Monday, January 23, 2017

LD-08: Hike Your Own Hike

Hike Your Own Hike

Anyone who has dipped their toe into the world of the Hiker has most likely heard this ubiquitous saying. Its individual meanings are endless and have so many nuances, that at times, it has become meaningless. But we will continue to use it and embrace the meaning we have chosen to use as we hike on down the trail, hiking our own hike.
What "hike your own hike" means to me
As I said above, there are so many meanings to this saying that I probably can't list them all. Here are two that I consider often.

1. An expression of the freedom that a long distance hike allows for the hiker. To go out and commune with nature and be one with it. To be at home in the woods and move along the trail as best as you can, doing what you want (as long as it doesn't infringe on other's hikes). It means, you hike your hike and I will hike mine. No judgment or criticism.

2. A pseudo polite, semi-passive aggressive way to say Shut the Fuck Up. I really don't want or need the unsolicited advice you are giving me, so please go find someone else to impose your will on.

It is usually pretty easy to figure out which meaning I'm using...

What does it Not mean to me? It doesn't mean to go out there and do whatever the fuck you want, disregarding the others you share the trail with. It doesn't mean to ignore LNT. It doesn't mean to ignore all the trail etiquette you have read and heard about. It doesn't mean you have free rein to be loud, obnoxious and basically an asshole.

The golden rule fits nicely with this concept. Treat others the way you would like to be treated. It is as simple as that.
Further resources
With today's Interwebs, there are countless resources of information about attempting a Long Distance Hike. Some if it is good, some, not so much. The thing is to go out there and see what you can find. Weight the advice and information you see and either try it, discard it or save it for later. I love planning hikes. Whether they be one or two nights or five or six months. Using all the resources I find on this great information highway is always fun. Here are a couple of go to websites that I have found very useful:

1. The A.T. Guide - You need to have a guide and this is the one that I recommend. It has a gold mine of information that helps you along the way. You can get a pdf version for your phone, but I will always also carry the paper edition. I have cut mine in half and will carry only the half I need. AWOL's website also have some handy resupply planning spreadsheets that come in three different Miles Per Day variations.

2. Lighter Pack - This website helps you obsess about your pack weight. It gives you a nice visual display of where the bulk of your weight is and lets you plan how to cut it down.

3. ATC's Interactive Map - Great for getting a clear visual clue of the trail. It can show you shelters, parking, vistas and more.

4. Distance Calculator - Another great planning tool. Enter start and stop locations and it gives you a good breakdown on the mileage between way points.

5. Trail Journals - This is a great site for sharing your journey. Although it is a little challenging to use from the trail, it isn't impossible, if you have a bit of signal. It has great tools to show your gear, let visitors offer encouragement and tracks your mileage and other stats from your hike.

6. Zero Day Resupply - This fairly new concept lets you plan and execute mail drops without all the prep work. You just go to their website, fill your box or pack and tell them where to ship it. The prices are fairly comparable to grocery store, but remember you are paying for a service too.

7. AT Mailing Labels - If you are doing the mail drop thing (or just need someone to send you something) this site has a good database of addresses, both Post Office and Businesses. You always want to double check with most of these as they may disappear without notice.

8. Facebook Hiking Groups - There are dozens of these that you can join and share your knowledge and ask your questions. A word of warning. You might want to do a little of your own Googling first because you can ask a simple question in any one of these groups and get so many conflicting answers, that it just confuses you more than before you asked. They are good to see who is planning to get out there and it is possible to make friends early and also decide who you really don't want to hike around.
This is the final installment of my Long Distance Hiking 101 series. I hope I was able to provide a few tidbits of wisdom. What works for me, might not work for you so please don't consider anything I have advised here as the only solution. Everyone has a slightly different experience out there, but for most, it is a really great experience that affects them for the rest of their lives.

Have a great hike and remember the Hike is about the Journey. The experiences are to be cherished. The destination is just where you sigh and say, "What's Next?"

See you out on the trail.

EarthTone and LoGear

LD-01 - LD-02 - LD-03 - LD-04 - LD-05 - LD-06 - LD-07 - LD-08

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Overnight Gear Test

Since we upgraded our sleep and shelter system, I have been chomping at the bit to get out in the woods and see how it feels.  We decided that last weekend would be good, as the temperatures were going to stay in the 40's for a couple of days.  Rain was in the forecast, but weather never interferes with our plans.  In fact, a couple rainy days were perfect to test our gear (and ourselves) to possible wet conditions.  We were also bringing Ginger our Golden Doodle (now trail named Mama Bear).  She loves to come out with us when we head out, so we thought it would be good to bring her for our short hikes. 

Mama Bear and LoGear heading down the misty trail

The original plan was to drive to old Rt 40 at the Old South Mountain Inn, hike into Rocky Run shelter, overnight, then hike back to the car, drive to the Rt 70 overpass parking and hike to Pogo Campground for a second night.  Plan B would be put into effect on Saturday after an unexpected challenge. 

LoGear works a night shift, so she usually doesn't arise until after Noon.  She had Fridays and Saturdays off.  We had everything ready to go and got on the road at around 1240 on Friday.  The drive was a little over an hour and after a quick stop for lunch at McDs, we were at the A.T. Parking lot next to the Inn and on the trail around 1400.  

The weather was damp.  Scattered showers had been coming through for a while and even though we didn't get rained on, everything was a little drippy.  We arrived at the shelter after the quick, easy 2.1 mile hike at 1455 and set up camp.

LoGear wanted to test her new sleeping pad along with her new quilts, so she set up in the empty shelter.  The plan was for Mama Bear to sleep with her.  We brought a couple of blankets for her.
LoGear's set up

I wanted to see how my new under quilt and top quilt worked in my new hammock, so I set up right outside the shelter where Mama Bear could see me.  She likes to know we are safe.  

EarthTone's hammock set up

It was still pretty early in the day, so we puttered around the shelter area, getting water and gathering wood.  The temps were in the low 40s, but felt comfortable with a puffy on.  

Darkness comes early in the winter so we ate dinner as darkness settled in the holler.  Even after a nice fire, we were contemplating heading to the quilts at around 1830 and we did just that.  

Here is my notes from Friday:
Moonsday, 30 Afteryule:Left home around 12:40ish. Parked at South Mountain Inn. Hiked about 2 miles to Rocky Run Shelter. Arrived at 14:55. Set up hammock, gathered wood, fed Ginger. Made a fire and dinner as it got dark early. Went to hammock around 1830. Lisa is in shelter with Ginger. It's about 40 degrees with rain off and on all day. Nothing while we were hiking and only a few minutes when we were up on the hill top checking out the camping area. There is a breeze, but the woods are calm and quiet. Ahh, winter in the woods. I can feel some cold on my back, but it isn't too bad. The setup probably needs adjusting. This is why we are out here. To test the new gear and learn how to use it.

 I went to my hammock and read for a while and then tried to get some sleep.  My sleeping was sporadic and not very fitful.  I don't think I had my under quilt set up exactly right and from time to time I would feel cold under me.  I also need to get used to the top quilt.  It isn't like a sleeping bag where you can zip yourself in and virtually eliminate most drafts, but acts more like a blanket.  It sure does feel warm though, but I will need to adjust to how it works.  I hung out in the hammock until I was ready to start the next day which was around 0530.  11 hours in the hammock.  Nice.

Mama Bear seemed to have a restless night.  She wasn't content to just sleep next to LoGear, but had to patrol the area and check on me every so often.  She seemed just as content sleeping in the shelter, under my tarp or in the middle of the blue blaze trail coming into camp.  In the morning we christened her Mamma Bear as she seemed to be protecting and watching over her "babies" all night.  

I got up in the darkness and just took it easy.  I knew it would be a while until LoGear rolled out as I could tell she was up a lot during the night checking on Mama Bear who was checking on me.  She also needs a couple of days to adjust to a different sleeping schedule, where she can get up along with the sun.  But the sun wasn't going to be seen all day.

I started the day with a couple cups of coffee with some Carnation Instant Breakfast stirred in.  Next we went down to the spring to fill up the bottles.  There was a super dense fog.  We were in the midst of the cloud so to speak.

Next I gathered some wood for a morning fire.  Everything was damp to wet, but my nice fire starters never let me down.  I ate breakfast and started breaking down my camp.  I know my tarp was going to be packed up wet because nothing was drying in this damp, drippy weather.  
Mama Bear enjoying the foggy morning

The woods woke up, but the quite remained.  It was super peaceful and I glorified in being outside and enjoying the day as it was given. Eventually LoGear had enough of laying in the shelter and came out for breakfast.

Here is my Saturday morning notes:

Treesday, 01 Solmath: Slept kind of cold. Up around 0530. Made coffee, got water, collected damp wood, ate bfast, etc. 38 degrees with fog and dripping trees. The metal shelter roof is like a drum beat for every drop. I need to figure out my under quilt. I'm not sure I have it set up right. We headed out of camp at 1048.
Just before we left, we met two hikers coming in.  We chatted a bit.  They had just come in from where we had parked for the night.  They went up on the ridge to set up as we headed back down the blue blaze to the trail.

We hiked back out in the foggy morning, passing about seven others coming in, stopping at the Dahlgren campground for a bit to use the porta potty.  This site is really nice in the warmer seasons, as it has showers and running water.  

We were quickly back at our truck.  Yesterday we had been the only vehicle in the lot, but there were already four or five vehicles parked there now.  I was a little surprised that so many other were coming out on this dreary day, but I guess there are a lot of others who are like me and don't let weather be a factor in whether or not they go out.  This would be an omen of things to come.

We headed to the next parking lot.  A pretty large lot on Rt 40 just before it passes over Rt 70.  I followed the GPS instead of going a somewhat longer, but straighter route which turned out to be a twisty, windy series of back roads that I feared would upset Mama Bear's stomach.  

She used to get car sick when she was young, but had pretty much outgrown it for the most part.  We were asking for trouble by risking it.

When we arrived at the parking lot, it was completely full.  Even the overflow area had a car in every slot.  This sucked pretty much.  We decided that we had learned a good deal from our one night out and would schedule more as we can.  It was time to end this adventure and head home.  

Mama Bear was acting thirsty and LoGear gave her a little bit of water.  Just as we pulled away to head to McDs again, she covered my middle console with some nice dog puke.  

After a clean up we were on our way.  This was not the first time she has done this, but last time I was able to catch most of it in her bowl.  Oh well, next time we will get out of the vehicle and let her drink, then let her stomach settle.  

We had packed basically our whole kit for this test that we will be bringing on our Hike along with some extra stuff for the dog and our packs weighed in at 28 and 29 pounds.  My pack felt good on my back and LoGear said she felt good too.  

Some Lessons Learned:
1.  Learn the proper way to set up that underquilt
2.  Adjust to using a quilt instead of a bag
3.  I will be bringing my crocks.  The DIY "sandals" I had made were OK for slipping them on for a quick walk to piss, but I just like having the crocks, so I will take on the extra 12 oz or so.  
4.  Mama Bear doesn't sleep well when we are separated in the night. 
5.  Don't give Mama Bear water inside the vehicle any more.

I look forward to our next gear test.  

EarthTone and LoGear (and Mama Bear)

Thursday, January 12, 2017

New Post on The Trek - AT

I just posted another article on The Trek - AT.  

In this one I talk about reaching the point in my preparations that I call Saturation.  

You can check it out here:  In Which I Reach Saturation in my Preparations

EarthTone and LoGear

Friday, January 6, 2017

LD-07: More Life on the Trail

More, Life on the Trail

A Long Distance is just that. It takes a long time. So, this is part two of Life on the Trail. Just a few more things to think about.

Staying smart around sex, drugs, and rock and roll
The trail, in a way, is a reflection of life in the "other" world. I like to think of it as a nice, clean, simplified reflection, but it still contains all the elements of our society. Yes, people have sex out there, they do drugs and rock and roll will never die.

If you like to smoke the weed, please be discrete. Don't do it around other people. Especially those who you know are uncomfortable with it. Also, if you are uncomfortable with it, have the courage to let the stoners know that you would rather they move off somewhere to have their "safety meeting". (I thought that term was cute when I first heard it, but now it just annoys me, like when a kid giggles after saying Dicks Sporting Goods). Remember, respect others (this will be the theme of this whole paragraph.)

If you want to have sex, great. I think everyone should get laid out there, but I'm pretty sure not everyone wants to listen to you getting it on. Don't fuck in a shelter if others are there. Don't fuck in the bunk room of a hostel if others are there. If you are a loud fuck, try to use some self restraint in your tent away from the others. Get a room, stealth camp away from others, jack off in the shower at Trail Days. Well, maybe not that last one. Remember, respect others.

There are many days that I need a little boost to get the miles in and listening to music is one way that helps me get my legs pumping and the miles go by fast. Using ear buds is the recommended method. I usually only plug in one ear, so I can still hear nature, especially that fast hiker coming up on me who would scare the shit out of me if I didn't hear him coming. Portable blue tooth speakers are a new rage out there. Sometimes you are in a group that appreciates your rage rock or syrupy country, but a lot of times, you will see the tension rise on that person who just wants to hear nature. Once again respect others.
Common thru-hiker medical issues
I'm sure I could create a post all by itself about the different number of medical issues a hiker can potentially encounter during their hike. Here are a few that I have experienced or seen out there on the trail.

Overuse injuries top the list, I believe. Knees, hips, ankles, IT band, Achilles tendons, the list goes on. Usually the best way to fix this is rest, icing, compression and elevation. If you start slow, your body has the time to strengthen to the stress it is being put through. If you push it too far, too fast, you risk an overuse injury.

Food or water born Illnesses. Giardiasis, Noro Virus, etc. There is an old saying out there, "when you eat poop, you will shit liquid". Well, it isn't too old. I just made it up. These sicknesses that cause diarrhea, vomiting, cramps and unending pain and suffering, are usually caused by you getting someone elses poop on your hands and then eating something with said hands.

Hand washing out on the trail can't be emphasized enough. Unfortunately, it isn't always easy to get a good hand washing in. Whenever you have the opportunity, you should be washing your hands. Anti-bacterial gel is a must have, but it isn't as effective as a good hand washing.

Also, don't dip your hand (or let anyone else dip theirs) into a Ziploc of food, such as trail mix or Cheetos. If you want to share, dump from the bag into the hand. This keeps each hiker's dirty dirt away from yours. Fist bumping is also common out there. Not only is it cooler than shaking hands, it is more hygienic.

Hypothermia is a constant risk out there. You can become hypothermic easily well into the 50s. If you are wet, and the wind is stealing your heat, you risk this deadly situation. One thing about hypothermia is you quickly become confused and can not realize that it is happening to you. If you feel like you can't get any colder no matter how fast you hike to try and warm up, you need to take action quickly. Stop hiking, find shelter if you can or need to, get into dry clothes (you do have some dry clothes in your pack, right?) climb into your bag and warm up. If you can, warm up some water and sip it slowly. If you are hiking with others in an unpleasant weather situation, keep an eye on each other. If your hiking buddy starts ripping off their clothes saying they are too hot, maybe you need to get them into their bag and start up the stove.

Heat Stroke can also be a real danger out there. As summer comes on and the springs start to dry up, a hot day with little water can bring on all manner of heat related ailments. Once again, recognize this situation. This problem can be worse by the fact that you may not have what is needed to correct the situation. Get water if you can. Drink some. Get into shade and remove clothing. Rest and maybe pray a little and you should be fine. If there is no water or shade on the trail, get to a road and try to get into town, where a cool shower and air conditioning can help the situation.

Dehydration is very common out there. I have learned time and again that if you see a water source (especially in hot weather), you need to camel up, even if your bottle is still mostly full. I drink all I have and refill. Sometimes I hang out for a while and drink a full liter, before filling again and moving on. I have made the mistake of passing up decent water sources because I thought I would just fill up at the next one. Sometimes that next one is dry or down a stupid steep hill. The best place to store water is inside your body.
Staying motivated
There will be times, sometimes several times a day, that you will be completely out of motivation. It isn't an if, but a when. It is up to you whether or not these episodes are simple bumps along the trail, or an insurmountable obstacle to your hike.

There is a real common saying out there to "don't quit on a bad day". It advises to wait for a good day and then decide if you really want to quit.

There are a lot of ways to keep motivated. Find the magic and mystery of being out in nature. Look at the small things. Not every hill top will have a view. So what. Find your "views" everywhere you look. That little red eft, that is moving across the trail. That really cool mushroom growing next to that tree stump. Your hiker friends, doing funny antics.

Help and encourage the unmotivated and let them help you when you need it. We are a tramily out there and need to look out after each other.   Ask others what they use for motivation and see if that works for you.  

You will have plenty of bad days out there.  Remember, even your suckiest day will be a story to tell later.  
Making friends on the trail
The Trail is a place where I have seen meaningful friendships develop from "What's up?" to "Love you Bro!" in about five minutes. It is an amazing thing to see and a wonderful thing to experience.

The trail is full of the most amazing people. They come from every walk of life, but have this one thing in common. To follow the white blazes until they are done following the white blazes. These friendships are super strong and will most likely last the rest of your life. Even the most introverted out there make plenty of friends.

Be open and friendly to all you meet out there. They may be the one who gives you one of their power bars because you are out of food. They will fill your water for you when you are too wiped to walk down to the spring. They will wrap you in your bag when you are shivering uncontrollably.

Also, you will want to do all those things for them. Minutes after coming upon them on the trail.

It is a wonderful magical world out there.
Keeping in touch with loved ones
In today's world, keeping in touch is much easier then it was even a decade ago. The ubiquitous smartphone and decent cell coverage are responsible for that.

It is much easier to keep in touch with those not out on the trail with you. Facebook, texting, email. It's all much easier to do today then even a decade ago. Try to send a handwritten post card from time to time. People will enjoy that.

Make sure your loved ones know where your are and better yet, where you will be in a few days or a week or so. They may want to send you a care package with lots of great stuff to eat and use. Make sure they let you know that a package will be waiting for you, so you know to check with the post office or hostel where they send it.

Some use one of those satcom devices like SPOT or DeLorme to help track their whereabouts. These can be nice for those who need to give their loved ones peace of mind that you are not being eaten by a bear or have fallen down a ravine somewhere. At least they will be able to find your body easier, if that happens and you had the device turned on.

Let your loved ones live vicariously through you. It will keep you motivated and let them feel happy that you are out there crushing it.
Every Hikers' hike is different. Your personality and the circumstance you encounter during your trek define that hike. You could hike the same stretch a year later and have a completely different hike. This is just a little snippet of what life is like on the trail. It doesn't even attempt to cover everything and may bear no resemblance to your hike itself. Hopefully a nugget or two of wisdom were contained here. That's up to you to decide.

LD-01 - LD-02 - LD-03 - LD-04 - LD-05 - LD-06 - LD-07 - LD-08