Looking back over my hike and reviewing some interesting numbers, thoughts and comparisons.
- 196 days – including 15 days off, and 12 short days (less than 15km).
- 6270km – I added up the numbers. Avg 32km per day.
- 238000m elevation gain (approx) – Avg 1200m per day.
- 71 times slept in a bed – Meaning a mattress inside a building. About once every 3 days, this includes the last 2 weeks on the Camino, where I was in a bed every night.
- 22 times slept in a shelter – basic shepherds huts, old buildings, covered benches, etc.
- 102 nights in my tent – 24 at established campsites, 78 wild camping.
- 77 nights spent alone – No one anywhere within sight or hearing.
- 24 days hiking with friends/family
- 18 very wet days – Days where it rained for most of the day, so that it would have been difficult to dry anything out.
- 68 showers – About once every 3 days.
- 12 times using a washing machine – About once every 16 days, I rinsed my clothes in sinks and showers much more frequently than that.
Expectations vs Reality
My only other long hike was the PCT, so I guess some part of me thought the TEAR would be similar. On the PCT, I built up my trail fitness over the first few weeks, then was hiking fast the rest of the way. On the TEAR it didn’t really work out that way. I quickly built up my trail fitness, but from about the two and a half month mark, my time spent hiking each day gradually decreased.
If you read my pre-hike post where I estimated my daily pace, my actual overall speed was somewhat slower. I originally estimated 180 days (6 months), but honestly I thought this was being quite conservative. For the first half of the trail I was exceeding my estimates, but after I got sick the first time, and had to take a few days off, I quickly began losing my lead. After getting sick for the second time and having to take another 8 days off to recover, I was then behind my estimates for the remainder of the trail.
One day, about 3 months in, I woke up feeling really tired and weak. This got increasingly worse over the next 2 days, and I ended up staying with a friends for a while. For the next week or two I tried to take it a little easier, but I was in the Alps (there’s only so easy it can be), and wishfully thought it might have been a one-time thing.
Shortly after I left the Alps, I got the same symptoms again. Since this was the second time, I knew I had to take it more seriously. As well as taking a week off from hiking, I went to the hospital where they ran some blood tests, but couldn’t find any obvious deficiencies.
So I don’t know for sure what I had, but it matched a lot of the symptoms of overtraining. Here are what I assume to be possible causal factors, in no particular order:
- Insufficient rest – Hiking all day every day probably takes its toll. I don’t really enjoy taking rest days, and in the first 85 days (this is until I got sick) I only had one full day off from hiking. There were a few shorter days in that time, but giving my body more opportunity to recover might have been a good idea.
- Poor nutrition – For the first 120 days of the trail I was vegetarian, and whilst I believe that (or being vegan) can be totally healthy, I’m quite lazy when it comes to diet, and never think too much about what nutrients I need, or whether I’m getting enough protein. I’m sure that too large a fraction of my calories were either sugar or highly processed foods (basically the tasty kind that survive being in a backpack for days).
- The heat – My symptoms were at their worst at low altitudes and hot temperatures. Often a cold shower would make me feel much better for a time.
- Water/salt balance – Somewhat related to heat. Hiking up mountains in the sun is thirsty work. I drank lots of water, but I’m not so sure that I took in enough salts and whichever other minerals we need to replenish whatever I was sweating out.
Once I’d recovered for the second time, I tried my best to remedy these issues. I generally hiked shorter days, and threw in the occasional day off. I put more focus on eating well, including eating meat (sorry animals). I bought more water additives (electrolytes and such), and was proactive about taking them at least once per day (more if it was particularly hot).
Thankfully these interventions seem to have been enough. Of course I can never be certain what would have happened if I’d continued on without any changes, but they seem like healthy and sensible precautions to take, and were worth the extra days and euros.
Some other factors which slowed me down more than I’d anticipated:
- Sections with no “trail” – Sometimes I was on trails where the path was either overgrown, or otherwise unclear (no trail marking). It wasn’t uncommon for me to have to stop and check my phone every few minutes just to see if I was going in the right direction.
- Elevation Gain/Loss – The TEAR gains approximately 1140m elevation every 30km, which is 28% more than the PCT at 885m/30km. Just using 30km as kind of an average day. Over such a long trip I guess this adds up.
- Limited sleeping options – Finding campsites was more of a challenge than on the PCT (where you have an app and know exactly where you’re stopping). Often I cut my day short when I found a nice place to camp and didn’t want to push my luck looking for another further down the trail.