Although I haven’t finished writing up my experiences of this summer’s 4 day, 3 night solo hike, that hasn’t stopped me (and my husband) from looking towards next year’s solo hike. Part of the planning would have to take into account just how far I could plan on hiking in a day. Ambrose and I are looking at my doing a section of the Idaho Centennial Trail. He’s found a 60 mile section that he could drop me off on and pick me up from. If I wanted to go farther, the next pick up point would be at 80 miles – and I’d need to meet him at 60 to get a resupply of food.

Unless I did 20 mile days, in which case I could do 80 miles in 4 days and not need a resupply stop.

On Sunday, I decided to test myself by taking a 20 mile walk, just to see if I could do it. The last three Sundays, I’ve been doing a 20 mile bike ride and a 5 mile run, but this Sunday was rainy, and so I didn’t want to do a bike ride. I’m not entirely confident riding on wet pavement, but I can walk on it.

I prepared my gear and clothes on Saturday night. I knew it would be damp and possibly rain, so I set out clothing accordingly. Layers for my top half, heavy raincoat, and I decided to wear my old summer boots so as to avoid wear and tear on my running shoes. Since the boots weren’t waterproof, I set out my waterproof socks. I packed energy bars and some energy gummy chews and had a hydration bladder full of electrolyte drink as well as salt pills. I had my phone so I could record the distance and pace on the Map My Run app, and the altimeter/barometer to appease Ambrose.

See, he decided that I needed to set a timer for an hour to remind myself to snack. Like I would forget to eat while walking for 6+ hours.

Okay, I totally would forget to eat. It was helpful.

I planned on walking at an average pace of 3 miles per hour, because I figured that would be something I could reasonably sustain with a heavy pack, after some practice. I could probably walk faster with a very light pack, but the point of the exercise wasn’t speed – it was all about the distance.

I wanted to leave by 7 am on Sunday so I could get back home at a reasonable hour, but I ended up not waking up until 7, so I didn’t leave until a little bit after 8. Not bad. The rain had stopped, but it was still very damp as I set out, and humid. I found myself getting overheated very quickly, and took off my hat and one of my shirt layers before I had gone a mile.

I passed by people walking their dogs, and a few runners (and a few runners with dogs), but no other walkers without dogs. I greeted most people with a good morning or at least a smile. I felt good to be trying myself, and, in that first hour, my body felt fine.

Sure, my legs weren’t entirely happy with me, but I had no doubts about completing my goal in that first hour.

When I do a slow run, I generally go about 5 miles per hour, and I haven’t run for more than an hour at a time for a while. When I backpack, I tend to take breaks regularly – feet up, pack off kind of breaks. On this walk, I was going slower than my run pace, but not taking regular breaks. By the time I finished my second hour of walking, I began to wonder what had possessed me to do this.

Right after mile 6, I was at the public restrooms near the Idaho Shakespeare Festival. I stopped to use them and to switch out my waterproof socks for regular socks, because I was overheating. I thought about the road ahead of me. The path drops down below the road and has a beautiful and stark view of the river. There is a path up to a restaurant that I have to pass, and then a long section with no egress points between the dam and Discovery Park. That would be the hard slow, both on the way out and the way back.

The miles seemed to slip by quickly to the dam, which I hit around mile 8. I almost felt like I wasn’t moving walking along the highway. A concrete barrier on my left was all that separated me from traffic zooming by at 55 miles per hour. On my right a narrow, rocky bank held back the river. The only way out was through.

On my bike, this section flies by – heck, the whole 20 miles flies by. I can do the whole route in under 2 hours on the bike. I wasn’t even halfway done at 2 hours on Sunday.

My plan had been to take  break at Sandy Point, but when I finally got there, I saw that most of the benches were still covered in rainwater. So I walked to the turn around and headed back to Discovery Park where I had seen picnic tables under shelters that were nice and dry. I promised myself a real break and managed to get my feet to take me there.

How I wanted to quit! I sat on top of a picnic table and put my feet out in front of me. I ate a 20 gram protein bar that had been sitting in my pack for several months. It was stale, but edible. The flavor was supposed to be cookies’n’cream, but it tasted more like vaguely chocolate cardboard crunch. I could have stayed there a long time, but instead I got up and went on.

I decided to figure out how long the section from Discovery Park to the dam actually was. Subjectively – it was at least 5 miles of excruciating pain. I took a salt pill to try and quell a pinching cramp in my left hamstring and thought that if that didn’t work I would quit at the dam.

Objectively it was 1.5 miles.

It was at this point that I began to bargain with myself. Just make it to 13.1 – that’s a half marathon. Just make it to 15 – you’ve never gone that far before. The 15 got me past the restaurant, though I was sorely tempted to go there, order a beer and get Ambrose to pick me up and bring cash. I could taste the beer, but the turn off was 14.5 miles. So I walked past it.

I went past 15 to get to the Shakespeare bathrooms again. I found myself letting Ambrose know that I was at 15.5 and would keep going. Keep going? Yes, just get to 16.

At 16, I was at the point of leaving the road again and walking where I couldn’t easily be picked up. That helped me to commit to 17.

In a way, knowing that I could chat Ambrose at any time and get picked up made it all that much harder to keep going. My body was screaming at me to stop, to lay down and quit. I took more salt pills and kept going.

When I first used the Map My Run app, I discovered that my bike route was actually 21.5 miles, so I figured that my walk route would reach 20 miles before I got home. And I promised myself that once I reached 20, I would be done. Sit down on the pavement and stick a fork in me done.

I knew I would be close to 19 miles by the time I reached Baggley Park, and so I decided that rather than keep going from Baggley and possibly get to 20 on the Greenbelt where I couldn’t be picked up, or somewhere along River Run where it would be harder for Ambrose to find me, I would circle Baggly until I got my 20.

It only took 2 and a half laps to do it. And I finished mere steps from the car, where Ambrose waited with a coconut water and a dose of painkillers. Despite thinking for at least 3 hours that I couldn’t do it, I pushed through the mental and physical walls and finished. I know I can do 20 miles, and I know how much it hurts to do it.

I’ve learned I’m not ready to be backpacking 20 mile days.


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