Alpe-Adria Trail Stage 3
Starting point: Döllach, Austria
Ending point: Marterle, Austria
Stage distance: 17.97 km / 11.16 mi
Total distance: 43.71 km / 27.15 mi
Stage time: 5 hours, 38 minutes
Average pace: 18:50 min / km
Alpe-Adria Trail Stage 4
Starting point: Marterle, Austria
Ending point: Just short of Stall, Austria
Stage distance: 8.14 km / 5.0 mi
Total distance: 51.85 km / 32.15 mi
Stage time: 2 hours, 46 minutes
Average pace: 20:25 min / km
I’m impressed with what my body does on an average day: Walk, run, stretch, bend, lift, balance.
But on a long-distance trek like this one, I am truly in awe of its capabilities.
During the first few days, I can always tell which muscles have been underused and which tendons need to be stretched.
Going downhill, my thighs burn. Heading uphill, my calves go to work. My boots reshape to my feet while my backpack’s straps and belt find their rightful spots on my hips, collarbone, and shoulders.
Hiking like this, I become much more aware of my body. I clean cuts, keep an eye on toenails that might fall off, and properly lift my bag on and off to avoid straining my back.
Obviously I want to look up and take in the view, but I also make a very conscious and careful effort to take proper steps, especially on uneven terrain or late in the day when my body is tired. A single twisted knee or ankle could put an end to everything.
The third stage of our hike was our longest yet. For several miles we gradually ascended up switchbacks. This turned into a brutally steep climb up a forest path strewn with tree roots, loose dirt, and dangerous drop-offs.
In instances like this, we know to dig deep, to find a pace that fits us as individuals and just start walking. One step at a time, no stopping. Taking more than a few seconds to pause, get a drink of water, or rest resets the body back to zero. It is best to find and maintain that aerobic pace and just keep walking.
Reaching the top, we were both drenched in sweat, satisfied with the achievement and thankful it was over. How truly awesome that our bodies can complete such a arduous task.
Stage four was different still, with long walks through farmland. Though not strenuous in ascents or descents, we had to carefully maneuver under electric fences and over barbed wire. Sometimes we removed our packs before attempting agricultural gymnastics. Other times, we employed gentle footwork and precise balance with our backpacks in place.
Every time we take our backpacks off, we have to readjust clothing and straps to get everything back into proper position. Even though our backpacks appear heavy — and it’s true that they certainly aren’t light — they become part of our bodies when we hike. As an extension of myself, I am aware of my bag, but I’m aware of it just as I am aware of my feet in my boots, my thighs when I take steps, my hands wrapped around my pole handles, and the sweat on the back of my neck.
The truth is the human body is incredibly powerful, if you give it room to be. After a few days, those underused muscles warm up and the tendons stretch out. It becomes easier to feel the aches that actually signal something is wrong.
And in these moments, when I give my body room to move in all the ways it can, I remember how strong I really am.