waited, and then waited, and Tom wasn't coming. He probably wasn't
interested anyway.  I stepped carefully over the snake and bombed down the
trail, stopped, and came back and waited.  I  really should see that he was
coming , but I couldn't keep from pacing.  I knew we were very close to
having to bivouac for the night.  I needed to find a certain marker or road
while there was still some light so that we could navigate after it got
dark. He arrived, I pointed to the snake, and instantly he bent down, put
it in the palm of his hand where it coiled neatly, and he exclaimed  "IT'S
A ROSY BOA!!" . (While I had spent the previous evening with Jim Brunton
and  other slackpackers trying to find the pick up point on the trail, it
turns out that Tom had gone to the Ranger's nature talk at the Campground.
He explained that he had seen pictures of the Rosy Boa during the talk and
that a characteristic was that they coil, and then arch their tail over the
coil in such a way as to make it look like a head).  I can still remember
the shock of seeing him pick up the snake and watching it coil in his hand.
 These few moments are the most vivid ones of the time that I spent with
him, and of that particular section. We did make it to the truck that night
but the three others, who had been in front of us, did not - perhaps this
increases the poignancy of those moments.

The main reason that I was not hiking with other people, was that I could
not match their pace.  It mystified me that I was as slow as I was and
everybody else was as fast as they were. People were not simply passing me,
they frequently were out of sight within 5 minutes of doing so. I had very
little time to do anthing else but walk - and I would arise before light
and frequently get into camp as it was getting dark. I  was therefore on a
constant search to explore the subject of my slowness. When somebody passed
me, I would try to match their pace for a while, and watch their feet and
their walking styles. 

Packweight definitely has an influence on speed, but I did not think it was
the main factor for  me.  Tom had a very large, heavy pack, and heavy
boots( he was not interested in changing these), and for a time our speeds
matched.  My pack was probably somewhat heavier than some of the packs, but
it was within the ballpark of being reasonably light( 16-18 pounds
baseweight- without food or water).  At that point, I was not willing to
decrease the weight either for safety or comfort considerations.  If I hike
the desert PCT next spring, I will have a somewhat lighter pack. 

I tried lengthening my stride, but my knees got sore.  I tried "walking
faster"( probably a combination of more push with my toes, more stride, and
more foot falls), and found that my toes would get blisters quickly and my
thigh and calf muscles would be almost ridgid from stiffness.

I watched "Smokey" breeze by me near Toloumne, and was so inspired by his
ease and quickness, that I resolved to renew by battle against slowness.  I
noticed that he was just putting his feet up and down faster than I was. 
Aha!  This was just like my bicyling friends, who talk about developing
their"spin", which frequently takes a couple of years.  I therefore decided
that I should just practice faster footfalls, maybe an hour a day. The
trail along Falls Creek was a little uphill but not too bad, so from 3-4
pm, I practiced doing more footsteps per minute.  It didn't feel too bad. 
But two hours later at 6 pm it hit, it was the first day that I ran out of
energy before I ran out of daylight. It was a miserable struggle to get up
to Dorothy Lake. Thereafter, I was very wary about messing with my walk,
after all it had gotten me where I was, even if slowly.

Then somewhere in North California (Hat Creek Rim?), I discovered that I
could go downhill in fairly large talus(scree, rocks), much better if I
always kept my "momentum forward".  Up until then, I had been placing my
feet on bigger, flatish rocks - choosing my foot placement. The momentum
forward concept is a little difficult to describe but basically originates
from my martial arts background(Aikido).  I had found that If I was an
attacker, I needed to really attack and have my momentum going forward( not
necessarily faster), it prevented me from getting injuried (because
generally it carried me though the moment of contact and attack and the
energy would be redirected.).  In the same way keeping your momentum
forward in your stride and foot fall on large rocks allows you to go
through the contact with the rocks more quickly and minimizes braking. It
also increases speed.  This might be analogous to a ball that rolls along
and does not rest, its full  weight is never borne for long at any one

One day in Oregon, I remembered the power of visualization and thought I
would just give it a try. I started to visulaize the instep of my foot as
it lifts off at the back of the stride (As seen from the side, the top of
the foot forms an angle almost perpedicular to the ground).  I have no idea
why I chose this image, but it came to my mind right away and I just
started to use it.  Immediately it felt like I was going just a little
faster.  Later it occurred to me that this was similar to some of the
things that I had learned in rowing and punching: it is not the speed of
the stroke but the speed of the recovery, that the speed of a punch is more
related to the speed coming out, than the punch going in. I may have been
lengthening my stride at the back end instead of the front, I do not know. 
This particular visulaization may be related to the mechnaics of my
particular walk.  The important thing to note is that I was not visualizing
 doing any particular thing , only "seeing" my foot in a static image at
one point in my gait.

Once in awhile, as I was walking along, it felt like somebody was pushing
me momentarily from behind.  Like somebody had managed to sneak up on me,
and than as kind of a practical joke was pushing on my pack.  The sensation
was so strong, that I usually stopped and turned around to see if somebody
was behind me.  One day I turned to Tom and asked him if he also had had
these kind of strange sensations, and he answered in the affirmative.  So
the second visualization that occurred to me was to just"practice receiving
a push".  Incredibly, this also worked, not very often, but often enough
that it seemed to help, and the remembrance of it added a continuing
bouyancy even when it wasn't happening. 

the third image that occurred to me(again for no known reason), was that
the bottom of my feet were like cameras.  - That as they went forward in
the stride, they were recording the image of the the ground underneath
them.  There was a sense of glide that happened -like a continuous film
strip of the ground going by and disappearing behind me.

I also used a fourth viualization that I am not willing to convey and that
I think is too subtle to present here, and which came from my personal
experience meditating.

That day I went 28 miles, and did not feel as tired as usual.  Except for
the slackpack day , which I took longer to do, it was a record for me.

The next day I left the trail at Crater Lake.

Later, when I got back on the trail at Snoqualmie Pass, I was very
conservative about everything. I would use the visualizations only one at a
time and only momentarily if I started to feel unusually tired.

My husband helped me to do some slackpacking.  I found that with a
concerted effort, I could do almost 3 miles/hour on a slackpack.  I learned
to carry some of this speed over to using a full pack.  But by this time, I
was going South and everybody was going North, and I knew that I would have
to walk the last month by myself.  

So now the thought of next year spreads out before me and I think of the
new faces and the new hopes waiting for the Spring in Campo.


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