Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Together AS One - The Wedding of Shauni and Alex

Alex and Shauni John and party.  Freshly married.
These past few weeks we have been gearing up for something that wasn't hiking related which consumed most of our time.  Last Saturday, it all came to a head as my first born daughter, Shauni, married the love of her life Alex.  

Just like hiking, things weren't "ideal", but thanks to my daughter's meticulous planning, preparation and flexibility, it ended up being "perfect".  

For the last two weeks or so, we have been checking the weather. Fretting a bit here and there as the forecast constantly changed from cloudy, to rainy, to windy.  It ended up being a bit windy, with temperatures in the 50's, but hey, it's October and we half expected it while hoping for a burst of Indian Summer to come along.  

Shauni had always wanted an outdoor wedding and I'm proud to say that Lisa and my influence had a little to do with it.  Here's a quote from her card to us.
"Thank you for instilling the love of the outdoors in me so that I had the desire to have a wedding outside.  Rain or shine.  I'm glad to begin this new journey surrounded by nature."
All her life, we have been camping and hiking with our kids.  One clear memory I have of Shauni is walking (and carrying) her up a steep trail in Yosemite to the top of a raging waterfall.  It was raining or misting and a little chilly as we continued to the top, singing "rain, rain, go away" together.  She was only about two at the time, but I could see the wonder in her eyes as we watched the power of nature in that waterfall.  Another memory is when we were being transferred back East after a tour in California.  We had stopped for the night in Utah, camping on the edge of the salt flats.  The wind kicked up fiercely in the night, pulling the tent stakes from the sandy soil.  Lisa and I spread ourselves out to each side to hold the tent in place as Shauni slept soundly in the cacophony of the roaring wind.  

Dad and Daughter at Vernal Falls, Yosemite, CA

Lunch at the falls

Car camping in NC

Patapsco hike

Fast forward two decades and here we have the whole family taking a short backpack trip up in PA on the A.T. and a nearby trail for a nice overnight.  The hike went well after one of my unplanned tangents and we had a pleasant night in an established campsite, making s'mores around the fire.  A year or so later, Shauni, Alex and I did a 20 mile section south of Harpers Ferry.  The second day gave Shauni a crop of painful blisters, but she soldiered on the final day.  Moving slow, but moving forward nonetheless.  We completed our goal as we had planned.

Hiking in PA

Hiking in VA


So, I was happy to learn that she wanted an outdoor wedding and the venue she chose was very nice.  A Nature Center in Owings Mills.  The small rise above a large meadow was the perfect backdrop after a short walk down a path.  The reception would be back near the Nature Center in a large tent, with walls and a couple of heaters.

It was Friday, the day before the wedding and time for the rehearsal.  A line of storms rolled through the area as a cold front arrived.  The cleansing rain that pattered on the windshield as we drove North had stopped when we all came together to go over the ceremony with the wedding planner and the freshness you could see and feel was marvelous.  

After a very nice dinner at a nearby Green Turtle, we all headed to our resting places for the night.  Shauni to the hotel, Alex back their new home so he wouldn't see his bride until the appointed time and us back to our home where the dogs waited for us.

Maisie, their pup, doesn't like when we leave her.  She finds things to destroy that she knows are dear to us.  She wouldn't disappoint that night and the next, but my grand doggy can do no wrong.  She is quickly forgiven her tantrums as we love her to death. 

After Rehearsal Dinner

After the Wedding
The wedding day arrived with a chill temperature and blustery winds.  As I got ready to leave home, I went out on the deck to a beautiful blue sky with puffy white clouds that were quickly moving across the sky in the strong breeze.  The wind would dry up the field, but also chill the guests and wedding party, but we were prepared and ready to carry on.

I threw my base layer merino wool long sleeve shirt on under my suit, just in case and was pretty comfortable the whole night.  

We all arrived at our appointed places at the correct times.  I hung out with the men for a while.  Watching the nervousness on my soon to be son-in-law as we waited for 5 o'clock to arrive.  I was called into the room where my daughter was waiting to see her fully dressed in the most amazing gown and was stuck by her beauty.  It was hard to believe someone so beautiful came from me.  

Men prepare

John Family
The guests arrived; the time arrived; we all came together for a wonderful ceremony.
Most of us forgot about the cold and wind.  There was a super blast of wind right at the beginning of the ceremony that filled the air with leaves.  It was amazing and everyone commented on it later.  We came to believe that it was Shauni's grand mothers checking in and giving their blessing.

MeMom Esther

Grammy Clare
The ceremony was short and sweet (although a couple of the bridesmaids were shivering a little) and we all headed up to the Nature Center for some cocktails and h'orderves.  We then moved to the tent for introductions, dinner and dancing.  The wind tried to get under the walls and one of the heaters wasn't working and needed some maintenance before they could get it going, but everything was still perfect. 

Bride, Groom and his Men

Brave Bridemaids
After dinner and the obligitory first dances, the dance floor filled with revelers and didn't clear out until the music stopped at 11:00 pm.  Everyone had a great time.  So many people came up to me saying this was the best wedding and all the credit goes to Shauni and Alex who did almost all the work themselves.  

From making her and her bridesmaid's bouquets from the pages of Harry Potter books, to hand made wooden place cards, to every centerpiece of pine cones, acorns and slabs of wood picked up by all of us in the woods of MD and PA.  Everything came together to make a most memorable event.

Handmade Place Cards

Center piece and favor of S'more ingredients

Handmade bouquet
I had a great time being the Father of the Bride.  I cried a lot, but anyone who knows me, knows I'm a "sensitive" guy.  Every time I looked at my baby, I saw that two year old I'm carrying and singing with.  I saw the wonderful woman she has become and I thank the gods that her and Alex found each other and will have a perfect and happy life together.

Proud Father of the Bride
Here is the text of the toast I proposed at the reception:
I'm pretty sure that every father of a daughter has worried that his baby won't find the right man to be her partner in life. 
When I first met Alex, I had a strong feeling that this might be the man.  As I saw their love for each other grow over the years, I became sure of it. 
I could see that both of them had found someone to keep watch over and keep safe. 
So, as they say in the services and on the job, you have the watch.  I stand relieved. 
To Alex and Shauni, may your watch be long and sweet.  

So, here's to Alex and Shauni.  May their love last forever.  May they continue to enjoy the outdoors and nature's beautiful bounty.  And, may they find the time to complete the bucket list item I assigned them to hike 500 miles together.  

I love you baby.  Congratulations!

Mr and Mrs John

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

LD-05: Gear

There is one thing (besides food) that hikers love to talk about and that is gear.  Just about every time you sit a few hikers down, the topic of gear will come up.  Gear is a highly subjective topic.  There are so many choices out there, that it is impossible to list THE right gear for each hiker.  It will be different for each person who throws on a pack and hits the trail.  
Letting go of perfection
What is perfection?  One person's yum, can be another's Yuck.  There is no such thing as perfection.  You will never have the perfect kit.  It needs to be continually tweaked as circumstances change.  Thinking that you can put everything together in a perfect union is not possible.  So let it go.  Be happy with what you have, until you can find something else.  Make it work for you.
Joe's rules of gear
I've gotten into the habit of asking/thinking "how much does it weigh?" to everything that is put in front of me.  It doesn't matter what it is.  Could be a shirt, a piece of pie, or an actual piece of gear.  My mind asks "how heavy is it?"  I have become conditioned.

So, my first rule for every piece of gear is: How much does it weigh?  Do I have something else that does the same thing, but is lighter?  Can I find something that weighs less and can I afford it?  Keeping your pack weight as low as possible is the key to a comfortable hike.

My second rule would be: Does the piece of gear have multiple uses?  For instance, a trekking pole can be used as a tent pole in some instances.  My carabiners have many uses, all dealing with hanging stuff.  A bandanna can be so many things, I won't bother listing them.  My puffy jacket is also my pillow.  Having something that has several uses, lets you carry less things.  Less things = less weight.  

My third rule would be: Do I really need to take this on the hike?  If you aren't going to use something for several days or at all (excluding emergency gear), then you probably don't need to bring it.  Ask this question for every piece of gear you want to pack.  If you won't use it, don't bring it and you have just saved a good deal of weight.

My last rule would be: Comfort in camp, usually means less comfort in transit.  If you bring that nice comfy camp chair, you will have to carry it all day long as you go up and down the mountains.  If you want to be super comfortable in camp, you will have to carry the gear that makes that possible.  Finding a happy medium while obeying the other three rules is where you find the best comfort level, both on the trail and in camp.  You have to decide what that level is.
What's in my pack?
I'm constantly changing what is in my pack.  When I look back at my first times going out for long distances, I see that my Kit looked nothing like it does today.  I am constantly trying new things, listening to what other hikers are doing and, if it seems smart, I try it out.  Some things work well, others I find aren't quite right for me, but might be for someone else.

I have been keeping track of my gear on one of the websites you can find out there, where you can list everything you plan to carry and its weight.  This lets you see very clearly where you need to make your adjustments.  My list is constantly changing.  What is in my pack today, might not be what is in it tomorrow.  

I plan on making many changes as we start our hike.  I'm pretty sure what I start out with will look a lot different with what I end with.

Here is my current pack list.  It will always be a work in progress.  I still have quite a few things on my wish list.  Each of these are ways to make my pack lighter, while still doing what I want them to do.  Unfortunately, the main things I need to change right now are not very cheap, so my wallet will be the final deciding factor on how low I can get my pack weight.  

Right now, my base weight of 26lbs (base weight: gear minus food and water) is way more than I want it to be, but I'm hoping to get it closer to 20 before we go.  That 26lbs includes cold weather gear that we will be starting out with, but hope to send home after we get past the Roan Highlands.  Our summer weights should be much closer to the magical 20lbs or lower I'm shooting for.  I will never be ultra lightweight, but I'm still hoping to at least get my total pack weight into the lightweight category (below 25lbs total pack weight).
You don't need everything all the time
Spending several months out on the trail, you will experience a change in the seasons.  Spring arrives up in the mountains and soon Summer is in full force.  You may have started out with a 20 degree sleeping bag that is now a little too heavy and hot.  

When you have gear that you are pretty sure you won't need for a while, just send it home.  Hopefully you have someone who will take the items and put them aside until you need them again.  They later send you those items that you need again.

It is typical to need certain things at the beginning and end of a Nobo hike, while you need different things in the middle that can be changed out as you move along.

Knowing when to swap out is key.  Some say send you winter stuff home after the Roan Highlands and get it back before New Hampshire.  That is a general rule.  You will have to figure what works for you and like everything else in the hiking world, be flexible.
Start with the Big 4
Usually you can make great weight savings when you analyze these four main systems.  Lighter usually means more expensive, but if you can work at reducing your weight in these four areas, you will be well on your way to a lighter pack.  

Some people's Big 4 (or 3) are different from mine, but here are mine.

Pack, Shelter, Sleeping system (bag and pad) and Cooking System.  

Some say to buy your pack last after you have gathered your gear together to see how heavy and bulky it is.  Getting a too big of pack can lead to you trying to fill it all.  A little bit of common sense and will power won't make this an issue though.

They make really light packs now days, but being light and simple, they may lack support.  Don't buy an ultra-light pack and expect to still fill it with 30 to 40 pounds of gear.  You won't be a happy hiker.  Find a pack that fits you well, holds your gear and feels comfortable when you have been walking with it on for several hours.  I use a 65 liter pack that is a little heavy at just under 4 lbs.  I have removed the brain (saving 6 oz) and cut out an inside divider that I don't use (another 1 oz) and am happy with how it works. It is also very comfortable.  

Next comes your shelter.  Hammock, tent, tarp or nothing (not recommended).  If you are hiking with a partner and have a tent, you can split up the components and each carry a portion of the weight.  We use hammocks and they work for us.  

As usual, the lightest tents aren't cheap.  Hammock systems can still weigh close to what a tent does, so just see what works for you and go with it.  We like not sleeping on the hard ground.  We just have to mitigate the cooling effect that sleeping on air causes.

Sleeping systems are important.  If you aren't comfortable overnight, you will probably have a bad day.  You need something that will keep you warm enough for the conditions without weighing a lot.  Down is a popular choice.  It is light and not bulky, but you have to be careful to not get it wet or it will lose its insulating properties.  Synthetic bags will still insulate when damp, but can be more bulky and heavy.  Quilts are a popular alternative that can save some weight.

Sleeping pads come in many different types.  Closed cell (light, but not real soft), inflatable (also light, but you need to blow them up and they can spring a leak), self-inflating (can be a little more bulky).  You need to pick something that works with your system and protects you from the cold and hard ground.  

We are moving towards an underquilt for our hammocks (a must with a hammock).  These keep you warm from below and don't compress from your weight.  Our problem will be that we might also need to carry a pad too for those times we choose (or have to) sleep in a shelter.  Those wooden boards are hard.

The last of my Big Four is a cook system.  We have opted to go with one Pocket Rocket, that we will share.  Each of us will carry a canister of fuel and we each have a small solo cook kit that consists of a small pot (.6L), lid, gripper, cozy, lighter and a plastic cup.  We keep it simple by usually only heating water in the pot (easy cleanup).  There are many different types of stoves, using different types of fuel.  Each has pros and cons.  

Another popular option is a home made alcohol stove.  The stove is so light that carrying the fuel is easy to justify.  The stoves are also very easy to make from household items, like a empty can of cat food.  They do burn cooler, so it takes a little longer to get the water boiling and can be fussy in cold weather.

Some people opt to go stoveless, thus saving all the weight of burner and fuel at the very least.  They only carry food that doesn't need heating or cooking.  

So, the bottom line is, take a close look at each of these Big Four systems and ask yourself if you can go lighter in any way.  Sometimes it is a simple thing like changing out your pot or saving enough funds to buy that nice 20 degree quilt you have been hoping for.  
Other key decisions
Following the same guidelines, you can now look at each and every piece of gear and ask you self at least two simple questions.  Do I really need it? And, can I do it with something lighter?  If you are using one of the nice websites (like LighterPack) that lets you list all of your gear and its weight, you can analyze everything you have with the utmost scrutiny.

Even after you have set your kit and are ready to go, you are still not done.  Packs and their contents should be continuously tweaked even as you get well into your hike.  If you had settled on taking an item, but haven't used it in two weeks (and it isn't emergency gear), then maybe you don't need it.  Bounce it forward or send it home. 

Your "emergency" gear can change too.  You will rarely need a full first aid kit.  Keeping it simple is best.  A few bandaids, duct tape, some blister care items (especially at the beginning of the hike) antibacterial ointment, NSAIDS (Motrin aka Vitamin I).  That's about it.  
Fancy isn't always better. But sometimes it is.
There is a reason you need to pay good money for good things.  It seems that the lighter something is, the more it cost in this world of backpacking.  If you can afford it, you should try to get it.  Your back will thank you even if your wallet doesn't.  

Something that is considered "Fancy" has usually gone through extensive design and testing.  Most times, it is field tested and approved.  

With that said, you can still use "budget" items, that you have found work for you well enough.  I will always have the $20 Outdoor Products trekking poles that have never failed me so far.  I wear them out and get new ones.  I even left a pair at a Hostel after a hike and didn't think twice about getting them back.  I just headed to the nearest Walmart and got a new pair.  
Do your research
I never stop looking for gear.  I am always trying to find something lighter or better made.  I check out the reviews to see how real people like the item.  How well it works for them.  The Internet is a wonderful place where you can find anything you are looking for.  Usually you can do some real good comparison shopping without ever leaving your computer chair.

The big outfitters also have some good sales from time to time.  Called garage sales or other catchy names, the sell stuff that was either returned, but still in good shape, or were used as displays or something like that.  Ebay is also a great place to find cheap, but good gear.  

The world of gear is at your fingertips.  Google is your guide.
The world of Gear is a wonderful place.  Without gear, you couldn't hike.  At least, not very far.  You will be carrying Everything you need to live on your back.  You owe it to yourself to try to get good gear that is light, useful and durable.  You can never have enough gear, but only take the gear you need when you venture out into the woods.

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