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How’s Your Self-Care?

Allowance is unacceptable.

We’ve previously mentioned the triad of systems that create us, the hiking machines that we are. What we didn’t tell you was that these systems are not self-maintaining. You have to work at keeping things running right. Like other machines, some maintenance is required. In the hiking world, we refer to this simply as self care.

Of those three systems — us, what we wear, and what we carry — the latter two are well managed ahead of time by carefully inspecting our clothing and gear to make sure it is in good working order and not about to break, become unsewn, or fall off. Otherwise, if we miss something, that stuff is repaired or dealt with — quickly, as it should be — on trail. An eventuality for which we should be somewhat prepared. It’s why we carry stuff like Gorilla tape, zip ties, paper clips, split rings, safety pins, wire, aluminum foil, buckles and pulls, and other simple repair items.

Managing ourselves is a little trickier, even though theoretically-speaking it should be the one system we are most aware of and able to respond to the most quickly and effectively. In other words, we might not be aware our trekking pole will give way the next time we put our weight on it, or that a jacket zipper will fail us the next time we try to use it, but we should be quite aware of our hunger or thirst in real time.

Let’s take a quick look at different ways we are challenged by self care, ways in which we may fail to manage it well, and ways we can ease these challenges moving forward. Allowance is unacceptable. Failing self care sets the stage for a spiraling chain of events to occur. If we don’t take care of ourselves or that which we rely on, we’re really a detriment to ourselves and those we hike with. Out there we must stay aware. We cannot say f**k it and let it ride hoping upon hope the day works out okay for us. We must be proactive. If there’s a problem, fix it.

A Few of the Elements of Self-Care:

We thirst for better hydration.
As soon as you begin to feel thirst you’re already dehydrated, or that’s what we’ve heard. Taking in water on a regular basis, along with the appropriate minerals in your diet, electrolytes, will help you stay hydrated. Meaning your blood will be thinner, and the effort your heart puts in will be more efficient. Additionally, your thermoregulation will also be improved. Attention ladies: this is true for you, too, so limiting your level of hydration so you don’t have to be bothered with urinating as much is not sound thinking. It actually puts you at risk, along with others your party, consequently.
Nutrition does a body good.
Maintaining fuel intake is to maintain your energy level. Without food, with a low blood sugar, staying warm will be more difficult because exercise will be more difficult. Part of self care is to take in calories, this means eating even if you’re not hungry. It also means brining foods that are easily consumable so the act of preparation or consumption doesn’t in itself bar the process. One example: In winter, with gloved hands, trail mix is easier to eat when in a wide-mouth bottle instead of a plastic zipper bag. You can pour it right into your mouth. See how your life just improved?!
Thermoregulation is no sweat.
One of self-care’s greatest challenges is keeping one’s cool. Literally. Many will suspect staying warm is the tough nut — and on some days, affecting some parts of the body, it is — but staying cool is harder overall. Exertion leads to sweating, and sweating cools us, but it does so dangerously if we overdo it. We plan for it by wearing clothes comprised of fabrics designed to continue insultating as we wet them out, and/or clothes that are designed to wick perspiration away from our skin so as to avoid conductive and evaporative heat loss. Staying cool by way of sweating in winter is not sound thermoregulation. If you simply cannot stop sweating, this must be dealt with by slowing down, wearing less, or perhaps by choosing another day with different conditions.
Hotspots aren’t so hot.
“I didn’t want to be a pain, so when you asked how my boots felt, I told you they were fine. Really, though, I felt a ‘hotspot’ on my heel. In hindsight I should have told you about it so you could put a little duct tape over it before it turned into a blister, popped, then got rubbed raw.” This conversation really happened once. Again: Allowance is unacceptable. Don’t ignore symptoms. Any questions?
See the way to better vision care.
You cannot enjoy the stunning views if you cannot see. Plus it makes walking hard. Hikers must protect their vision. Some essential steps include wearing sunglasses on sunny days, especially if there’s snow on the ground, wearing safety glasses when bushwhacking, and NOT allowing your goggles or glasses to fog up. Ignoring any of this will not do. If your glasses or goggles fog up because, for example, your nose is cold and you must bring your balaclava up over it, you must find another method. One that actually works.
Here’s a hand with glove care.
A lot of people who hike in the winter fail miserably when caring for their gloves or mittens. We see it all the time (and maybe yell at people for it a little). They stop for a break, and put their gloves or mittens on the ground. This, if you don’t know, is where they will slide or get blown away, get full of snow, or get stepped on by someone with crampons. And even if none of those things occur, they will still get cold. It’s why placing them upsidedown on your trekking poles or relying on keepers isn’t a great solution either. The best place for you gloves or mittens is inside your coat. Warm, safe, dry. Ready for when you need them after your break.
Finding the right coverage.
One day, long ago, one of our team ran down the Valley Way Trail after hiking a personal Classic Presidential Traverse. They accomplished this feat in fifty minutes. In the pouring rain. Everything they wore and everything they carried got completely soaked. But nothing went wrong. They didn’t slip and fall. They never needed to stop until back at the car. It was a non-event. But if a slip and fall did occur and this person wasn’t able to keep moving, there could have been a serious issue. The temps were in the 60s and being wet can be dangerous without some sort of intervention. Covering up is essential. Which at first blush may seem easy and sensible, but there are challenges (see thermoregulation, above).

And the list could go on and on.

Allowance is unacceptable as we’ve repeated. Stop relying on luck. Don’t ingore the flaws in your systems — the chinks in your armor. Common sense must prevail. Ignorance is not bliss. If you’ve been putting up with something that doesn’t work for years on end, hike after hike after hike, it’s time to solidly identify what the issue is, exactly, learn why or how it fails, and fix it. Make your self care work, and make it easy, even on a cold day, wearing mittens. You is in your best interest.

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