Private: End of Summer Training Update

Back in May, I mentioned a personal training goal of hiking 500 “backpack miles” in the time leading up to next year’s thru-hike:

I am setting a personal goal of hiking 500 miles of with an overnight backpack and gear within the year leading up to our thru-hike. This will serve the purpose of physical training but will also ensure that my gear meets my needs.

Thus far, I have hiked about 109 miles. 53 of these which were spent conquering mountains in the Adirondacks with my Deuter 32 liter pack, and the rest were on overnighter hikes using a Jansport external frame or my new Deuter 50 + 10.

With my first good hike this year having been in April, I am at rather low average of 22 miles per month. This gives me six months of hiking before we kick off our AT hike in March. At this rate, I will only meet half of my goal, so it’s time that I kick it up a notch.

If all goes as planned, a 15 mile Labor Day hike plus a 45 mile hike with Samantha around the Allegheny Front Trail (AFT), will boost my total mileage up to 170 by the end of September, or a monthly average of about 28 miles per month. Continuing that rate after September would put me at just over 300 miles before our thru hike.

The bottom line is that, no matter how I slice it, there is a lot of hiking to be done! It will be interesting to see what I can accomplish this Fall and Winter.



Private: CPR and First Aid Training

I have signed up for CPR and first aid training classes at Centre Life Link in State College. The training is not only for my thru-hike, but I have been spending as much time in the woods hiking and mountain biking as my schedule permits. So, the course is worth every penny to me.

The course consists of two evening classes which are on the first two Wednesdays of June. I am looking forward to them!



Private: Northbound, Southbound, or “Flip-Flop”

Traditionally, Appalachian Trail thru hikers — and I suspect thru hikers of the Pacific Crest Trail and Continental Divide Trail — make their way from South to North, starting in late Winter and early Spring, following the seasons as they inch their way up the Appalachians toward the focal point of Maine’s Baxter State Park, or the Northern terminus of the AT — Mount Katahdin.

Those that start “late” — a label hastily applied, but useful for reference — typically begin at Mount Katahdin, and hike Southbound toward Springer Mountain, Georgia. Generally, this is because of weather conditions which become a concern in mid-October, as noted in this excerpt from the AT FAQ on the Baxter State Park website:

In the Fall of the year, hikers must arrange to hike Katahdin by October 15th. After this date the park is closed to all camping. Hence, A.T. hikers planning to combine a Fall hike of Katahdin with camping in the park must plan on hiking Katahdin before October 15th. Park officials emphasize October 15th as the cut-off date for hiking Katahdin, regardless of your camping plans, because statistics show that, in this northerly climate, chances are slim you will be able to successfully finish your Katahdin hike after this date.

While following the seasons and weather North is arguably the primary reason for starting an AT thru-hike in the South — albeit, it will be cold in the higher elevations no matter what time of year — there is also the notion of finishing the epic journey summiting “The Greatest Mountain”, which is how Katahdin’s name translates.

Katahdin’s sign from August 1989 to July 1999 (ATC HQ, 2006)

But as I inch closer to 2016, I have pondered if a “flip-flop” hike would better serve my thru-hike (and the trail) than a traditional Northbound hike. Flip-floppers start somewhere in the middle of the AT, usually in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, and hike to an endpoint of the trail. From their, they either flip-flop to the opposite terminus and hike toward their starting location, or they return to their starting location and hike on toward the other terminus.

Flip-floppers often hike to accommodate their schedules, or, in the case of Mount Katahdin’s Fall closure, a deadline. Midway through their hike, late or slow Northbound thru-hikers may discover they may not make it to Katahdin by October 15th. For these hikers, flip-flopping to Katahdin allows them to complete their thru-hike without having to worry if they’ll be able to finish their hike.

The Potomac River from Weverton Cliffs, North of Harpers Ferry (2006)

The biggest reason I would flip-flop is to avoid the masses of hikers who are all starting at Springer Mountain: There were 1400 registered Northbound hikers this year, most of them beginning their hikes in March and April.

While voluntary trail registration aims to minimize overcrowding of the trail, flip-flopping also helps reduce impact on the trail in the South:

In recent years, the northbound A.T. thru-hike experience has been defined by severe overcrowding at the southern end of the Trail. Overcrowding puts undue pressure on, and inflicts damage to, the finite number of shelters and campsites, and on the springs and streams near which these accommodations are located. When too many people are crammed together at campsites, vegetation is trampled exposing bare ground, trash may accumulate and unsanitary conditions can ruin the traditional natural A.T. experience.

Crowding is intensified because hikers tend to start thru-hikes around specific dates, such as March 1, March 17, and especially April 1 and weekends.

But, as those who have thru-hiked the AT before me, I am told by Northbounders and Southbounders alike — or NOBOs and SOBOs, in “trailspeak” — that there is no escaping the social aspect of the trail.

In a recent New York Times article, Nicholas Kristof reflects on hiking sections of the Pacific Crest Trail. His observation on long-distance hiking is an interesting one:

It’s striking that hikers come to the trail for solitary reflection, yet often end up coalescing into groups — because we are social animals, and solitude is so much more fun when you have somebody to share it with.

And so, while escaping the crowds with a flip-flop is a consideration, I am leaning towards follow the seasons, joining the others who are attempting a Northbound thru-hike, and looking forward to hopefully summiting Mount Katahdin in 2016 before it closes in October.



Private: Weekly Update: Planning and New Gear

It has been a busy week, but I have been making continual progress with trip planning and new gear. Here are some quick updates:

Planning:

  • Yesterday I began researching locations for our resupplies. I suspect our average will be 15 miles a day, and that at worst, we will want to resupply at least every seven days (or every 105 miles). This means stopping in a town to pick up our mail-drops or resupplying via local stores. The first 160 miles North of Springer Mountain should be interesting, as all post offices (and therefore towns) after the first 21 miles are 9-11 miles off the trail.
  • I am planning to raise money to donate to a charity for every mile I hike. I’ve not decided which charity, but I found a great website called HikeFor.org that enables hikers to track their pledges and keep them up to date on how many miles they have hiked.
  • I am setting a personal goal of hiking 500 miles of with an overnight backpack and gear within the year leading up to our thru-hike. This will serve the purpose of physical training but will also ensure that my gear meets my needs. Thus far (for this goal), I have hiked Old Loggers Path, which is 27.1 miles. This weekend we will be doing an 18.2 mile hike on Pennsylvania’s Mid-State Trail (or 29.27 km, for the religious MST hikers out there).
  • In addition to planning my mail-drops, I’ve begun a spreadsheet to keep track of all of my gear: What do I need, how much does it way, and how much does it cost? These seems to be an effective way to plan what I need to take, and what I should leave at home.

Gear updates:

  • Last week we received our Black Diamond Revolt headlamps. They operate on three USB-rechargeable AAA NiMH batteries. The lamp is smaller, lighter, and more bright than my old Petzl headlamp, which runs off four AA batteries. (Smaller, lighter, and better seems to be the theme with any of my planned gear upgrades.) A three hour night hike has proved that the headlamps are working!
  • Our MSR Hubba Hubba NX came in last week too. It is a two person tent with doors and vestibules on both sides. We have yet to set it up but will be giving it a test run on this weekend’s overnighter on the MST.
  • The other day I ordered a dual-USB wall-mount charger. I will be carrying three USB rechargeable devices on the hike (phone, headlamp, and a back-up battery), so charging multiple devices simultaneously while we are in town will give me more time to worry about other things.

That’s all for now! It is back to the daily grind for me today, but you can be sure that I will be enjoying the scent of the fresh Spring air on my way back into the office (and of course, day dreaming of my first long-distance hike). See you next time!



Private: New Gear: Hanwag Tatra Trek Boots

During a work trip to Budapest last December, I used TripAdvisor to make sure I was visiting all of the must-see tourist destinations during my down time. To my surprise, one of the popular attractions for adventurers was the Pál-völgyi Cave System on the Buda-side of the city, which is the more mountainous, West-side of the Danube. As I was told, the land near Budapest had once been covered in water (as was evident by shell fossils within the cave). When the Earth’s plates shifted, the mountains rose and the water drained, leaving a cave system.

The park which oversees the cave system offers guided adventure tours, one of which is offered as a crawling tour, done in a pair of overalls and a helmet. Since this was unlike any cave tour I have heard of in the United States, I had to squeeze it in my trip! And so, with a down day before heading home from Budapest, I signed up for the cave tour.

Being that I was on a work trip, the two pairs of shoes I had with me were not suitable for anything more than walking the city. Fortunately, I was in the market for a new pair of boots. On my hiking adventures back home, I had been wearing my Vasque boots since around 1998. (I was actually wearing that year them when my Dad and I hiked a stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail.) They were now around sixteen years old, tattered, no longer waterproof, and the leather was dry and splitting.

So, I made my way to a local outdoor shop. Like most outdoor shops, while having a great selection of boots, few boots at the shop were in stock at my size. One model which fit my feet perfectly were the Hanwag Tatra trek boots, and so I made the purchase. Prior to my trip to Budapest, I had not heard of Hanwag, as most hikers with heavy boots in the US wear either the Lowa or Asolo brands.

From the Hanwag website:

HANWAG is called after its founder Hans Wagner. At the company’s headquarters in Vierkirchen near Munich, it has been making top-quality alpine and trekking footwear since 1921.

The boots are finely crafted, and undoubtedly a piece of German engineering. The fit is amazing, and they have one special feature which I had never seen until this pair boots: Three of the lower sets of eyes for lacing the boots have a ball-bearing inside of them, allowing for an easy and smooth tightening of the boot, while protecting the lace from fraying. The lowest eye and the hooks that the laces use up the ankle do not have the bearing, probably to keep the laces from slipping while they are being worn.

I have been breaking these boots in on every hike I’ve done this Spring, and will continue to do so for the remainder of the year. While they are only approaching 100 miles of wear, I have done one 27 mile hike with them while wearing a pack full of overnight gear, and did not experience any blisters or troubles with them.

While I have read that many thru hikers use trail runners for their long distance hikes — (that is an entirely different discussion) — I will be starting my Appalachian Trail thru-hike with my Hanwags Tatra trek boots. My goal is to have them sufficiently broken in before the big hike.



Private: My Appalachian Trail Pilgrimage

It is with great excitement that I share with you that in 2016, I will be thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail.

But no long journey goes without some background, as few people are “crazy enough” to drop what they are doing, and hike ~2150 miles with 30 or 40 pounds on their back…

My first overnight hiking experiences were on the Appalachian Trail around 1997 or 1998, between Boiling Springs, PA, and its current midpoint near Pine Grove Furnace State Park (also in Pennsylvania). My family lived in a neighborhood on a mountain where I spent many hours of every week exploring the woods, including the White Rocks Trail, an access route to the AT which junctions at a former midpoint of the trail, Center Point Knob. On these mountains, my close friend Eric — who later hiked the AT as “Caveman” — joined me for our first overnight outdoor adventures. By June 2003, we had section-hiked some ~350 miles of the AT, from Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, through New Jersey state route 94. Our hikes encompassed the entire states of Maryland and Pennsylvania, and touched West Virginia and New Jersey. While many of our hikes left me with awful blisters, the memories laid a foundation for a life-long dream.

Fast forward to 17 years later: Over the last year I have spent a large amount of time in the outdoors, and I’ve rediscovered how therapeutic the woods are to the daily grind. There is no coincidence that after 10 years of a career in computer hardware engineering, with many of my evening and weekends occupied with playing music, that I have decided that it is time for a change in pace. I have always seen the woods from a perspective similar to American author, botanist, and naturalist, Donald C. Peattie. He once wrote — (and I pull one of my favorite quotes from a book called “The Appalachian Trail Reader“, which sits next to my bed):

“For, after all, time is not money; time is an opportunity to live before you die. So a man who walks, and lives and sees and thinks as he walks, has lengthened his life.” — from The Joy of Walking, The New York Times Magazine, April 5, 1942

My beloved girlfriend, Samantha, will be at my side for the journey (and will also be journaling on her weblog). Our plan is to do a Northbound hike (beginning at the Southern terminus at Springer Mountain, Georgia), and begin in early March. Today, I will begin documenting our thru-hike.

I invite you as my close family and friends to follow me on this pilgrimage, and read as I write about the planning, the gear, the packing, the excitement, the wildlife, the wildflowers, the mountains, the weather, the blisters, the thirst, the hunger, the adventure, and the dream which I am finally going to make true.

I am very excited to share this adventure with you, but I do have two small requests to make of you: First, since this decision won’t be publicized until 2016, please refrain from mentioning my hike on Facebook or other social media (as I don’t want to risk putting my job in jeopardy). Secondly, please give me your support as I enact this dream. No decisions related to sidelining other aspects of my life to make the hike happen have been easy, but the hardest decisions in life are often the decisions we must make.

And so, as I take the first step on my pilgrimage, I invite you to join me on the journey!

Hiking a section of the Pacific Crest Trail with my Dad. (Washington State, 1998)