I imagine fast hikers don’t take 3000 pictures. I do enjoy me some woods. Not just the views, but the woods. If I see an interesting bug or flower, I’m likely to spend five minutes just staring at it to see how it works and to admire the shape of it. Hell, at the higher elevations I stared at the sand in the soil and wondered at the composition of the rock that made it. Some of that sand was blue! How cool is that? I took pictures of dirt because it interested me. I think that for a unidirectional thru-hike the mileage probably has to take precedence. You can stop and smell the flowers, but only for ten or twenty seconds, then it’s back to the foot pounding.
I printed out my Katahdin reservation. That felt just like when I printed out my Smokies permit—all that anxiety and worry. Can I make it? Can I do it? Can I manage? Is it too big a job for me? Not that it matters; I’ll find out when I get up there, just like I did with the Smokies. Which, I keep reminding myself, I made, I did, and I managed, and under some fairly brutal conditions.
What will I do differently for the SOBO leg of my thru?
Well, I’ll try to do more miles every day. Not a lot more (I’m a Capricorn pragmatist, after all), but a few more. A few more than right before Harpers Ferry, anyway. Earlier in the hike I was averaging more. By Harpers Ferry (when my mileage should have been increasing into the high teens), my shoes were so beat that every step after the first couple of miles was painful. My mileage actually declined when the terrain got softer. I have new shoes, and I hope that gets me a higher average. I also have extra shoes ready to be maildropped. I’ll be replacing them every 300 miles, rather than every 500. They degrade so subtly that you never see it coming, and the impact can be horrible. I’d rather spend an extra hundred bucks on a new pair of shoes than go through that pain again! (Which isn’t to say that I won’t have foot pain. I’m just hoping I don’t have that really sharp heel pain.) Note: The terrain up north is much worse than the terrain down south, and I’m ready for depressingly low mileage in the places where hikers traditionally get depressingly low mileage. The upside, of course, is that where those hikers get depressed because of their depressingly low mileage, I’m already well practiced in the arts of depression and low mileage, and low mileage is no longer all that depressing to me. It’s just the status quo. 😉
I’ll try to stay at shelters more often, at least at the beginning. For the majority of my NOBO leg I stealth camped, mostly because I just couldn’t make it all the way to the next shelter. We’ll see how that goes. When it’s 3:00 in the afternoon and I’m at a shelter for a break, I don’t see myself stopping there; but I still don’t see myself being able to make eight miles to the next shelter before dark, either (and my vision is so bad that night-hiking isn’t really safe). The staying-at-shelters goal will probably butt heads with the do-more-miles goal, just like it did NOBO. Then I’ll have to decide: What’s the priority? I don’t have to end by October 15 now, so I can do more short days; but if I do the short days, once again I lose track of the people as they move ahead of me. It’s what nailed me NOBO—the worst of both worlds.
My NOBO priority was time. Having removed the time pressure, I think my priority SOBO will be people. Which is all kinds of ironic, given that the SOBO hike is traditionally solitary. I guess I’ll just have to take advantage of what few people I can find and keep up with! I hope that having my trail legs and being at fighting weight going in will give me enough of an edge to keep up with a few of the folks who happen to be starting SOBO or flipping. But we’ll see. In any event, at least different people will be passing me. And I’m greatly looking forward to seeing my NOBO friends one last time as they head north and I head south.
My base weight will be slightly higher. I don’t like that at all! But I need my puffy jacket and some additional bug protection. And a book, which is my luxury item now (particularly since I’m taking an iPod and will need the recharging juice for that as well as the phone). Net weight gain is probably a pound or a pound and a half. On the other hand, my food weight will be dramatically lower. I’m going to actually keep it to one food bag, and try to resupply the way it’s usually done—frequently. I’m already fighting my fear-based tendency to oversupply; I keep adding to the resupply pile that’s down on my dining room table, even though I’ll be able to top off at Abol Bridge, right before the Hundred Mile Wilderness.
Gear changes: New odor-proof bags. A new food bag. A couple of stuff-sack replacements (I got rid of almost all of them, but I have better versions at home for the few I’ve kept). A new trash compactor bag for a pack liner. In other words, the gear is finally dialed down, but I’m replacing the stuff that got worn out. (And here’s something funny. I used to love love love REI. I went there yesterday and realized that they kind of suck, from a long-distance backpacking perspective! Any dinky trail-town outfitter is better supplied with hiker stuff. I literally laughed out loud. Especially when I found out how incredibly enormous my current dividend is. Guess where I’m doing my Christmas shopping? Luckily, they do have good clothes and such. And there are more things available online.)
I’m replacing my shorts and underwear with smaller versions. The new shorts don’t have pockets, which is both annoying and good; at least I won’t keep losing stuff from the pockets. I’m not sure I mentioned this, but in addition to losing one P-style, I also lost a bunch of pages of Trail Guide one day, which was almost a disaster. I backtracked a half-mile uphill and found them, luckily. In addition, I’m bringing a second ultralight sports bra. It weighs a couple of ounces and has about the same utility level as camp shoes—not a necessity, but something I frequently missed a lot. It basically has to do with modesty while I’m doing laundry or hanging out in my dry camp clothes, more than anything else. I found I need a second bra much more than I actually need a second pair of underwear bottoms (which I don’t carry). Not that most people here actually care about bras. 🙂
So where’s the drama now?
When you’re going NOBO, the drama factor is all tied up in the deadline. Will she make Katahdin before it closes? Kind of a gross oversimplification, as it turns out. There’s so much more at stake than just a target on a calendar! SOBO hikes are dramatic, too, but without that artificial deadline.
Here’s my drama, from my point of view: Can I climb Katahdin? Can I get through the Whites? Will I be injured? What will the crazy weather of 2013 do? Will I see a moose? Will I see a porcupine? Will I encounter more snakes, more deer, more bears? Will they eat me? (Not the deer so much.) Will they steal my food? Will I get through the rocks of Pennsylvania and the mud of Vermont and the mosquitoes of Massachusetts? Will I manage to avoid Lyme disease and West Nile and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever? Will I manage to avoid the norovirus again, which is cropping up in unexpected locations? Will I avoid Giardia for a while longer (assuming I’m not harboring it already)? What about lightning and flooding? There are actual river crossings in Maine.
Will I survive the Mahoosuc Notch (the ‘hardest mile on the AT’)?
Will I survive Mount Washington? (The ‘worst weather in the world,’ people! Although *cough*… not really true. But still notoriously bad!) Will I be able to exchange my ‘This car climbed Mount Washington’ bumper sticker for one that reads ‘This ass climbed Mount Washington’?
Will I run out of money? That one’s become kind of huge. I saved for a six- to seven-month hike, not a seven- to eight-month hike, and I’m borrowing money so I can finish. It’s not the hike so much as the November mortgage and all that—and the fact that coming home in November, I might not have work until January. I have to retrain myself to hike on the cheap. A whole new learning curve.
And the big one, of course: Will I be able to finish? Or will another solitary hike wear me down again to the point where I walk off the trail?
I can’t wait to find out!