In September of 2015, David Wyatt found himself in the worst shape of his life. His diabetes was running rampant, his weight was out of control and his life was following suit. So, he went where he thought he could find the answers… the 272-mile long Trail of Vermont.
As a Boy Scout growing up in Massachusetts, David had hiked the trail over a half a dozen times. The solitude, the fitness demands, and the lack of food temptations seemed like the answer to his health problems. He would lose weight and get in shape on the trail where he had enjoyed so much of his childhood.
As you can imagine, things did not go well.
The heat, the elevation and his complete lack of conditioning led him to a Day 4 collapse that he was not sure he could recover from.
As he crawled 10 feet at a time to safety, he swore next time he would do it right.
In November of 2015, David called me. He wanted to hire me to train him. We'd been friends for years, and training friends is not always easy, but I knew David to be one of the most committed, ethical and honest people I had ever met so I figured I would try. We started that month and have continued training 3 times a week to the present day.
He was focused, determined and willing to do almost anything I asked. As the weight fell off and he got stronger, he started to talk about the Long Trail again.
In 2017 he attempted a weeklong hike on the trail. We hadn't done any special training or preparation. He started too fast and aggressively and wound up leaving the trail early due to knee pain, again on Day 4.
In the Spring of 2019, having lost over 60 pounds and gaining muscle mass as well as cardiovascular conditioning, David set his sights on a September Thru-Hike. A thru-hike is when a hiker commits to hiking the entire length of an established trail. David decided this time he would start at the southern end of the trail, hiking north and finishing just past the place he quit in 2015.
For all of June, July and August, we focused on strength and cardio that would replicate situations on the trail. We did downhill lunges, high step weighted stepovers, and many flights of stairs wearing a weighted vest.
In cool down laps, we discussed food, equipment, and more food. I'm an experienced backpacker myself but I have never attempted a thru-hike. I was mostly concerned about food. I have lost my appetite on long multi-day hikes, to the point where I can hardly choke food down and I was afraid the same would happen to David. He had a large supply of bars, nuts, and jerky, which I knew from experience can get old and unappealing very quickly.
Finally, all the pieces were in place and he was ready to leave.
It is common practice in the backpacking community to allow other hikers to give you a "trail name ". Because of his previous attempts, David's trail name became "Day Four. "
David set the modest goal of 10-15 miles a day on the trail. He planned to come off the trail every 6 days to stay in a hotel or inn. He had sent boxes of supplies to himself in each of these little towns before he left. These town-stays allowed him to shower, sleep in a bed and eat more varied and nutritious foods than he carried in his pack. They also allowed him to rest his knee which was starting to cause some worrisome trouble.
At the end of the second week on the trail, David's knee pain became so bad that it took him 90 minutes to cover less than a mile. As he slept that night, he worried that his hike was over. The knee had been a constant issue throughout our 4 years of training.
When it would flare up, we would find a way to work around it. The next morning David was able to press on. That week he turned his "zero-day" in town into 2 full days of rest. After that, the knee was ready to continue with some extra care. At campsites he would soak his legs in the ice-cold creeks, rub CBD oil on his knees and take some ibuprofen when necessary. By the time he reached the most difficult sections of the trail, it was almost fully better.
The Long Trail is equipped with 3-sided shelters placed every 7-10 miles on the trail. David planned each day's mileage so that he could sleep in one of these shelters. Some nights he spent alone but other nights the shelters were filled with other hikers. He made friends at these shelters that he would share food and trail stories with. Sometimes they hiked together the next day.
One of the scariest nights for him on the trail was when a hiker reached the shelter telling of three men behind him who were struggling. It was dark and the temperature was dropping. One of the hikers was injured and bleeding. The hikers in the shelter started to boil water and collect blankets. When the 3 men reached the camp, they were on the edge of hypothermia but with the care of their new friends they warmed up and patched up their injuries.
David had another scare when he was trying to scale some wet granite. He slipped, broke his titanium hiking pole and managed to kick himself in the back of the head with his heel. (Flexibility has never been his strong suit in our sessions, so I wish I had been there to see that!) As he was falling, he was certain he would break a bone. But unlike his hiking pole, he was all in one piece, just a little banged up.
After 34 days on the trail, David reached the border of Canada. He didn't know it yet, but he had lost 28 pounds. Still, the most special moment of the trip was ahead. A total stranger had offered to drive a 180-mile round trip to pick David up at the Northern terminus of the trail and take him back to town.
This type of "trail magic" is not uncommon in these communities. When I asked David about the best moments of the trip, he stated without a doubt that it was "the generosity of people."
David spent many nights out there pondering "what makes us quit and not quit? "I asked him if he thought our workouts had anything to do with not quitting this time. He mentioned how strong his legs and core had become key to his success. I reminded him of all our Saturday workouts (Tuesday and Thursday we "just lift weights "- Saturdays I push him through metabolic conditioning workouts ) that he would glare at me as sweat poured from him and his breath was hard and ragged. I reminded him that every single week for the last 4 years he has chosen to not quit.
He then told me about cresting one of the largest peaks near the end of the trail. Some other hikers had fallen in front of him. The fear that created in him quickly turned to adrenaline and he scrambled to the top. As he looked out at the trees and mountains and rivers below him, he knew that this time he would finish.
“Day Four” had become a thru-hiker.
Buffalo Fitness Evolution