Sunday, December 30, 2012

a moment of panic

Things have really picked up around here, hiking wise. I've got everything I need (and more). We have made plans to slackpack the first week of our trip, and have made hotel reservations for our partners (who are kind enough to take time off work to drive us around!). I have come up with the perfect after-dinner dessert (equal parts vanilla protein mix + nesquik) and have made a list of 46 dinners to dehydrate and/or assemble.

I am going to try to do mail drops for meals - at least for the first half of the trip. We will be coming home for a few weeks in June - OWL had a already-paid-for vacation planned - and so that will be plenty of time to figure out what I want to do for the second half. The plan, as it looks right now, is oatmeal (homemade with chocolate chips, peanut butter powder, and coconut cream powder) for breakfast. Snacks (gorp, honey wafers, goo bars*, cheez-its) through lunch. Hot meal for dinner.

*goo bars are a special combination of peanut butter, bacon grease, chocolate chips, evaporated milk, coconut flakes, and dried fruit. Basically a homemade energy bar. They are delicious!

Most of the planning left is making the meals (so all Em. has to do is assemble the mail drop boxes), and figuring out where they should be sent to. Sort of waiting on the 2013 guide to get here. (I'm using AWOL's guide because I like the elevation profiles).

I had a moment of panic this morning. I've 4 days off this past week, and have been basically piddling around the house the whole time. Went urban hiking (with backpack) one day and put up the tent in cold and wind - just to practice. Have fiddled with my gear a little bit, and went walking today for a few hours. Other than that I have just been has been wonderful! But I did have a moment of doubt. Is hiking from GA to ME really what I want to do? Couldn't I do something more ... comfortable with my brave new world? Like maybe go teach English in Costa Rica, or learn to surf or something? What am I doing??

The reality of it is - I want to hike. Part of why I want to hike is purely the challenge of the trail. Am I strong enough - mentally and physically? What will I learn about myself, from myself? How will I handle being cold and wet and exhausted when my sleeping pad decides to spring a leak? (I know, I know, don't speak it into truth). The truth is - I don't know. That's part of the challenge. I want to learn how to rely on little to nothing. I want to prove to myself that I can finish what I start. I need some time to re-evaluate my career. I need to refocus on being awesome, instead of just focusing on being awesome at my job.

I know that it will be hard, but I also know that I can do it. I am not attempting a thru hike. I am thru hiking. I think there's a difference.

I wrote my letter of resignation last night. Maybe my moment of panic has more to do with that than anything else.

Monday, December 24, 2012


I think I have finally found a pair of boots! Merrell Moab Ventilator Mids. This is very exciting because I was getting a bit nervous that I had tried on all the boots in the world without finding a pair. They are not waterproof, so I am going to have to hike a bunch in January & February to make sure my feet will stay warm in the cold temps. (I think they'll be fine).

I'm wearing blue superfeet insoles for now. Still trying to get them broken in.

I need to start walking more.

Friday, December 14, 2012

ShakeDown Hike: Lessons Learned

I certainly learned a lot about how awful blisters are, and how important footwear is to a successful thru hike. I had a pair of waterproof lightweight hiking boots that I *thought* I really liked, but it turns out my feet sweat too much to be comfortable in waterproof boots. (What keeps water out also keeps water in). I also wore a pair of SuperFeet insoles that may have contributed to my blisters. I also forgot my liner socks (it's the trifecta of blisters).

Monday, December 10, 2012

ShakeDown Hike Day 4: AT Approach Trail (Springer Moutain to Amicalola Falls State Park)

I slept awful in the Springer Mountain shelter. There weren't mice or anything (that I heard) - but it was the warmest night we spent on the trail, and I kept waking up. I unzipped my bag halfway on both sides - then I got too cold. Back and forth, all night long.

We had decided to get up before sunrise, to get an early start on the longest hike of the trip (8.8 miles from Springer Mountain; 9 miles from the shelter). Of course the blisters did not heal themselves overnight, but I didn't feel too bad. We were up early enough to cook breakfast before the sun came up, and we ate during sunrise. Put my boots on and started walking.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

ShakeDown Hike Day 3: Hawk Mountain to Springer Mountain

The plan for the third day was to summit Springer Mountain, and camp at the shelter there. It's a moderately easy hike of 7.6 miles...moderately easy if you don't have crazy blisters on your feet, that is. I woke up to blister on both heels and both balls of my feet, plus a few small ones on the toes. I felt a few hot spots on my feet the previous day, but didn't want to stop and lose any momentum that I had. That was an awful decision. I had a hard time getting moleskin to stick to the blisters, and my duct tape was really un-sticky. After forcing myself to eat the rest of last night's dinner for breakfast...I packed up and we headed out. I was feeling pretty good about my pack weight when I saw a guy carrying a pack that weight at least 100lbs - including a full size thermos and other heavy camping luxuries. There's a saying I heard that says - the less your pack weighs, the more you like hiking. The more your pack weighs, the more you like camping. This dude definitely had a luxurious camping set up, but he was NOT having a good hike.

I hobbled along for 2.6 miles before getting to the Long Creek Falls area and deciding I *had* to do something about my feet. L. had waited patiently for me at Long Creek before taking off again. I found a log to sit on, dropped my pack, and looked at my feet. They were horrendous looking. Even though I had drained the blisters just a few hours earlier they were all puffed up again. I decided to try a method I had read about - where you sterilize a needle (fire) and thread (alcohol) and puncture all the way through the blister, then tie off the thread, which will then wick all the fluid out of the blister as you walk. (L. was not enthused about this idea when I told her about it earlier - but she wasn't there to stop me). I couldn't stand the thought of putting my boots back on, so I decided to hike in my crocs. They were surprisingly comfortable and while I wasn't setting any speed records I was trucking along. I figured when L. saw the shape of my feet she might offer to hike the Approach Trail tomorrow by herself, and drive the truck to pick me up at the forest service road, but I made up my mind that I was going to hike the entire thing, even if she offered. What sort of a precedent would it set if I didn't finish the practice hike?

Saturday, December 8, 2012

ShakeDown Hike Day 1 & 2: Woody Gap to Hawk Mountain

Last Friday L. and I loaded up the packs, kissed our wives goodbye, and went on a 4-day shakedown hike. (A "shakedown hike" is just what it sounds like - we wanted to try out our new gear in real world hiking conditions). What better place to hike than the portion of the AT that we had already hiked. We parked at Amicalola Falls State Park, registered at the visitor center, and caught a shuttle to Woody Gap.

The adventure started there. The guy L. had called for the shuttle was scheduled for chemo treatment on our arrival day, so he sent his 75-year-old wife, Dixie. The first thing she said to us after "hello" was "do either of you get carsick?". Upon hearing "no" she started talking - and didn't stop until we had parked an hour later at Woody Gap. She had lots of stories about people she had shuttled. There were 40 year old "kids" who had planned a section hike with their dad, only to find out they couldn't hack it. A man in a business suit carrying a suitcase. A man dressed as Jesus who carried a hollow cross (he kept all his food & supplies inside the cross). A man who called from Savannah, GA wanting a ride. That same man made it to Atlanta with his 85-pound pack, with a machete and "enough rope to tie up the Queen Mary". When cautioned that he should save his cell phone battery for emergencies, he noted that he was just going to plug it up when he got to the shelter. (He spent one night in the woods and then called for a return shuttle the next day). She told stories of her best friend, whose 4th husband set aside $50,000 for a funeral. After he died, she spent $10,000 on a very nice funeral and then got herself a "face lift and a boob job".

When we got to Woody Gap, Dixie was still talking. She pointed at the left side of the road. "You want to go that way, but the bathroom is on the other side of the road". Thanks, Dixie. Your confidence in us is incredible. We set off (in the right direction) a few minutes later.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

the planning's just beginning...

I'm still trying to whittle away ounces on my pack weight. It has occurred to me that instead of worrying about ounces, I should be concentrating on losing some weight. (I have plenty to lose!). I've already been working out 3x/week, plus hiking on the weekend, so it is obvious I need to make some changes to my diet. But, my diet really isn't that awful - I just have trouble with portion control and a bit of a sweet tooth. So, I've been living by the "3S" rule: no sweets, no snacks, no seconds (except occasionally on days that start with S). If I can drop 20 pounds by the start of my thru, my knees will be a lot happier!

Not totally official yet, but we're looking at a start date of March 6th.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Overnight trial run

Low is 27 degrees (above zero).

Postscript: It was indeed cold, but I was pretty comfy. Learned a few things:
  • I need to wipe off the bottom of my canister before putting it into my pot. Otherwise I get a bunch of dirt in my pot. Or cut a piece of tyvek to be my porch. Or maybe both.
  • I can lean my pack against a hiking pole. Kind of.
  • I can fit my backpack (the gregory z65) in my tent. Hurray!
  • The SteriPEN Adventurer Opti my brother & sister-in-law got me for my birthday is the bomb! Especially now that I have the pre-filter that fits a wide-mouth nalgene; I can submerge the nalgene in water and then treat the non-silty water with the UV lamp. Super easy.
  • I need to brush my teeth immediately after eating, *before* getting in my bag. Otherwise I want to just go to sleep/stay warm!
  • I don't need my puffy vest.
  • I probably don't need half the shit I have in my first aid kit.
  • I definitely need to get a handle on my food - I'm packing way too much food and it is weighing my pack down.
  • Also I need to trust the water supply - will be easier with a guidebook on the AT to know where reliable water is at. But water is also super heavy - at 2.2 lbs per liter - so if I can carry only what water I need it will make a big difference in pack weight.
  • Putting a hot water bottle in my bag before sleeping is the key to success. (And I managed to stay cozy warm the entire night).
  • Sleeping in smartwool compression socks is the way to go. 
  • My camelbak won't freeze if i wrap it in my jacket and put it between my bag & my sleeping pad. I blew out the water in the hose back into the reservoir, too. (Not sure it was really cold enough to freeze, anyway, but it sure didn't with my precautions!).
  • I get claustrophobic in my bag if I cinch the mummy hood up. (Like, waking up in a suffocating panic).  I was a little panicky going to sleep - it was cold, and I had trouble breathing earlier because of the cold - and I had a "what am I doing, I should be at home in bed with E. while I have the chance!" moment. But I tied a bandana over my mouth which helped me breathe warm air. I still woke up panicky - figured out it was the mummy hood - so once I un-cinched the hood I was ok - and still warm. And the bandana ended up above my head, so I didn't really need that, either.
  • My super thick sleeping pad (the Big Agnes Insulated Q-Core Sleeping Pad) is AMAZING. Best sleep I have *ever* had while camping. Serious.
  • Right now - when it's cold - I want to have a cup of tea and hot oatmeal before getting up. But maybe that will change when it gets to be "less cold". Even with a very leisurely waking process/breakfast/camp breakdown, we were on the trail by 8.
All in all - it was a great trip. I can't wait to go on our 3-night hike next weekend!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

I can buy it later...

I'm having to buy a lot of equipment, because I haven't really done any serious cold weather hiking in ages. (Mostly because there isn't any serious cold weather in the deep south). We are planning to start in early March, so I know it will be cold. I don't really like to be cold. But I need to remember, it's not going to be like the cold of my childhood in the frozen badlands of eastern Montana. It's going to be cold, but if it is *too* cold we can always get off the trail for a night or two. I don't need to prepare for 40 below temps.

I ended up buying the Mountain Hardwear Ultralamina 15 degree bag, which is a synthetic bag. I don't want to be cold, but I especially don't want to be wet AND cold. (Down bags lose their insulating properties when they get wet). I have a silk liner I'll use inside the bag, which should add another 5-10 degrees of comfort. I also purchased the MSR Hubba Tent, which is a 3lb 4oz single man tent. It got a lot of great reviews, and I like it because I can sit up in it without bumping the top of my head. It's a little tighter than I'm used to (2 man tents have plenty of room for 1 person!) - but I'll get used to it. I set it up in the living room - laid in it for a while - this shit's getting real, yo. Discovered that Emo the Cat will not make a good hiking companion - he was far more concerned about the tent taking up his sunbeam space than he was in doing any exploration.

I got a lot of stuff from backcountry during their 50% off sale items - couple different jackets to try out, variations on long underwear, socks, etc. I found a synthetic insulating jacket I really liked, and some smartwool midweight bottoms that are super comfortable. I'm trying to buy things on sale, and not buy shiny things just because I can (I have a 10 year old MSR stove & a titanium pot + lid + holder that is super light). That 1k max I was planning to spend is basically blown with the tent + bag + shoes + backpack. So if there is something I already have, I'm going to try to use it. If it breaks, or if it's not working as it should be, I can replace it on the trail.

I did score a nice under armour sleeveless tshirt for $2 at the thrift store this weekend. I tried to find a funny trucker hat to wear but couldn't find one that fit. Maybe next weekend.

E. and I have been going for walks on the weekend at various state parks in the area. Last weekend I just wore a daypack, and yesterday I wore my old pack - "squeaky" - loaded with 25 lbs. Not bad. Next weekend I'm going to rent a pack from an outdoor store, load it up with all my stuff, and go for another walk. I really like being outdoors, so I'm having a lot of fun. I'm not really sure how to prepare for the mental aspects of being on the trail - being away from E. will be the hardest part of it, I think, and I know I'll go through my own "Appalachian Trials". Just gotta be ready to face them.

Monday, September 24, 2012

gear choices

So, is having a closeout sale this week, where all their sale items are 50% off. This is mostly last year's gear, but I am totally fine with last year's gear for 50% off! It's a little hard to order things over the internet, since sizing is so weird for hiking gear, but backcountry has a great return policy so hopefully some things will work out.

Even though I am hiking with RD, we are going to pack separate tents. RD says this is because if one of us gets hurt, the other one can go on without having to lug a 2 person tent. I say this is because otherwise we will drive each other crazy (RD is nicer than I am). I've looked at a bunch of reviews online, and think I'm going with the MSR Hubba SP tent. It's light, it's relatively affordable, and it has bunches of room. Still, I'm going to sit in one before I order it.

I have no idea what kind of sleeping bag to get. I need to purchase one, since I only have 40+ degree bags (one of the perks of living in the deep south is you never have to worry about a winter bag). I think a light 20 degree bag will be fine, because I have a silk liner that should give another 5-10 degrees of comfort. I want a synthetic bag so I don't have to worry about it getting wet (down loses it's insulation when it gets wet) - and so I can dry out gear in the bottom of the bag while I sleep. Other than that, I don't know. Hopefully I will be able to get to an REI store and try some out soon.

I'm trying to decide if I need a new pack or not. I've only ever had one hiking pack, and I like the basic layout of it. But I'm wondering if I should try on some other packs, to see if there is something that will make these 2000+ miles a little more comfortable.

I also need to get some rain gear and cold weather clothes. I'll be trying to find good deals on synthetics, and just hope I get something I can work with that I don't have to pay full price for. Other things I'm looking at: hiking poles, trail shoes vs. boots, steripen vs. chemical drops. I'm hoping to spend $1k max on gear (including tent/bag/pack/boots/etc).

There's other stuff to think about, too. Should Em move in with RD's partner while we're gone? She'd be living rent-free, but then when I get finished I'll have to come back to apartment hunting (and, the cats will be totally unhappy about moving). Should I get a SPOT device to check in every night? (And, upon looking at reviews, are there other devices that are better?) Should we switch to Verizon so the cell coverage will be better, and if so, what phone should I get? Should I rely on the smartphone for music and books? How much audio should I allow myself every day? Do I want to try out a hammock instead of a tent? What will we eat? Should I "live blog" - posting public updates when I can, or should I post to a private blog or facebook group?

There are so many questions - and while I'm figuring it all out life continues. Work is still stressful (maybe even more so, since I have a finite end date in mind and an infinite list of projects). I have little moments of panic - am I really doing this? - but far more moments of excitement - I'm really doing this!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

i'm going for a walk...

Here's the plan: On January 29th, I'm turning in my 30 day notice. Then sometime the first week of March, I'll be leaving my wife, our cats, and our very comfortable life to go walk over 2000 miles along the Appalachian Trail.

Why? Well, mostly because I've always wanted to, and because I think I can. Thru-hiking the AT is something I've thought about in all the seasons of change in my life - college graduation, finishing grad school - but have never had the time or money or guts to take the chance. My hiking buddy L. & I have been talking about it for ages, and back in November 2004 we section hiked a small (very rainy) bit. This summer, we started talking about thru-hiking in 2013.

I'm in a transition point with work right now - I've learned a lot recently about how even though I've poured my heart and my soul and my time into a job, it's still just a job. There have been some changes recently that I'm not very excited about - and although I wouldn't go so far as to say I am being pushed out, it has become increasingly clear that I need to leave. And since I'm leaving anyway - why not take the opportunity to accomplish a life-long goal?

Thankfully, I have a very supportive wife (Em), and we have a pretty awesome life that will allow me to take off for 6 months and go walking. I've read 2 books and tons of blogs. I've talked to friends and family. I've decided not to take my cat (although wow - what a concept). I've started making my gear list - and as of yesterday I've started to order some gear. Ordering gear made it seem real - I'm spending real money on gear, and I'm going to do this.

Mostly I am looking forward to the challenge. I'm looking forward to walking, and walking, and walking some more. I want to know if I can do it. It's the sort of thing I only get one shot at doing, so I know I have to do my best. 

A long time ago when the internet was smaller, I used the nickname "zag" on some message boards. I'm going to use that name on the trail - I'm trying to get back to my roots, back to a time when I believed that people were inherently good, back to who I was before I started worrying about work more than anything else.

"I'm going for a walk...not the after dinner kind. I'm gonna use my hands, and I'm gonna use my mind." --Bad Religion