Posts Tagged With: Appalachian Trail

Pennsylvania rocks

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Honor and gratitude

The Trail was conceived in vast devotion. It twists over rocks, through streams, and across mountains that have held the sky for millennia. The Trail is lovingly maintained by the sweat and blood of a legion of volunteers who do the work selflessly and without remuneration. The stones of the Trail are as old as Earth, and the trees have witnessed the slow advance of thousands of mere people.

So how can I honor the Trail?

I can try to take each day as it comes, and only as it comes. I can make general plans for the next three days, but then concentrate on accepting the Trail as it is, just at that single instant, at the birth of each new footstep. The Trail will present great difficulties; if I try to fight them, it won’t be the Trail that’s battered. The Trail always wins. If I relax and accept the Trail for what it is, I don’t win—but the Trail and I move together. I am permitted to float for a time on its river.

I can try not to complain. Everybody hurts. The Trail has been described as six months of pain management. I guarantee that if I’m at a shelter or a hostel and I’m hurting, there’s somebody at that shelter or hostel who’s hurting worse. I can honor the Trail with trail magic. The Trail, after all, is a moving city of fellow journeyers.

I can honor the Trail by not cursing the stubbed toes, the torn shoelaces, the leaky shoes, the snow. Instead, I can express my deep gratitude to have the opportunity to walk the Trail for as long as I’m privileged to do so, be it three days or three months or all the way to Katahdin. I have a choice between “F–k you, trail” and “Thank you, trail.”

I can treat the Trail with respect by leaving my camping areas clean and welcoming for the hikers who come after. I can diligently practice Leave No Trace.

I can smile.

Thank you, Trail.

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“Begging your pardon…

said Sam. “I don’t think you understand my master at all…. Mr. Frodo, he knows he’s got to find the Cracks of Doom, if he can. But he’s afraid. Now it’s come to the point, he’s just plain terrified. That’s what his trouble is. Of course he’s had a bit of schooling, so to speak—we all have—since we left home, or he’d be so terrified he’d just fling the Ring in the River and bolt. But he’s still too frightened to start.”

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The shape of things to come

Well, here it is. Four months from today, I’ll be boarding an Amtrak train and migrating south to Georgia. Springer fever.

I’ve been leery of posting too often in the lead-up, for a couple of reasons.

First and foremost: yawn. Really, who’s interested in the fact that I might take Crocs or I might take water shoes, that I might go with the Thermasilk longjohns or I might go with the Capilene, that toothpaste stored this way weighs 0.55 ounces versus that way at 0.45 ounces? Assuming that the only people who might read this are fellow hopefuls… well, not exactly riveting information, is it. We’re all on the same calendar page.

But also, there’s the… call it my jinx issue. Every year, we hopefuls start our preparation journals. Most of us assume we’ll be among the magical 200 who reach Katahdin. And every year, the majority of those journalists eventually post that one final post:

“Stress fracture. Had to get off the trail.”
“Torn achilles.”
“Hernia. I’m done for the year.”
“Bad news at home. I’m out.”
“Ran out of money.”
“This just isn’t fun anymore.”
“I’ll try again when it’s warmer cooler better when I’m in better shape when my kids are older when I don’t have this great job offer on the table when when”

I respect any and all of those possibilities and decisions, and I hope to gods I don’t have a hike-ending disaster.

I just don’t want to be writing that journal. I’m almost afraid that if I put too much excitement down on (virtual) paper, the universe will smite me. (“Here!” laughs the universe. “Have scabies!“)

Besides, the preparation is just taking up space until we hit Springer. Right? Spinning wheels in an actual direction, instead of spinning them with no direction at all. Gotta do, gotta move, gotta make it be March! For me, anyway. Tapping fingers, since I can’t march feet.

As far as training goes, I’m just walking the way I usually walk, with a few extra miles thrown in, maybe to shed a pound or two (I’ve got twenty I’m definitely looking forward to seeing the back of—pun intended). Nine miles three times a week, maybe four, on gently sloping terrain with a daypack. I know I can work up to my max pack weight. I know I can go 20 miles with a 30-pound pack with no lingering stiffness or pain, at least around here. I can’t really test the strain on the knees (my weak point) because there aren’t any steep sustained hills locally, but I’m planning to go slowly in March. I can’t train for the heat, because hello winter! Also, I had to concede that walking 20 miles a couple-three times a week is pretty much wasted effort, especially this far in advance. Not to mention that it takes five hours, which is hard to manage while holding down a job. When walking is my full-time job, I’ll train up to the longer distances.

Now, mental preparation is another story. I’m testing my gear piecemeal under cold and rainy conditions. Every day, every hour, I ask myself, “Now how will this be when it’s in the teens and you can’t get warm? How will this be when it’s 97 degrees with a heat index of 108? What if you were doing this with a painful chafing rash and poison ivy? What if you had bee stings? What if those shoes were frozen solid? What if you were trying to do this with a massive dehydration headache? How can you prevent that? How will you manage emotionally when mice chew your food and you have to walk a day on nothing but a granola bar? What tools can you practice?” I’m doing a lot of mental work for the stressful times. I can’t train for all the physical contingencies, but I can maybe get prepared their psychological impact.

The one thing I’ve got going for me (aside from the fact that I’m a walker) is that I have a full (and somewhat terrifying) understanding that every day on the trail is hard. Every single day. Rewarding, I hope… but hard. I know that from hiking the AT here in rocky Pennsylvania. I’ve bonked in them thar hills. I’m ready for miserable. Miserable and I? We’re like this.

The trick, for me at least, is to acknowledge the misery, then find a way to shout, “Bring on a little more of it, motherf—–s! Bring on that misery!” Fist-shaking at the storm… sending ki, we used to call it, back in my old martial arts days. Not drowning in the hopeless enormity of it all, but deflecting the hardness back on itself. Harsh language is enormously helpful.

If it were easy, everybody would have a summit photo on their mantel.

Well… almost everybody. Me, I’m generally happier just a bit outside the mainstream. ;D

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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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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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