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 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.
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.
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.
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…
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.”