Food

Today will be a somewhat rambling post about food.  I need to get this dialed in and prepped as tax season is approaching fast and already I find there is a lot of administrative work that needs to be done at the office to get prepared for tax season and the tripling the size of our staff for a few months.

So, breakfast.  Although I am taking a stove and planning on cooking dinners, I do not want to cook breakfast.  I like to get up, pack up and get some miles under my belt before anything else.  And I don’t want to spend the time it takes in the morning to cook.  In fact, I have pretty much decided I am not taking coffee on this trip for that very reason…too much monkey business in the morning getting it all ready.  We will see if I change my tune on the coffee at some point.  I might.  But anyway, with or without coffee, I do want good nutrition to start the day.

I know I mentioned in another post about Drew Manning’s Spinach Shake recipe that was a main part of his menu plan on his phase from fat to fit.  (read all about Drew’s journey at http://www.fit2fat2fit.com)  The shake is good.  The basic recipe is a couple of cups of spinach, ½ a banana, ¾ cup almond milk, a scoop of protein powder, 2 Tablespoons of peanut butter and a couple of handfuls of ice.  Put in a blender and go.  I think I can do that, absent the ice part.  In fact, as I write this I have almond milk and bananas in the dehydrator.  Dried peanut butter is available and I have already dehydrated a ton of spinach.  So I can mix together powdered everything in a small bag and have that every morning it will do two things.  First, I will start my day with some very good nutrition for my body that just spent the last eight to ten hours repairing itself from the prior days’ challenges, and second I will start my day by hydrating.  Two birds, one stone.  The big issue is can I dry these ingredients and make it palatable on re-hydration?  That remains to be seen.  Especially without ice.

Since I am talking food and dehydrating, I thought you might like to see some pictures of my setup.  I converted a space in the garage to be my dehydrating station.  I did this in part because of the room the dehydrator took up in the kitchen and in part because dehydrating onions smells really really bad.  So, garage it was.  I also purchased a freezer and setting up the station in the garage gave me easy access to that as well.  By January 15th I hope to have around 100 dehydrated vacuum sealed prepackaged dinners in that freezer.  The rest of the meal plan will be the spinach shake discussed in this post (assuming it is palatable) and various protein bars, granola bars, candy bars, etc…with the occasional sub sandwich or other trail town available meal thrown in.

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You can see the now empty bottle of almond milk sitting on the table.  Here is a picture of the almond milk in the tray in the dehydrator.  I must remember to be more careful moving a tray of liquid to the dehydrator as I ended up with almond milk on my feet.

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Based on the picture it appears I need to level the dehydrator just a tad.  We will see how this turns out and if it will re-hydrate in a shaker bottle with water rather easily.

Electronics

In the past the most electronics you would carry might be a camera.  Today that has been totally upended and you have numerous options, and some would say necessities.  Personally, I want to bring my phone as I will have service in most places on the AT and hope to share a lot of trip with Leslie via phone calls and sent pictures.  I also want to use a couple applications on my phone to make my trip a bit simpler, such at Guthooks’ AT application the Appalachian Trail Weather application.  From time to time, I would like to be able to listen to music, or perhaps a book on tape, as well as being able to read books via the Kindle application.  I would like to be able to take pictures and video.  I also want the ability to do voice recorder and then do voice to text translations.  This will make blog posts much simpler than typing on the phone’s keyboard.  Finally, I will need a way to power all of this stuff.  In thinking about all of this, I think I have decided on the following:

Phone:  Currently using an LG G4, but I will be upgrading before my trip.  I need a phone with a great battery and maybe a battery that I can swap out with a new one if needed.  I should also have the ability to minimize (shut down or delete) most applications to extend the battery life.  I will use this for phone calls, texts, voice to text translation, specific AT applications and internet posting.  Weight unknown as I don’t know what phone I will choose, but it will be somewhat minimal in terms of the weight to utility ratio.  At the moment thinking about the Apple iPhone 7 Plus or the LG v20.  I know I cannot swap out the battery on the iPhone, but I think that might be the only limitation to that model.  Need to make sure I can do the voice to text relatively simply on either phone, but suspect that is simply an application that I need to find.

Camera/Video:  I have a GoPro Hero 4 Silver video camera currently and need to learn more about how to use it.  It might be the only camera I take, however, it is so small it is somewhat difficult to use to take pictures.  I do have a clip to wear it on my chest to take some video of the trip.  It may become a dedicated video recorder for the trip.  I need to check into microphones so that I can add some running commentary to the video.  Weight 5.2 ounces with housing.

If I decide to take a standalone camera to take pictures, and I am 75% certain I will, I am looking at this Sony camera and extra lens.  Weight with extra lens 1 pound, 10 ounces.  https://www.amazon.com/Sony-16-50mm-Mirrorless-Digital-Camera/dp/B00QWRBZUE/  Mentally I am having a hard time justifying the extra camera and weight, and yet this is a once in a lifetime trip, so maybe I should just get over it.  An alternative would be to downgrade the camera to one of the point and click Panasonic models.  I could get away with about half the weight, but do give up some picture quality.

MP3 Player:  I think I will take a standalone MP3 player so I don’t need to run my phone for this purpose.  There are concerns of damage via weather or a fall or something else, so the more I can protect my phone, the better I think it will be.  So I bought this MP3 player for music and books on tape.  Weight with case less than 2 ounces and it is very small and will hold a 32 gig microSD card, bringing total capacity to 40 gigs of space.  That is a lot of music.  https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00VXMY262/

Portable Power:  I was considering a solar panel, however, the AT is known as the green tunnel, meaning I will be hiking through trees and forest a lot of the time, limiting the usefulness of a solar charger.  Further, since I will be going through so many towns, recharging won’t be an issue too often.  Given that, it makes a lot more sense to carry a portable charger rather than a solar panel.  I was looking at the Anker offerings  and ended up purchasing this model which should provide plenty of power for all my devices.  Weight 13.4 ounces.  https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01K6TA748/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o01_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

Safety:  Finally, I will likely carry a DeLorme Inreach SE satellite communicator.  The benefit of this device is that I can track and share my trip in such a manner that it will show up on a map on my website.   This will provide peace of mind to not only my wife, but my Mom.  Hi Mom!  🙂  Weight 7 ounces.  https://www.amazon.com/Delorme-AG-009871-201-DeLorme-inReach-SE/dp/B00BX7TJ2O/

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Electronics have become somewhat pervasive in our lives and it is very difficult to get away from them even in the wilderness.  I know in scouts this was always an issue (standard old school scout policy was no electronics on outings), and in the end I have changed my thinking to embrace electronics and what they can do for us.

However, I have three caveats for electronics.  The first caveat is to not become reliant on them.  This is a very real problem, such as using the GPS aspects of electronics for navigation.  If you do not know how to use a map and compass or other navigational techniques, correctly, and instead rely on electronics, eventually you are going to find yourself in a potentially life threatening situation when the electronics fail you.  My second caveat, which really applies to all gear that goes into the backpack, is weight.  Specifically, it is the weight to utility ratio and that ratio can be set a bit different for each person.  The ultra-light backpacker whose main focus is weight, is going to have a different weight to utility ratio than I will have, because as part of the utility aspects of a piece of gear I strongly consider comfort (both physical and mental).  My final caveat relates more to the leave no trace aspects of backpacking and relates to everyone else and the wildlife that I will meet on the trail.  If I am using electronics such as music, books on tape or a video of some type, I should be using headphones to negate the impact that my personal use of these items might have on others.

Mentally I can justify each item above, and equally as quickly I could make an argument to take nothing but a camera of some nature and possibly a cell phone for emergency use.  This is a very personal choice, and for me the deciding factor is the items above will make aspects of the trip more comfortable for me personally, and as such will increase the chance of completion.

 

Nutrition

One thing I am concerned about is nutrition on the trail.  Most hikers tend to go for high calorie junk food to propel them forward on the trail.  When in trail towns they stock up on highly processed junk foods and that is what they eat.  If you are young, perhaps this works as the body is very resilient to all sorts of negative inputs at that age.  If the trip is a short one, only a couple of weeks, again, not a big deal.  But when the trip is going to be a multi-month trip, I think proper nutrition on the trail takes on a whole new level of importance, regardless of age.  Yes your body needs raw calories to get through the day of hiking 20 plus miles while carrying 30 pounds of extra weight, but if you do that day after day without replacing key nutrients your body eventually will start to cannibalize itself to get those key nutrients.  For example, if you don’t get enough calcium, your body will start to draw it from your bones which could lead to a stress fracture.  Then your through hike is over, and it is over because of nutrition exhaustion.  Perfectly preventable.  Another aspect of proper nutrition is that it allows your body to recover that much quicker.  You might not be as sore in the morning as you would be otherwise.  Again, a theme you will begin to see is that being comfortable on the trail, for a trip of this nature, is critical to the mental capacity that you need to complete the trip.  So anything that will make me more comfortable, in this case recover quicker and with less soreness, is critical.

Food energy comes in three forms:  Proteins, Fats and Carbohydrates.  You need protein to repair and rebuild muscle and make enzymes, hormones and many other body chemicals.  Fats store energy, help us maintain proper functioning of the brain and nervous system, transport vitamins and other nutrients amongst other things.  Carbohydrates come in two forms, simple and complex, and the main function of both is to provide energy for our bodies.  A secondary purpose of providing energy is to protect our muscle tissue, as the body will burn the protein found in our muscle for energy if necessary, thereby cannibalizing itself.  Simple carbohydrates fall into the sugar line and are a relatively immediate source of energy for our bodies whereas, complex carbohydrates fall into the whole grains and vegetables and are a longer lasting form of energy for our bodies.

Calorie for weight, fat provides the most calories for the lightest weight (roughly 9 calories per gram), with protein and carbohydates less so (roughly 4 calories per gram), and with some complex carbohydrates, such as broccoli and other fresh vegetables (broccoli .34 calories per gram), you need pounds of them to provide any calories.  This is the energy density of food (calories divided by weight).  But there is more to the food we eat than calories and weight, otherwise everyone would eat plain sugar and butter on the trail.  It is crucial that to maintain peak functioning that we get plenty of vitamins and minerals with our food.  These last two items help our bodies process the protein, fat and carbohydrates properly and keep our muscles, bones and other connective tissues repaired.  Without going into more detail, this is my plan for replenishing energy.

I am planning on dehydrating my own meals for the trail.  This way I know I’ll be getting good nutrition.  I assume that each week I’ll be in trail towns for at least one dinner, perhaps two, so I am going to find five meals that I like and make enough for five months of backpacking.  I hope to finish the trip in just over four months, but it could take six, so how much food to prepare is a bit of guesstimate.  The first one I am working on is unstuffed peppers.  I got the original recipe from http://www.backpackingchef.com, and modified it a bit.  I have added a couple of tablespoons of dried onion and a couple of tablespoons of dried spinach.  Spinach is one of those “super foods” that contain all sorts of nutritional goodness.  Spinach is a good source of Niacin and Zinc, Dietary Fiber, Protein, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Vitamin K, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium, Copper, Manganese and Choline.  So the onions add flavor and the spinach adds nutrition.  And with the spinach, you literally don’t even notice that it is in the dish.  The downside to spinach is there are almost no calories in it.  (.23 calories per gram, or 2 Tablespoons dried is 26 calories)  If I find I am losing too much weight during my hike, I may add a couple of Tablespoons of Olive Oil to each dinner to get the added calories.

For breakfast, I am considering doing a variation of the Drew Manning, from Fit 2 Fat 2 Fit fame (http://www.fit2fat2fit.com) Spinach Shake.  I can use protein powder and powdered peanut butter.  I can dehydrate spinach and almond milk and grind it into a powder.  Not sure about the banana.  The only thing I don’t have is the ice.  J  Well, I will try this at home and see how it turns out.  There will likely be some variation on this recipe to make sure that it dissolves well and is palatable.

The rest of the day I’ll eat as most backpackers eat.  Protein bars, granola bars, granola, Snickers bars, etc….  On some days as I pass through a town or stay overnight in a town, I’ll buy a Subway sandwich and carry that with me for lunch.  Or a block of cheese and sausage, or other such real food trail treats.  One thing I do on the trail is eat all day long.  Basically it is one long grazing period.  In a readily accessible location I will have two or three different bars, or snacks that I can eat while hiking.  This way I am getting nutrition and calories all day long.  I will have more on this as time goes on…

 

Preparations….

One of the things I am having the hardest time figuring out is how much time I need to properly prepare for this adventure.  I know that come February 1st, and maybe January 15th, my “free” time such as it is will be gone.  I literally work seven days a week during tax season and anytime that is left over goes to being with my wife or sleep.  Not looking for sympathy.  That is the job.  And that job is what is going to allow me to take five months off, so no, I am not complaining.  However, preparations for the hike need to be completed or nearly so by mid-January or so.   I need to physically prepare.  I need to prepare meals.  I need to make sure I have the right equipment and gear.  I need to prepare re-supply boxes.  And finally I need to somewhat prepare maps and the route.  Sort of.  I start at Springer and end at Katahdin, so that part is really kind of set and many have said you do not even need maps on the AT it is so well marked.  So, with the exception of the last category, I need to do a lot of hours in each category.

I know what it takes to plan a week-long trip.  This is potentially six months, although I hope to complete it in just over four.  Wow.  To say I am not overwhelmed is an understatement.  In fact, the enormity of the task may have hit me a couple months later than it should have.  I find myself having to say no to a lot of things that normally I would not say no to this time of year.  I am trying to get my life down to work, AT preparation and spending time with my wife.  Everything else will fall by the wayside.  It has to or I won’t be prepared.  This is going to be very difficult given that we are coming into the holiday season.  I will make it work.  Somehow.

Every day, I find myself doing something.  This morning it was more gear research online.  In fact, I found a supplier of my new favorite hiking shirt, the Rab Meco 120 short sleeved shirt, for $31.00.  I ordered three, two in the medium size and one large.  They are somewhat form fitting and at this moment my form is more round than not, so I thought I would try out a large one for my training hikes.  The mediums are for the trail.  Since I like this shirt so much I decided to order extra so I can train in them as well as have them ready to go for the hike.  Any clothing I am taking with me has to be purchased now and set aside specifically for the trip.  The reason for this is I am going to send it all into the company Insect Shield for treatment.  They treat the clothing with permethrin and it helps to repel not only mosquitos, but more importantly ticks.  It is true that you can buy a bottle and home treat your clothing, but it does not last as long as having them treat it and I do not want to be retreating clothing along the hike.

That reminds me…one more thing to do, I need to call them to see if they will treat my entire backpack.  That way when I leave it outside at night, I don’t have to worry about ticks taking up residence.  Yes indeed, there are a lot of little details to take care of.

 

The Big Three

I have already decided on my big three items.  The big three are shelter, sleeping system and pack.  I am working on more specific posts about each of these categories, with the advantages and disadvantages of the various choices within each category.  However, I will provide a short discussion of my choices in each category here.

For the shelter, I have settled on carrying my tent in the beginning, switching out to a hammock midway through June and probably back to the tent mid-August.  The main reason for this is the hammock tends to sleep cooler, and provides better air flow during the hotter months of the summer and I wish to give it an extended test on a serious backpacking trip.

For the sleeping system, I used to use a down filled mummy sleeping bag, but I hated it as I am a side sleeper and a mummy bag pretty much requires you to sleep on your back. I now carry a sleeping quilt instead.  It is similar to a blanket, rather than a confined bag and will allow any sleeping position.

For the pack, I prefer an external frame pack to an internal frame pack for a few reasons.  First, I sweat a lot and find the external frame packs a lot cooler on my back than the internal frame.  Second, I find it much easier to carry the weight of the pack on my hips with the more solid external frame, than the suspension built into the internal frame packs.  Finally, I love the pockets and panel zippers of the external frame packs over the more normal one large pocket of the internal frame packs.  I know exactly where everything is and can find my gear much easier.

The Big Three

Tent:  Taprtent Double Rainbow with extra poles so that it can be setup free standing.  Weight 3 pounds, 4.5 ounces.

http://www.tarptent.com/double-rainbow.html

Hammock:  Hennessy Hammock Hyperlite Asym Zip.  I might use this from mid-June through mid-August.  Weight 2 pounds, 4.0 ounces.

https://hennessyhammock.com/products/hyperlite-asym-zip

Sleeping Pad:   Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Sleeping Pad with Therm-a-Rest  Universal Sheet.  Weight 1 pound, 2 ounces.

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00PZL14EK

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00AZVNEPC

Sleeping Quilt:  Enlightened Equipment Revelation.  Weight  1 pound, 2 ½ ounces.

http://www.enlightenedequipment.com/revelation/

Pack:  Jansport Carson 90 External Frame pack.  No longer available.  Weight 4 pounds, 13 ounces.

https://www.amazon.com/JanSport-90-Carson/dp/images/B0000AMLGJ

 

Clothing – Hiking Shirt and Long Sleeved Shirt

One thing I never really worried too much about was the fabric of my clothing while in the back-country.  In part because I was never gone for more than a couple of weeks, and when I was gone for that couple of weeks, it was at Philmont where a staffed camp was always within walking distance and in part it was because I loved everything about cotton, disliked the synthetics and could not wear wool.

However, for the AT, or any extended trip, I believe it is more crucial than ever to concern myself with fabrics for several reasons.  First, the more comfortable I can make myself during the day or night, the better chance I have to succeed.  Completion of this trip will be more about the mental aspects, than the physical (unless an injury occurs) and therefore the more comfortable I can be during the day/night, the better my mental framework.  Second, there will be times when I am on my own and need to stay warm and dry, so clothing choice can indeed have a health, safety and well-being impact.  Third, some fabrics tend to take on and promote smells worse than other fabrics.  If I was simply in the back-country for two weeks with others that were going to be in the back-country for two weeks, I would not concern myself with this aspect all that much.  If everyone smells as bad as everyone else, so be it.  However, the AT passes through a lot of civilized areas and even though the people in those towns may understand how bad a thru-hiker can smell, there is no need to revel in that and share with everyone around you.  In fact, I think attention to hygiene while on a trek of this nature is of concern from a health standpoint as well and will have more on that in a different blog post.

I have heard many times while getting ready for Philmont that cotton kills.  You’ll hear all sorts of self-proclaimed experts at backpacking say that, “remember, cotton kills.”  It is like the catch phrase for someone that really doesn’t know much, but knows at least that much.  I guess.  The comment comes from that fact that cotton dries very slowly when wet and if you get wet wearing cotton in cold conditions the cotton will whisk away the heat from your body and you can develop hypothermia rather easily.  There really is nothing worse than a wet cotton shirt in a cold mountain breeze.  However, I have always loved cotton.  The feel of cotton cannot be beat in my opinion, and the synthetics were always too, well, fake or something for me.  I am just not a fan of the feel of plastic against the skin.  So normally, I would take cotton shirts for backpacking.  I also tend to sweat a lot.  So the cotton shirts would endure a complete and total soaking each day of hiking, regardless of the weather.  This causes two things.  First, cotton does not dry easily, so upon reaching camp for the night, I would have to change my shirt and attempt to dry out the hiking shirt.  Sometimes by the next morning it would still be wet, other times it would be dry (in the Boundary Water or Isle Royale it was almost always still damp, but in New Mexico or Colorado, where humidity was much lower, it would be dry by morning).  The other thing about cotton is once it starts to smell (usually after the first full day of sweating in it) it would develop a funk that would become almost non-bearable.  The synthetics I have tried, polyester, polyester blended with elastane and polyester blended with spandex all dry a lot faster than cotton which is a plus, but develop a funk seemingly faster than cotton and ultimately worse than cotton.  Everyone said I need to wear wool.  It is warmer than cotton when wet, does not develop a funk like cotton or synthetic and better regulates body temperature.  My problem with wool is that my skin is very sensitive to it and generally speaking I have never been able to wear any wool without a complete layer under it to protect my skin against the itching.  While hiking this would defeat the purpose completely.  So I ordered my first Merino wool t-shirt.

Patagonia Men’s Merino Lightweight T-Shirt

I ordered this shirt and paid $69.00 for it.  That seemed like a ridiculous amount to pay for a t shirt, but I really wanted to try wool.  Upon unpacking it felt very soft in my hands.  Better than cotton, and I was optimistic that it might work.  As soon as I put it on I could tell that it would drive me insane with the constant subtle itching.  I took it off and back it went.

After that I posted on one of the facebook groups looking for suggestions.  I also re-read Andrew Skurka’s blog posts about clothing and wool looking for hints as to what might make this better.  I was hoping that a woolen blend of some nature might work for me.  I discovered that wool is measured by micron size.  The micron size is the diameter of the wool, and the smaller the micron size, supposedly the softer (and less irritating) the feel.  So I started to pay attention to micron size and the micron size of the wool in the Patagonia shirt was 18.9.  On facebook I was directed to Woolx and Smartwool.  I don’t recall if it was on Andrew’s site or in the comments on Andrew’s site or somewhere else, but the other option I was directed towards was Rab.  Determined to find a wool shirt that would work, I ordered one of each.

Rab Meco 120 T-Shirt

This shirt cost me $70, so the same price range as the Patagonia.  This is a blended shirt, 65% Merino Wool and 35% recycled polyester with Cocona.  Cocona is activated carbon from coconut shells and is permanently embedded into the shirt at the fiber level.  Cocona is lauded for many properties such as quick drying, temperature control against the skin and odor control.  Anytime you stray from 100% wool, you will introduce the properties of synthetic materials into the shirt…such as odor issues, slower drying and less temperature control, so the blending of this shirt with cocona to mitigate those issues is a plus.  I have worn this on training hikes, and I believe I have found my shirt.  It dries quickly, and resists odor very well.  I will continue to test this shirt, but most likely it will be my t-shirt and long sleeved shirt for the trip.  I could not find the micron size of this shirt, but it many respects it does not matter as the shirt does not bother my skin.  It is either the micron size or the blend of fabrics that makes this shirt bearable to me.

Smartwool Men’s PhD® Ultra Light Short Sleeve Shirt

This shirt cost $70 and was another blended shirt being 56% Merino Wool and 44% Polyester with a slight change in percentage for the mesh on the back of the shirt.  As soon as I tried this shirt on I noticed the overall body itchiness that I had with the Patagonia shirt.  I attempted to find out the micron size of this shirt, but it was not posted anywhere that I could find.  Back it goes.

Men’s Merino Wool T-Shirt By Woolx

I bought this on Amazon as the Woolx site only had this shirt in Black when I wanted to order.  By spring they will likely have a full range of colors available once again.  It was $49, so a nice savings there.  It is 100% Merino Wool, so I was very skeptical, but they had a full guarantee that this shirt won’t be itchy and I even had the option of washing it a few times before returning to give it a full chance.  The micron length of the wool is 17.5 microns, which is smaller than the others, so there was hope.  Out of the box it was soft in my hands and I was optimistic.  Upon trying it on, it did not itch. I will also keep this shirt and subject it to further testing.

So now I have two companies that might supply my top layers for my trip.   At the moment I think Rab will probably be my shirt of choice due to the blended nature of it and the cocona.  Wool does not dry very fast, so I believe the blended nature of the Rab shirt will likely give it faster drying properties than the 100% wool shirt which is a bonus.  The blended nature though could offset some of the odor control    properties of the wool, but since it contains the cocona, my hope is that it retains the best features of both worlds:  odor control, quick drying and temperature control.  Am I asking too much out of shirt?