Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Notes From The Appalachian Trail: The Lessons Learned

I was very fortunate on this journey in that I had experienced hikers give me advice about what to bring, and a son that is my size and likes to buy very good gear. So, I was able to borrow some great stuff and mostly buy the right things for the trip...but still I made some mistakes and here is what I learned:

1) I used a Kelty 4500 Shadow backpack...borrowed from my son and that piece of gear was great. No complaints at all, except that I wished it could hold more food, and had an anti-gravity function.

2) Slumberjack sleeping bag...borrowed from my son. This kept me warm on the cold nights. When I buy one, I will make sure that I get the longer version so I can stretch all the way out at night....that part of the night when I still have hopes of falling asleep. I will also bring some kind of sleeping aid...either tea or Advil Nighttime.

3) Eureka! Solitaire Tent: This was a great idea. It doesn't weigh much, and it doesn't cost too much. Unfortunately, It needs stakes everywhere to stand up, and most of the time there were roots and rocks in the way. Next time I go shopping, I will look for a tent that I can sit up in and read, instead of lying there like I'm trapped in a coffin while trying not to freeze to death. By the way, any short people in the market for a almost new backpacking bivvy (mummy) tent...see me!

4) Suunto Traverse Alpha...smart hiking watch. This gadet is way cool, and once I understood that all it takes is a drop in barometric pressure for it to go into alarm mode, I was much more relaxed. Before that, I thought it was somehow hooked into NORAD and knew when doom was impending for us. This watch can easily go for a number of days without needing a charge, plus it looks VERY cool.

5) UnderArmour Compression shirt...this was the best idea that didn't work. This very tight shortsleeve t-shirt had me sweating in 40 degrees. Next time I'm packing a normal workout shirt just in case the temp rises above freezing during the trip!

6) Pam's homemade trail mix. This stuff was packed in small baggies for each day of the trip, and it became like Crack for me. I was told that the ingredients were so expensive that nobody could afford to sell it in a store, and this food is what kept me going. When I was feeling really generous, I let Paul and Chase have a little taste of it. Near the end of the trip, we were adding the crumbs to our oatmeal...best oatmeal ever...

7) Junkfood treats. Bad idea. Somehow, I was told that we would be burning so many calories that we could eat Snickers bars all day long and lose weight. Instead, I gained weight on the trip...still trying to figure that out.

8) Ramen Noodles....believe it or not, I've never had them before. These things are great with a pack of soup mix added. We mostly ate Mountain House freeze-dried food, which is apparently too expensive for true hikers to eat, so we looked like city-slickers, while REAL men ate Ramen.

9) UnderArmour Cold Gear Storm Beanie....the best friend a bald head ever had in the cold hiking weather!

10) Jackery Mini Premium portable charger...a little bit larger than a lipstick and kept my watch charged when I needed it. This would be great for charging up a cell phone as well.

11) Petzl Tikka XP Headlamp. I already had a good headlamp at home, but this thing was super lightweight and as we found out later, was as bright as a car headlight in the woods. I had a little bit of trouble figuring how to get the functions to work with only the one button, but once I did...I was very happy to have this item on the trail!

12) Silicone Collapsible cups...we loved these. You can buy them just about anywhere in the camping section. they fold up almost flat, weight very little and we used them for coffee, food, everything. The price for larger bowl-sized containers were a lot more expensive, but we may invest in that for the next trip.

12) Toilet paper....all I can say is bring more than you think you need. Somehow my brother convinced me all I needed a little pack of tissues that you give to kids in elementary school, just one for each day....maybe that would have worked if I skipped all of the junk food on the trail....just remember, when you run out of this, you get to use leaves....

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Notes From The Appalachian Trail Part 10: Smokey Mountain Time

Probably the biggest surprise to me about backpacking was the emphasis on time. I'm the kind of guy that loves watches. I have many and am always looking for one more. I can't say exactly why, but it must be like women and shoes, or at least my wife and shoes. She has shoes she has never worn, but we have yet to pass by a single shoe sale without a 45 minute stop to see what she needs. I'm not quite that bad, but I could be..

My brother Paul on the other hand, disdains watches. Always has. They are a sign that you are beholden to the man, that somebody can make you be somewhere at a certain time. He gets there when he gets there..that is until we went hiking together. Suddenly, all day long we needed to know what time it was. I mean, we are out in the woods, everything we need is on our backs, nobody is expecting us, we either get where we are going, or we die trying, and the time isn't going to make much difference. We are told there will be one cellphone between all of us, and it won't get reception anyway. I knew enough to leave mine behind, my battery is good to about lunchtime on any given day, and without data, I wouldn't even be able to look at pictures of cats.

It turns out that my newest addition to my watch collection: the Sunnoto Traverse Alpha, was not to be an object of ridicule like my survival knife, but something that came in quite handy. #1..this baby held a charge for 2 days before I used the GPS hiking feature, and then I was able to quickly charge it using an inexpensive battery charger. We always knew what kind of progress we were making, which was very important when you were trying to make 13 miles a day. We knew when to step up the pace, when we could take longer breaks, our changes in altitude and temperature and more.

Unfortunately, the feature that I was the most excited about let me down. I pride myself on how many steps I can record in a day on various exercise bands I've owned and once even hit 30,000 steps in a day while on a camping trip with the boys, in which we walked all day long to stay warm and there was nothing else to do. On this trip, I was getting a lousy 16,000-17,000 steps after walking from dawn to dusk. No allowances made for the pack, climbing over trees, rocks, steep ascents, nothing.

Chase must take after his father. He brought a watch which never worked the whole trip, in fact I think he left it as a trail magic gift for somebody that would be willing to buy a battery for it. Paul, on the other hand is now thinking about what kind of watch he can buy that is MUCH superior to the Sunnoto Traverse Alpha.

Note: Timing is everything. Our original plan to hike in Maine was doused by Hurricane Matthew cancelling our flight. That was our last good weather opportunity to hit Maine this year. If we had waited 3-4 weeks before changing our plans to North Carolina, all we would be seeing would be burned out forests...if we got to go at all. Even when you don't have to punch a clock, the time matters....