Pacific Crest Trail, pct, hiking, hiker, thru-hike, Appalachian Trail, travel guide, travel, podcast, podcast travel,

In this minicast, the physical challenge of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail is explored through an interview with a physical therapist who happens to be the host's sister.


(BACKGROUND: Sound of the host breathing heavily while running.)

Josh: Welcome to another episode of Before A to B, the prequel to my upcoming travel podcast series called “Between A to B” to be released as I walk the 2,000+ miles of the Pacific Crest Trail. If you like what you hear, if you could share this, like it, tweet it, whatever, spread the word, it would be much appreciated.

If you take a listen to this backing track, you should already have an idea of what this episode is about. I recorded this particular clip when I was running earlier this week. The idea is to build up some muscle around the joints through repeated impacts before I head to California, because if I were to describe the trail in only two words, that phrase would be “physically demanding.” So to get a better idea of what my joints, muscles, tendons, etc. etc. might encounter out there, I found a physical therapist to give me a few pointers. To be more specific, I talked to my sister.

(BACKGROUND: “Exercise 1” by the Superfools. License.)

Angie Huber: Okay. My name is Angie Huber. I'm Josh's sister. I'm a physical therapist and instructor.

Josh: Besides that intro, she always wanted me to mention her credentials as a marathon runner and her specialization in total knee replacement. She currently works as a lecturer at the University of Findlay. And basically we reviewed, toe to head, the body parts that receive the most stress during a hike of this size. Also in this episode, I put together a short clip that explains why I think sound and hiking form a perfect pairing. So, let's jump in. Feet first. Get it? Feet...feet first? It'll make sense in a second.

Angie Huber: Well, umm, when you look into hiking you got to realize that your weight bearing not just your normal body weight, but you're carrying a backpack, so a lot of injuries can occur, when hiking, in the feet. You can get paresthesias, because you have that extra weight.

Josh: Quick footnote: Parathesias are the medical term for when something falls asleep, like that prickling sensation. Hikers tend to get parathesias in their toes when their foot gear fits incorrectly, or they tie their shoes too tight.

Angie Huber: And then usually, you're also getting used to a new pair of shoes on different terrain, so the foot is constantly getting more pressure than it's used to. The feet change in the sense they do get stronger. And then depending on the person's actual foot type, whether they are a pronate or supinate, it just means a flat foot or high arch foot, that's going to lead them to different types of injuries depending on their shoe wear and the how strong the inside muscles of their feet are.

Josh: What about the skin of your feet?

Angie Huber: Yeah, that actually is one of the biggest things that hikers need to think about before they go out for long hikes. When you look at the amount of compression you are putting on the feet, and then you're adding in flooding, you're getting a lot of moisture to the foot, you tend to get blisters on the feet. So prior to going out for a hike you need to make sure your shoes are fitting correctly and when you aren't, you need to let them air out. When you have moisture, you tend to get more blisters. So hiker feet, they can get a lot of damage to them, if you're not taking care of your feet.

Josh: Ankles

Angie Huber: Oh yeah, ankles take a beating on hiking because the surface is uneven all the time. So, um, one of the biggest things is spraining your ankle, so that's just twisting it, if you land on it wrong and twist it. You know, someone that's not on a mission of hiking everyday would probably sit down and let that ankle have a rest for a day or so, but that might not happen so much when you're in the middle of a hike. So ankles can get a lot of sprains and irritation from that.

Um, the other things with the ankles is there is a lot of tendons, which is a basic part of the muscle, it just gets overused because of so much repetition. So you've probably heard of Achilles problems, um, there's other tendons other than the Achilles that can also be irritated around the ankle joints. But mostly from the feet, you're going to have the spraining problem, and you're going to have overuse on those tendons really cause a lot of pain.

Josh: Knees

Angie Huber: Yeah, knees do get a lot of strain with hiking. One of the biggest things with uphill hiking is the kneecap, so there's something, a big word is chondromalacia patellae, but basically, it's just irritation to the back of the kneecap because of the angle of your hiking when you go up. When you go uphill, there's a lot of compression on the back of the kneecap, and yeah, it can definitely get aggravated. Anybody who has already meniscus-type issues in their history, which is a cushion basically between the knee joint, they tend to have some problems with more of that uphill power. But then the downhill becomes more of an issue, because you lose, the big term is proprioception, but after you've gone downhill awhile, basically, your knees get a little wobbly, and your sense of placement on the ground becomes less. So your risk for any kind of overuse injury becomes higher after doing a downhill. So, one of my suggestions would be if you just had a long downhill hike, take a break before you go on. That might be your break time versus the uphill because your knee caps really become weak and unstable from doing downhill hiking. Yeah, overuse injuries from the tendons, knee caps becoming irritated and any arthritic changes in just over-compression can occur in hiking.

Josh: Hips

Angie Huber: Wear and tear from hips for hikers specifically, you're going to get a lot of, basically, tendon irritation or your overuse injuries. The other big one that can be a problem goes back to the uphill, if you're doing a lot of uphill hiking, there's this band, have you ever heard of IT (iliotibial) band problems? That band can really rub along the side of the hip, and cause some inflammation and swelling and (audio untranslatable), what we call bursitis, which is just swelling along the side of the hips. So that can be a big problem, and that can be more of an overuse issue as you keep going. If that doesn't necessarily heal, that can really limit walking. Other problems... there's a lot of internal problems of the hips that can get aggravated with hiking, but to actually have a true injury while you're hiking probably is less likely in the hip. It's going to be more overuse problems.

Josh: Back.

Angie Huber: Back takes a hit with the backpack. Now I'm sure you'd be much more knowledgeable about getting the right backpack and putting it on right, taking that load off the back, but no matter how well you're backpack is or how much appropriation to make it fit right, you're still getting that much more compression on your disks and your spine. So your back can get really sore.

You're carrying a backpack all day and then you have to sleep on the ground. Some people's backs don't like that so much. Most people who have back pain and back problems do better with a firmer bed, but even a firm bed will cushion you some and disperse the pressure of your weight.

(BACKGROUND: “Pretend and Walk Outside” by Krackatoa. License.)

Your whole body adjusts to what you put it through. So I think people can take a lot of pain if they repetitively make themselves do it. On the flip side, there are some things you just need to stop for. Don't get me wrong. (laughter)

Josh: Finally, I want to talk about ears. Recently, I've had a few individuals ask me 'why am I doing a podcast?' That's a great question. I'm glad I can answer it. First, to better make my point, we're going to make a quick scene change here. Okay, bam.

(BACKGROUND: Song replaced by people walking on gravel.)

Hiking. That's what we're doing. So, those last three seconds that we just experienced, now that time, is 90 percent of the moments that comprise a thru-hike. Vistas are great. The people you meet along the way are exciting. You never really know what's around the corner. But throughout it all, you have this. Step. Step. Step.

Now this, this monotony, (Step.) this is your (Step.) life on a thru hike (Step.) for the next five months. (Step.) And throughout it (Step.) all, there's only (Step.) one thing you can (Step.) really do. And that's (Step.) think. If you currently (Step.) have the perception (Step.) that you have time (Step.) to think now, you're wrong. (Step.) Completely wrong. (Step.) Those moments. Those (Step.) single minutes of wandering (Step.) concentration. They (Step.) barely even touch on your existence. (Step.) You're too busy. (Step.) On the trail, they (Step.) are your entire existence. (Step.)

Now, the experience of a (Step.) trail hike, it's rarely visual. (Step.) Okay, you have miles of (Step.) forest and scrub and desert. (Step.) Hundreds of miles (Step.) of nothing, of blue sky (Step.) and brown sand. They (Step.) lose their novelty (Step.) pretty quickly. As for vistas, (Step.) those life changing (Step.) views you hear so much (Step.) about. They become (Step.) just another image. (Step.) They mean nothing. You've (Step.) seen them before. (Step.) You'll see them again (Step.) a few miles down the road. (Step.) And the miles in between, (Step.) they barely even register.

(Step.) I argue that a thru-hike (Step.) is almost an entirely auditory (Step.) experience. You have (Step.) your own internal voice (Step.) as the D.J., and you have (Step.) the option of millions of channels. The (Step.) number of stations is only limited (Step.) by your creativity and your curiosity. (Step.) So, if you want to know (Step.) what it's like to hike (Step.) over 2,000 miles, get used to this (Step.) and get comfortable (Step.) with whatever your reflections (Step.) might reveal. The trip (Step.) is auditory, and that's (Step.) how I intend to portray it. (Step.) So, get your ears ready. (Step.) We'll see where this leads us. (Step.)

Alright everybody, (Step.) thanks for listening. (Step.) Join us next week (Step.) for another episode.

(BACKGROUND: “Step.”s repeat then fade.)