Tag Archives: Planning

General Updates

It has been a while since I have given any sort of updates, and as I do not really have a full post ready to go, I figured it was a good time for one.

Hiking

I have not been hiking as much as I had wanted to lately.  It seems like life is just in the way again.  Between working EMS shifts and riding the motorcycle to events, and everything in between, my weekends have been filled with lots of other tasks… just not hiking.  As we start the “hot and humid” season here in Maryland, part of me expects my outdoor time to be limited.  No sense in getting heat stroke before I need to.

I have been getting in a lot of walking, though.  Mostly at lunch, on the sidewalk, but I figure a cardiac workout is still better than nothing.  While I would not say I enjoy these lunchtime walks (mostly because I hate going back to work sweaty and stinky…) I do notice a difference in my day when I do not take this walk, though.  I also have some hikes planned – I just need to find some openings in my schedule so I can get out and do them.  I am still working on it.

Notifications

Umm, none have been made.  Yet.  I am going home to see my parents soon, and plan to tell them in person at that point.  I also plan to tell them individually, because I know they each process new information differently.  I figure they will have a lot of questions, but hopefully I can pull enough answers out of thin air that they will not freak out too badly.

Actually, I jest a little, but in reality, I know they will support me at the end.  There will be a lot of questions, for which I can almost predict what they will be, but when all is said and done, I know that my parents will be right behind me.  They always have been, even if they do not agree with my decisions.  Who is a lucky bastard?  This guy.

Once my parents are “in the know”, then I can start disseminating information.  My boss will need to be notified at some point, but probably not until closer to the actual hike.  Not sure on the reaction I will get there.  Ultimately, I am not sure I will have a job to come back to.  A lot of my friends will laugh at me, saying I am crazy.  That is fine, I am.  I need to let my bike club president know, and he will probably need some talking and coercing before he buys into the idea.  We have some pretty major events coming up shortly after my thru-hike, and I am quite certain he will want to make sure everything is in order for those before he gives me his support.  No worries, Ron, it will be.

Gear

As you may have seen, I have put together a listing of the current gear I own.  (If you missed it, check out my Current Gear post and my Questionable Gear post!)  There are still some big ticket items to be looked at, and some smaller things I know I need.  Here is a short list of what is still up in the air.

- Pack.  Testing coming, to see if my dad’s loaner will work.

- Summer Sleeping Bag.  I have a 20-degree bag that should work for winter – I hope.  Thinking I might need a 45 or 50- degree bag for June, July, August and September, so I do not die of heat exhaustion at night.

- Sleeping Pad.  My pad still works, but it is not the lightest and it does not fold up, just rolls, which would require strapping it to the outside of the pack.  Contemplating the newer, lighter, smaller-packed pads.  Not a required purchase, I suppose.

- Water Filter.  Looking at the Sawyer Squeeze, which is much smaller and lighter than my current pump filter.  The same way a car is smaller than an aircraft carrier.

- Boots.  Or shoes.  Or whatever.  I need to find something that works.  Soon.

- Headlamp.  Mine works, but it is heavy and does not hold a charge very long.

- Clothes.  Yeah, need clothes.  Pretty much need to buy everything I need to take.  Except socks.  I have socks.  Then again, I probably need more socks.

- Stuff Sacks.  I do not even know how many I need.  I am guessing at five.  Need to research this one a little more.

- Lots of odds and ends.  You know, a rope for a bear bag.  Bug spray.  A new journal.  A case of snickers.  That sort of thing.

As you can see, I still have quite a ways to go before I am ready.  There are also a lot of the planning items to prepare for:  North vs South?  Will I have a job or be able to find a job after?  How will I fit all of my junk into a single storage garage?  Yeah, I am going to be quite the mental case soon… (quiet, no comments from the Peanut Gallery, please!)

If you have any 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.”

MapCompass16_small

 

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

Cigars_small.jpg

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

Kindle Paperwhite_small

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.”

MapCompass16_small

 

Current Gear

I have started to research and collect data and opinions on gear that I will need for a successful Thru Hike.  As such, I figured it would be good form to list out the gear that I currently have, along with some of my thoughts on it.  My goal in preparing my gear is to make sure everything has as many “uses” as possible, while limiting my base kit weight (without food and water) to less than 25 pounds.  I am sure this will all be tweaked as I hike.  Obviously, a lot of this list is incomplete or outdated, but you have to start somewhere.  Also, keep in mind that most of my backpacking experience was done with a group of 4-12 people, so some items here are too large or heavy for a single hiker, but when not so bad when spread across other hikers.  Try not to judge just yet, this is still evolving, but here is what I have in my gear box as of right now.

Backpack – Jansport Middleton external frame

Weight:  Unknown

Jansport-External-Frame_small.jpg

This pack has seen a lot of miles.  And it shows.  Unfortunately, the bag is starting to break down and crumble, so a new pack is certainly in my future.  But I will miss this old hauler.

Backpack – dad’s Jansport Klamath 75 Internal Frame

Weight:  4 lbs. 13 oz.

Jansport-Internal-Frame_small.jpg

This is my dad’s backpack, which he has loaned to me.  I plan to try it on a short hike soon, to see how well it suits me and my needs.  I have never really used an internal frame pack before, so the actual stuffing of it has me a bit intrigued.

Tent – Eureka Timberline 2

Weight:  5 lbs. 13 oz.

Eureka Timberline 2_small

This is a great 2-person tent.  I first used this style while at Philmont.  It has great interior space,  is very quick to set up, and is freestanding, which comes in mighty handy in rocky areas.  However, at over 5 pounds, it is a pretty heavy tent for a single hiker.  Two people can easily split the tent and tent poles, etc.

Tent – Eureka Solitaire

Weight:  2 lbs. 9 oz.

Eureka Soloist_small

I bought this tent with the intentions of using it when I was hiking solo, but the interior feels so small, that I tend to only use it on short trips.  Other than how small it is, it is a good tent.  It is a little heavy for the size, though.

Sleeping Bag – old Slumberjack (Unknown temperature rating)

Slumberjack_01_small.jpg

This bag has seen more miles and nights in the woods than most people can imagine.  It has been on every backpacking trip I have ever taken, including all preparation trips for both Philmont Treks.  And it still works, albeit it should come with a nose plug if you plan to burry your head inside.  I would like to retire this old bag, but my heart strings are wrapped tight.  But my nose may win.  Phew!

Sleeping Bag – Slumberjack Superpacker 20-Degree Bag

Weight:  3 lbs. 6 oz.

Slumperjack-Superpacker-20_small.jpg

This bag was a gift from my dad, years ago.  I have used it a few times as a non-backpack bag, and it is comfortable and warm.  It is stuffed with synthetic fillers, so it is a bit heavy, and does not compress down as small as a down bag would, but with the addition of a bag liner for a few extra degrees, this may be my starter/finisher bag when it is colder.  I will most likely try it once on a weekend backpack trip, so see how it packs and carries.  But I do have my eyes on a nice new winter bag from Nemo.  If I win the lotto.

Sleeping Pads – ThermaRest and RidgeRest

ThermaRest Weight:  30 oz. +/-

RidgeRest Weight:  14 oz.

ThermaRest on the left in orange; RidgeRest on the right, in black.

ThermaRest on the left in orange; RidgeRest on the right, in black.

Sleeping-Pads_02_small.jpg

Sleeping-Pads_03_small.jpg

Yep, I have two pads.  No, I do not normally carry both.  I used the ThermaRest self-inflating pad for both of my Philmont treks, and pretty much every camping trip since purchasing it.  The RidgeRest was a cheap pad used as extra insulation during cold months.  I have backpacked with both, when hiking in the winter, but do not foresee that being the case for my Thru-Hike.  I am still considering purchasing a new ThermaRest, as they fold down much smaller and lighter than this “original model”, which only rolls up and would need to be strapped to the outside.  Since it is a non-essential upgrade, I will most likely wait until closer to my trip to see how the funds are flowing.

Stove – Coleman Exponent Feather 442 Dual Fuel Stove

Weight:  24 oz.

Coleman-Exponent_small.jpg

Again, this was a stove that we first used at Philmont.  Yes, it is big.  And yes, it is certainly heavy.  But it is the most reliable stove I have ever used.  Plus, it is a dual fuel stove, which adds to its versatility.  There is a small capacity fuel tank on the stove, but most people carry a red MSR bottle with extra fuel.  Unfortunately, that is more gear and weight to carry.  This stove would be great for canoeing trips or car camping, but is a tad heavy for backpacking, especially if you are a solo hiker.  It was used with good outcomes during a Philmont trek, when there were a dozen people carrying all of the “shared” equipment.

Stove – MSR WhisperLite International

Weight:  11 oz. (not including MSR Fuel Bottle; 6 oz. plus fuel)

MSR-WhisperLite-International_small.jpg

Another Philmont item.  We used this stove a lot on our prep hikes and on the actual trek.  It is small, lightweight, and uses the same fuel as the Exponent, so together, we had two stoves.  The one thing I do not love about this stove is the “bottle on a line”, as the fuel bottle has a habit of tipping the stove if it is not on level ground.  Easily overcome, but was a learning experience.

Stove – JetBoil Sol

Weight:  10.5 oz. (not including fuel canister)

JetBoil-Sol_small.jpg

This is a recent purchase, based on lots of reviews and feedback.  I have not used it, and am not sure if I will take it on my Thru Hike, but ultimately, I wanted to see if the product was worth the hype.  It uses canister fuel cans, which offers some convenience as long as you can find replacements when needed.  The mug holds 0.8 liter of water, and reportedly boils that in 4 minutes.

Stove – MSR Pocket Rocket

Weight:  3 oz. (not including fuel canister)

MSR-Pocket-Rocket_02_small.jpg

I bought this stove about a year ago… mostly because it is a 3 ounce burner!  It uses the same canister fuel that the JetBoil stove uses.  I have used it once and was impressed with the output from such a small little thing.  Reportedly, it can boil a liter of water in 3.5 minutes.  If the JetBoil does not work out, this will most likely be my Thru Hike stove.  Plus, it offers a bit more flexibility as to which cup/pot I use than the JetBoil does.  Ironically, the JetBoil mug can be used on this burner, it just does not lock in like it does on its own burner.

Pot – GSI Halulite Minimulist Pot

Weight:  6.3 oz.

MSR-Pocket-Rocket_04_small.jpg

I bought this a while ago for use on the Pocket Rocket.  It is a nice lightweight single person pot that can double as a cup.  It comes with an insulating sleeve to keep food warm, and a travel cup style lid to minimize spills.  Again, if the JetBoil does not make the trip, this will be used with the Pocket Rocket.

Utensil – Sea to Summit AlphaLight Long Spoon

Weight:  0.4 oz.

SeaToSummit-AlphaLight-Spoon_small.jpg

Seriously, this is feather-light.  At 0.4 ounces, I could carry a dozen of them and not notice.  Do not worry, I am only going to carry one.

Hydration – PUR Hiker Pump Filter

Weight:  11 oz.

Pur-Hiker_small.jpg

I was first exposed to this filter at Philmont and shortly after returning, bought my own.  I have used this throughout Michigan, including a week-long backpack trip on Isle Royal National Park, where it was used to supply all three hikers with all the water needed.  It still works like new and shows no signs of wear.  But it is a bit on the heavy side, so I am researching a few other options, just to see.  I am not against using this pump, though.

Hydration – Water Bladders vs Nalgene Bottle vs Gatorade Bottle

Hydration_small.jpg

I have always used a water bottle for all of my outdoor adventures.  Recently, I acquired two different hydration packs, one from Osprey and one from Camelbak, and am learning how to drink from them without choking.  I also like the no-cleaning-required Gatorade Bottle option, where you just toss it out and buy a new one at a resupply when one gets nasty.  Still not sure what will accompany me on the trail.

Hiking Boots – Unknown Vasque Hiking Boot

I have long been a Vasque fan, and have owned easily a dozen pairs of their boots.  This pair is ok – not too heavy, but still offering me some ankle support.  But they are old and need to be replaced pretty much as soon as I find a replacement.  I am just undecided on whether I want to stick with “hiking boots” or if I want to try the lighter trail shoes.  More testing required before that decision is made.

Camp Shoes – Holey Crocks

Crocks_small.jpg

Yep, I own a pair (two actually, but the other does not have holes so does not count here.)  Yep, they are ugly.  Yep, they are the most comfortable after-hiking shoes I have ever found.  And they are lightweight, waterproof, float, and can be strapped to the outside of the pack, if needed.  And since fashion is not one of my fortes (just ask my sister…), these WILL be in my pack.  So there.

Socks – Lots of them…

Socks_small.jpg

I have not found a specific sock that I am in love with, and am enjoying trying the different brands and styles and lengths.  I am sure I will settle on one or two, but for now, I have a box full of socks to pick from.  Not really.  I have like 4 pairs.

LEKI poles

Leki-Trekking-Poles_01_small.jpg

These are a new addition to my gear closet.  Following surgery, my physical therapist recommended I start using dual hiking poles when taking day trips in my local area.  She said it would help ease the stress placed on my still-recovering knee muscles.  I have used them a few times, and can already see the benefit.  Just wish she would have written a prescription for them so health insurance would actually pay for something.

Headlamp – Energizer

Headlamp_small.jpg

This is a Wally World special, bought as a quick solution to some nighttime motorcycle maintenance I was trying to perform.  It worked perfectly for that, using three AAA batteries.  It has a red light, and three different brightness settings for the white light, but it is a bit heavy compared to other headlamps out there.  Again, since it is only a weight issue, I will consider this category filled for now… unless someone wants to donate the funds for a new Petzl.  Please.  My knees will thank you for every once saved.

 

This is just a starting point.  Obviously there are some key components missing or undecided, and a few items that could be upgraded to something newer and lighter.  This list was something I created more for me than for you, so I know what I have and what I need.  I just decided to post it here to feed your curiosity.

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

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

MapCompass16_small

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.

???????????????????????????????

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.”

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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.”

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