Monthly Archives: October 2012


I walk, she said
because I do, I walk
in rain. Through fields of brown
dead stalks, shorn close for winter.
Through autumn woods,
tangled branches, tired,
too worn to clutch the stubborn rags of red.
A din, then, a rising crash of
trumpets out of tune.
Geese–not chevrons, though, not pairs or columns,
The pewter sky falls black with churning wings.
Discordant, frenzied, north they fly in autumn, thousands lost,
out of their time,
out of time.
This storm will be bad, she said.
These are endings.
These are endings.

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Training march–20 miles

I did it! I did it! Twenty miles with thirty pounds.

I was wondering about the twenty miles, given that it took me five hours, or a few minutes under. But then I remembered that my regular walks are four miles and they take roughly an hour and a half, including stopping at traffic lights and a trip into the grocery store. Plus the one thing I’ve never been accused of is walking slowly. Once I get steaming, I roll along. And this is an easy walk, too. Paved roads and footpaths. Not much in the way of uphills, but it is what it is. And I’m OK with that. I remember back in my martial arts days: one of the greatest teachers I had the privilege of learning from said something along the lines of “The dojo is where you practice under bright lights on a soft floor with friends.” The Farm Park is bright lights on a soft floor with friends. At the very least, my back and shoulders know what it feels like to carry thirty pounds. My feet know what it feels like to march twenty miles.

I feel pretty good! A little stiff, for sure. I wish I could sit on something high and swing my feet, because those dogs are barking! The only thing that’s worrisome is the same old left knee issue. It really started to hurt at the end, and it hurts now. I didn’t have the brace with me, but I’ll wear it tomorrow.

Wait. Did I say tomorrow? Yes. Yes, I did! I think the only thing I can do right now is prepare my body to do long days in a row. Three times a week is fine, but for me, I want two of them to be back to back. I want to have a little soft-floor, bright-light training with complete lack of motivation—or worse, really not wanting to go out, and going out anyway. Going out without having had a full day of rest to recover.

As far as the walk itself went, it was pleasant. Saw some dead snakes, some dead caterpillars, and some smooshed mice. On the other hand, I had a long stare-down with a deer. I love the way deer stand in the woods and peer at you. They seem wise, somehow, and serene. In the moment. They’re gauging which way the wind is blowing from one instant to the next, prepared to move in whatever direction is called for. It’s very zen. Thank you, deer.

I saw a lot of people, mostly retirees getting in their miles, and a lot of people walking dogs. A lot of dogs. And some poop. But I digress. I saw one guy who was very chatty—a World War II vet who asked about my backpack and gave me a long rundown of most of the strategy for most of the battles in most of the theaters of the War. It was interesting, but the man himself was more so—more interesting, I mean. Here he is, clearly without people to talk to, clearly deeply interested in this massive experience that shaped his life.

Will that be me, someday? An old woman meandering through a park, pinning down a stranger and talking relentlessly about bear sightings and running out of water near Pearisburg? I hope so. Because when push comes to shove, the guy had to be 80. But there he was, still fit and strong, and wandering, and having those crisp bright memories (and opinions) to share.

When he stopped for a breather, I thanked him for his service, then I slipped away.




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Pack rassling

“If the gloves don’t fit, you must acquit.”

(OK, so maybe that’s an unfortunate quote. But since Johnnie Cochran was pretty much a cartoon character anyway [as were all of them, with the notable exception of the vastly unfortunate victims], I guess that’s enough said.)

My beautiful, wonderful pack, which I love so much that I want to marry it… yes, my ULA Circuit: We had a sit-down, my pack and I. (I wonder if I should give my pack a name? People name their cars, they name their GPS devices, they name all sorts of things that don’t generally need names. Maybe I should name my pack “Mango.” Then again, the whole trail name issue is hard enough without compounding it by naming each and every piece of gear as though it were family. Which it is. And my phone, by the way, is “Bruce.”)

My pack—for the purposes of this post, let’s call it “Mango”—well, let’s just say that the gloves don’t fit.

And not only the gloves. The stove doesn’t fit, the sleeping bag doesn’t fit, the eight-pound bag of birdseed I’m using to simulate food doesn’t fit… it’s a giant, enormous, pretty-much-infinite mess of generalized non-fitting. In other words, I’ve got the weight manageable, but the bulk is out of control, baby.

I’ve had to cheat some. For instance, I don’t have my stupidly expensive Nunatak quilt yet, so I’m using my stupidly expensive Western Mountaineering bag as a stand-in. The bag weighs 32 ounces. The quilt is reputed to weigh 21, and I’m assuming will take up half the bulk of the WM bag. Great! I figured, because, well, there’s a whole raft of crap I haven’t figured out yet: toothpaste and such. I mean, I’ve figured it out, but I haven’t packed it up. That extra 11 ounces can represent the rest of the family.

Also, I only had a larger canister of fuel. (I remedied that yesterday, woohoo! That tiny little JetBoil canister is adorable. So adorable, that I want to take two! Which, of course, is why Monsieur Cochrane is the headline of this post.)

I was originally taking a Patagonia down jacket, plus a Montbell down shirt (7 ounces) for sleeping, given that I’m going with the quilt and starting in early March, and I sleep cold. BUT… the people at White Blaze terrified me with all the hypothermia talk, so I decided I’d better switch out the down shirt for a Patagonia fleece, just in case everything gets wet. I’ll have one piece of synthetic insulation that dries quickly and also insulates even when wet. But man, that thing is bulky (bulk, of course, being relative, in a situation where 3 ounces might as well be a half-ton)!

I could not jam all that crap into that pack.

Mango and I went through a few iterations of trying things out in a different order, as though somehow packing something on the left instead of the right would magically make it take up less space.

Oh, Mango. You’re killing me.

Thus, we’ve entered the land of Hard Choices. In the land of Hard Choices, the cute Montbell down shirt has to stay at home. Yes, honey, you pack down to the size of a baseball, but you know what? I don’t have room for a baseball, either. (That’s predicated, of course, on the quilt being warm enough. When it arrives, I’m going to do some hardcore experimenting.)

In the land of Hard Choices, I dumped my titanium coffee cup, which I love. It weighs about as much as a feather, but it takes up too much space. I dumped my polypro ground sheet (although that one may come back; I’m also afraid of three weeks of driving rain). (Also, I’m taking another, silnylon ground sheet for under my tent, so this was basically cutting out a redundant nicety.) In the land of Hard Choices, I switched out my midweight Capilene sleeping insulation shirt for Thermasilk, since I have the Patagonia down jacket. That might not work out either, once I start experimenting with the sleep system, now that the down shirt is a goner.

I’m still working on this. I’d like to get another test-pack done today and tomorrow, including all the miscellaneous toiletries and such.

Mango and I will keep you posted.

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Personal: Finding truth

I’ve been reading George Steffanos’s most excellent trail journal, Then the Hail Came. It led me to an epiphany. This isn’t about the Trail per se (although everything in my life is about the Trail right now; I’m saturated in the Trail, it pervades every molecule of my DNA, and I’m sucking it down like air).

It’s about honesty. I was reading one of his entries, a particularly gut-wrenching one, and the truth of that entry, the emotional truth, was palpable. I could feel myself responding to George’s honesty. I could feel the fact that he wasn’t holding anything back. He was just out there, putting it out there, being honest and himself and unafraid to let it be there and be public and be announced.

Jay Lake has the same thing, with his cancer blogging.

I don’t have it.

See, that’s what’s missing. That’s why fiction and I are currently on a trial separation. That’s why I don’t connect with people. Because I’ve always been too afraid of what people were going to think to let my whole truth be out there. I’ve hidden it for so long, out of fear, that I think I’ve completely lost track of what it is. What’s the truth of me?

Can I put it out there? Myself, with all my rawness, my blisters, my shadows, my confusion? Can I do that without really caring who reads it or what they think? It’s not a question of dishonesty, but rather concealment. Castle walls, baby. And moats, and spikes, and dogs, and archers. Keep out. Don’t see me. Don’t see me, then watch me complain because I’m invisible.

That’s my Katahdin: truth. Truth and visibility.

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Training walk

Did about 15 miles in the Farm Park today, with a 25-pound pack and no appreciable physical effects. Some slight pounding in the feet, just enough to let me know I did some walking. My back got a little tired toward the end, when I started to slouch.

It gives me hope! Maybe I can really do this thing!

Note: I decided to start taking supplements because of my old crackly painful knees. Yesterday I started on glucosamine-chondroitin and a multivitamin with vitamin D. I kind of poo-pooed the whole idea, but I’m at a point where I’m willing to give anything a try if it might increase my odds of finishing. And I have to tell you, after a single day the crackling in my knees is enormously reduced.

Maybe it’s the weather. Maybe it’s how I slept or something. Who knows? The pain seems reduced, too, but that’s hard not to ascribe to a psychological effect.

Anyway, there it is. I don’t know if I’ll take them on the hike. That would cut into my food weight (these horse pills are HEAVY; also, they taste like ass). I’ll definitely give them a few months anyway. If they seem really effective, it’s a price I’m probably willing to pay, given that I was all set to carry about six-hundred pounds of knee pad.

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The how of training

I’m not sure what to do about the whole training issue. Honestly, the best I can do would be a long walk on a paved road, under weight. The park has some gentle slopes, but nothing in the way of actual elevation. On the other hand, I’m slowly increasing my pack weight. Even gentle slopes help my body get used to the idea of walking uphill and downhill while carrying 30 pounds. Or do they?

I don’t want to wear out my body and my shoes and my knees—you know, use up what’s in the gas tank on side trips before the big journey. On the other hand, it seems like any training is better than sitting on my ass. Oh, and speaking of ass, a few miles now might trim that weight down a little, too, which is always good. (I say ‘might’ because, well, I can’t seem to marshal the willpower to both walk a lot of miles and control what I’m eating—not to mention also getting in the requisite number of hours of work.)

Which brings me to the third point: time. Yes, I can walk 12, 15, 18 miles. It takes 4, 5, 6 hours. That’s 6 hours I should be spending on the job. And after I walk 12 miles, I’m exhausted. My concentration is shot. My work pace is sluggish, and I’m not confident in the quality of the work I’m doing. Even getting up at 4 AM, it’s still hard for me to get more than 4 or 5 hours of work on a good training day. And I’m supposed to be in this huge money-saving mode, what with the being out of work for 6 months next year (assuming I’ll be on the Trail that long). Plus, the park doesn’t open until daylight. Now that the days are getting short, that means I’m doing this walk-training during actual business hours. It’s a part-time job.

So. I can work, or I can train. I can diet, or I can train. And the training isn’t on 45-degree Georgia slopes, so I’m not sure what effect it has on the cardio anyway. (Note: I can do 12 miles with no physical after effects. No foot pain anymore. No shoulder or back pain. That’s with a 20-pound pack. Since that’s my approximate base weight only, I’m going to try to inch that up to 30, my anticipated max weight. But I don’t want to use up my pack miles, either! I thought about doing the 30-pound walks with the old, heavier Gregory pack, but I want to practice with the rubbing in the right places and with the getting stuff in and taking it out.

What do you think? Any training is better than no training? Or work is better than ‘soft’ training, and let the Trail work out the rest? (Note that everything else suffers, too: all social activities, including online, are on moratorium while I’m working a full-time job and walking three days a week. On the other hand, I’m used to this. I remember going through this back in my martial arts days, when I was training up for my black belt tests.)

In my ideal world, I’d do 18 miles three times a week, under 30 pounds of weight.

We’ll see.

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Phone versus camera: cagematch!

So, I did a 9-miler over at the Farm Park with both the iPhone and my Canon Powershot. I wanted to use the iPhone as my only camera (which would save me roughly 10 ounces). My early impression was that the iPhone camera was great within certain limits, but I wanted to do a quasi-scientific study (by which I mean pretty much a half-assed comparison).

Here you go.

That’s some bushes. The iPhone image is the winner there, I’d say. It picked up the lower-light shadows.

And the iPhone was the winner in a few other situations, too.

But—and it’s a big but—the phone is a clear loser when it comes to the zoom.

And this one is questionable:

So what’s the verdict? Hard to say. The Canon tends to wash out the photos. The phone, though, tends to make them too dark, even with the flash on. The iPhone takes better pictures of the sky. The zoom on the iPhone is pretty much made of fail.

I think the upshot is that no matter what I end up doing on the actual trail, I need to have access to both pieces of equipment. I’ll probably end up taking everything twice! That’s fine, though. It’s only pixels. And the iPhone will be terrific for the day-to-day stuff that I might upload here. The camera will be for the photo album.

And, of course, I’m no photographer. I have about as much skill with both pieces of equipment as that dalmation in that one picture. (Cute doggie, by the way.)

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Trail journals

“I finally made my way back to the shelter—no rides, so it was another three-mile walk in Fontana. You would not think this would bother me, with all of the walking I am already doing on this trip, but my legs and the bloody stumps I use for feet have only so many miles in them on any given day, and I hoard these like a miser. Wasting them on roadwalks not part of the official Appalachian Trail mileage frustrates the hell out of me.”

From the best trail journal I’ve ever read: Then the Hail Came, by George Steffanos, 1983 thru-hiker.

Why, oh why isn't that an e-book? George, if you're reading this, you should put it out on Kindle and make yourself a buck or two. I'd pay for a copy, for sure!

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The nerve center—new and improved

The nerve center, new and improved!

I can’t quite see how to upload a photo with this phone. That could be a problem.




Edited to add: OK, obviously I figured out how to upload the photos! On the other hand… meh. The quality really isn’t stupendous—by which I mean the quality of the photographer, rather than the phone. Still, it’ll do for a couple of daily shots, a ‘capture the day’ sort of thing, for all the people who aren’t reading this journal, lol.

Also, how the hell do you make bad photos smaller once you’ve stuck them up there? Hrm….

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Blog roll

By the way, if you’re a fellow Appalachian Trail 13er with a journal (or even if you have an AT journal and you’re not a 13er), I’d be happy to add a link to your blog. Just drop me a note.

Most folks will be on TrailJournals, I imagine. But some of us are outside “the bubble” (virtually speaking).

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