After many months of research and analysis (yeah I know, no surprise there) I finally made the purchase of a pair of Blue Diamond Distance Z-Poles. And today I went hiking at Ridley Creek State Park to test them.
I can hike RCSP without them. I've been hiking there unassisted for years. Knowing the trails gave me the advantage of being able to play and get used to using them without fear of needing them and not being able to manage them. One of the many reasons I love to hike is the unpredictable nature of the trails - the challenge of finding the footing and being able to keep moving with new surprises just around the corner. But as I venture farther and farther out I find situations that make me uncomfortable.
Crossing larger creeks and streams for one. French Creek is tame by some folks measure but when the creek is rushing and the rocks are slippery I feel unstable. The poles will give me more stability. In summer I can wade across and change socks on the other side (I've done that) but in winter it would be much too cold to risk getting my feet wet. There are no creek crossings in RCSP so I was unable to test that today.
I also believe the poles will give me more stability on steep descents. I often feel like I'm going to go head over heels. The descents in RCSP are nowhere the steepest I've been on but today I was at least able to get a feel for where the poles might go to give me more stability without getting in my way. I'm anxious to try them on a proper descent. I noticed that I'll have to find a balance between placing the pole for support without leaning on it too much that it digs into the turf and I have to pull it out. Once today I got one pole basket (small as they are) snagged on a tree root as I brought it around. I imagine that will happen much more on the rocky terrain of the northern and western trails on PA.
I have never had issue climbing. I enjoy a good climb and I knew that I would not want to use poles to pull me up a hill. However, in my reading prior to purchase I found many long distance hikers who spoke about using the poles on a climb at your side and slightly behind - planting in line with your heel more or less - and using them to help propel up the hill. I liked that idea and tested that today. One of the steepest climbs at RCSP (in my opinion) is from the creek up to picnic area 9. I hit this mark about 6 miles in today. I used the poles as described to propel and was amazed at how that worked. It took more energy - since arms and legs are working now - but the benefit of distributing the work between legs and arms made for less muscle fatigue in my legs at the top.
I am going to have to get more strength in my arms and shoulders now. And coach Maggi has helped me see that core strength will be a big help there.
I noticed about halfway up that I was going harder than I normally do on that climb. I guess unconsciously my brain was thinking, you've got four points of propulsion now you should go faster. Not a problem on a short hike like today but that would be a problem in something longer (like the Super Hike). I'm going to have to practice and find that sweet spot between taking advantage of the pole assist without depleting too much energy that I'll bonk later. Heart rate may be the way to go there.
One place where the poles may help too is the rocky ridges that I've been afraid to try. Like the one on the Pinnacle Hike a few weeks ago.
I wonder if having more points on the ground would make me feel less fearful? I'm looking forward to testing that.
All in all I'm pleased with the test hike. Investing in the poles was a good move. I specifically wanted the folding ones because I know I won't want to use them all the time. I practiced folding & deploying them and stowing & removing them from the pack at random intervals today. I want to be able to do it so that I won't get in the way of others around me and not have to stop necessarily to do it.
I was pleasantly surprised to discover that they didn't bother me too much on flat sections. In fact, I found that I could fold them and let them hang from my wrists. They are so freaking light it's amazing. So while I don't want to use them on flats I don't have to put them away every time either.
Keep smiling and keep moving