Wednesday, July 30, 2014

84. Stretching

If you've ever seen a long distance hiker on a zero day (day off), you would guess that hikers don't stretch AT ALL. While we're active and hiking we're pretty limber, but as soon as we stop moving, all our joints lock up and we creak stiffly around like the Tin Man before Dorothy found his oil can.

Otto, one of our hiking family, had hiked the A.T. many times, and he was constantly reminding us that we needed to stretch. During the few weeks we hiked with him, each night after we set up our tents we would dutifully do a few lunges and see if our toes could get any closer to our outstretched fingers. I felt much better in the evenings and mornings if I remembered to stretch on a regular basis, but as soon as we parted company with Otto, we forgot to keep up the regimen.

I feel like most sports (running, team field sports, water aerobics, etc) do a good job of having some stretches built into the routine. But there are some high endurance sports that are so immersive that stretching falls by the wayside, even though it shouldn't. I've met many hikers, climbers and kayakers who sheepishly admit that in spite of terrible soreness and squeaking joints, they often neglect stretching.

One day, somewhere in Virginia, Grim, Whistle, Dumptruck and I got into a conversation about stretching, and all agreed that no matter how tired we were, we would take some time to stretch that evening after setting up camp. We got to a shelter, where several other thru-hikers we hadn't yet met were already set up. It wasn't raining, so we decided to set up our tents nearby the shelter, rather than bunk in the shelter itself. 

The four of us then made our dinners, sitting around the shelter with the other hikers (Little Seed and Kyap! among them, with whom we were to become good friends after a few days). After dinner, Grim, Whistle, Dumptruck and I silently got up from the table and without any explanation or words between us, began a completely soundless yoga session in the dirt right next to the picnic table. There was no "leader" per se, but we would all shift poses together, communicating through some sort of weird group mind we'd create after so long of hiking together.

After about 15 minutes, again without using any apparent body language or signals, we stopped and then retreated to our tents to sleep, leaving the other hikers still sitting at the shelter dumbfounded and maybe slightly disturbed. After about a minute in our tents, Whistle suddenly asked,

"Did we look like crazy people just then?"

Neither Kyap! nor Little Seed nor the other older hiker who was in the shelter said anything about this bizarre cultish behavior. But when we asked them about it in the morning, Little Seed confirmed that yes indeed, we had looked like a weird little religious cult, in a charming sort of way, or as charming as something like that could be. 

If you are planning a long-distance hike, I strongly encourage you to get into the habit of stretching regularly. It really does make a difference. If it doesn't make a difference for your body, it can at the very least get you a reputation for being a weirdo.

Clever Girl

After the one, successful silently orchestrated yoga session, we promptly went back to slacking off stretching.

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