After a year on the trail to Philmont, it’s time to take a look back at where I’ve been, where I am, and where I’m going.
Weight-wise, I’m near my goal of 195. I started the trail at 221 lbs. on Jan. 1, 2020. I lost 21 lbs, dropping to 200 lb. by early Fall 2020. That’s a significant drop; to put it in perspective I went from a 38″ waist to a 34″ waist. I can’t remember the last time I wore 34″ jeans, but it was probably college. Most of my clothes feel … roomy … which is an odd but happy problem to have.
This tracks with my true goal, which is less about weight, and more about getting leaner, building strength and losing that muffintop hanging over my backpack’s waist belt. I’m not quite there yet, but I’m really close. More importantly, I feel a hell of a lot better.
To paraphrase The Matrix, I feel like my residual self-image is in alignment with my physical self. Growing up, I was always a thin, tall kid and that was true for most of my 20s as well. And then we had kids, sleep became a luxury, and I gained weight. In my 30s and 40s, I kept that weight. Slimming down now feels like returning to my past self. It’s a little weird. Not bad weird, but still weird.
Despite this year’s trip to Philmont being canceled, I (mostly) kept up my exercise routine. Starting in January 2020 and continuing through to late fall, I walked most mornings and ran a few times a week. In between, I had an at-home strength training regime that relies on body weight rather than physical equipment. As a result, I feel better at 48 than I did at 38 (and hell, maybe even at 28). My average miles-per-day is still below my pre-COVID-19 levels, but not by much. In the Before Times, I walked 7-8 miles a day. After switching to work-from-home, my daily average is in the 5-6 mile range.
Actually getting on the trail was a challenge. Backpacking in the spring, when Pennsylvania was in lockdown mode, wasn’t possible or prudent. It started to turn during the summer, as the restrictions were lifted and we were able to get out on a few five-mile hikes.
In September, we got in our first true backpacking trip, which spanned two days and 20 miles. In October, we went for another backpacking trip, this time 10 miles over two days. We had a third trip planned, but unfortunately, a hurricane canceled that one, turning it into a 10-mile day hike.
That day hike, however, was educational. We took fully loaded packs so that we could simulate an overnight trip. My son took a bad step while coming down a hill, and hyperextended his knee. That’s when we learned that his knee cap liked to float and that his flat feet were throwing off his stride and posture. He spent the later half of the fall going to physical therapy a few times a week to work on strengthening his legs, feet, and core … in short, his exercise routine is looking a lot more like mine.
While this was a setback for him, it was a good thing overall – better to get hurt nine months out from Philmont than four days into a 12-day backpacking trip in the high desert.
Gear-wise, we’re just about ready. A summer and fall’s worth of hikes and backpacking trips let us figure out which pack fit my son best, and my own 85L Osprey pack is starting to feel like a friend. Maybe not an old friend … but we’re getting there. I got my Philmont sleeping bag – a NEMO Forte 20 – and tried it out in 30-degree weather (comparable to what we’ll see at Philmont). There are a few things I still need to get, but overall, I’m feeling much better about Philmont in December 2020 than I did in January 2020.
Challenges remain. Motivation during December’s long, dark months has been hard to come by and I’ve fallen out of my regular walking/jogging routine. I’ll start it up again in January when the rest of the crew begins is regular workouts. Weight-wise, I’m still doing well; I crept up above 200 lbs, but only by a pound or three. I’m sure I’ll be back below 200 once I’m hitting the pavement again.
The bigger challenge is wilderness first aid training. Two members of our crew need to take it, and opportunities were non-existent in 2020. We need to find something that qualifies in 2021, preferably sooner rather than later, but the ongoing pandemic makes that difficult. I’ll be looking at our options in the new year; hopefully, we can find something sooner rather than later.
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A late December sunset in Easton, Pa. Credit: Ken Newquist.