The work is finished, except for maybe a half-day job that may or may not come.

The details are in progress, pesky as puppies. Waiting on 1099s so I can do last year’s taxes and pay my estimated payments for this year. Waiting for the roofer to call and tell me when he’s coming to fix my leak. Waiting for the end of the month to cancel some things and handle some nitty-gritty, like figuring out my Smokies permit and doing my final grocery shopping.

So for now, hiking is my full-time job. Set the alarm for 5:00, get up, make meals, pack the pack, commute to the trail (an hour), then hike. Hike hike hike. Then drive home, shower, sleep. (I’m not doing full afternoons yet, so I can check WhiteBlaze and Trail Journals in the afternoon.) Lather, rinse, repeat.

I’m working into the rhythm. First, it lets my body get a taste of hiking on rocks and hills for multiple days without breaks. But really, I’m trying to minimize the Springer Mountain culture shock. I’m the kind of person who gets easily addicted to a schedule. With all the other changes and challenges of Springer to Neels, it seems smart to eliminate the ones I can.

No really big miles, no big weight. I’m just trying to do 10×12—ie, ten miles by noon. Haven’t managed it yet, although yesterday I did get my ten miles by 12:15, then hiked another mile or so. I’m increasing the distance slowly.

Weather, of course, is the limiting factor. Last night brought torrential rain and high winds, and there are winds again today. That trail can be treacherous at times. The ground is frozen with pooled water. Rain makes the ice wet (and the other day I had several near falls; thank the gods for inventing trekking poles). But the winds make branches fly like broomsticks, which is less predictable than watching one’s footing. Discretion being the better part of valor, I’m planning a cozy day working through gear.

My bum knee hurts a bit, but I think it’s OK. Nothing that feels like a new injury.

We’re good to go, one day at a time.






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Look, it’s a bear!

OK, not a bear. Just a silly old tent in my dining room.



Oh, and a bear bag. Cause you just never know what’s in your dining room!


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Training hike, 9/27/2012

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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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Training, updated

Holy shit. How the hell do people get their pack weight down to 15 pounds? The mind boggles.

Anyway, the hike is becoming more definite. Start date moved up to 2014, woohoo! That’s assuming I continue to have steady work. Money is the limiting factor here. If I hit the lottery, I’m ready to go for 2013. It wouldn’t even have to be a massive lottery hit, either. Are you listening, universe? Are you listening?

So, I’m whittling away at my gear list, and I think I’ve got it pretty solidified now — at least sufficiently solidified that I can do some serious honing and gram-weenying over the next year. Year, boohoo. 😦

I’m working out a training regimen, too. I’m going to try one 22-mile day hike every two weeks (on the AT itself, right around the Hawk Mountain, Eckville, Pinnacle area), and on alternating weeks a regular old hike to either a different section of the AT or to another trail — just something to get the muscles moving and burn some walking calories.

Details to come, eventually.





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Training Hikes—Part 1

When this ambition (let’s avoid the word obsession) reasserted itself some time ago, I decided my best training would be on the local Trail itself. At the very least it would give me an opportunity to test the waters: Am I really up for this? Am I seriously going to live basically on cat food for the next few years, only to spend the half year after that in insane hardship? Am I as in love with hills and rocks and work as I think I am?

     My first training hike was a beautiful June day, sunny with a breeze that turned blissfully cool once I got up into the hills. I drove a couple of hours to the state game commission parking lot near Pine Swamp Road, which is much prettier than it sounds. I’d hiked the Trail up there before, but not for a few years. On the way in I startled a deer grazing the fringes of the forest. A well-muscled doe, she glanced at my car then leaped into the woods with strength but no panic. Go, sister, I thought. A sign.

     I’d cobbled together some gear and clothing, the best bits and pieces of what I had. New shoes—trail runners, since my old, expensive, professionally fitted boots had never been comfortable. Nylon basketball shorts, a lightweight short-sleeved shirt, my plaid daypack. A couple quarts of water, some lunch. My new trekking poles. (I’d never hiked with trekking poles before, and man, am I a convert. But more on that later.) Everything was a different color, from the purple bandanna to the green socks. A vagabond jester.

     The first half-mile out of the parking lot, up the blue-blazed trail, was a wakeup call. It’s probably a twenty-five- or thirty-degree angle, downright gentle by Trail standards, smooth and easy and wide—and I was so winded I had to stop twice. Then I saw my first white blaze, and the emotion was overwhelming. I accepted in that instant that obsession is the right word after all, and that trekking this trek has probably been written in my stars since the first time I stepped from the blistering sunlight into the cool green arms of the woods.

     I headed northbound toward the Pinnacle. The Trail there is steep for quite a ways, but easy to follow. (Too easy, for this rookie. I need to develop the habit of watching for the blazes.) Particularly on the slopes it’s blanketed with loose rocks and gravel, which warrants a little care in the walking.

     Eventually the Trail flattens out. It narrows to the width of a couple of tire ruts as it moves through the state game lands, and after the recent storms it was muddy. Not Vermont muddy, but boot-sucking in a few places, the worst of it easily avoided by stone stepping or walking across logs like balance beams. I passed a swollen pond with cattails jutting like enemy spears and nearly jumped out of my skin at this horrific groaning shout not ten feet away; a bullfrog! A freaking bullfrog! I had to laugh at myself. I remembered doing exactly the same thing the last time I’d made that hike. In fact, that was the day’s litany: “I remember this.” “Oh, yeah, I remember this part.” “Shit, I forgot about this!”

     I passed four hikers that day, three going southbound and one going north. Two men and two women, all solo. That two of them were women, I took as a sign. The men had the grizzled lankiness of thru-hikers. I chatted a few minutes with one of the women, a long section hiker from New Hampshire. All of them, my heroes.

     On the trail, I saw a baby toothbrush like a little white bone in the mud. “Somebody’s going to be missing that,” I thought. I imagined how disheartened I’d be if it were me, and how many times I’d empty and search through my pack, convinced that that toothbrush would turn up if only I looked hard enough.

     The rocks near the Pinnacle were more difficult than I remember. I was in much better shape the last time I’d been there, thinner and actively training in martial arts, so I had a stronger core. That was a wakeup call, too. It was the first time ever that I had the Pinnacle all to myself. So I sat near the edge and looked out at the majesty while I ate my lunch, and I thought, “Yes. You can do this. It won’t be easy, but you can do it.”



     In typical fashion, I wanted to overdo it, to go a little farther, but for once I listened to the little voice in my head that said, “Stop. Calm down. You have three years, and this is your first time out. You can push your limits once you know what they are.” So I headed back home. It was about eleven glorious miles, round trip—barely a blip for a long-distance hiker, but enough for me to start with.

     All in all, a good walk. The last time I’d hiked there, my feet had felt like they were bleeding on the bottoms. This time there was none of that, nor any knee pain. Yay, New Balance trail runners! I was stiff that night, but the shoes were an unmitigated win. The next day, though, I had a brand new agony—my hips! The fronts of my hips were so sore I could barely move. I realized that because of my sedentary day job, because of all the sitting, the extensors in front have shortened. It took three or four days for that pain to pass, and I’m happy to report that it didn’t recur after the second hike.

     I felt so gloriously optimistic after that first training hike. Yes, you can do this. It won’t be easy, but you can.

     It was the second hike that was the punch to the gut.


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