Training hike—August 29, Hamburg, PA

Went from (more or less) the Eckville shelter to the Windsor Furnace shelter on the AT. Some nice hills (I think the elevation gain is about 800 or 1000 feet from where I parked—it’s no mountain, but it’s using the right muscles and getting the knees moving uphill and downhill.

This was (blessedly) better than my last disastrous training hike. I went 17 miles. Telling on myself, I probably would have quit after 13 or 14 because of sore feet. But I had to do the full 17 to get back to my car, lol.

As usual, some lessons learned and some surprises.

First of all, the hike. It was a perfect day—80 degrees or so, maybe 70 in the deep trees. A few mosquitoes in the swampier areas, but an occasional breeze to discourage them. I had a head net, but I didn’t feel the need to use it. (I got close a time or two, but never pulled it out.) I was testing out a set of Railriders bug pants, and I used picaridin on my arms. (Insect-borne disease is something I want to do my best to avoid on the trail, and West Nile is prevalent here. Not to mention, this is nearly the Lyme capital of the frakking world. I’m not sure yet how I’ll work it on the hike. One of the takeaways is that the pants were too hot. Not so hot that I was desperate enough to change into shorts, but hot enough that I don’t think I could do that day after day—and certainly not after April.)

I saw a bunch of hikers. Dayhikers, for the most part, it looked like, from the local campground. One guy with a baby, which was like the universe saying ‘Quit whining! Babies can do this!’ The only wildlife I saw were a turtle and a frog. A turtle! In a Pennsylvania forest! The hotbed of amphibious-land! It is to laugh! (Actually, up where I hike, the northern bits, there are plenty of snakes. I haven’t seen them, but people at the Pinnacle are always like, ‘Down in the cave. Five copperheads.’ I’m always extremely wary around those boulder fields and caves.

Got lost twice where there weren’t any blazes, both times in those boulder fields. Rocks look like rocks look like rocks, and it’s often hard to tell which direction to go. Note to self: The trail is better blazed SOBO. If you don’t see the trail, turn around.

I lost more than my way. In the rock climbing, I lost my visor and my notebook. When I got to Windsor Furnace and went to jot down my arrival time, I realized my notebook had fallen out of my hip belt. Alas. Lesson learned: Shit falls out of hip belts. (I found the visor when I backtracked. And also the little clip that holds the bitevalve to my pack, which I hadn’t even realized I’d lost.)

So, gear. The Platy worked well, but I have to remember not to set my pack down on the bite valve. Filling it was also more challenging than I’m into. I’ll change it out for the one with the wide neck.

The pants were too hot, even with the side vents opened. If they had inside-leg vents and a crotch vent, maybe. But they don’t, and I don’t think it’s worth it to modify them when I’ll need pants to hike in anyway, either the AT or in general. Instead, I’m thinking about a compromise: gaiters made out of no-seeum netting and treated with permethrin. They might be too hot, too, and if I wore them with shorts, my thighs would be exposed to mosquitoes. I’d need picaridin. (I like that better than DEET, because getting DEET on my hands invariably makes me mess up a piece of gear by melting it.) So I’ll need to make the gaiters and also get a pair of shorts. (My current shorts are too big.)

Also, packs. I had a 15-pound daypack, but it has no hip belt. If I’m actually going to be training, I need to train with my real pack. So I have to bite the bullet and decide whether I’m getting the Catalyst or the Circuit.

Feet: A huge problem. The balls of my feet KILLED. I thought I had that licked, but I don’t. I actually think it might be the socks. Great socks (Darn Tough Socks), but I think they shrunk a little, and also the longer I walk the more my giant feet swell, and the socks don’t let them move, so the toes squished together. I have one prodigious blister on the bottom of my ring toe. Also… the socks were HOT. So I ordered a pair of wider New Balance walkers which don’t have the tread I want, but I can always crawl on rocks on my hands and feet, but if I can’t walk because of pain, then No Maine. And if the walkers work out well, that can be a baseline for trying more trail runners in a wider size. I also ordered some thinner socks, and also a couple of pairs of toe socks to try out. Maybe my toes won’t squish together if they slide. We’ll see. I did think the shoe issue was done, so I’m discouraged that it’s back to square one with that.

The surprise was that I made it over the rocks much more easily this time. Not easily at all, mind you, but more easily.

I don’t think I’ll be using that part of the trail as my training hike. The mileage works out, but the rocks make it more mental. The training I need is physical, and cardiovascular. Plus there’s the injury risk. Why hike through Rocksylvania until you absolutely have to? Why risk a fall now? Maybe I’ll try it one more time if I decide I need to go with the walkers, just to see how they perform on the rock. But in the meantime, I’ll be looking for a 20-mile trail with good incline but not over boulders, so I can get a rhythm going. I’ll have to check the elevation profile at French Creek.

Oh, and I probably won’t be going back there ’til spring anyway. Hunting season starts in four weeks, and things get a little weird up there. (The trail borders on or travels through state game land.) Gunshots all over the place, more activity in the parking lot (which was already littered with broken glass yesterday from what I’m assuming was a break-in last weekend or the weekend before). I’d have to wear orange (which is money I don’t want to spend). But more than that, even now, the leaves are falling and obscuring the trail! The rocks are dangerous enough when you can see them. I shudder thinking about how easy it would be to twist an ankle or a knee when the rocks are covered by leaves.

Trekking poles: The Locura ones have turned out to be a bust. The locking mechanism broke within 25 miles. I won’t go with a twist-lock again. I ordered a set of Black Diamond Z-poles, and we’ll see how they do. I’ve heard good things and bad things, but I’m not hard on the poles (and even pushed all the way down, the Locura ones saved me many times yesterday, so I know I’m not being so hard that I’m snapping things). If the BDs don’t work out, I’m going to try Leki speedlocks.

Pack. Did I say this? I need to bite the bullet and order my pack. I used a 15-pound day pack, but it has no hip belt for one, so all the weight was on my shoulders, which I thought was dangerous and not really good in the training department. Plus, I kept having to jury-rig modifications that the final pack will have installed, which was a pain in the ass. Things like a water bottle holder, a hydration sleeve. So… Circuit or Catalyst? Circuit or Catalyst? I really keep going back and forth. (Today, this minute, I’m leaning toward the Circuit because did I mention my feet HURT LIKE HELL yesterday? But I’m carrying some bulky comfort gear for sleeping—not heavy, but I’m worried about having those extra 200 cubic inches.) I can’t buy for another month, so I have quite a lot of time yet to continue vacillating.

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Categories: Appalachian Trail, Gear, Planning, training | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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