August 26, 2007

Haute Route: Getting Psyched

The last piece of advice Mark Jenkins has for those of us starting out in this adventure business is this:

Psych up your body and mind: "You will hate yourself if you’re out of shape. Besides, training for a big trip is a way to get psyched."

I took this one to heart. Besides all of the specific preparations (looking at maps, arranging transport and lodging, thinking about gear and how to stay in contact with friends and family), I spent some time making other kinds of mental preparation. I read a couple of books about the Alps, each useful in its own way. The first was The Alps: Europe’s Mountain Heart (Nicholas and Nina Shoumatoff), which was a useful and broad overview of the range, its geology, origins, climate, flora, fauna, and human history, including economics, literature, art, music, and the gradual discovery of the Alps as a special place, a place to visit – much as I’m doing. Very serviceable, if a little academic-feeling. The second was The Alps: A Cultural History, by Andrew Beattie. It’s written in a freer and more fluid style and was a fine second course. It covers the landscape and its history, but really hits its stride in the sections describing the place of mountains and the Alps in Europe’s imagination and the different waves and kinds of visitors who helped to define the place.

Along the way, I decided to revisit Thomas Wolfe, who wrote some interesting passages on Munich and the Oktoberfest, with which I will close my trip. As a young man, I’d read all of his novels and remember being transfixed by their power and poetry. A few years ago, I read a collection of short writings that reintroduced me to his writing. The problem is, he wrote essentially the same saga a couple of times, and I had to pick the novel that included the passages I remembered about Germany. As it turns out, I think I picked the wrong one. The Web and the Rock includes the story of the protagonist’s trip to Germany at the end of his stormy New York love affair, but it is perfunctory and not the one I remember. Along the way, I found myself alternatively transfixed by the power of his writing (the long series of scenes that tell the story of a black man – this is 1920’s North Carolina – erupting out of a seemingly normal and well-adjusted existence into a homicidal spree, ending in his lynching, were stunning), and annoyed by the careless, repetitive, and excessive over-writing of some of the passages. I may have to read them all again, but not before I leave for my own encounter with Oktoberfest.

I also worked on my body. This will be a strenuous hike, two weeks at a stretch with no rest days (unless enforced by the weather or abetted by public transportation) is a lot of walking. My base exercise is walking, so at the beginning of the year I resolved to average 100 miles a month leading up to the trip. This week, I topped 800 miles of walking the dog, walking the sidewalks at lunchtime, walking to and from work, walking errands around town, and hikes in the Olympics and Cascades. That part arranged, I began to notice that there’s quite a bit of up and down on this trip, while there is very little in my day-to-day walking practice. So, my concentration this summer has been to add conditioning hikes up some of the local steeps.

Here’s a summary:

April 14 – Mt Walker: 2000’ gain to 2800’. 2 mi up, 6 mi round trip. 2:25 overall. Totally socked in on top. Not sore at all.

June 16 – Mt Si: 3667’ gain to 4167’. 8 mi round trip. 3:05 walking, 3:30 overall. Totally socked in on top. Sore the next day.

July 1 – Mt Aix: ~4500’ gain to 7766’. ~11 mi round trip. ~6 hours walking, 7 overall. Views of Mt Rainier, Mt Adams, Mt St Helens, Mt Stuart, and the Goat Rocks. Not sore at all.

July 29 – Mt Rose: 3500’ gain to 4300’. 2.9 mi up, 6.4 mi round trip. 3:25 walking, 3:40 overall. Totally socked in on top. A little sore the next day.

August 5 – Wagonwheel Lk: 3250’ gain to 4150’. 5.8 mi round trip. 3:00 overall. Views (from the ridge above the lake) of Mt Washington, Mt Ellinor, Mt Lincoln, and Mt Cruiser. Sore the next day.

August 12 – Lake of the Angels via Putvin Trail: 3700’ gain to 5200’ on ridge above. 8 mi round trip. 5:25 overall. Socked in on top. Not sore at all.

August 19 – Mailbox Peak: 4000’ gain to 4841’. ~8 mi round trip. 4:10 overall. Totally socked in on top. A little sore the next day.

As I was coming down this last trail, I decided that I’d had enough of this kind of conditioning, especially the kind that provides no views and leaves a bag full of wet clothing at the end of the day. So, now my preparation is to rest for the next couple of weeks. I’ll keep walking, but I’m done “conditioning.”

I learned from this that much of the soreness I felt came from the intensity of the hike, which comes from either the steepness or the pace. Reducing the pace reduces the intensity and, with it, the soreness. With the work I’ve done and knowing that I can control the intensity, I should be able to hike without being bothered by sore muscles.

I’m psyched.

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