• Mary Anderson

Reflections on Pacing

Editor's note: Last Saturday, while in Pinedale, Wyoming, to resupply, Mary sent me a second draft of an earlier post, not knowing that I had already published the first one. Daily blogging from the wilderness when you're without WiFi or cell service and either on the move or exhausted—this is a challenge. And like the hike itself, Mary has showed us that she is equal to it, writing dozens and dozens of posts that are thoughtful, wise, well-crafted, and mind-blowing. So here’s "Tipping Points," revised and polished, with a new title and some new thoughts. —ST. Above: A point on the Continental Divide Trail. Below: Mary in Glacier National Park.


By Mary Anderson

Pacing is really important. Every racer knows that if you leave the starting block too fast you are apt to be dragging before the race is over. It is the same with hiking.

There are so many things to pace out here. The obvious one is your daily mileage. Too many miles day after day can take a big toll on one’s body.

While walking, it is important to pace. I try to have a sense of how much energy I can expend without bonking later in the day. At higher altitudes I slow my walking to fit my lower oxygen intake. As I walk, I try to keep the energy output at about the same comfortable level. When the days feel too difficult I try to pace by adding some neros [near-to-zero-mileage days]. There has to be a balance between days hiked and days taken off if you want to reach your end goal. Days off are critical to catching up on calories and rest. Too many of them and you may lose your weather window of opportunity to finish the hike.

Along with pacing comes the need to recognize one’s tipping points, the place where just one more pound added to one side of the seesaw throws the whole thing off balance. Some pack weights feel heavy but manageable to me. Sometimes just an extra added pound of a pint of water throws it off and makes my pack feel way too heavy.

When crossing each body of water I test the rocks to discover their tipping point before I trust my weight to it. I find the tipping point of my stove each night, balancing it so that when my quart pot of water is added it will not tip. I have become aware of my calorie tipping point, the place where I start to drag and want to cry. Catching it before I completely bonk helps.

I am also more aware of my emotional tipping points. After dealing with a scary lightning storm and pelting hail I allow myself fewer miles and some of my more favored foods.

I wish I had been aware of these kinds of things as a young adult. Way too many times I pushed myself past my tipping point only to pay a price for doing so later. I’ve had a lot of injuries that might have been avoided if I had been more aware of my tipping points.

I think it ironic that it was easier for me to recognize my son’s tipping points when raising him than it was to be aware of my own. Part of that was because of my post-traumatic stress and the dissociation from my core. But I also think that I grew up learning to be aware of others much more than I was of myself.

Hiking, especially in my sixties, forces me to pace myself and become more aware of my tipping points. Perhaps it is less about the hiking and more about being in my sixties. I wish I could have had the wisdom I’ve gleaned from aging, which has made me more aware of my tipping points, when I was in my twenties. It would have saved me a lot of hard bumps as I would have reached in and stopped before the seesaw flipped me onto the ground. But maybe those hard bumps are part of what being twenty is all about.

I know it is easier to get back on track if I catch the seesaw before it reaches the tipping point. I hope we are able to do so with the environment. Based on what I have seen for weather out here I’m afraid the seesaw is already tipping.

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