As soon as I felt up to it after my hernia repair surgery, I have been trying to steadily increase my activity. The first few days I took walks in my neighborhood of about 1.75 miles, 2.5 miles, 5 miles, and then 8.3 miles.
I felt ready today to finally get back to my old training site, Frozen Head State Park, for some real hiking and a better assessment of how I'm doing.
My doctor said I should not carry more than 10 lbs., so I carried a day pack containing only a rain jacket and rain pants, a down jacket, snacks and water.
The route I chose wasn't too strenuous. I elected to go up North Old Mac Trail, which has a steady ascent of a little under 1700 feet in 3.6 miles.
Along with a short section of the Lookout Tower Trail, North Old Mac and South Old Mac trails combine to make a nice loop around Old Mac Mountain.
As hikes go, there isn't a lot to say about this one. I hiked up the mountain. I hiked down.
That may sound boring, and maybe the hike was a little bit because it was more or less the same as all of the many other times I've hiked this route.
But there's the point. This hike was further proof to me that my recovery is moving along well. I'm moving back into a training phase where I left off before the surgery, and I'm not just in a recovery phase.
Note that I said "not just in a recovery phase." I'm not going to fool myself that I have already recovered. I'm still following the doctor's advice and will take care to not over do it.
I'm also not fooling myself into thinking my thru-hike attempt is a slam dunk. There's no certainty I will finish on Mt. Katahdin.
In fact, the opposite is more likely to be true. The odds may be stacked against me.
A quick look at statistics from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) bears out that view.
Last year there were 3,377 hikers who left Springer Mountain, Georgia, intending to hike to Maine. So far, only 620 hikers have reported they completed their hike.
Late in the last decade the percentage of successfully completed thru-hikes had risen to 30 percent. Since then, though, the percentage has dropped to around 25 percent.
The trail hasn't gotten harder in that time. In fact, as equipment has become lighter, the number of trail-related services has increased and cellphone reception has improved, you could easily expect it's now easier to complete a thru-hike.
My guess for why the percentage of completions has dropped is because of an increased number of ill-prepared hikers making an attempt.
Nonetheless, the numbers still show it's a formidable challenge for anyone to hike all 2,190 miles in one year, and I doubt anyone really needs to see the statistics to agree with that statement.
On this basis then, there is a one-in-four chance I'll make it.
Or is there?
I recently watched a video blog post (vlog) by a woman who goes by the name Hiker Feet. She is currently hiking the AT in Georgia, with plans to go all the way to Maine. She says the owner of a hostel discussed some of those same statistics I just mentioned.
Hiker Feet shared one more statistic, though, that momentarily shocked me. She said the hostel owner told her the most successful group of hikers are those over the age of 60. In fact, he claimed that group of hikers has a 90 percent success rate.
I've not been able to verify that number, but even if we reject it (and frankly, I'm skeptical) we can see how the success rate for thru-hikers over 60 could be higher than the overall average.
Older hikers, I'll argue, are less likely to undertake a full thru-hike attempt without considering the challenges and understanding the risks. Most likely, they've had a desire to thru-hike burning inside for years, but had to make sure their job, family, finances and health were taken care of first.
Older hikers have dealt with life for a longer time, so they are better equipped to handle the mental grind that comes from hiking for days in rain and hot and cold without normal comforts of home.
So yes, I think being 61 years old raises my chance of success.
Then there is one more reason, a much more significant reason, why I have a better chance of success. I have a partner who is committed just as strongly as I am to complete my thru-hike goal.
Kim has been my friend, ally, coach, and advocate for nearly 38 years of marriage. And she is especially so now.
I can't be certain an injury won't cause me to fail to finish. I can't prevent some other external reason from forcing me to quit. It could happen, and perhaps is likely to happen.
But I know I've got every reason I need to succeed.