Most of us avid travellers are fit enough to enjoy most adventure treks. Maybe we’re not ultramarathon’ers, and maybe we can’t do 100 military pushups without stopping (hey, there’s a challenge), but you know, we tend to take care of ourselves because we love to travel and we can’t think of anything worse than being hindered by our own physical limitations.
So why then, despite adequate training, do we often run into discomfort when we embark on our most epic adventures? Well, I have three secrets for you, and they have nothing to do with physical fitness.
Don’t get me wrong, physical fitness certainly matters. If you can’t run 10km in less than 60 minutes, then it’s time to hit the streets for a little tune up. But even though most of us Globetroopers keep relatively fit, we tend to struggle (especially compared with locals) when we venture abroad. Why? Well, here are a few tips from our latest expedition.
We Westerners tend to have very soft and sensitive feet. Even for us Aussies who walk the streets and beaches without shoes, we still tend to have tender feet. When Lauren and I recently hit the jungle for 8 hours of straight trekking, our feet were destroyed. There’s nothing as frustrating as having the fitness to break new ground, but being thwarted by blisters the size of jupiter.
Prevention = tough feet + excellent footwear + non-cotton socks. I think Lauren faired a little better than me because she’s used to enduring the pain and destruction of regular women’s footware. Me? I tend to wear shoes that afford a lot of comfort. And while I previously never understood a woman’s acceptance of pain for fashion, I now know the secret: they’re all in training for epic adventures. Seriously though, it doesn’t hurt to toughen your feet up beforehand.
What is excellent footwear? It really depends. And, it takes a lot of trial and error. Less weight and less friction is usually best, but both of those characteristics come at a cost, namely warmth and protection. Sandals are great, until you fracture your ankle or end up in sub-zero temps, which can literally kill. So it’s really up to you to prioritise each factor: weight vs. protection vs. warmth vs. breathability. As for socks, they must be non-cotton to wick away moisture. Damp enclosed feet soften and blister very easily.
Whatever you do, you must pack the following if you hope to fix problem feet:
- Lubrication to apply to hot spots before they become blisters
- Very high quality blister strips, such as Second Skin
- Cotton bandages for the most stubborn blisters
Most great expeditions take us away from home into less developed regions. And while we all love to get out into new cultures and learn a thing or two, our poor little sensitive Western stomachs are often the last to come to the party. Just like damaged feet, an ill stomach renders the highest levels of physical fitness virtually useless. I’d much rather struggle a little due to under-training than be plagued by a constant upset stomach.
Prevention = hygiene + immunity + good bacteria. We all tend to get more and more lax with hygiene the longer we go without illness. Then bang. But there’s a paradox here. Being a ‘hygiene nut’ back at home is probably the worse thing you can do for your immunity. Sure you shouldn’t eat out of a garbage bin, but when you start refusing to shake people’s hands due to ‘germs’, it’s time to get a grip.
Also the right type of yoghurt (probiotic) can do wonders to build immunity against infections. It can even cure antibiotic-related stomach problems, which often occur when you initially try to blow bad bacteria out of the water with pills.
You have to be careful here. Most stomach issues in developing countries are the result of infection by bad bacteria. But anti-bacterials and anti-biotics also create stomach problems. Often you don’t realise you’ve transitioned and then you make the problem worse by treating chemical-related problems with more pills. With that said, anti-bacterials can save the day when you’re on the move.
Apart from pills (always carry an anti-bacterial), eat plain foods such as bread and pasta and drink lots of pharmacy-grade electrolytes (or Gatorade if it’s the only option). Don’t be tempted by crappy food; it’s much better to go without eating (but drinking lots of electrolytes) than surrendering yourself to foods that will upset your stomach.
So you have comfortable feet, a healthy stomach and you’re relatively fit. Sure, you could have trained much harder, but there’s an easier way. For every kilogram you shave off your pack, you save 13.7 megajoules of energy per hour. Okay, I just made that up, but seriously, shedding weight has a seemingly exponential effect.
On our recent jungle adventure, my pack was about 10kg, but it felt like 50kg after only a couple of hours. We could have put our packs on mules and walked without any weight, but we reasoned that it would be good training for Gobi 2011.
Oh my were we wrong. After getting stuck in the jungle in the dark and becoming very unbalanced while crossing waterfalls, I wished we had focussed more on shedding weight.
This is an easy one… Prevention = shed weight. But be a little careful here. Most people have no chance of under-packing, but some of us love the idea of travelling light and take it a little too far. An easy rule is to take things that will save your life, save your feet and keep your stomach happy; ditch everything else. As mentioned, weight doesn’t just lead to exhaustion, it also hinders your balance and reduces agility.
Once you travel for a while, you’ll realise that most things aren’t worth very much. My MacBook is about the only exemption (and not everyone would agree), but everything else (clothes, footwear, etc.) can all be replaced for a pitance. If you find yourself really struggling under weight, start donating items to anyone around you in need.
It’s very easy to get caught up in training hard for epic adventures. But when you sit down for a moment and think about what could really spoil the adventure, you’ll realise that there’s much lower hanging fruit. Keep your feet healthy, your stomach happy, and your pack light, and you’re on your way to enjoyable travels. Except for extreme expeditions (or very unfit people), physical training is usually just the icing on the cake when it comes to enjoyment.