There are two things I love to talk about:
(1) Our capacity to continually test and redefine the body’s physical limits
(2) My balls
I’ve been an athlete for most of my life (avid hiker, backpacker, runner, climber, mountaineer, weight lifter, yogi, waterman, martial artist, etc.), and, within the last 5 years, have become a strong proponent of a holistic self-care practice.
That brings me to my balls. Specifically, ultralight (UL), eco-friendly cork balls for self-massage. After all, they’re the flagship product of my outdoor self-care company, Rawlogy. I take my self-care ritual pretty seriously (despite the ball jokes). From hiking and backpacking to multi-day mountaineering expeditions and rock climbing adventures, this ritual has proved to be the key to many successful trips. After struggling with issues like foot pain, back pulls and charley horses, my roll-out sessions get me out of bed in the morning and keep my body moving.
Which brings me to this post — one I’m really excited to share with you! I’m about to start a 36-hour UL alpine climbing/mountaineering ascent of Bear Creek Spire in the eastern Sierra Nevada mountain range. I’ll be taking you through my self-care ritual, as I embark on my backpacking trip, all the way up to my alpine climb to 13,713 ft, and back down again. I hope that by following my journey, you will be inspired to develop your own self-care routine for your next epic trail adventure!
Day 1: Pre-Trip Self-Care Gear Check
Even though this is a relatively short expedition (36 hours) into the High Sierra, it’s going to be taxing on the body (hiking and climbing to almost 14,000 ft makes for an interesting combination of pain and pleasure). I make sure my self-care essentials are in my backpack, which includes:
- Rawlogy 2.5” Classic cork massage ball - 1.4 oz
- Rawlogy 1.9” Mini cork massage ball - 0.7 oz
- Mountain Mel’s Bobcat Balm (or pick your favorite muscle relaxing balm or CBD oil) - 0.5 oz
Total weight: 2.5 oz
Day 1: Morning Warm-Up
It’s 10 am and I’m about to embark on the 5 mile hike to basecamp at Dade Lake. I’ll be carrying a backpack, so I perform a few stretches to warm up my neck, shoulders, back, hips and spine.
Child’s Pose stretches the hips, thighs and legs. Bring your knees wider than your hips, big toes touching, and lower your hips slowly toward your heels. Walk your hands forward and rest your forehead on the ground.
Cat-Cow warms the body, brings flexibility to the spine, and stretches the back, torso and neck. Start in a table-top position (hands and knees on the ground). Move into cow by dropping your belly towards the ground and inhale. Lift chin and chest. Then, pull your belly to your spine and round your back towards the sky (looks like a cat stretching its back) while exhaling. Repeat.
Thread the Needle
Thread the Needle opens the shoulders. Start in a table-top position (hands and knees on the ground). Reach your right arm under your left arm. Lower your right shoulder and ear to the ground. Hold for 5-10 breaths, release and switch arms.
Day 1: Post-Hike Foot Massage
It’s 2PM and we’ve reached Dade Lake, where we will set up basecamp at 11,500 ft. I’ve been hiking and boulder hopping in my lightweight, minimalist shoes (4mm drop) for 4 hours and my feet are feeling it big time. Hopping the giant rocks in the boulder field was especially taxing for the feet with all the flexing and gripping. I take 10 minutes before setting up my tent to soak my feet in the icy cold lake (to help with inflammation) and then roll out.
The 1.9” Mini is a great ball for your feet because it’s small and gets into the painful tender areas. Start by standing or sitting with one foot on the ball. Roll the ball forward and backward under your arch, then under your heel. I like to roll out my foot-mound (i.e. the ball of my foot) in a circular motion. Stretch your toes by wrapping them around the ball. You can also roll side-to-side (cross friction massage) and put more pressure on sore spots with your body weight (i.e. pin the ball to a single point and push down).
Day 1: Pre-Dinner Full Body Roll-Out
My entire body is tired from the hike up to Dade Lake, as well as setting up camp and preparing the gear for tomorrow’s alpine start. So, I take 15 minutes before dinner to perform a full body roll-out session. First, I ask myself, “What hurts?” Once I make that assessment, I can target each pain point with the appropriate-sized ball.
The 2.5” Classic ball is awesome for bigger muscles. For your upper body, put your back against a boulder (or a tree). Lean against the ball and roll it up-and-down along your shoulder blade and back muscles. Pin and hold against any areas that are particularly tender. To get deeper into the shoulder region, lift your arms (one at a time) over your head (OUCH warning). Don’t forget to breathe! You can also do this lying down.
Put your back against a boulder or a tree. Place ball against your upper butt cheek and the boulder/tree. Lean against ball and roll it around. You can also do this lying down.
Lower Glutes / Hamstrings
Sit with ball under your thigh. Roll in a circular motion. Scoot down and do the same on your butt.
Sit with ball on top of your thigh. Push down on ball and roll it in a circular motion. Roll the ball forward and backward, then left and right.
IT Band / Outer Thigh
Sit with ball under your outer thigh. Bend the other leg and plant foot for support. Lean against ball and roll up and down. Use your hands to your support body weight.
The 1.9” Mini works well for your calves! Sit on the ground and place ball under your lower calf. Bend the other leg comfortably. Roll ball side-to-side. Move ball to mid-calf and repeat. Then to upper calf and repeat.
Day 1: Wind-down / Sleepy Time
This is an important time for me. It gives me a chance to calm my mind and fully relax my body before going to sleep. I take 20 minutes to perform a full spinal release (10 minutes per side). I also get into Child’s Pose to stretch my hips before snuggling into my sleeping bag. Lastly, I apply muscle-relaxing balm to any areas that are particularly sensitive, which helps with recovery.
Full Spinal Release
Sitting in your tent, locate the base of your spine (sacrum). Lie down and place the ball to the left of your sacrum (NOT ON the sacrum). Relax. Breathe. Hold for 10 minutes (I like to read or listen to music). Switch to the right side for another 10 minutes.
Day 2: Alpine Start
Good morning! It’s 4 am and I’m tired. First thing I do? Not roll. My body is too cold for that. The first thing I do is Child’s Pose, Cat/Cow and Thread the Needle from yesterday. I also throw in some free movement stretches and torso twists (enough to hear the pops and cracks).
Day 2: Start of Multi-Pitch Climb
It’s 9AM, I just finished hiking 1.5 miles up a boulder/snow field and I’m about to start the 7-pitch alpine climb. I’m pretty warm; however, I make sure that my shoulders, hands and wrists are feeling loose and limber.
Shoulder, Hand and Wrist Stretch
Stretch the shoulders, hands and wrists for all the climbyness. (1) Fingers interlaced and palms facing up towards the sky. (2) Fingers interlaced and palms facing forward. (3) Palms together, fingers up, first bending left, then right. (4) Palms together, fingers down (knuckles pressing together). (5) Palms on boulder, wall or tree with fingers up. (6) Back of hands on boulder, wall or tree with fingers down. You can also stretch your fingers by bending them into tiger claws, then paws, and finally jazz fingers.
Day 2: 100 ft from the top of Bear Creek Spire
I make an important self-care decision for myself this afternoon. It’s 1PM and we’re at 13,613 ft, only 100 ft from the summit of Bear Creek Spire. However, I’m choosing not to make the summit push. My head is swimming from the altitude and I’m taking longer to process and execute simple maneuvers. It feels unsafe and irresponsible to make the push and I’m ok with that. Self-care is about identifying what your body needs in the moment (physically, mentally and emotionally) and taking the necessary step(s) to address that need.
Day 2: Back at Basecamp
It’s 5:30PM and we are breaking down basecamp. My body is absolutely dead from the climb, as well as the long descent through the boulders and the snow fields (but I finally got the chance to use my new ice axe!). I am able to muster some energy to roll out my tired feet and shoulders.
Day 2: At the Trailhead
It’s 9 pm and it’s dark. 15 miles of boulder hopping and slushy sun cups, plus thousands of feet of elevation gain/loss in just under 36 hours. There’s nothing left in my tank; however, I have a new mantra: “I am driven by heart, not by fatigue.”
The mind and body are capable of so much, especially when you have a consistent and holistic self-care practice. I am alive, and I am also LIVING. It’s been a good, hard trip, and now... it’s time for beer and balls.
With that, I want to give a huge THANK YOU to Garage Grown Gear and you, the reader, for allowing me to share my story. By following this journey, I hope that you will be inspired to develop your own self-care rituals for keeping your body limber and loose! If you enjoyed this post, I would love to hear from you and learn about how trail self-care has come up in your own lives. Please feel free to leave a comment or shoot me a message on Instagram (@rawlogy).
Founder and Chief of Service, Rawlogy
Planning to be in the Portland or Cascade Locks area in August? Come out and roll with us!
- August 15, 2019: Fjällräven Portland (Portland, OR). Registration
- August 16-18, 2019: PCT Trail Days (The Ale House in Cascade Locks, OR)
Marek Bowers’ Rawology genius keeps me limber on the high altitude treks of Desolation Wilderness and the inner care needed for Jury Duty this morning.
Light, dense, powerful forces inhabit these cork balls that convince some of the worst muscle knots to surrender.
A buddy of mine, a grocery store bagger and stocker, wrenches his neck constantly—-until Rawology came into his world.
Thanks to Garage Grown Gear I have a pair of Marek’s finest for healing before injury and renewal after.