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Backpacking nutrition: fat, fat, fat

Carefully choosing and my backpacking food. Admittedly, it looks like my rations at the end of this 7 day trip were down to nothing but Probar wrappers.  Photo by Grant Sible.
Carefully choosing and my backpacking food. Admittedly, it looks like my rations at the end of this 7 day trip were down to nothing but Probar wrappers.  Photo by Grant Sible.

This Spring, I’ve been experimenting with foods and nutritional science to improve on-trail diet and help me carry less food weight during my backpacking trips. The justification for this was simple: A better diet means less food to get the nutrition I need, meaning less weight carried on my back, which means being able to walk further.

I’ve noticed on hikes that a diet loaded in sugar (hiker favorites include Poptarts and Snickers) can lead to crashing (aka “hitting the wall,” “bonking,” and “pooping out”). I usually burn through high sugar energy after an hour and then am hungry again, even if I just downed 500 calories! As a result, I end up needing to eat more and eat more often—and thus carry more food.

Not the healthiest fat being consumed here on the CDT
Not the healthiest fat being consumed here on the CDT

While there’s lots of info on the Internet about fat loss associated with long slow distance exercise (aptly named LSD)—essentially what thru-hiking is—it’s a bit harder to find info about eating fat. In fact, googling long slow distance just results in a lot of Crossfitters hating on LSD and calling it boring (Guess what? I think what they do is boring compared to thru-hiking).

Birds, whales, and pretty much every other animal relies on stored fat to go on migrations—again, essentially what thru-hiking is. It turns out that not just stored fats, but also high fat diets may improve endurance in long slow distance activities.

Eating Wild Friends almond butter straight from the jar at snacks break. This is the first time I ever used my new Toaks long titanium spoon. I can finally reach the bottom of the jar!
Eating Wild Friends almond butter straight from the jar at snacks break. This is the first time I ever used my new Toaks long titanium spoon. I can finally reach the bottom of the jar!

Like all things, nutrition on trail requires a balance. Some marathoners recommend balancing your diet with 50% carbohydrates 30% fat, and 20% protein. But frankly, a lot of hikers walk farther than marathoners, and we certainly do it slower. In fact, our goals are different than most runners; we’re not trying to beat times, lose fat, or even build muscle. We’re out there to have a good time, see some nature, and not feel like garbage while we’re doing it. Since our goals, speed, and distances are different than marathoners, our nutrition should be slightly differed, too. At least one nutritionist suggests that for thru-hikers to meet our goals, the hiking diet should contain 35%-40% fat.

The best suggestion I’ve found anywhere is that thru-hikers should eat foods that our stomachs can actually hold down. Getting food—any food—to your stomach is better than having a pack full of all the “right stuff” and not eating it (that, or puking it up—that’s bad too).

Along those lines, while nuts and seeds are considered a thru-hiker staple, I’ve been eating the same boring fatty foods for enough seasons that downing this “typical hiker fare” feels like the proverbial “eating my vegetables”—I do it because it’s good for me, not because I like it.

Sometimes, the best way to get your fat is to cook a mid-day lunch. Somewhere between Salida and Twin Lakes on the Colorado Trail
Sometimes, the best way to get your fat is to cook a mid-day lunch. Somewhere between Salida and Twin Lakes on the Colorado Trail

Recently, I’ve been experimenting with a few high fat foods that take a twist that proms them up and makes them amazingly delicious. Like, I keep coming back for them delicious and can’t wait to have more. Sure, there’s a little sugar in these, but not anything near the usual hiker favorites—Little Debbies, Homerun Pies, or even many bars.

These food items pack out easily, have a great calorie to ounce ratio, and taste awesome enough that I can’t wait to down my daily fat:

Navitas Organic Coconut Chips

I took this on a dayhike where I was just starving all the way to the top of the mountain. In fact, I’d been starving when I started. I had one 2 oz bag to share between two people. Amazingly, the fat—or something—in these chips made me feel immediately full and satiated afterwards. That would’ve never worked with 1 oz (ok, maybe I ate more than my fair share…) of any food I’ve hiked with before. Future plans involve carrying nothing but these coconut chips to trick my thru-hiking body into fullness.

 

 Olomomo Nut Company

For people like me who are highly food motivated, sometimes food serves more than just fuel for a hiker’s body, but also for a hiker’s inquisitiveness.With flavors like Maple Masala Kettle Roasted Pecans and Cinnamon Cayenne Almonds, these nuts are never boring. I first discovered these at OR last year, and horde them whenever I find them on sale. They’re definitely pricier than the usual roasted nut, but come in such intriguing flavors that they never sit at the bottom of my pack and actually become a huge incentive that has gotten me through some big climbs. I wasn’t sure what a Mango Chipotle almond tasted like, but my curiosity got me pushing over the next bump.

Wild Friends Nut Butters

As a person who is allergic to peanuts and hazelnuts, it’s really hard to find nut butters that come in anything but plain or creamy. Once again, the crazy flavors are a winner for me, from the Breakfast of Champions Vanilla Espresso Almond Butter to the Maple Sunflower Butter. The butter comes in plastic jars (a must for backpacking) and they are also available in single serving squeeze packs for dayhikes or backpackers who enjoy the easy clean up. There’s pretty awesome peanut butter flavors like Honey Pretzel Peanut Butter or Cinnamon Raisin for those who can eat them without dying.

Navitas Organic Coconut Hemp Pepitas

I’ve taken this tasty standby on two urban thru-hikes in areas where I knew the only food I would find would be fast, fried, and disgusting. I wanted instead to carry a food in my urban hiking pack that would be tasty and fatty enough that I’d be able to say “no” to the temptation of the abundant town food nearby, but also something a heck of a lot more nutritious. I can’t say I enjoy hemp seeds or pepitas raw—I’ve just eaten waaaay too many of them. I don’t know what Navitas did to these seeds, but it took a lot of resistance not to eat the entire pack in one sitting. Delicious—and at 170 calories per ounce, it makes a perfect trail food, even when you’re not walking right through town.

Avocado Oil
This carries more calories per ounce than the hiker-favorite, olive oil, while also having a subtler taste. I’ve met numerous thru-hikers who’ve downed so much olive oil that they gag at the sight of it in a hiker box. Avocado oil mixes well with breakfast drinks like the hiker favorite Carnation Instant Breakfast without making it taste like dinner.

Why ultralight hikers should carry potty trowels

New ultralight technology makes it easy to carry a potty trowel and build proper Leave No Trace catholes
New ultralight technology makes it easy to carry a potty trowel and build proper Leave No Trace catholes

Like many ultralight hikers, I never thought I would carry a potty trowel. It was a piece of gear that seemed heavy and redundant, especially when a shoe, rock, or stick could do the job and serve multiple functions (or not need to be carried at all). However, after I tried my first ultralight potty trowel, I’ve become a strong advocate for potty trowels on trail. I believe carrying a potty trowel can improve the hiking experience, both for you, others, and the ecosystem for a near inconsequential weight penalty.

I first was willing to try carrying a potty trowel when I discovered that potty trowel technology now has multiple options available at less than an ounce. For me, it’s well worth carrying an extra 12 g to improve what was once the worst part of my hiking day.

Getting deep isn’t hard with a potty trowel
Getting deep isn’t hard with a potty trowel

Carrying a trowel has become even more important because of the increase in number of hikers, especially on the PCT. The damage (and just plain grossness) created by hundreds or thousands of hikers doing a cr@ppy job of burying #2 is mind boggling. Particularly for desert sections of drought-struck Southern California, heat, dryness, and soil-not-conducive-to-bacteria can make it so a turd will take decades to decompose. This means that each year, more and more hikers leave landmines in the sand at a rate faster than they can return to the earth. This is why digging a good hole—and carrying the equipment that can make digging a good hole possible—has become even more important.

Both American Long Distance Hiking Association-West’s President and Vice President advocate using potty trowels. It appears as if our trowels are the only thing that doesn’t match in this photo. Allgood is using a <a href="http://ir-na.amazon-adsystem.com/e/ir?t=lizthoadvhik-20&l=as2&o=1&a=B00UTK5HJ0">Deuce of Spades</a> and I am holding a <a href="http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B001HYH8GM/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B001HYH8GM&linkCode=as2&tag=lizthoadvhik-20&linkId=P4PXBWTCE2BXAGUQ">Montbell Handy Scoop</a>
Both American Long Distance Hiking Association-West’s President and Vice President advocate using potty trowels. It appears as if our trowels are the only thing that doesn’t match in this photo. Allgood is using a Deuce of Spades and I am holding a Montbell Handy Scoop

Lastly, hikers need to admit to themselves that they are infamously bad at burying poops. Thru-hikers especially. When you’re trying to make miles, have to get to town before the store closes, and have reduced control over your bowels, digging a quality hole in lickity-split time using only a rock becomes nearly impossible.  The trowel can dig through all sorts of soils and build a fat cathole in a fraction of the time of many other building materials.

 

List of ultralight potty trowels

Qi Whiz—the one I use and the lightest on the market! It is pictured throughout this blogpost. The original model comes in at less than 0.4 oz or around 11 grams!

  MSR Blizzard Stake  is a stake but is as beefy as a trowel. Not sold at REIs, but can be ordered online.

The Deuce of Spades is the least expensive on the market and doubles as as stake!

Montbell Handy Scoop-the toughest of its size class, a Backpacking Light gear review described it as “far exceeded my expectations for digging performance–which is saying a lot considering I’m a soil scientist by profession.”

The Little Deuce Scoop-In the words of Swami, “.$20, .75oz and best of all, every time you use it you will be reminded of the following tune” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZXFFLuoaMzM

 

No matter how ultralight you may claim to be:

If you can carry a smart phone, you can carry a trowel.

If you can carry a book, you can carry a trowel.

If you can carry a backpack, you can carry a trowel.

 

Whatever potty trowel you carry, you will walk away from your business each day with the satisfaction of knowing you did a job right.

Sneak Preview of the PCT Classs of 2014 video

The PCT Class of 2014 film is being shown at ADZPCTKO in Lake Morena at 8 PM on Saturday. It runs 1 hour, 8 minutes, edited by Wesley “Crusher” Trimble.

I may not have been able to attend this year’s Annual Day Zero PCT Kick Off event in Lake Morena, CA, but I was lucky enough to get a sneak preview of the PCT Class of 2014 video put together by my Colorado-based friend, Wesley “Crusher” Trimble.

This week, I met up with Crusher—who was unable to attend PCT Kick Off to watch the premiere of his film last night—and he shared about his experience putting together the PCT Class video. “It was another chance to hone my skills,” but he admitted, “putting this thing together has been eating up all my free time for the past few weeks.”

Crusher is known for his viral short on hiking the PCT with Cerebral Palsy and is an amazing inspiration to all hikers.

As expected, watching the Class of 2014 Film gave me a deep yearning in my legs to hit the trail again. There’s a power to the PCT that a past hiker can be given a photo taken somewhere on the trail without any context and will know exactly where it is. The quality of the stills in the film is “coffee-table book” class. Despite having hiked the PCT 1.5 times myself, I had never seen the trail as beautiful as it was depicted by some of the hikers who submitted photos. My favorite scenes were upclose wildflower shots, night time star timelapses, and videos of rare wildlife including pine martens.

 

Still from the PCT Class film
Still from the PCT Class film

One of the challenges of making the PCT Class film vs. his short, “PCT and CP” is that the class film “can only be as good as the material people submit.” Of the more than 1,000 people that attempted the PCT last year, 80 hikers submitted photos or video clips. Crusher noted that in 2012 and 2013, hikers submitted more video to the class film editors. This year, Crusher was working with many stills, which gives his video a different—but strangely more reverent—feel than the last few years.

Two aspects that make this PCT film unlike the other PCT Class films are the digital maps and mile/elevation gain counter for each region of the trail as well as the great soundtrack, available on Spotify (“PCT Class 2014 Video Soundtrack”–it’s actually so good that I signed up for Spotify just to get his playlist). Another great innovation is how Crusher worked with phone-quality film shorts—often vertical instead of landscape—to still create a fun and engaging story.

Still from the PCT Class Film. Spoiler alert: these people made it!
Still from the PCT Class Film. Spoiler alert: these people made it!

The most striking part of the Class of 2014 film is that it documents the sheer elation that people get from hiking. People in this film are at their absolute happiest. These people aren’t wearing make up. They aren’t acting. They glow in the joy that hiking and the hiking life can bring. For those who never may hike the PCT, or those who hope one day to hike it, Crusher’s film brings us as close as we can to hiking the trail without leaving the couch.

The PCT Class video goes live this Sunday at: https://vimeo.com/125031618

Trans Adirondack Route

A year ago today, I started the Trans Adirondack Route—a 235 mile hike across the Adirondack Park, the largest forest preserve in the Lower 48. I never finished it—the TADK has a notoriously high drop off rate—and was ashamed enough about it that I never did a write-up about the trail. A year later, I’m able to reflect on its beauty and enjoy the trail for what I was able to complete, instead of what I missed.

I got quite adept at crossing beaver dams on the TADK
I got quite adept at crossing beaver dams on the TADK

Created by a former Adirondack backcountry ranger, Erik Schlimmer, the route is an elegant look at the undervisited and well-visited parts of the Park. I had never been to the Adirondacks, and it’s a little off the beaten path, making the whole Park feel wilder than almost anywhere I’ve been on the East Coast. Furthermore, Erik told me that the ‘Dacks don’t have a strong backpacking culture—those who enjoy the Park tend to be dayhikers or peakbaggers. Those who do venture into the backcountry sections of the trail that require overnighting tend to be traditional, “heavy” backpackers. This means with the TADK, the thru-hiker has a rare opportunity to enjoy the park as few do.

Famous cliffs over what I believe is Tirell Pond
Famous cliffs over what I believe is Tirell Pond

I was the first person to attempt northbounding (the book is written for southbounders), and it was strange to be dropped off in front of a house on a dirt road—the official southern boundary of where the park starts. The Adirondack Park is an innovative mix of public and private property, making for a cool conservation model but sometimes less-than-ideal for exploration. The trail followed wide snowmobile tracks past tranquil ponds. The trail was still snowy and icy at parts, and in other parts, was boggy and marshy and required traveling through some very cold water.

Cold River
Cold River

The route connects existing trails with cross country and a bit of roadwalking, making for a fun mix of navigation. I didn’t feel like hitchhiking on this trip, so had planned only one resupply in Piseco, NY, picking up a package I sent General Delivery to the PO. The town also had a little store where some friendly locals asked me to sit with them and chat. The locals were somewhat used to hikers—the TADK shares some 100 miles of tread with the well-marked Northville Placid Trail (a 133-mile trail that should be on every Thru-hikes for the Working Stiff or Thru-hikes You Don’t Have to Quit Your Job For list).

My favorite part of the hike was the West Canada Lake Wilderness. Although I postholed my way through most of that area, I loved the haunting lakes. The highlight of my entire trip was watching a moose swim in the Cedar River. The Cold River country—relatively flat, dotted with three sided shelters, and including a cool bridge crossing of the rock-carving Cold River—was also a trip. This section also was subject to the mother of all blowdowns—what seemed to be an entire forest taken down by Hurricane Irene. The trail was flagged and appeared to be carved out of this mess of fallen trees, which made for obstacle-course like travel.

The bridge over Cold river
The bridge over Cold river

The entire trip, I didn’t see a human for a week except for my resupply in Piseco. Perhaps that is because all the locals knew better than to venture into the ‘Dacks in April during one of the biggest and coldest snow years on record. I didn’t get reception for most of the trip and enjoyed being out there, alone, on trail that hadn’t been visited by humans for months (according to many of the trail registers I read).

As I gained elevation, I saw the craziest ice I’ve ever seen in my life. At times, I was walking on five feet of sheeted ice which broke apart under my feet and was sharp!
As I gained elevation, I saw the craziest ice I’ve ever seen in my life. At times, I was walking on five feet of sheeted ice which broke apart under my feet and was sharp!

I ended my trip early, leaving on the Northville Placid Trail, to avoid the High Peaks. Anything over 2,500 feet had me postholing up to my waist. The worst instances had me postholing into snowbridges (which given the amount of water on the ADK, happened often). I hadn’t brought an ice axe and was hesitant to go cross country up Avalanche Gulch solo as I’ve never had Avalanche Training.

I’m eager to return to the TADK and finish the last 70 or so miles I have to do. Thirty of those miles are what I suspect are the most spectacular of the whole trip—the High Peaks. Forty two miles are paved roads, which, when it comes down to it, I don’t mind that much. Perhaps I will be lucky enough to return this summer or in the fall when the colors are alive. Until then, I’ll settle for the knowledge that I was rewarded by hiking in a new part of the country and getting to have the woods to myself.

For more information about how to hike the TADK, check out the guidebook or map set or the Trans Adirondack website.

 

 

First Annual Silver City CDT Kick Off

The first annual CDT Kick Off (aka CDT Trail Days) took place in Silver City, NM this month. Photo by April Sylva.
The first annual CDT Kick Off (aka CDT Trail Days) took place in Silver City, NM this month. Photo by April Sylva.

Anyone who has ever hiked the PCT and CDT can tell you that while the two trails may have a few things in common, they are very different trails. It turns out that as different as the PCT and CDT are from one another so, too are their respective Kick Offs. This month, I had the opportunity to participate in this year’s First Annual CDT Kick Off (officially known as CDT Trail Days) in Silver City, NM. Whereas PCT Kick Off can be exhausting, overwhelming, and crowded, CDT Kick Off was intimidate, personal, and low-key. All weekend, CDT Trail Days emphasized collaboration between the city and the trail, giving a unique spin to the traditional hiking festival.

Allgood enjoys the Gateway Ale!
Allgood enjoys the Gateway Ale!

The evening started off with a Happy Many Hours at the Little Toad, the local brewery in Siler City, NM. Local elected officials spoke and the Little Toad tapped a keg of Gateway Ale, a tribute to the CDT-Silver City partnership that was created last year when Silver City became the first CDT Gateway Community. This beer featured hops grown by monks within view of the CDT!

John Fayhee spoke at the Little Toad Brewery reading from [caption id="" align="" width="1"]<a href="http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0929969871/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=0929969871&linkCode=as2&tag=lizthoadvhik-20&linkId=QSIJZ7R4CXS2YLH2">Along the Colorado Trail</a><img style="border: none !important; margin: 0px !important;" alt="" src="http://ir-na.amazon-adsystem.com/e/ir?t=lizthoadvhik-20&l=as2&o=1&a=0929969871" width="1" height="1" border="0" />
John Fayhee spoke at the Little Toad Brewery reading from [caption id="" align="" width="1"]Along the Colorado Trail

. Photo by April Sylva[/caption]

A big highlight of the first night of CDT Trail Days were readings by Philip O’Connor about CDT hikers as told from his tales of living on a fire tower near the CDT in his New York Times best-selling memoir, Fire Season.

John Fayhee read from his book Smoke Signals about his time in different trail towns along the Colorado Trail. It was amazing to hear nationally accomplished authors speak in a little bar, in little Silver City, speaking about a trail that for many years was so under the radar. The whole evening felt intimate and familiar—the essayists signed books and even presented a few hikers with copies. It was so Silver City: A small town where many of the occupants are nationally renowned, but you could never guess it because of their low key, friendly attitudes.

POD and Bearclaw attack the Pie Town pie.
POD and Bearclaw attack the Pie Town pie.

The highlight for many of the locals was watching a hiker win a blueberry pie from Pie Town and then witnessing all the other hikers swarm to the pie to consume it. At first forks were used, but then carnage ensued and the hikers resorted to their bare hands. Today, the head of the Chamber of Commerce told me that photo may appear as an ad for the town of Silver City!

Hikers gather at the Little Toad
Hikers gather at the Little Toad

After the raffling of many awesome items, the event ended with live music and dancing. The hikers danced alongside locals of all ages. It felt like at CDT Trail Days, this wasn’t a “town and gown” (or backpack) sort of venue. It was a place where we all danced alongside together, the old and the young, the high heeled and the trail runnered. A woman in a wheelchair stood up and danced so happily and freely with her arms. An older man danced by himself. Transpeople, ranchers, hikertrash–here, everyone could be who they were and be happy with it.

Hikers admire the murals created by Silver City kids. Photo by April Sylva.
Hikers admire the murals created by Silver City kids. Photo by April Sylva.

The next day, Silver City was full of festivals, events, and markets—but CDT Trail Days was just one of the many events in town. I went on an art walk to learn about the murals that kids in town have created. Surprisingly, most of the attendees were hikers. An artisan’s market occurred next door to the classroom where CDT speakers spoke about trail topics. I talked with local artists and bought myself a necklace crafted from a stone found near the CDT. Some of the artisans dropped by on a trail presentation I gave after the market closed.

She ra, Not a Chance, Li Branford, and Bearclaw. Photo by April Sylva.
She ra, Not a Chance, Li Branford, and Bearclaw. Photo by April Sylva.

The night ended with a Beer Festival at the Little Toad, where once again, hikers and townies danced side by side to local music. The few dozen hikers who attended slept within stumbling distance at the chic downtown Murray Hotel (offering a great hiker rate), ate breakfast alongside locals, and chatted with townies in coffee shops. I can only hope that the folks of Silver City came away from the weekend believing that hikers are a normal sight in town, bringing liveliness, enthusiasm, and dollars to a small community.

Hikers with Smoky the Bear. Photo by April Sylva.
Hikers with Smoky the Bear. Photo by April Sylva.

That Sunday, a record number of hikers and locals showed up to do trail maintenance on the CDT. Several hikers joined a local trail club to hike on a county-owned trail that wasn’t even the CDT. The whole feel for CDT Trail Days was a festival of sharing between the hiking community and the Silver City community. Hikers showed they cared about learning what Silver City is proud about—their art, music, food, and people. The community got to see what hikers are proud about, too.

Hikers at a forum on long distance hiking. Photo by April Sylva.
Hikers at a forum on long distance hiking. Photo by April Sylva.

As a hiker, there was something really cool about attending a trail festival that wasn’t just another glorification of hikers. Part of the reason why I hike is to expand my horizons, meet new people, and learn about a part of the country I haven’t visited before. Instead of hikers taking over a place, setting up tent city, and doing their thing, CDT Trail Days felt like an integration of hikers and hiking into the community. CDT Trails Days glorified all the CDT has to offer—a world far more expansive than a 2 foot wide trail.

Interview with the Daily Burn

Urban hiking San Francisco
Urban hiking San Francisco

If you’re looking for adventure, exploration, and to burn a few calories, don’t despair! Urban hiking can provide you with all of these things–and a shower and bed to return to at the end of the night! I was blessed to be interviewed by the talented Laurel over at the Daily Burn to share what city-dwellers can learn from us nature-loving folk and what we all have in common—a desire to get some miles in!

The only thing I would add is while urban hiking may be an epic way to burn calories, it is also an epic way to gain calories if you happen to route your hike past a few excellent restaurants!

Check it out: http://dailyburn.com/life/fitness/urban-hiking-burn-calories-walking/

 

 

 

Reflections on the Selma to Montgomery Trail

Walking across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where it all started
Walking across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where it all started

There is an old saying that one can never truly understand another person until s/he has walked two moons in that person’s shoes. This month, I had the opportunity to come closer to grasping a world very different from my own by walking the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail in Alabama. The Selma to Montgomery hike, although not the most scenic or topographically exciting hike I’ve ever done, showed me the power of walking to absorb a bit of what it is like to live in another region, to live in another era, and to care about something enough to walk for it.

I had the great opportunity to meet Ranger Tina, whose grandmother marched from Selma to Montgomery 50 years ago.
I had the great opportunity to meet Ranger Tina, whose grandmother marched from Selma to Montgomery 50 years ago.

My impetus to hike the Selma to Montgomery Trail was the 50th anniversary of the date that 25,000 Civil Rights marchers started their journey to the Alabama State Capitol to demand, among other things, the right to vote. As an Asian American girl who grew up in one of the most racially diverse cities in the US and now lives in Colorado, I can’t help but feel like my life is far removed from the Civil Rights movement. Indeed, many young people have a hard time relating to the Civil Rights movement, or really any part of history that doesn’t involve what was consumed for lunch. Because I am an experiential learning, I knew that if I was ever going to really start to learn about the Civil Rights movement, I would have to walk to even start knowing the right questions to ask.

The Alabama River as seen from the Edmund Pettus Bridge. From this view, the S2M almost looks like a nature hike.
The Alabama River as seen from the Edmund Pettus Bridge. From this view, the S2M almost looks like a nature hike.

As I headed on the S2M, I was admittedly a little worried about my safety. Before I headed on trail, I read and researched the history of the Selma, and admittedly, this trail looked dangerous. For one thing—the entire trail is a roadwalk along a highway with cars going at least 60 miles per hour. But more importantly, I didn’t know how Alabamans were going to treat me as I marched. I was equally concerned that White Confederate sympathizers would throw beer bottles or swerve at me with their cars as I was concerned that African Americans would be offended that an Asian American girl from California/Colorado would walk a trail honoring African American voting rights in the South. Call me naïve or ignorant, but essentially, as someone who had never been to Alabama before, I was imagining a world that looked like the 1950s.

I didn’t sleep at the historic campsites (in fact, I’m not sure it is legal), but it was incredible to pass them exactly 50 years later to the day.
I didn’t sleep at the historic campsites (in fact, I’m not sure it is legal), but it was incredible to pass them exactly 50 years later to the day.

When trail runner hit pavement, traveling at 3 miles per hour from Selma to Montgomery showed me that some things haven’t changed from the 1950s. Much of downtown Selma looks the same. In some ways, the poverty in Selma and the rural communities around it seemed worse than I could have ever imagined existing in the United States. I saw children with the worst dental care I’ve seen anywhere in the world. Yet I didn’t see a Confederate flag on my entire walk (save at the Alabama State Capitol) and everyone I met—regardless of their color—was excited and enthusiastic about the march.

The Lowndres County Interpretive Center run by the NPS was a huge inspiration.
The Lowndres County Interpretive Center run by the NPS was a huge inspiration.

A man who was missing quite a few teeth offered to buy us drinks once he learned what we were doing. We didn’t have the heart to ask a man who lives in one of the poorest counties in one of the poorest states to purchase us drinks. But maybe we should have accepted. Even those who couldn’t walk wanted to contribute to the movement.

By the end of the first day, my feet were telling me that this march sucks. Road walking sucks. But you know what else sucks? Not being able to vote. Not being able to use public restrooms. Fearing for your family’s lives or for your job just because you want to speak your mind. Like a true pilgrimage, there were aspects of the Selma to Montgomery march that felt like each step was payment for the rights that we as Americans take for granted.

The last few miles into town had beautiful murals made by kids that commemorated the march. They were placed over boarded up homes and buildings, which did beautify the area, but also seemed like a bandaid on a much bigger wound.
The last few miles into town had beautiful murals made by kids that commemorated the march. They were placed over boarded up homes and buildings, which did beautify the area, but also seemed like a bandaid on a much bigger wound.

What struck me the most is that the original marchers were not the type of people who went on long walks for fun. They were people who worked so hard they didn’t have time to exercise. They were people who were afraid to go out at night because of the KKK. At the S2M National Park Service Lowdres County Interpretive Center, I saw the shoes of a woman who had marched the whole distance. They were fancy leather sandals. People marched in their Sunday best—in wool and suits and bowler hats and collared shirts and ties—because they wanted to look good to emphasize the seriousness of their cause.

After walking through so much poverty, the Capitol and downtown looked especially fancy and European.
After walking through so much poverty, the Capitol and downtown looked especially fancy and European.

There’s something profound about walking a trail that was not created because people wanted to have fun and highlight cool natural features—a trail that people walked because they had to. While the physical walking on the S2M was not difficult, the emotional impact of walking the trail still hurts.

We all have big shoes to fill. The crosswalk commemorating the Selma to Montgomery March taken 50 years ago.
We all have big shoes to fill. The crosswalk commemorating the Selma to Montgomery March taken 50 years ago.

It became clear by the end of my hike that Selma to Montgomery is every American’s march. Not every American has to thru-hike or backpack or even dayhike. Not everyone needs to enjoy walking. But the S2M march allowed me to see the power of walking, not just to transform an individual, but an entire society.

“We all have big shoes to fill”- Super Dave
“We all have big shoes to fill”- Super Dave