Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Hiker Hunger

I remember the day my hiker hunger kicked in. It was the day after Mission Creek Canyon, the day before Big Bear.

I struggled up Mission Creek Canyon with no energy at all. I could barely make it. I couldn't figure out how it could feel so steep and look so level. At the end of the canyon it gets really steep as it goes up to Mission Creek Camp. I thought I would never make it.

The next day I was sitting by the side of the road casually snacking on one of my tiny little bags of dried fruit and nuts. I would normally ration one bag for the whole day. Before I knew it I had eaten the whole bag. I suddenly had more energy. Then I found bananas and mountain dew a little further on the trail. Now I felt great. I did my first 26 mile day. Duh! I need food! In Big Bear I really started eating.

In the Sierras I shrunk and shriveled up from starvation. At one point in the Sierras, because I didn't expect to do so few miles each day (I started doing 20-ish but then two passes a day was too much so had to cut back), I ran out of food and was rationing. A handful of nuts for lunch, diet Crystal Light for dinner. Oddly I wasn't really that hungry although I was very hungry, if that makes sense. I lost whatever was left. My breasts became empty sacks. I became an emotional wreck.

They say hikers need anywhere from 3000 to 10,000 calories on the trail. Closer to 3000 if you hike less than 10 miles a day. Closer to 10,000 if you're up to 30 or more. It's really strange to need so much food. But you learn soon the more you eat the farther you can go. In 2009 I was regularly hiking 30 miles a day. No way was I eating 10,000 calories, but I bet I was close. My typical day of food was:
  • Two trail bars, or 1/4 bag of fig newtons, or one bowl of dense cereal with powdered milk
  • 1 stack of Pepperidge Farm cookies (some have 2 stacks per bag and some have 3)
  • About 2 inches deep of hummus in my 1 liter pot with crackers to scoop it up
  • 1 King sized candy (M&Ms, Reeses Pieces, Candy Bar)
  • 1/3 box of Cheese-its, sometimes with a couple spoonfuls of peanut butter
  • At least one diet hydration drink and 2 Emergenc-C packets
  • Almost 1 liter of dense pasta with 1 packet of Alfredo cheese powder, 1-2 individually wrapped cheese sticks and maybe some dried veggies
  • 1 King sized candy or large candy (gummy bears, 1/2 giant Hershey bar, M&Ms, Reeses or Candy Bar) for dessert
I don't think that adds up to 10,000, but I wouldn't be surprised if it's over 5000. I can guess that some of the trail towns I was consuming close to 10,000 calories to make up for the deficit on the trail. The truly great thing about long distance hiking is that it's the only time in your life when it's not just guiltless but it's your grave responsibility, your duty, your job to eat all you can.

In 2009 my hiker hunger hit quickly within about 200 miles. I made sure to eat as soon as the hunger kicked in. I lost the padding from off-trail life, but otherwise I had no sunken cheeks, no shriveling.

I still get hungry easily but I'm getting better. The hunger has mostly subsided, but it comes back easily. I think I'm actually starting to lose the weight I gained since returning home again. Maybe I'll finally even back out to normal or reach a place where I can lose weight and be fit like a hiker without having to hike all day like a hiker. I can only hope.

No comments:

Post a Comment