Tag Archives: Hammock

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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Questionable Gear

As I have started to evaluate and chose my gear, I have run across a few items that I am questioning whether to include or not.  I thought it might be humorous to share some of these off-the-wall thought processes with you.  Enjoy… and feel free to laugh at me.  I do all the time.

Camera Selection

I am jealous of this person.  Source:  http://www.photostocknotes.com/psn/index.php?catid=53&blogid=1

I am jealous of this person. Source: http://www.photostocknotes.com/psn/index.php?catid=53&blogid=1

Yes, a camera will be going with me, no question about that.  My issue is WHICH camera.  First, let me explain – I love photography.  I rarely go anywhere without some sort of camera with me.  When I say I need to “choose” one, that is because I probably own somewhere around a dozen cameras.  I have a film SLR Nikon, an old digital SLR Nikon, a digital handheld point and shoot Sony, a newer digital handheld point and shoot Canon, three or four completely manual-function film SLRs, and a medium-format film camera, not to mention my iPhone’s camera.  Yeah, I have a lot.

The manual cameras are easily eliminated by the bulk of the film I would need to carry.  I love them and the pictures that they capture, but I would need an entire backpack full of film for the hike!  Easy choice there.

There is a huge part of me that wants to take the fully customizable dSLR camera with multiple lenses, so that I can capture every imaginable image I come across.  But I really do not want a pack that weighs over a hundred pounds… and pack mules are not allowed.  SO… I must decide.  I could probably swing the dSLR with ONE lens, but that is still a hefty camera.

I have a nice handheld digital point and shoot, my Canon, and the limited pictures I have taken with it seem to be of good quality. It does not weigh too much, and the battery seems to last a decent time.  But I worry that it will not be adjustable enough for me capture all of the landscapes that my mind thinks I will run across.

I know lots of people just use their iPhones, and while I will most likely bring the phone (emergencies, calls home FROM TOWN ONLY, MOM, and solitaire…) I do not want to rely on it for my photographs.  First, it is not nearly as adjustable as I want a camera to be.  It has zoom, but any picture taken with zoom tends to be very grainy.  Not acceptable.  Will I use it here and there?  Probably.  But it will not be the primary picture-taker.

Verdict:  Completely torn.

Cigars

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Seriously.

I am not sure I can give up my cigars for six whole months!  While I do not smoke every day, I do enjoy a good premium, hand rolled cigar from time to time.  And summertime is the perfect time to do so!  I keep thinking about how nice it would be to sit around a small campfire after a long day of hiking, watching the sun set with a favorite cigar in my mouth.  Bonus:  Cigar smoke is a known bug repellant!

I thought about bringing a few with me, and just replenishing as I run out, but it is very hard to even determine if there are any reputable cigar shops along the A.T.  I suppose I could stash a full box in a “Bounce Box” and just replenish my small travel humidor as I hit towns, but then there are heat and humidity control issues, especially while my bounce box is sitting in the back of a ratty old USPS truck.  In order to protect the fragile sticks, I would also need to bring a small travel humidor box, which is not too big, but adds more weight.  Do not forget that I would need a lighter and cutter, too.

Another option would be to take a pipe.  While not exactly the same, I also do have a small pipe collection, and a pipe is certainly more sturdy than a cigar is.  But then I would need to bring a bag of tobacco, a tamper and a lighter, and at least a couple pipe cleaners.  So again, a lot of bulk to the simple hobby.  If I am going to have this much hassle to deal with, I would rather have the cigar.

Verdict:  Still on the fence with this one.

Deck of Cards

Source:  www.freeimages.co.uk

Source: www.freeimages.co.uk

When we hiked through the mountains of Philmont as young Scouts, someone always carried a deck of cards.  It was part of the “Crew Equipment” that was divided out each morning.  At the end of a long day’s hike, we looked forward to setting camp, taking the boots off, and playing a few games of poker while dinner cooked.  I cannot remember a single backpacking trip that did not have a deck of cards present.  Then again, we were not walking over two-thousand miles.  And we had no problems eating two or three Big Macs in a single seating… just shows how poor our judgment was back then.

Verdict:  Leave them home.

Flip Flops

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I am one of those people who wears flip flops pretty much every chance I get, year-round.  This habit started in college, after I had done most of my early backpacking, so I am not sure whether they are appropriate for modern backpacking.  I realize they are not the most supportive camp shoes, but do camp shoes “need” to be supportive?  Is not the point of camp shoes to help air out and rest your feet from the constantness that is your hiking shoes?  And if I am willing to carry the extra weight, and have the space, would it be wrong of me to take both camp shoes AND flip flops?  Ultimately, I realize that flip flops are not the most logical gear to take along with me, and will most likely be left home.  But they will be missed.

Verdict:  Leave them home.  (And bribe family to bring them when the visit me along the trail!)

Hammock

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My bundled up hammock next to a Nalgene for comparison.

My bundled up hammock next to a Nalgene for comparison.

This one is quite the quandary.  I have never taken a hammock with me while backpacking, so I am not sure I would miss it.  After all, if you never experience it, how would you know what you are missing?  But that said, I do know of hammocks.  I have used them before.  And I read online that a lot of people like to relax after a day of hiking by swinging in their hammock, even if they do not sleep in it at night.  I know that I am a tent-sleeper.  When not utilizing the shelters along the trail, I will have a tent with me, which means I would not need a fully sheltered hammock.  To me, that equates to less weight and less bulk.  I suppose I worry that it would be something that would not get used often enough to justify its small weight/bulk, though, and it is not the cheapest thing to be giving away.  I suppose I could mail it home, if I had to.  Maybe I will try to test this piece of gear out during some of my prep hikes.

Verdict:  Not sure yet…

Harmonica

Source:  www.encyclopediaofappalachia.com

Source: www.encyclopediaofappalachia.com

This one I think is more of a novelty.  I vaguely know how to play the harmonica, and by vaguely, I mean I can blow and suck air through it to make it produce something close to a harmonic note.  I can even impersonate a third-string blues riff that will make the deafest dog howl.  I like the idea of being able to play a little music along the trail, but since what I can do would most likely not be considered music, I wonder if it is even worth it.  As I do not want to be duct taped to an outhouse in the middle of the night, I suppose this one should stay home.

Verdict:  Safer to listen to nature instead.

Kindle eReader

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I keep going back and forth on this one.  I am definitely taking my cell phone with me, which has the Kindle App on it.  I could always use my cell to read books if I am in need of some mental entertainment.  However, this will drain my cell battery faster, potentially making it a useless paperweight when I need to call for a life-saving rescue… or a pizza delivery.  Same thing, right?  Plus, the battery on the Kindle lasts exponentially longer than my cell.  And honestly, I prefer reading on the slightly larger Kindle over the small screen of my iPhone.

Verdict:  Still debating.  This may come down to a coin flip…

 

Well, as you can see, I still have some thinking to do about what will go into my pack.  Maybe I will go smoke a cigar and get lost in thought process…

I would love to hear your thoughts on crazy gear you have taken with you.  Please use the comment box below or the Contact Me page up top.

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

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