Dyer and Riches: CDT Thru-Hikers

Like a Family of Five: Food and Fitness on the CDT
By Simon Dyer
  |  Gorp.com
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Before I discovered long-distance hiking, the thought of consuming 15 slices of pizza or a half-gallon of ice cream in a single sitting would have made me nauseous. After doing both during my Continental Divide Trail trek, I learned to just what lengths your body can go to adapt to physical challenges.

The changes in our metabolism that Darryl and I experienced were disconcerting and difficult to predict at first. In the heat of New Mexico, my appetite disappeared, and I struggled to eat even a fraction of what my body required. I lost weight rapidly, and I vividly remember looking at myself in a restaurant washroom mirror in Cuba, shocked by how gaunt I looked.

To stay healthy, we had to become obsessive calorie-counters as we grappled with the puzzle of fueling our bodies sufficiently to carry us from point A to point B. Darryl's background in Sport Science meant he was familiar with all sorts of equations that we could use to calculate exactly how much energy was required to transport an average 170-pound male carrying a 30-pound pack 20 miles per day. But what exactly is an "average male," anyway? To steal an analogy from auto performance and efficiency, I was a crappy Honda Civic to Darryl's gas guzzling sport utility vehicle.

The Dollar Rule
Eating was often hard work, and expensive too. Thoughts about food—how to carry and afford it, yet surprisingly rarely thoughts about devouring it—consumed our waking moments. Taking in almost 4,000 (and in Darryl's case 5,000+) calories per day meant that we shopped like a family of five! Budgetary constraints forced us to adopt the "dollar rule." Any food item that packed a thousand calories for a buck made its way into our shopping cart. Our rule resulted in a lot of pasta, oats, refined sugar, and Little Debbie cakes, while fruits and vegetables were sorely discriminated against.

For Darryl, this calorific obsession was especially well founded. He complained he was losing weight throughout Colorado, and despite the dollar rule, which generally resulted in maximum calories per pound of packweight, we struggled to carry enough to enable his body to "break even." We supplemented our rations when in town with all-you-can-eat pizza buffets and buckets of ice cream, but it was obvious it was not good enough.

Ultimately I left the trail 2 pounds above my starting weight, while Darryl lost around 25 pounds. Although outwardly I looked no different, (the first words from my disappointed girlfriend were "Oh, you look just the same!"), some things had changed. Four and a half months of hiking had left me in the shape of my life.


Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 3 Dec 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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