Tag Archives: Boots

Love this tree I found on the trail!

Sugarloaf Mountain

With a three-day weekend for Labor Day, I decided to spend a full day focused nearly entirely on preparing for my thru hike.  This included some extended trail time, a little gear testing, and shopping spree at my local REI.  I will cover the trail here, as I am still sorting through the shopping bags.

Sugarloaf Mountain

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Sugarloaf Mountain is an impressive hill, at least for this area of the country.  It is a privately owned park and is open to the public for much of the year, at no cost.  There are four trails, designated by colored markers, which circle and climb the mountain at different points around it.  While each of the trails is a loop trail, they cross each other at many locations, letting you jump from trail to trail at will.  Each trail is marked frequently with painted blazes on trees, and a numbered post marker every half mile, making it near-impossible to get lost as long as you stay on a trail.

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The day was predicted to be about 80-degrees, and mostly sunny, so I filled my hydration bladder, packed up my daypack and headed out the door.  For this hike, I decided to do the Yellow Trail, a 7-mile loop that circles the base of the mountain and has only moderate elevation gain.  I figured this would be a good trail for the day, letting me cover some new ground and trying a trail I had never been on before.

Hiking solo is a great time to get lost in thought.  Here are some of the random thoughts that passed through my head that day:

  • I need to check the humidity, not just the temperature forecast.  80 degrees is fine, unless there is 95% humidity.  Wow.
  • I remember the woods having more song birds.  The constant drone of insects is deafening without the birds to break the noise.
  • Squirrels are sneaky bastards.  I was hit in the head by 3 acorns on this hike – and after each one, a squirrel started chuckling.
  • I hate being tall on a trail with lots of spider webs.
  • Sweat in your eyes hurts.  Sweat with bug spray hurts more.
  • I am pretty sure my trekking poles are trying to kill me.  They help me when I truly need the help, but when the terrain levels out and they are not as critical, they always seem to find a way of tripping me up.  Probably invented by a squirrel.
  • I need to find a strap to keep my sunglasses on my head.  It is hard to pick them up while carrying a small daypack, and I imagine it will be impossible with a full pack.
  • When a trail map says “minimal elevation gain”, the person who wrote it is likely lying.  Sure, there was lots of flat ground, but the “minimal elevation gain” was all found in a one-mile section.  Killer.
Love this tree I found on the trail!

Love this tree I found on the trail!

Gear Testing

This hike also gave me a chance to really try out some new gear, namely a pair of ExOfficio boxers I picked up from REI and my relatively new Oboz boots.  I had used both on my evening hikes around town, but this was the first I was able to put serious miles into a trail hike.  And both passed with flying colors!

I have had a difficult time finding a pair of boxers that kept things where they need to be but at the same time let things air out.  Guys understand the need to avoid swamp ass.  ExOfficio may very well be my answer.  These boxers were comfortable, protected my delicate parts, kept me cool and dry, and did not allow any chaffing at all.  In fact, had I not thought about this post while hiking, I probably would not have thought about them at all.

Same with the boots – at one point, I had to look down to make sure I actually put them on!  These Oboz boots are as comfortable as my daily athletic shoes, and just as lightweight.  The traction they offer is amazing, too, letting me hop from rock to rock without any fear of slipping.  I did have to stop twice to tighten my laces, but I mark this up as breaking them in and expected a little stretching.  These boots might be the only reason I actually get out and hike on days I am not feeling up to it, they are that comfortable.

These boots rock!

These boots rock!

I was feeling so good when I finished the loop that I decided to turn around and do the same loop backwards.  As you can imagine, it was quite a different hike!  First, the quick uphill was now a quick downhill, and the gradual downhill that I did not really notice on the first loop was a never-ending torture hike uphill on the second.  Ok, so it probably was not that bad, but it felt it.

I am glad I did the second loop though, as I learned a few things I would not have learned if I had stopped after one loop.  My first learning lesson was that while bug spray may say it works for 4-6 hours, sweating negates that.  Reapply often.  Secondly, I learned to stop for lunch.  While I ate a Clif Bar while hiking, it was not enough and I was feeling out of energy by the end of the second loop.  I should have stopped to eat a decent lunch like I had planned to, whether or not I felt I needed it at the moment.

One thing the extra distance allowed me to identify is that I still have some residual foot problems from my surgery I need to work out.  While my injury was strictly knee-related, I have had some issues with my left foot after being non-weight bearing for so long.  My doctor said it would work itself out, but I noticed a slight discomfort behind the ball of my foot that extended into the arch of my foot a little.  It was not enough to make me stop hiking, but if it is a concern at 15 miles, it will certainly be an issue with 2,200 miles.  Another thing I need to look into was that after I was done hiking, and had sat down, I developed an ache at the top of my foot across the top of where the foot arch is.  I have felt this before, so it was not new, but it got my mind thinking.  Perhaps a checkup with a podiatrist is in my future, just to ensure there is nothing larger looming there.  To be honest, I never really had my foot checked after the accident, as it was my knee and wrist that hurt, but maybe there was some small injury to my foot, as well.  Something to look into…

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Relaxing and cooling off in my ENO hammock after nearly 15 miles!

I will not be getting a chance to hike this coming weekend, as I have a motorcycle club fundraiser event and then need to spend some serious time on homework for a fire/rescue class I am taking, but after this hike and my gear preparations, I am feeling a bit more relaxed about where I stand.  Still more work to do, for sure, but not as far off as I had thought.  For anyone in the Frederick area of Maryland, I highly suggest checking out Sugarloaf Mountain, but be warned, the weekends can be crowded and parking is limited.  If you have any suggestions about my foot issues, feel free to use the comment box below, or the Contact Me page up top.

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

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Damascus

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I was finally able to find an empty day in my schedule where I could make the nearly six hour drive down to Damascus, Virginia, to visit with the two outfitters down there.  I had been to Mt Rogers Outfitters during Trail Days but the building was bulging at the seams with hikers – people who actually needed something RIGHT THEN – so I did not stay real long or take up too much of the staff’s time.  This time was much different…

I love the scenery in the area!

I love the scenery in the area!

Oh, for anyone who has only ever been to Damascus during Trail Days, I implore you to visit during a non-T.D. weekend.  It is a MUCH different experience!  During Trail Days, the whole town seemed like a giant carnival, with wildly dressed (or undressed) people around every corner.  Driving into town now showed a nice and quiet mountain community, with lots of bicyclists and people just strolling through town.  There was a beautiful house for sale just down the street from one of the outfitters, and if I had the $500k for it, I would have considered moving there!

Sundog Outfitters

When I got into town, I stopped first at Sundog Outfitters, mostly because I had not been there before.  Inside, it became clear that bikers and tourists were more of their target client, with a minimal backpacking stock.  Lots of beautiful new and rental bikes lined the floor.  And truly, that is not being fair – there was a nice side room full of tents, sleeping bags and backpacks, with a decent selection and variety.  But upon waking in, it was obvious bikes were the priority – probably because most of the northbound hikers have been through and the bike tourism sector seemed to be blooming.

I cannot say the trip was worthless, though.  While walking around, I found a shelf of Black Diamond Spot headlamps on sale for $20.  It is not the headlamp I had been looking for, but at half price, I could not pass it up.  I may or may not use it on my hike, but for now, that is one less thing I need to worry about.

M.R.O.

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After Sundog, I headed over to the ever popular Mt Rogers Outfitters.  I browsed the shelves for a while, making mental wish lists and reminding myself I am on a budget, and headed to the backpack section to check them out.  One of their employees – “Bill…Just Bill” – came to help me out.  This man was AH-MAZE-ING.  He was a walking breathing backpacker gear guide!  We started by looking at the pack my dad loaned me.  He loaded it up with sandbags until it totaled 35 pounds, and showed me a few ways to adjust it.  His advice was simple – the pack could be made to work, but ultimately, it did not truly fit my back, I could feel a few pressure points, and it was on the higher weight side of the lot.  Ironically, it was almost too large, even though when sized, I am a large for most manufacturers.

Then Just Bill loaded up the same sandbags into five other packs (and two of them, twice…) to show me some options.  The first pack was the Osprey Aether 70.  I have tried this on before, and I know it fits comfortably, but I am also afraid of the over-five pound weight.

Then I tried the Osprey Atmos 65.  Immediately, I liked this pack.  I had tried it before and now wonder if I had tried a different size, because this pack felt like a different pack altogether.  When cinched down, it felt like the back was hugging my body, making it extremely comfortable.

Next up was the ULA Catalyst.  Again, this pack was comfortable, but in a different way than the Atmos.  While the Atmos hugged me, this pack felt as if a round duffle bag was strapped to my back.  It felt different, but it was a comfortable pack.  The padding and straps were minimal, but were more than adequate.  I liked the simplistic nature of the design, and the material seemed a bit better than the Osprey.  Strong contender.

For comparison, Just Bill weighted up a Deuter Act Zero 45+15 SL.  Immediately, I did not like this pack.  While the construction was top-notch, and some of the little features were better than the others, the pack made me feel like the Hunchback of Notre Dame more than my old external frame pack ever did.  And while I was intrigued by the concept of the padding, which allows a space, and therefore airflow, along your spine, it just did not feel comfortable on my back.  If it was uncomfortable in ten minutes in the shop, I cannot imagine wearing it for six months.

Ultimately, I asked Bill to reload the Atmos and the ULA again, for a better comparison, and after that, decided the Osprey was for me.  I liked the back-hugging feel of it, and just felt more at ease with it than the ULA.  Bonus – it was on sale!  That said, if the Osprey does not hold up, the ULA will be my next pack!

After that, Just Bill discussed a lot of other things with me.  We talked about winter weight vs summer weight, and he showed me one of last year’s packs, the smaller Osprey Exos 46, which he said a lot of hikers “downsize” to when they drop their winter gear.  I tried it on, and know what size I need if I decide to go this route mid-hike.

Explaining my footwear issue, Bill took me over to the wall-o-shoes.  He explained that they only carry a select few brands but have had no complaints.  He pulled one low-rise boot (shoe?) down for me, the Oboz Sawtooth, and had me try it on.  Wow, I know why nobody complains.  I barely noticed it was on my foot, and walking up and down the mini-hill in the shop proved that the shoe had griping power!  These were hands-down the most comfortable hiking boots I have ever tried.  One of Bill’s coworkers walked by and mentioned he had three pairs, one of which has over 1,500 miles on it, and is still going strong.  I brought up my fear over not having ankle support, and Bill confirmed what I have read elsewhere – your ankles will strengthen on the train and it will not be an issue.  Just take it easy at first and you will love the low rise shoes.  Sold.

Bill then led me around the shop, showing me some rain coats, sleeping pads, sleeping bags, and other items.  I was up front with him about my budget for this trip, and he informed me it was not about the sale, but about the information.  He has my complete respect.  He showed me a few sleeping bags, gave me his recommendation for pads and rain coats, but never once pushed me to buy anything.  Bill, I will be back.

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After a quick lunch at the Blue Blaze Café, I stopped by the town park to snap a few pics, and then headed home.  The trip was definitely a productive and worthwhile trip, but it sure made for a long day of driving!  I want to thank Just Bill for all his time and patience, and the overall knowledge he shared with me.  He even asked his boss if he could have the afternoon off to do some day hiking with me – unfortunately, he was denied.  Next time, Bill.

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Next up for the gear research is sleeping bags and sleeping pads, I think.  There is SOOO much out there to look at, I am a little overwhelmed.  While I technically have both of these, my thoughts on weight were confirmed – I can cut over a full pound of weight if I buy newer, lighter gear.  Things to ponder.  If you have any advice on bags and pads, or have any general comments, advice, or topic suggestions, please use the comment box below or use the Contact Me page up top.

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

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