Do you plan to walk to your retreat? Then read this first.
For those who like me, are nearing or over 50 years old and out of shape after years of working a desk and who think that walking or biking to a retreat is an option for them, let me tell you about the last 27 weeks and the 850 miles I’ve covered by walking and biking. In doing so I’m hoping that I can convince you to start now rather then waiting for a situation that forces you to do so. After all, if my retreat were 260 miles from where I live, could I, or you for that matter, really afford to take the 10 weeks to get there that it took me to cover that distance when I first started? That’s how long it took me to walk 260 miles and now that I’ve walked 200 more I can tell you that even in my current shape to walk 260 miles would take me a long and grueling time!
First let me say that I’m not a ‘doomsday’ prepper and I don’t believe that a catastrophic economic collapse will end the world as we know it tomorrow. On the other hand I’ve seen human nature at its worst (war) and have studied enough history to know that things could go south in a big hurry if the right things occurred and we do seem to be living in a time in which a lot of those ‘right things’ are lining up to present the best possibility or “things going bad in a hurry” actually happening. I believe, however, that it will occur sometime in the future because, if one studies history, it always does.
I’m a 47 year old Marine who’s allowed himself to ride a desk for far too long without exercising. This means that my formerly ‘lean and green’ 190 pound self managed to add 90 pounds of not-so-lean body weight. My blood pressure was high and I was diagnosed with Hypertension. While I ate well, so I thought, by avoiding processed foods as much as I could (I thought) I never really examined my food intake with a critical eye and as a consequence I added weight in the form of fat and raised my blood pressure to unhealthy levels.
My blood pressure was managed with drugs (a diuretic and Lisinopril) and because of that I didn’t worry so much about it. My blood-work was excellent with cholesterol numbers that made the doc jealous but once in a while he’d frown at my blood glucose level which was bumping up against 100 – so not diabetic yet but starting to be something to watch.
I was out of shape, down right fat with high blood pressure unless I took drugs that might not always be available and I was fighting dehydration and a myriad of issues as a result of taking a diuretic and not eating as well as I thought. Something had to change.
After a few attempts to lose weight by dieting and a few ‘starts’ at walking I finally committed and began walking in earnest. Since I’d started and stopped a few times it was easier this time, but let me tell you, the first time I tried walking a mile was killer! This coming from a marine who once marched 32 miles in under 8 hours carrying a heck of a lot of gear! However, this time I wasn’t so bad off and walked two miles with relative ease – if you call having shin splints relative ease anyway. That first week I clocked 8 miles in 4 walks and I was convinced I could do ‘this’. The next I was walking 4 miles per outing and put in 26 miles followed by 27. I was well on my way and felt I could easily attain 100 miles a month which was my goal at the time.
Christmas saw me take a week off but when I returned I stepped up and hit the road for an additional 23 miles and began to examine the foods I ate. I was determined to lose weight and get back into shape and while I’d done a lot of walking (now over 85 miles) I’d only lost about 5 pounds and my legs were killing me. I wanted off the blood pressure drugs and I wanted to get back in shape and lose all the weight.
I watched some movies that inspired me like ‘Fat sick and nearly dead’, ‘Forks over knives’ and ‘Hungry for change’ and through those and help from others I decided to really make some changes. I swapped my two eggs, cheese, toast and butter breakfast for cooked wheat and oatmeal with a little honey or agave for flavoring, I changed my lunches which were usually meat and cheese sandwiches or Ramen noodles packed with meat and cheese (I need the sodium so I thought) to rice with a little flavoring. I cut out meat and dairy from my first two meals with the exception of cream in my coffee (1 cup a day habit).
At first I gained a few pounds back which I attribute to my diet being different but I began to get used to the new foods and actually enjoyed them. It was more filling to eat the grains then I thought and I had plenty of energy for my walks. However, by now my legs were constantly sore and I began to realize that I needed more protein during the day so I added a protein shake between meals (twice daily) which seemed to cure that problem. I left my dinners alone mostly which gave me an incentive to eat well throughout the day because, after all, I could eat whatever I wanted for dinner. Doing this saw my daily caloric intake drop from around 2,800 calories a day to about 2,100 and I knew it would make a difference.
With my legs feeling better and my diet making a difference I stepped off for longer walks with more confidence. I was often walking 7 miles and clocked 25 miles the first week on my new diet and then 40 miles! I also stopped my blood pressure drugs and found my numbers were nearly normal! Frankly, that shocked me. How could this be? After all, I was told I’d probably have to take them for life so how could the doc be so wrong?
Before trying to tackle that last question, however, a new problem arose: my left foot began to really hurt. I’d done a 7 mile walk and then a 3 mile walk in the same day to reach my goal of 40 miles in a week and hadn’t stopped or slowed down when I felt pain in my left foot. Perhaps it was the old marine in me loving the march again and feeling better, however it was clear I’d made a mistake the next day. My foot hurt.
I began to research the pain I had and realized that I’d given myself ‘Planter Faciitus’ which is tearing of the planter tendon on the bottom of the foot. The most likely cause of which was my lack of stretching! All this time I’d been telling myself that walking is what people do, it’s not like it’s running or something and there is not need to stretch when you walk. I was so wrong!
I also learned that my old runners (unused for most of their ten years) weren’t what I needed and I learned about ‘motion control’ shoes and how they help with the problem I was experiencing. Off I went to the local shoe stores in search of a decent pair of runners to wear on my walks and I managed to find a good pair of gel control / motion control Asics that really helped. I was glad to be able to get back to walking and wasted no time (like a dumb old Jarhead) in getting back on the road. I clocked in another 25 miles before realizing that I was overdoing it and took my old mountain bike in for repairs because I knew I’d need to ride it if I wanted to continue my regimen of daily, or almost daily, cardio.
By this time I’d walked over 175 miles and while my left foot hurt I’d learned to stretch. My shins no longer bothered me, my thighs were no longer sore all the time and my blood pressure was nearly normal still. I’d also lost some weight and was down a total of 13 pounds off my heaviest. I was motivated but also realizing that no one my age or older who wasn’t already in shape, was going to ‘walk’ out any great distances. After all, I was trying to walk in the best of conditions and I was having to learn a lot of things and relearn things I’d long forgotten or ignored. Consider that after each walk I could take a shower, I could eat and drink well and I could relax on a couch if need be. My evenings were spent in a comfortable bed and a nice home that was secure and warm and I had plenty of resources to pull from should I need supplements, shoes, Motrin or whatever. It wasn’t as if I was walking through the hinterland on my own carrying a pack with no grid to log into and no Right Aid around the corner to purchase painkillers from. I wasn’t sleeping on rocks and filtering my drinking water from a stinking mosquito infested pool and yet all I had managed in 6 weeks was 175 miles and to show for it I had a bad tendon in my left foot.
Clearly I need to change some things and clearly the idea of walking to a retreat could only really be done by the likes of me if the retreat was very close – which means too close to be of use.
I got my bike back from the shop and promptly rode it a mile – and nearly died! Forty minutes later I road it 4 miles and while my pulse was a bit higher then I’d like it wasn’t that high. I could do this!
Over the course of the next four rides each getting longer and between riding I walked, albeit shorter distances and often slower paces since I was still dealing with a sore foot (that was healing thanks to the riding and a lot of stretching). My knees would get sore, my legs would complain but overall I was getting use to riding again and the following week I completed a 9 and finally a 10 mile ride. I was getting there and my pulse rate was much lower after those rides then on that first day. I also walked but a lot less and while my tendon had mostly healed it was something I had to constantly pay attention to.
In ten weeks I had completed 205 miles of walking and 55 miles of riding in ten weeks and lost about 16 pounds (20 off my heaviest). My blood pressure was ‘ok’ and while not below 120/80 in the morning it was often right there or only slightly higher (sometimes it’s actually lower but not that often yet). Another 17 weeks followed with an additional 580 miles traveled and my weight is down 45 pounds, I can walk 4 miles per hour for 3 hours with few breaks (I walked in a ‘Relay for Life’ for 3 hours) and can cycle 13+ miles without killing myself. I believe at this point that I could walk, if I had to, 10 miles per day without much issue if I had to and had to carry a pack etc. To push to 20 miles a day would require a lot more work on my part but at least at this point I’m certain I could make a 260 mile hike inside a month providing there weren’t any unforeseen circumstances. If I could ride, I’m certain I could ride 260 miles in 10 days or less though admittedly I’d be very saddle sore! Please bear in mind that this is after over 6 months of constantly walking and riding and eating right. I’m healthier today then I was 6 months ago and still off my blood pressure meds (my BP this morning was 121/79) and while I still ride a desk I work very hard to not allow it to debilitate me like I had previously.
The moral of the story here folks is that if you’re out of shape like I was and you expect to be able to walk to a retreat further then a few miles, then you better get cracking and start walking now! Change your lifestyle, diet and routines and get in shape today because it will take months (no get fit quick scheme will work) and a commitment as great as any you’ve done so far.
I’m continuing on my quest to lose the weight and get back into shape but wanted to take a moment to recap for you some things that I think are important if you, like me, think you could ‘walk out’ if things head south in a hurry.
1. If you are not walking now then don’t assume that you can later. Chances are you will injure yourself and quite possibly end up stranded somewhere you do not want to be stranded.
2. Your body simply cannot take the punishment if you are overweight and out of shape so do something about it now and get back into shape, lose the weight and strengthen your body.
3. You cannot carry all that you need so consider carefully what you think you will or can carry bearing in mind that the added weight of carrying a pack is added weight (ten times) on impact to your feet and knees.
4. You will likely suffer injuries to the planter tendon, Achilles heal and the knees as well as shin splints and other possibilities. Prepare for he worst and hope for the best.
5. You must consider pacing yourself which may mean only walking 2 to 5 miles every other day at the start and only slowly getting to a daily distance of 4 to 8 miles an only if you’re at least well enough prepared that you have good shoes/boots that won’t cause injury themselves.
6. You will need rest, lots of it, so if you really plan to walk out without at first getting back into shape then you will need a good sleeping mat and a lot of luck in finding comfortable places to rest.
7. There is more to prepping then just buying lots of stuff; physical fitness and personal health are as important, if not more important, then a lot of what you might be spending a lot of time and money on. Having a great retreat won’t help you if you can’t get there.
8. It is often said that you should store what you eat and eat what you store, but do you? How many have the required amount of wheat per person but don’t know what to do with it? Have you sprouted wheat? Cooked it? Milled it into flour for bread? If you store it, eat it! Best way to do that is to start incorporating wheat, oats, rice (black, brown, wild more so then white but white is OK when added to the others), quinoa, farrow and others into your diet now. Try cooked wheat for breakfast and mixed rices and quinoa for dinner. It will be good for you and get you used to eating your storage foods.
9. If you store beans, then eat them! Many store beans but don’t eat them so don’t produce enough of the enzymes needed to digest them (hence the bloated gassy uncomfortable feeling when you suddenly do eat them).
10. Cut out processed foods, they are bad for you! Even store bought milk is processed and while it may be nearly impossible to replace it at least know that it isn’t as good for you as the advertisements say. It’s processed and that means ‘damaged’. Raw milk contains enzymes and bacteria like ‘probiotics’ that today’s modern American’s buy expensive yogurts to get, ever wondered why that is? But I digress, I’m not saying ‘go raw’ I’m just saying pay attention to what you stuff into yourself on a daily basis and try to start eating right – something most of us have forgotten how to do.
11. Start making things you think you might have to make, or want to, at your retreat. Make cheese (you’ll learn all about store bought milk then, I assure you), butter (you’ll need good cream for that), soap, flour, sourdough bread etc. Everything you make will taste better then what you buy anyway and you will know what went into it. Just remember that you also have to be fit and maintain a healthy lifestyle so don’t go eating cheese for three meals a day!
12. Seriously consider what you think you can do or might have to do and then test yourself. If you believe you can ‘ruck up’ and march off to a retreat that’s 200 miles away hidden deep in the woods then ruck up today and take a nice long walk, chances are that if you’re like me and no longer that young and lean fighting machine then you’ll learn real quick that you need to make some changes. Make them today and survive tomorrow, make them tomorrow and you won’t survive.
I know that’s not a complete list but I’m hopeful that those of you reading it might take it to heart and get doing something. Just be sure to get good shoes to start off, to stretch lightly during and after each walk (calve stretches will help a ton!) and to research your diet now and make the appropriate changes to it so that you can both have the energy to keep at it, to keep walking or riding, and the nutrients to heal the muscle you will be tearing down and rebuilding.
Here is a sample of my daily diet for those interested:
1. First thing in the morning I drink a 12 oz glass of water (something that I never would have done before).
2. 1 cup of coffee with about 1 TBS cream and a half TBS of Agave sweetener
3. Breakfast: ½ cup of oatmeal mixed with ¼ cup of cooked wheat or bran and 1 scoop of Chia seeds sweetened with Agave nectar and cinnamon.
4. Snack: 1 8oz protein shake (140 calories, 27 grams of protein) made with water not milk.
5. Lunch: 1 1/2 cups of mixed rice with some flavoring (Mrs. Dash no salt seasoning and olive oil)
6. Snack: 1 8oz protein shake (140 calories, 27 grams of protein) made with water not milk.
7. Snack: on particularly hungry days I have ¼ cup of mixed nuts for a snack in the afternoon.
8. Dinner: Whatever I want but preceded by a large salad (fills my dinner plate) with a small portion of salad dressing (I used to pour on the Blue Cheese dressing but today use a 50-80 calorie dressing that I measure out to be sure I don’t pour it on). I try to keep my dinners to about 500 calories except on days I burn a lot more doing cardio.
My current daily caloric intake is about 1,450 calories unless I do cardio which can increase the intake to about 2,100 calories (these are the days I take the protein shakes or eat protein bars).