Tag Archives: AT2015

Trail Days

Were you there?  I was!

Trail Days 2014_band_small

Last weekend, I was able to attend Trail Days in Damascus, Virginia, with a friend, Becki, and her three year old son, Will.  For those that are unfamiliar, Trail Days is a giant festival, with vendors on site to repair or replace equipment, lots of food, a bunch of giveaways, an auction, a hiker talent show, the famous Hiker Parade, and a bunch of other things I am forgetting about.  It may not be completely “Appalachian Trail”, but it is certainly a lot of fun.  If you have never been, I highly suggest checking it out.

Our adventure actually started on Friday evening, when we began the nearly six hour drive south.  I knew we would not make it all the way to Damascus on Friday, but figured if we could get an hour or two away, then the drive on Saturday would not be too bad.  Driving with a three year old is an adventure unto itself, but I quickly found that a big jug of animal crackers goes a long way toward keeping said child happy.  And quiet.  Sort of.  My truck will never be clean again.  But once he fell asleep, he was an angel, though!

We pulled off the highway about 90 miles from Damascus.  It was late, and I was not sure how plentiful hotels would be as we drove south.  Note to self #1 – make sure to verify if any large colleges in the area are having graduation the same weekend, since finding a hotel can be difficult when all of those moms and dads are in town.  Alas, we did find a place to sleep for a few hours.

Saturday dawned as a sunny, but cool, morning.  We had planned to use Will as an alarm clock, because “he is always awake by 6:30”.  Well, apparently Will had a power outage overnight, because the alarm clock did not go off until after 8!  Oh well.  Once showers and morning routines were accomplished, which included a not-so-brief hide and seek game (hide and seek in a hotel room is hard!), we were on the road again, getting to Damascus about 10:30.

Hide and Seek in the tent section.  Will won. Twice.

Hide and Seek in the tent section. Will won. Twice.

Vendor Row

Once there, I made a bee-line for the vendor area, as that was one of the main reasons I was there.  I had a list of gear items I wanted to check out first-hand before I start purchasing stuff.

I have to admit, I am not sure what I was expecting, but it was not what I found.  It seemed that a lot of the vendors were there displaying a few items, but were not really selling anything themselves.  More than once, I was told I could order the item, or walk across town to one of the outfitters to purchase it.  Guess I am used to motorcycle events, where everything is for sale at the actual vendor table.  That said, though, the vendors were extremely friendly and informative.

I was able to get a good look at one of the tents I have been considering.  The Lightheart Gear SoLong 6 was set up, and I was able to climb in and see how I liked it.  It was a bit shorter than I thought it would be, and I am pretty sure that my sleeping bag would touch at one end, but the construction was top-notch.  One of the owners came over and gave a quick demonstration of the three-way fly, which allows for different configurations to match the weather.  They had a good deal on the tent there, but I was not completely sold.  I still have a couple other tents I want to look at first.

One thing I saw that I thought was noteworthy was the “AWOL AT Guide” booth.  AWOL himself was there, representing his creation, a wealth of information in a compact book.  What was notable was that he had taken a copy of his book and taped up every page of it so that everyone currently hiking could put a sticky arrow pointing to where on the trail they currently are.  What a great concept!  I cannot wait until I can put my own arrow up next year.

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We made our way down the row of vendors, stopping here and there to take a closer look at a few items.  Will had a lot of fun at the hammock vendors, and most of the booths that had stickers were ransacked as he turned himself into a walking billboard.  We made one pass down and then walked into town for some lunch and to watch the Hiker Parade.

???????????????????????????????After lunch at the Blue Blaze Café, we stopped at Mt. Rogers Outfitters.  What an amazing store.  Had they not been over the Fire Code’s max capacity, we would have spent more time in there.  I already have plans to visit again in a few weeks, once they have restocked from the weekend.

We walked back through the vendors on the way back to the truck.  While Becki took Will to the playground, I stopped to meet Zach Davis of Appalachian Trials fame.  It was great to finally meet him.  He signed my copy of his book, and introduced me to a group of current hikers whose names I have regrettably forgotten.  (Note to self #2 – Always carry a notepad to jot down names.  If it is not written down, it is forgotten.  Note to self #3 – Take more pictures!)  I was able to ask a few questions of the other bloggers, but they were quickly and easily distracted when a pizza showed up.  Do not worry, I made sure I still had all my fingers before wandering off.  It was great to feel like a part of the community, and I cannot wait to start writing for Zach’s website next summer.

I wandered down to the playground and found Becki and Will, who was getting a monster truck painted on his face.  “Don’t mess with the monster truck.”  Cute kid.  After a quick ice cream stop, we headed back towards Tent City, for the Backpacker Magazine giveaway.  They were giving away a ton of items and something like a dozen full “kits”, including backpack, socks, water filter, stove, gift certificate for boots, and who knows what else.  Not me, for sure, because I did not win.  But it was festive to watch the winners get excited when their names were called.

Will takes his ice cream seriously! (Notice the abundance of stickers…)

Will takes his ice cream seriously! (Notice the abundance of stickers…)

The crowd gathering for one of the many giveaways.

The crowd gathering for one of the many giveaways.

Unfortunately, due to some prior commitments on Sunday, we had to head home and were not able to spend the evening in Tent City with all of the hikers who had gathered.  Looking back, I would have liked to have at least walked through and talked to a few people, to get tips on gear selection and just see what everyone was using.  While I have a fairly decent background in backpacking, I still feel like a rookie, especially with regards to all of the gear advances that have been made while I was absent from the sport.

Only at Trail Days do you find a limo with a bike rack…

Only at Trail Days do you find a limo with a bike rack…

As I mentioned, I already have plans to revisit Damascus in the near future.  And I will plan it better, bringing some Trail Magic with me.  Hopefully, there will still be hikers in town that I can talk to.  And soon enough, those NOBOs will be reaching Harper’s Ferry.  Hmm… may have to start planning a pizza party on the trail or something equally appetizing.

REI

After a late night of driving, for some reason I was wide awake early Sunday morning.  So what do I do?  I grab the iPad and start surfing the vendor websites.  While checking my email, I noticed that I had one from REI announcing their Anniversary Sale.  An hour later, I was driving down to the store to check the sale out.  As is usual for this area, there were lots of customers and only a few workers, so everyone was irritated with the service.  Or lack thereof.  But eventually I got (some of) my questions answered.

I received some contradictory advice about a pack, which immediately seemed like an off-the-wall suggestion.  Every other time I have mentioned about doing a Thru Hike, whether at REI or elsewhere, I have been directed towards a certain size of packs.  This time, I was pointed to a pack that was easily 20L/1,200 ci larger than any previous time.  Maybe I am wrong about needs, but I really do not want to carry an 88L pack.  So I will keep looking.

They did have the other tent I was considering on sale.  A really good sale.  There was not really space to set it up in the store, and certainly not enough staff members to assist, so I bought it.  I figure I can take it home, set it up, and if I do not like it, I can return it.  REI membership rocks in that respect.  I will most likely be back before the sale is over, looking at boots and sleeping pads, among a few other items.

So as you can see, it was a very busy, information-intense weekend.  And I loved every second of it, being immersed in the A.T. like that.  I would love to hear your thoughts or gear recommendations.  Please use the comment box below or the Contact Me page up top.

Until next time, remember to “Spin the Compass.”

MapCompass16_small

North or South

I have started some of my initial planning for my Thru Hike.  You know, how far to hike each day, where to stay, mail drop lists, and such.  But one question is still hanging out there for me – North or South?  It seems a lot of people randomly pick it, or it is based on whatever is more convenient for them.  For me, I am not sure which I would rather do.  My initial reaction is that I want to hike South, which always leads to the famous toddler response of “why?”.  Honestly, I have no real clue… it is just the direction my northern blood inspired me to pick.  So let me discuss with myself a little.  And yes, I do talk to myself… that does not mean anything.

NOBO

Source:  http://millinocketconnections.com/wp-content/uploads/Mt.Katahdin-3wr.jpg

Source: http://millinocketconnections.com/wp-content/uploads/Mt.Katahdin-3wr.jpg

The argument for going Northbound is simple – you can start sooner and (hopefully) finish sooner.  Most NOBOs tend to leave Springer in March or April.  From everything I have read, it also seems to be a little easier to go north as the terrain starts a tad simpler and gets gradually more difficult.  This would allow you to find your hiking legs while the terrain is less harsh, and be physically ready (or spent??) for the harder stuff.  I also like that your first few days or weeks are not immediately taking you deep into secluded forests, far from help, pizza and electricity.  This seems practical if you are not too sure of your backpacking skills and want that safety net to fall back on, or think you might need outfitters nearby where you can adjust, swap, or downright start over when it comes to your gear selections.  I am not sure that will be a consideration for me, though.

The negative side of this direction is that it seems to be the more popular choice – and therefore, the more crowded.  I am actually looking forward to SOME solitude on the trail, and having to fight for a spot in the shelter between two snoring bunkmates every night does not sound too appealing to me.  Also, due to Baxter State Park closing for the winter season on October 15, there is a definitive deadline, and any illness, injury, or lollygagging can wreak havoc on your plans to actually finish a Thru Hike.

SOBO

Source: http://www.cnyhiking.com/ATinGA-ApproachArch32.jpg

Source: http://www.cnyhiking.com/ATinGA-ApproachArch32.jpg

Traveling Southbound has its merits, too.  The obvious is that there is no set-in-stone deadline to finish.  Sure, weather in the southern mountains can be just as harsh, but Amicalola Falls State Park does not close its gates for the winter.  I like this flexibility.  I also somewhat like the punishing thought of having what seems to be some of the harshest and most secluded parts of the trail in the first month!  See, I told you I was insane.  As stated above, I like the somewhat more solo nature of a southbound trip, too.  What can I say, I have always been an introvert and enjoy my alone time.

The downside of heading south is that you have to wait longer to start… Baxter State Park does not open until after May 31, and patience is not one of my fortes.  Not being able to start until June or later to start might drive me crazy!  Then again, sometimes leaving at the year’s half way point may be easier than taking the middle half of the year off.  One thing about going south that I am not sure is even an issue is that it seems, as far as I can tell from my readings, the southern terminus is a bit anticlimactic, whereas northbound hikers have Mt. Katahdin as an inspirational finishing point that they can physically focus on miles ahead of reaching.  Maybe I am wrong, though, as I have never seen Springer Mountain myself.

Personal Considerations

Source:  Unknown

Source: Unknown

As is always the case, there are some personal considerations that must be taken into account, as well.  The first is my desire to attend the National Police Week event my bike club hosts every May.  I suppose I could start hiking and then get off the trail for the long weekend, if I needed to, but ultimately, I want to be in the D.C. area for Mother’s Day weekend.  I also plan to get off the trail for about a week in July, to attend the bike club’s annual rendezvous event, and I am not sure I want to get off the trail twice like that.  If I go Southbound, I would still be in town for the May event, and would then only need to get off trail for the July event.  The second consideration, which may be more of a convenience than anything else, is that it would seem easier to take a leave of absence from work starting at the half-way point of the year, instead of taking off the middle portion of the year.  However, there is also the chance I will not have a job to come back to – I have not broached that subject yet.  That brings up another possible issue, though – October, November and December tend to not be great hiring months for full-time work, at least in this area.  Maybe the New Year would be a better time to start that process.

And if I am honest with myself, there is a part of me that likes the idea of finishing atop Mt. Katahdin, with the iconic peak sign and the fabulous views offered.  It just seems to be a more highlighted finishing point, as opposed to the top of a hill surrounded by trees.

Luckily for me, I have over a year to figure this out.  It is certainly something I will have to spend some time thinking about, though.  I wonder what thought processes other Thru Hikers have had with regard to deciding which direction to go.  I would love to hear your thoughts on this, so if you have any input, please use the comment box below.

I welcome any comments or topic suggestions you may have, and as such, invite you to feel free to use the Contact Me page up top.

Until next time, remember to “Spin the Compass.”

MapCompass16_small

 

Weekend Adventures

After spending Saturday at a work detail for my motorcycle club (did I ever tell you I was in a motorcycle club?  Well, I have now…) I decided Easter Sunday was going to be a good day to get into the woods for a little outdoor therapy… not that I need therapy… umm, k, moving on…

Gambrill State Park

GambrillSP_140420_27_small

I decided to try a new park, and headed down to Frederick, to Gambrill State Park.  I had never been to Gambrill, and was happy to find that there were multiple trails to hike.  While the trails are mostly multiuse, allowing hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding, this weekend there were only hikers on them.  With temps in the mid-60s, a sunny sky, and a slight breeze, it was a great day to be on the trail.  And spring was certainly starting to show her color, which was good for the soul.

GambrillSP_140420_10_smallI started out on the White Trail – a fairly simple one mile loop.  I figured this would be a good warm up for the knee, and would let me see what the terrain for the area was really like before committing to something more than I could handle.  I am glad I started off here, as it gave some good trail walking with a few gradual ups and downs to get the knee loose.  This was the first I had been on the trail in about two weeks, so I was not sure how the knee would handle it, and the White Trail was a good warm up.  I also liked the symbolism of this trail, as it was marked with “White Blazes.”

Following the “White Blazes”…

Following the “White Blazes”…

Trekking Poles or Tripping Poles?

The White Trail also allowed me some time to get used to using hiking poles.  I have always hiked with a single hiking stick, but my Physical Therapist recommended using two hiking poles to help ease the strain on my knee.  (As a side note, my Mental Therapist, if I had one, would tell me I am completely nuts and should be committed… hence, why I do not have one!)  I did some research online and found a pair of Leki cork-handled trekking poles that were reasonably priced and came with a great factory warranty.  I used them once before, but the terrain that day was not conducive to finding a rhythm with the poles, so today was meant as a good training day for them.

GambrillSP_140420_07_smallI was surprised by how much the trekking poles helped… when I was not being tripped up by them!  Apparently, coordination is something I am lacking in, too.  I had assumed that the poles would be most useful on the uphill sections, and certainly, they were.  However, my lungs were weaker than my knee on those uphills, so I was stopping to catch my breath before I needed to rest the muscle.  (Note to self, add more cardio to the gym routine.)  I was surprised to find that I relied on the poles more on the downhills than I had anticipated, especially when I had to actually step down from rock to rock, or when drainage logs were in place.  The poles really did come in useful with balance and allowed me to lean on them when I needed a rest but did not want to sit down.  If you have never hiked with the trekking poles before, I highly suggest trying them.  Your knees will thank you.

I do need to figure out if I should be hiking with the metal points that come with the trekking poles, or if I should buy the rubber stopper ends.  During the hike, it was about 50-50 as to which one I wanted.  There are lots of rocks in the Maryland area, and the metal points do nothing but slide across the surface.  But I am not sure if the rubber ends would actually work or if the dirt and dust would make them just as slippery as the metal points.  Must do some more research on that…

After the White Trail, I decided to do the Green Trail, a two mile loop with varying degrees of difficulty ranging between mild to moderate.  Well, that is what the park sign said.  I am pretty sure someone needs a new dictionary with an improved definition of “moderate”.  There was one section of trail that was steep enough that I could literally look up the trail like I was looking up a wall.  Ok, maybe a slight exaggeration, but it sure did not feel that way at the time.

GambrillSP_140420_15_small

My view from the top.

Unique Proposal

While hiking the Green Trail, I noticed the best part of the day.  Some young man (or woman) had made a few markings on sequential rocks along the trail.  I do not know who this kid is, but I like his style!  And I hope the answer was “Yes”.

"Will..."

“Will…”

"You go to..."

“You go to…”

"Prom with me???"

“Prom with me???”

I most likely will not get into the woods this coming weekend, but will hopefully get some walking in to keep the knee moving.  I would love to hear from you, so if you have any comments or topic suggestions, feel free to use the comment box below, or the Contact Me page up top.

Until next time, remember to “Spin the Compass.”

MapCompass16_small

Official Introductions

Now that I have the blog site somewhat setup, I can devote some time to a proper introduction.

Forming Dreams

I have been dreaming of the Appalachian Trail since I first learned of it as a 12-year old Boy Scout.  The trail was talked about with such mystique and awe that it seemed like a fairytale.  A few years later, it was discussed while we hiked through the mountains of northern New Mexico at the Philmont Scout Ranch, as something that could be done as an extension of our trek.  The thought of an AT thru hike has been simmering just under the surface since then.

PhilmontTrek1992

At first, it was just something to talk about, a far off goal, seemingly unattainable.  Over the years, the more I thought about it and the more I read about it, the more the dream started to manifest into something much bigger.  The mystery that the trail had surrounding it slowly gave way to awe – the existence of something as large as the Appalachian Trail, bisecting its way through fourteen states across over 2,180 miles, seemingly unknown to many who live just steps from it, while creating its own tight knit community and support network, made it much more than a simple trail to be walked.  A thru hike began to represent the unknown possibility of the future.  Accomplishing it, while still a far off dream, would represent more than just the miles and time.  It would represent the strength and fortitude that seemed to be lacking in my life.

The thought of a Thru Hike came and went over the years, usually coinciding with major changes in my life.  But for some reason, I always became distracted before I could follow through with it.  When I moved to Maryland in 2003, I thought being close to the AT would entice me to use it more than I have, even if for only quick day hikes.  Like many, though, I allowed the reality of the “real world” to push the dream lower and lower down the ladder of priorities.

I had hoped to head south along the Appalachian Trail during the summer of 2014.  I wanted to tackle the trail before “the next chapter of life”, whatever that may be, takes over.  But more than anything, I hoped that the trail would help me rediscover the inner me that had been lost through years of schooling, marriage, divorce, and bending over to societal expectations.

Unfortunately, life got in the way again.  Simply put, I did not commit fully to preparing for it and therefore, lost the motivation to follow through.  Then at the end of last summer, a small motorcycle accident, which resulted in some pretty decent knee surgery, sidelined any thoughts of hiking.

X-ray of my pretty new hardware

X-ray of my pretty new hardware

That was then.

Now, having spent the majority of my rehab time reading about the Appalachian Trail, I am committing fully to it.  While I am still “setting up” things… you know, like telling my parents and my boss… I am initiating the conversations and events that need to occur in order to prep for a 2015 Thru Hike.  I have started to evaluate my current gear setup and research what gear I would like to upgrade.  I have already been out for a few day trips into the mountains around Harper’s Ferry, trying to rehab my knee back into shape.  I’ll have more posts to come on all of that…

View from Sugarloaf Mountain

View from Sugarloaf Mountain

One of the hardest things I am coming to grips with is the forthcoming questions – mostly, the “why?” question.  I think I want to hike the AT more to prove that I can do it, to prove to myself that I have the mental and physical strength and determination to follow through with something as large as this.  I am still searching for who I am as a person, and I realize that the trail may not help me meet that person, but it may help me clear the demons from my head and reintroduce me to the outdoor world I fell in love with as a kid.

Expectations

As for what to expect from me… I plan to post about once a week.  Maybe more, if I have a lot to say, but maybe less, if my crazy schedule does not permit a writing session.  I hope to not be too sporadic.  My posts will be a mixed cornucopia of thought processes, gear testing, recipe formulations, and trip notes, all interlaced with photos and graphics to break up the monotony of my ramblings.  And I will try to not be so long winded as I have been in this post.  I am sure there will be some off-topic posts, as well, as I have many different “lives”, each very separate from the other.  I also hope to find my “writer’s style”, as I have been given the honor of writing for the Appalachian Trials blog when my Thru Hike begins.  (Thanks, Zach!)

I would love to hear from you, so if you have any comments or topic suggestions, feel free to use the comment box below, or the Contact Me page up top.

Until next time, remember to “Spin the Compass.”

MapCompass16

 

And so it begins…

Well, this is it.  I have taken what I view to be the first step towards my childhood dream of Thru Hiking the Appalachian Trail.  I am hoping this blog will act as both a motivator and an accountability partner, forcing me to keep on track and focused.  All I know is that there is a LONG way to go… and it all starts with this first step.

More to come as I figure out all of this…