heartsongs

Weaving my way around Rheumatoid Arthritis.

AT hiking

with one comment

Last week, I left my family  to their own devices, and headed for the Appalachian Mountains. We planned the trip months ago, and I needed a break.

I’m new to backpacking and have several hurdles – RA, Celiac Disease, and excess weight. Add to that the couch potato life I’d been living for several years pre-diagnosis, and the idea that I could carry a 20+ pound pack and hike in the hills is slightly this side of ludicrous.

I was tempted, several times, to cancel the trip. The chaos and confusion at home was reason enough. My unease at having no control of my food for almost a week was reason enough. My sheer terror at the unpredictability of RA was reason enough.

But I’m a stubborn woman.

My friend is planning a thru hike of the Appalachian Trail in February, and I promised to go to help test out gear, gluten free trail food, cold weather hiking.

And I have AT dreams of my own. I love the woods, camping, hiking. Going out for a few days with my friend was the safest way to test my wings and see if I could fly.

So, I faced my fears, packed my backpack, and headed for the hills.We drove two cars to Asheville, spent the better part of a day looking for the trail head, finally found it and parked one car. Drove off to the closest trail town and did a bit of exploring and shopping. Then, with only enough daylight left for a short hike, we left our heavy packs in the car and did about an hour in and out hike to stretch our legs. That piece of trail was flat and smooth, the day warm, the sun bright, the air soft and scented with fall, the camaraderie wonderful. A great way to start our trip.

After a posh meal at Asheville’s gluten-free restaurant, we hunkered down in a hotel, sorted gear and repacked our packs.  The next morning, after another yummy meal at the gluten-free restaurant, we joined a group of folks, watched a National Geographic film about the Appalachian Trail and listened to some speakers. So far, I was having a great time on this hiking adventure!

Left the theater, drove to the trail head, checked our gear one last time, and hit the trail. I had about 22 pounds in my pack. We hiked 2.7 miles the first day, camped and slept in a trail shelter. The weather, scenery and company were all excellent. It was fun to experience a shelter, visit with other hikers, sleep in the open air. The trail food was yummy and safely gluten-free. We were on a roll.

Next day we were up early, lingered around for a slow breakfast then packed up, hit the trail and hiked maybe 7 miles before we found a camping spot in the most beautiful notch in the mountain, with a view for miles. It was a magical spot, one worth hiking all day to see. The weather was wonderful, I hiked well, considering the terrain and elevation gain.  The last half hour I was all done in, and my friend slack packed me while we looked for a great tent site. If I had been alone, I would have had to pitch my tent in the middle of the trail.

We were still chewing the last bite of our dinner and contemplating building a camp fire, when the rain started. A light mist that lasted long enough for us to scramble for the tent. We slept 13 hours that night, tight and dry while the rains came down and the wind howled – that sounds good – but it was really a gentle rain and soft breezes.

Next morning we cooked and ate a leisurely breakfast in the tent, then packed up our gear. We were debating what layers to wear when I heard a gentle whooshing sound that got louder and closer by the minute. We had just managed to pull out our rain gear and cover my pack when the rains began. We were still several miles from my car so we picked up our packs and hiked. A warm rain fell all morning, as we hiked on. Magical misty swirls of air filled the woods. We flushed wild turkey twice and saw two wild boar and a few wild south bound thru hikers.

We reached a shelter around noon, the rain stopped and we fixed a hot meal for lunch. Then lounged around just long enough for the rain to start again. A few more hours hiking in the cold rain and we’d made it to my car. Luckily, most of that day’s hiking was down hill and I managed to get there under my own steam.

Although we had discussed the merits of driving back to the trail head and setting up camp in the rain, we wisely opted for a sparse cabin and a hot shower at the trail town campground. And I was so happy we did – when packing up in the morning, I had asked my friend to put my dry clothes in the new, high-tech pack. I swapped it for a (lighter) waterproof pad and stowed that in my old pack, which had only the tail of my poncho to keep it dry. Surprise – my pack/poncho combo kept things dry, the new high-tech pack proved insufficient to the task, everything inside was wet to damp.

We slept dry and warm that night, to the sound of the French Broad river outside our window. Had a leisurely breakfast, sorted our gear one last time, packed the cars and headed for home.

It was a wonderful adventure. RA stayed away all weekend, in spite of the weather changes, and we stayed gluten safe. So, I wonder now which variables helped suppress the RA. I was dairy free for almost a week – so that’s a big suspect. It could be the increased endorphins from all the exercise. It could be no nightshades for almost a week. It could be the “vacation effect”. It could also be none of those, and just a lucky coincidence.

I’ve committed to a month-long dairy free trial to see if that affects the RA. I hope that’s not the culprit, but have my suspicions.

And one other thing. I hiked the whole time in Injini wool toe socks and Vibram Five Fingers and my feet stayed warm and comfortable, even tho they were wet both days. The temps during the hike were mild, upper 50s during the day, maybe 40 at night. I still haven’t figured out what to do about hiking in colder weather, but for now, I continue in my VFFs with wool socks for added warmth.

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Written by wovensongs

November 22, 2011 at 9:38 pm

One Response

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  1. What an awesome experience. Thanks so much for sharing your adventure.

    It is interesting that our RA just vanishes at times. Please keep us updated on the dairy.

    It is in the low 30’s when I walk in the morning and I am still in my VFF and Injini wool socks. If I stand still for very long waiting for my border collie partner, I can feel the cold, but otherwise, it is still going well even with a hole in the bottom of my shoe. 🙂

    Cathy

    November 26, 2011 at 8:12 am


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