If you had to bug out right now, in your current physical condition, how far could you go on foot in a day? I don’t mean under the weight of a heavy pack or while trying to dodge someone who might be tracking you. I mean, how far do you think you could you make it in a single day if you had to do it, say, tomorrow?
Near where we live is a large lake. It is about 8 square miles in size, so while not huge it is a pretty good-sized puddle. Unique among lakes in this area, it has a recognized “shore path” that surrounds it. This single track path is publicly accessible year round. The path consists of varying surfaces throughout, from concrete to stepping stones to loose gravel to just plain grass. There are low spots where you are mere inches from the water and high spots that overlook the waves crashing against the shore.
The shore path is anywhere from 21 to 26 miles in total length, depending on the source consulted. This past Saturday, my wife and I set out to walk the entire path in a single go. We’d walked most of the path in segments over the course of the last several months. A few miles here, a few miles there, always an out and back approach. For the veteran thru-hikers out there, a 20-25 miles walk is rather routine. For us, though, we had no experience with such a hiking distance and we certainly didn’t do much of anything to train for it. We just decided to go for it and see how we’d do.
My wife is in far better physical condition than I am, that’s for sure. We’re both in our mid-40s and, while active, we’re certainly no athletes. I’m about 40lbs overweight, truth be told. At the beginning of 2016, we made a commitment to go hiking at least once a week and we’ve stuck to it. Haven’t missed a week yet. But again, those were mostly short walks. I think the longest may have been about 9 miles or so.
Knowing that we weren’t going to be out in the wild at all, we didn’t need to pack much for the hike. I loaded my Vertx EDC Gamut with the following:
Extra pair of socks
Two bottles of water
One bottle of soda
Meds (ibuprofen, Tums, etc.)
For snacks, I had:
Chocolate covered cashews
Fruit Loop cereal
My wife had a similar load out, though she went with a bit healthier food with mandarins, oranges, and such. Her pack came in at 8lbs and mine at 10lbs. All I carried in my pockets was a cell phone, my trusty Streamlight ProTac 1AAA flashlight, pocket knife, and the keys to our van. I wanted to travel as light as possible. I wasn’t sure how long the hike would take and the path isn’t lit at night so I felt the flashlight might be wise, just in case.
The lake is sort of long and narrow, stretching mostly east to west. That being the case, we parked the van at a state park that sits on the eastern edge of the lake and traveled clockwise. This meant the sun was almost always at our backs rather than in our faces. We started our trek at 9AM almost on the nose. The weather was sunny and cool, with temps in the low to mid 60s.
The first leg of our hike was the longest. We traveled roughly 9 miles in 3.5 hours. There are four towns along the path and the segment we did first was the longest distance between them. By the time we reached our first break point, we were certainly ready to sit down for a bit. My back was hurting just a bit but my legs were far better than I feared they’d be. We ate lunch in a park near the lake shore, taking full advantage of the restrooms while there. We also made sure to stretch our legs and backs before hitting the trail again.
We made it to our next stop in about two hours or so. I found throughout the hike that it was better to not look at a clock until we’d hit our destination. I knew the area pretty well, having grown up nearby, and could gauge fairly well where we were along the lake as we went along. Distances can be deceiving, though, because the roads around the lake don’t follow the same route as the path. So while I would know where we were in relation to the next town, it often took us quite a bit longer to get there than I’d have guessed.
At each rest stop, we made sure to take off our packs and stretch, concentrating on our ankles, legs, and backs. We stayed hydrated and munched on snacks as we went along.
By the time we made it to the last town, which left us about 2 miles to go to get back to our starting point, we were really feeling it. Our feet and legs were the worst. We both took a couple of ibuprofen when we were still a couple of miles out from the town, hoping it would kick in by the time we sat down for our last break. It was sobering to know that we could have made that final stretch of a couple of miles in matter of minutes with a vehicle but on foot we were looking at about another hour of walking.
We saddled up and finished the last leg just as the sun was setting. Checking our GPS when we reached our parking spot, we’d covered about 25 miles on foot in 9.5 hours. My wife kept pretty good record of our break times and such so we know we were actually walking for about 8 hours all told. We were wore out, tired, and sore. But, we were also damn proud of ourselves at having completed the hike.
The next day, we were both a little sore in spots but nothing at all like we’d feared we’d be. I had a pain in the back of my left leg that felt like a pulled muscle, but that’s about it. Not too shabby for an overweight old(ish) fart like myself.
Could I have hit the trail again the following morning? Probably, though I’d have been moving pretty slow. As the day went on, the aches and pains went away for the most part. Today, two days after the hike, I’m about 90% recovered. I sure wouldn’t want to have to do another 25 miles right now but probably could if I needed to do so. Again, though, this was without any sort of heavy pack. I don’t know that I’d have been able to complete the entire route while lugging a 30lb pack. Not in my current physical condition, at least. And I’m working on changing that, too.
I’ll say this, as well. The Vertx EDC Gamut pack was extremely comfortable the entire trip. While it wasn’t loaded down too badly, I see no issues with doing so. The padded straps were great and the pad along the back of the pack was awesome, too.
The takeaway here is this. If you plan to bug out on foot for any considerable distance, give it a dry run. See how well you hold up as the miles go on and on. Maybe you can only make it 5 miles, maybe only 3. That’s okay! The important thing is to know that NOW and take that into account as you make your plans. Do what you can to get yourself conditioned to walk longer distances, too. That won’t happen overnight but if you keep at it, you may be surprised at how quickly you can improve your stamina and such.