Last week, I did a speed hike on pavement instead of risking the muddy Foothills. This week, the rainy weather forced me away from the Foothills again, but I didn’t want to pound the pavement. Pavement pounding is not a part of what I’ll be doing when I backpack, so I don’t consider it ideal practice. Plus, the pavement route is very flat. So I came up with another alternative.

I would pack up my weekend pack with a middling amount of weight, and bring it to the gym for a treadmill hike.

Now, I’m not planning on doing any hiking on treadmills as part of my backpacking this year, you don’t really get anywhere walking on them, and there’s nowhere to camp (gyms frown upon tents set up in the weight room – true story). However, for the sake of training, hiking on the treadmill has several advantages over pavement, or even the Foothills.

  1. Pit Stops. The bathroom is always the same distance from the treadmill no matter how long I walk on it. It also does not close. Well, it might close for cleaning, but then there are alternate bathrooms that are not prohibitively distant in an emergency. Last weekend when I was hiking on pavement, I was absolutely counting on a park bathroom to be open. It was not. It turns out that those bathrooms are closed for the winter, but they were no signs, so I might have cried a bit at finding the doors locked. I had to keep hiking another mile to get to a gas station. It was NOT fun (but I did walk really fast). 
  2. Vertical Gain. Unlike the flat pavement, I can simulate an incline on the treadmill. And, unlike in the Foothills, I can go uphill for my entire hike. In the foothills, I might gain 2000 feet. On Saturday, with a combination of the treadmill and the stair climber, I almost hit 5000 feet of gain (if I had known I was only 11 feet short, I would have kept going!). 
  3. Multitasking. Not only did I do a much better job of hydrating myself while hiking on the treadmill, I also did my reading for the class I’m taking. Twice. I hardly manage to snack and drink sufficiently while I’m hiking outside with my trekking poles – reading a book would be impossible.  
  4. Visibility. This is a pro and a con. On the one hand, it’s nice to see people I know or chat with people I don’t know who are intrigued by the fact that I have a pack on while walking on the treadmill. On the other hand, I don’t like to be stared at and I know I look silly in my boots and wearing that big pack indoors. On the other-other hand, on Monday when I was lifting weights in the gym with my husband two guys asked me if I was “the lady with the backpack” and told me they planned on backpacking too. I liked that. 
  5. Hot Tub. Not much more that needs to be written there. The gym has a hot tub. 
  6. Scale. Without the scale at the gym, I wouldn’t have bothered to figure out that my pack weighed between 21 and 24 pounds (depending on how much water I was carrying and whether or not I put my textbook up). 
Ambrose suggested that I do 4 hours on the treadmill, but I wanted to mix things up. Our gym has what we call “skywalkers” but what are actually stair master type things. I always think of the machines that have the two steps that move up and down as a stair master, but some research informs me that those are stair steppers. At any rate, the machine I used is like an exercise escalator with variable speed. (This article calls it a stepmill and has a picture.)
I started out with 30 minutes on that, while reading, which was much more difficult than I thought it would be. I mean, I hike, and I hike up steep inclines. But I also rest. I choose a spot and push myself to get there before I take a break. This machine gave me no breaks. Oh, sure, I could have paused it, but I was too macho for that. Except when I accidentally hit the pause button when I almost dropped my book. It was totally an accident. 
After I got through that, I made a pit stop and then got onto a treadmill. I stuck resolutely to 3 miles per hour and an incline of 6. For two hours. Which was a little less boring since I was reading, but perhaps not as less boring as watching TV might have been. The reading was absorbing enough that I jumped whenever anyone spoke to me though. 
Then I got Ambrose to put my textbook into my pack so that I could leave it there on the next skywalker segment. It was hard enough to do that machine – holding a book just made it more difficult. Getting through that 30 minutes without the distraction of a book took a lot of will power. Climbing stairs at a steady pace with no breaks is just this insane combination of boring and painful. The only bonus was that my feet didn’t hurt on that machine, or not enough that I noticed over the aching of my calves and thighs. 
Finally, 3 more miles on the treadmill – the first mile at incline 6, the second at 7 and the third at 8. I only did the first at 6 because I had turned the machine off before recording my stats after the two hour stint, so I wanted to do the first mile at the same incline as before in order to get an estimate. My feet resumed aching, but I made it through the hour and managed to drag myself to the hot tub. 
I’m not sure if it was easier on my body to do the treadmill and skywalker or if I’m just getting used to this hiking thing, but I recovered more quickly from this than I did from the pavement hike. It’s supposed to be dry this week, so I’m looking to hike up to Lucky Peak next weekend. Unless it rains… 

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