I remember the first time I noticed my calf muscles on my Appalachian Trail thru hike. After hiking a few hundred miles, I could climb up steep mountains without my pulse pounding in my ears and without gasping for air quite as much. But I wanted the physical evidence of fitness I had seen on more experienced long-distance hikers: the bulging calves.
To me, that’s the measure of a thru hiker.
At the end of a 2,000-plus mile trail, the labors of the adventure have transformed its participants. Women’s bodies, in particular, come out from the experience looking incredibly fit. It’s not that the women lose pounds on their six-month odyssey; many gain weight. But though there are all sizes of women hiking, when they finish, they are all the picture of health.
Jennifer Pharr Davis, a former Appalachian Trail speed-record holder, says she feels beautiful on the trail because of what her body is capable of doing for her, instead of what it is capable of looking like for others.
I can relate. On the trail, I may cross one mirror a week — rarely more — and even less often do I stop to study my looks in it. Societal pressures and expectations fall by the wayside when my daily focus is on water, food, shelter, and mileage.
But I do look at myself. While hiking, I’ll look down to see nimble feet, strong legs, and hips that are carrying the weight of everything I need to survive. During those times, I’m amazed at how powerful I feel. I know I can conquer mountains, traverse valleys, ford rivers — whatever I need to do to keep moving.
The Appalachian Trail put me in the best shape of my life. Now, several hundred miles into my second long-distance hiking trail here on the Pacific Crest Trail, I’m awaiting the signs that my once-bulging calf muscles are rebuilding, that I’m returning to the picture of health I attained on my first thru hike.
About the author:
After the AT, I knew I had to find a way to keep the outdoor lifestyle going. I became a Leave No Trace Master Educator through a NOLS course in the Grand Canyon, and a Wilderness Guide the following year.For 2015, I am out on the Pacific Crest Trail, hoping to hike all 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada.