Saturday, August 20, 2016

LD-01: Refining the Dream

Refining the Dream

So you want to take a long hike, huh? If the answer is yes to that, then you have many more questions to ask and answer. This series of articles will cover the basics of taking that vague idea of "hiking the whole..." and refining it into a coherent dream, which then morphs into a plan and from there reality begins.
What is long distance hiking?
There are many types of long distance hikes. To clearly define what exactly makes a hike, long distance, is hard. It could be a five day, 100 or so mile trek along one of the long trails. It could be a month or two on the trail, making your way along as you can, until you run out of time or mileage. It could be doing a complete Thru-Hike of the trail, which is loosely defined as doing the whole thing in one year (just to keep it simple). It could also be a 35 mile hike on a long weekend. It's all relative.

I think, for the sake of these articles, I will approach it for what I will be doing next Spring. A long trek along the Appalachian Trail. We will be attempting a Northbound (NOBO) hike, starting in Georgia and making our way as far North as we dare. Katahdin, the home of Pamola would be our final goal for this hike. If you have read my other stuff, you will know that completing the Thru is a secondary goal. The Journey (with a capital J) will be the main goal. To get out there. To become an Outsider (with a capital O). To have an Adventure. (Yep, capital A)
Choosing the right trek
I have been wanting to tackle the whole of the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) for some time now. I had a vague idea of the A.T. as a kid, but didn't start walking on it until after the turn of the century, when I was stationed in Maryland and would travel under its bridged treadway as I drove back and forth on I70 on my way to and from PA. I would always wonder about those shadowed figures, with large packs on their backs, glancing down at us as we whisked by at 70 mph and they sauntered along at 3. How far were they going? How long have they been hiking? That peaked my interest and before long, I found myself walking the trail. Checking it out and feeling an idea, a need, a plan, start to take shape in my mind. I would hike this whole damn thing. One day I would.

So, for me, the right trek is to traverse the length of the A.T. That is how I choosed my trek. You may have read a book or an article. Maybe saw a TV special or movie about a trail and that spikes your interest. Maybe a friend had gone on an adventure and told you about it. How you choose your trek is based on how you feel when you look at the options in front of you. If it feels right, then give it a try.
Finding the time and money
This is a tough one and I think running out of time and money are right up there, (if not above), as the main reason that someone doesn't complete the full long distance hike they planned. If you wait for the perfect time, you may never go. If you don't have at least some money saved, you may be heading home earlier than you originally planned.

They say that there is never the perfect time to go on a long distance hike. You have to just make the committment to go out there and do it. For me, when I was young and stupid, I didn't really know about doing long distance hikes. My experience had been 3 or 5 days on one of the trails in Western PA. Even if I had realized that I wanted to do a long distance hike, I sure didn't have the funds to do so. I think when I decided to join the Coast Guard, I had about $800 in the bank. I still was paying off my car and a student loan and just didn't have the means to start hiking and staying out for months.

After joining the Coast Guard, I no longer had the time to take off and spend months hiking a trail. We only earned 30 days of leave a year and I usually used that to travel home and visit family. Before long I had a wife, then a child, then another child and then this thing called a career which held me in place. This continued for thirty years.

So, now that I'm old and stupid, I have retired from the Coast Guard and since I did 30 years, I get a decent pension for my service. I now have the time and the money for LoGear and I to do a Hike. Things won't be perfect as we still will have to maintain our residence, car insurance, health insurance, groceries for daughter and pets and the list goes on. But we like a challenge and this is so doable for us. More doable than it has ever been. So NOW is the time for us.

Finding a block of time that isn't perfect, but sufficient to do a hike, is paramount. Carve it out of your life anyway you can. Having a decent amount of funds saved (some say it costs about $2 a mile, but this is extremely variable) will be key to a successful long distance hike.
Understanding your "why"
To see my "Why", check out my other post Here. If that is TL;DR, then suffice it to say, that I want to hike to have an Adventure with my Bride. To become an Outsider for a time. To challenge and test my body and mind.

There are many reasons that hikers give when asked why they want to take on a long distance hike. It can be as simple as "just because", to as complex as "I want to raise awareness of _____ and will tell everyone I meet along the trail about it as I go", to somewhere in between. Finding and then understanding your "why" could be a long process and even after spending hours contemplating your why, it may still be very hard to explain, especially to muggles. Most people who have spent time "out there" will understand immediately. Others will wonder to no end why you would want to abuse your body and mind and get all smelly and walk for days on end, and will you carry a gun? and where will you go poop? etc. etc. etc...

The only person who needs to understand your why is you. Even if you can't explain it, if it feels right for you, then it is.
Rallying your team
Anyone who has spent time hiking, knows, that rarely do they do it all by themselves. There are so many people out there that help make your hike possible. From the trail angel who gives you a ride or maybe some food, to the people on the home front, that send you a piece of gear or a resupply box. All of them are making it possible for you to continue on. Just as no man is an island, very few hikes are truly solo. Having a team (or many teams actually) is very important in a successful long distance hike.
So your dream is becoming a reality. You know why you want to do this hike and you have found the time and saved the money to make a go at it. You have made sure all is good to go on the home front and your planning is well underway. Soon you will find yourself, with a pack on your back and your feet stepping amongst the roots, rocks and dirt, on a trail that goes far. You are on your way to becoming a Long Distance Hiker.

EarthTone and LoGear
LD-01 - LD-02 - LD-03 - LD-04 - LD-05 - LD-06 - LD-07 - LD-08

Friday, August 12, 2016

Long Distance Hiking 101

In my continuing obsession with everything hiking, the A.T. and gear, I came across an actual class that you can take called Thru-Hiking 101 by Liz Thomas.  I saw the syllabus and I copied it for some future need.   It's really just an outline, but as I looked at it today, I decided that I could work my way through the topics and write posts dealing with most of them.  And that is just what I'm going to do.  

This won't be a Course per se, but will be a continuing series that will keep me busy as I wait for our time to hit the trail.  It will be a welcome retreat from my constant gear shaving, gear envy and hike planning. (but in its own way, is just that, hike planning)  

Disclaimer: I'm not an expert, but I do have some experience.  All information stated here is my opinion, based on my knowledge, skills, experience and pompous attitude.  Your mileage may vary.  Hike your own hike, etc, etc, etc...

I reserve the right to make shit up if I don't know all the facts.  

If you want to take the actual course and have $200 burning a hole in your pack, you can do so here.  

These articles will have no connection to her class other than the names of the topics that I will write about. 
This is the edited outline of what I think I might write about.  Most likely in the order shown, but prone to flexibility like everything else.

LD-01: Refining the Dream
What is long distance hiking?
Choosing the right trek
Finding the time and money
Understanding your "why"
Rallying your team

LD-02: Making It Real
The importance of planning
Physical fitness
Calculate your budget
Set the home front to autopilot

LD-03: Route Planning
Think about permits
Decide when you'll start
Plan your hard-stop end date
Decide where you'll start
Getting to and from the trailhead
Roughing out your itinerary

LD-04: Resupplies
The role of food on an LD-hike
Food rules for Long Distance Hikers
Decide on a resupply strategy
Grocery store resupplies
Mail drops
Bounce boxes
Using friends and family
The hybrid resupply spectrum

LD-05: Gear
Letting go of perfection
Joe's rules of gear
What's in my pack?
You don't need everything all the time
Start with the Big 4
Other key decisions
Fancy isn't always better. But sometimes it is.
Do your research

LD-06: Life on the Trail
What's it really like out there?
Eating and drinking
Making camp
Tricks for the long haul
Trail etiquette
Safety basics
Safety for women
Special concerns for older hikers

LD-07: More Life on the Trail
Staying smart around sex, drugs, and rock and roll
Common thru-hiker medical issues
Staying motivated
Making friends on the trail
Keeping in touch with loved ones

LD-08: Hike Your Own Hike
What "hike your own hike" means
Further resources

EarthTone and LoGear

Friday, August 5, 2016

In Which I Become a Gram Weenie

Although I always vow to never let any purist tendencies creep into my Hiking, my recent troubles with my back have made me take yet another look at my pack contents and their weight.  So I have entered the realm of the Gram Weenie.

I have been constantly conscious of my pack weight, usually accepting what the scale said as my destiny, but I would make a gear change here and there to not only use something more functional, but also hopefully lighter.  Since my back went out, (and is pretty much healed), I have started to once again take a hard look at what I have in my pack and trying to finds ways to make the overall pack lighter.  They say, cut the ounces and the pounds take care of themselves.

So I have cut out what I can (or should).  Asking myself again and again: Do I really need this?  Will I be just fine without it?  Is it an emergency item, or are your fears filling your pack?  

They say that you carry your fears in your pack.  The more you fear, the more your pack weighs.  That is why my pack's name is Phobos.  

I think I'm at a point where I'm carrying just what I need.  There are probably still one or two things that I can drop, one that comes to mind are my small camera tripod, stick pic and clamp for my phone.  That's about 3.6 ounces.  But I do have a very small pack umbrella that I would like to bring, which weighs about 6 ounces if I remember correctly.

I go back and forth and play with this and that.  I have been weighing my stuff for quite a few years though and up to this point I was halfheartedly recording it on a website called GearGrams.  It works well, but I have never fully committed with a detailed rendering of all my gear and its true weight.  A couple of weeks ago I saw a new site that does the same thing, but with a cool graph and some better features and since the reality of our Thru Hike is now sinking in, I need something to do to pass the time until we can hit the trail.  Yesterday I started playing with the new site and about three hours later, I had everything listed and most of it freshly weighed.  What I saw as my base weight didn't satisfy me.

After making my first list and then refining that with the latest gear drops, I came up with a base weight of about 24 pounds.  That is still a little too high for my liking, so I started fiddling with some what ifs.  

I'm at the point that any further gear exchanges that cut weight are not going to be cheap.  For a while now, I have been wanting an underquilt for my hammock setup.  I do have a DIY underquilt made from a military poncho liner (commonly referred to as a Woovie) that does work, but weighs in at 1.6 pounds.  I also would like to replace my Big Agnes sleeping bag with a top quilt and the Blackbird Warbonnet hammock is on my "want" list.  If I could afford all three of these, it would only cost a mere $680 for a 2.2 pound reduction in pack weight.  If Lisa wants to upgrade too, that makes it $1,360.  

So, a full upgrade probably won't happen just yet.  But, If I can pick one, it would be the top quilt, which would shave off 1.5 pounds.  That's a start.

As I continue to tweak.  I play with the website and try different ideas.  My old pack weighs less than my Osprey.  Should I go back to that?  I always did like it, but had always wanted an Osprey and when we found a great deal at EMS, we bought two. 

To cut some of the 4 lbs that this comfortable pack weighs, I have removed the "brain" part of the pack (6 oz) and now use a Sea to Summit Dry bag as my "removable brain".  It will always sit at the top of the pack for easy access, just like the old brain did, so that helps cut the weight a little. 

The other day, I cut off part of the head strap on my headlamp saving an amazing 0.7 of an ounce.  Every gram counts, dammit.  I have become a weenie extraordinaire. 

Every gram counts, dammit.
Next, I went into my Osprey and cut out the small flap that sits near the bottom between the sleeping bag space and the upper compartment.  Since I load everything from the top and don't use the divider, I don't need it.  This reduces the pack's weight by another 1 oz. (Actually 30 grams sounds even better).

Another easy and cost effective change out would be my blue 24 oz nalgene.  I have had that since around 2003 and I really like its wide mouth which makes it very easy to gather water in challenging places.  That is the main reason I have continued to carry it, despite its 5.5 oz weight.  If I can find something from GatorAde or some other product that has a wide mouth, I could save a few more ounces.   
So, as the days slowly trickle by, moving towards our Hike Date at glacial speed, I will continue to tinker, and emit strong hints for some specific birthday gifts, and tinker some more.  It will never be perfect.  I turn my favorite earthtone of green everytime I see someone else's base weigh figure sitting at a (to me) unbelievable number that is disgustingly low, like ten or twelve.  I know I will never get there, but I will always strive to get close.  

For now, I would be happy with a big four (pack, shelter, sleeping bag and pad) of under 10 lbs and a base weight (everything but consumables, food and water) of 20ish.  I'm getting close, but I'm not quite there yet.

Here is a link to one of my lists.  I will continue to update it as I tinker some more, but for now, this is "What's In My Pack".