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Backpacker Magazine – March 2014

Go the Distance

Cover more ground--whether you're out for a day or a month--and you'll experience more of everything you came for. Here's how to squeeze the most miles out of the least amount of time--with advice from the endurance pros who do it better than anyone ever.

by: Edited by Casey Lyons

(Photo by PattitucciPhoto)
(Photo by PattitucciPhoto)

I Love Endurance

When three friends and I—at my suggestion—set out to thru-hike the 210-mile John Muir Trail in a week in August, the first wrestling match with self-doubt occurred on day three. Blasting out 31 miles a day, we were hiking from inky predawn through nightfall. This put us on a daily collision course with the brutal High Sierra afternoon heat, a malign and merciless force that could sap the will to continue from a Tarahumara ultrarunner.

That particular afternoon, our mouths and nostrils caulked with dust, our feet feeling like overcooked burgers on a greasy griddle, I turned to my friend Mark and spoke arguably the most absurd words to ever cross my lips: “I hope this isn’t starting to feel like a death march.”

Perhaps worried that the atomic sun had poached my brain inside my skull, Mark paused—too long—and then deadpanned: “It has some aspects of that.”

That, students of suffering, is known as “generous understatement.”

Now you may ask, charitably, Why?

Here’s why: Did you ever, as a child, dream that you were flying? Remember that intoxicating exhilaration you felt when you awoke, as if every nerve ending in your body was a burning candle? Few activities replicate that euphoria for me. Three, actually: rock climbing, skiing backcountry powder… and trekking 20 or 30 miles day after day. 

Hiking virtually nonstop on “America’s most beautiful trail” had a delirious effect of altering perception, of warping time. That is how humans fly. On the JMT, the natural high lasted for seven days. 

Well, except for the afternoons. –Michael Lanza


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