Observations of a First Day Thru Hiker

1. No matter how long you’ve dreamed of thru hiking the Appalachian Trail, leaving your spouse to begin the trail is overwhelming…and not in a good way.
2. Georgia is humid.
3. Georgia is hilly. Georgia is hard. It is nothing like Bong State Park in Wisconsin which is really flat. I do not have any uphill gear…yet.
4. In 30 days, maybe less, I will look back and wonder what the hell I was thinking when I typed out number 3.
5. Make sure you keep looking for the blazes. If you zone out and realize you have not seen one in a while, it can kind of freak you out, even if you know you’re on the right trail.
6. When the Gluteus Maximus is primarily used for sitting, walking up hills is painful.
7. The Approach Trail is gorgeous. Reminds me a lot of The Ice Age Trail around Lapham Peak. Some different greenery, but otherwise very similar. Whoever said it was nothing special needs to examine what lens they are looking at life through.
8. Tesla is very good hiking music.
9. The Georgia ridgerunners are very nice and very dedicated. So far everyone I have met is awesome.
10. The simple act of sitting by a stream and filling up water bottles can be very relaxing and satisfying.
Day 1 in the books. So far I have accomplished .2 miles of the Appalachian Trail. More to come…..


My best friend Cole and his wife Steph were engaged under the lit Olympic flame across the street from where we are staying.

Well, we made Atlanta and are sitting in our hotel. This is now finally becoming real for us. Someone asked me a while back how I was feeling and at that point I was in prep mode and had not really thought about it. I wanted to be done prepping last night at 6 pm. It might have been closer to 8 pm, but when I awoke at 3:30 am this morning was the first time I felt much of anything. And it was fear.

Continue reading “Atlanta”

You are going to do what?????? Are you nuts?????

Originally Posted at:  https://thetrek.co/appalachian-trail/you-are-going-to-do-what-are-you-nuts/

Start Day Approaches

I am less than 30 days from Springer.  Less than 30 days from leaving the life I built for myself behind and heading into four plus months (perhaps up to six months) of a very different life.  Some would say insanity has set in.  Others have said I am adding the spice to life.  Almost all, however, have been supportive.

Seriously?  You are doing what?????

I’ll be giving up solid shelter from the elements, refrigeration for my food and drink, convenience of a bathroom complete with a door, shower enclosure and running water, and unlimited changes of clean clothing.  I’ll be giving up spending each evening for a couple of hours with the love of my life and then laying down beside her on a queen size mattress with several pillows and drifting off to sleep.  I’ll be giving up the adoration of two cats, well, one cat really, the other is Leslie’s cat.  I’ll be giving up evening fires in the backyard with a nice cabernet.  I’ll be giving up complete and total emersion into an electronic world that seems to find each one of us and envelope our world.

OK, OK…so why?


So why on earth am I doing this thing?  The biggest reason is the challenge of it.  Can I hike from Springer to Katahdin in one summer while carrying everything I need on my back?  I used to run track and cross country (in a previous life it seems as it was so long ago).  Then after college I got into and did several triathlons (not iron man distance, short course stuff).  Since then I had kids and a job and a family to support and the challenges became different.  The seeds were replanted for this epic adventure a few years ago and now I have the opportunity to do it and I am taking it.  Am I mentally tough enough to endure the challenges this hike will put in front of me so that I can gain all the advantages of being a thru hiker of the Appalachian Trail?

Love of Outdoors

If it was just the challenge, I could choose to run a marathon or some other physical endeavor.  However, there are other aspects to this particular challenge that I love.  I love hiking and in particular I love the raw power of being in hiking shape.  They call that getting your trail legs.  With trail legs, nothing seems particularly daunting.  I recall at Philmont that we would hike five or six miles just to go to another staff camp to borrow a cup of sugar or play a joke on the staff at that camp or something equally as irrelevant.  It was nothing to do that distance and back.  I also love the outdoors and most things about living in the outdoors.  I love camping and cooking over a camp stove, sleeping in a tent and hearing the wind through the trees.  I love the vastness of the views and the wonderment of seeing wild animals in their home.  I love the smell of the pine trees.  There are times when I even love walking in the rain.

Recharge, Refresh and Reenergize

Another reason I am doing this is I love the idea of a sabbatical.  Frankly, I think everyone should have a chance at doing one.  Although it is not paid, I am blessed in that I was able to take one.  And I think at this time of my life, (read: age) the timing is perfect.  It will give me a chance to reflect on my life to date, to recharge my batteries and to refocus my mind.  This is an opportunity to renew and refresh and come back a better person, spouse and father.

Mental Strength

The key to making a trek such as this has very little to do with physical fitness or camping skills, and more to do with mental strength.  Another thru hiker I have spoken to says you have to be stubborn.  And I believe you have to have some degree of luck.  Luck can somewhat be controlled…don’t do stupid things, but somewhat it is a roll of the dice.  Injuries and illness happen.  Do what you can to prevent these things, but they may happen anyway.

My biggest Challenge

I think the first 30 days will be the hardest.  Three things will make the first 30 days the hardest.  First, I will be getting into trail shape and I will have a lot of aches and pains.  I was hoping to have gone into this past that point of physical preparation, but tax season has set me back in that department so I will have to deal with that on the trail.  The worst for me is right hip pain, but I am learning some stretches that will hopefully help with that.  Second, will be I am going to be learning a lot of my gear.  I have done enough backpacking and camping that I am not a rookie at it, but there are several brand new gear items that I will be learning on the fly, like my umbrella.  Never hiked with one.  Read about how great they are for hiking and want to try it for a variety of reasons.  It will be challenging though as I am used to knowing my gear and how it works and setup properly.  Third, I am going to miss my wife.  I think this is going to be my biggest initial challenge on the trail.  She will have the same issue as she flies home and leaves me behind for five months.  We will do our best to mitigate this through connectivity on a daily basis, but alas, it will be a very different existence for both of us, for a while.

Start day approaches.



Today’s Backpack Design and Utility

Originally posted at:  https://thetrek.co/appalachian-trail/todays-backpack-design-and-utility/

I started backpacking when I was 16 years old.  My first backpack was an external frame Jansport pack and until just recently I have used the same basic pack on every trip I have taken.  My latest is a Jansport Carson (62 ounces plus a 6 ounce rain cover).  The design is basically the same as my very first pack.  Recently, I have sought out a lighter pack and through my search I have discovered that the basic design of today’s packs has not evolved.  In fact, in many ways I think it has gone backwards.  That being said I will carry a Zpacks Arc Haul Zip (27.5 ounces according to Zpacks) on my AT thru, even though it has a couple of limitations.  I still prefer the basic Jansport or Kelty design for one main reason – organization.

Organization – External vs Internal Frame (or Frame-less) Pack

The basic design of the old external frame packs made packing your pack, and more importantly, finding your gear simple.  Strapped to the top was your tent and strapped to the bottom was your sleeping bag.  The two big side pockets had individual purposes; one for first aid, toiletries, flash light or headlamp and the other for kitchen gear, knife, cord, and other miscellaneous items.  There were two open mesh bottom pockets for water bottles.  The main compartment was accessed with a zipper and it had a shelf (piece of material) in the middle to break it into two compartments.  On the bottom, camp shoes, clothing, pillow, sleepwear.  In the upper, fuel, stove, food and any other miscellaneous camp gear or crew gear if out with a group.  With the zipper I could access any part of the internal compartment without having to disturb the gear around what I was after.

Today’s packs are almost always top loading.  This eliminates the zipper, which I think most consider an advantage.  The zipper adds weight, is something that can break, and water can potentially seep into the pack through the zipper.  Further, since most are top loading the internal shelf had to be eliminated, again a weight saving feature, but it creates one giant black hole.  A lot (most) of the packs have also eliminated outer pockets, with the exception of the two lower pouches for water bottles.  I am unsure as to the reason for this, but I find it to be unfortunate from an organization standpoint.

A view of these differences from the trail….

A couple of years ago I spent a week at Philmont Scout Ranch with a group of adults and youth.  For most of them it was their first longer term backpacking trip (10 days).  One of my best friends could never really figure out his pack.  He never quite knew where his gear was.  Another adult leader had to constantly explode her pack in order to find anything.  Her trail name was Sister Gadget, but that is another story.  The youth all had difficulty knowing where anything was.  Something as quick as grabbing a rain jacket would become a 20 minute pack off break as each of them in turn decided they needed to remove their pack for whatever reason.

Today’s packs remind me of the dry bags we use on Boundary Water canoe trips—one big black hole, everything goes in and you pretty much have to completely empty it to find what you want.  By comparison, my old Jansport external frame made finding any item simple and easy.  My best friend was amazed that could pack my pack in moments and I knew exactly where everything was.  The design of the external frame pack made it easy.

The Focus on Weight

I believe one of the main reasons for the internal frame pack was the focus on weight.  The weight of the external frame put these packs upwards of five pounds.  The internal frame presents some advantages and some issues.  A internal frame or frame-less pack is the only way to carry your gear if you go ultralight.  It is more comfortable as the pack rests close to your body and does not disturb your center of gravity.  The lack of the frame in today’s packs does not matter a great deal with ultralight or very light loads.  The weight can be carried comfortably between your shoulders and hips.  This will allow you to move like a gazelle down the trail.

However, if you are low to mid 20 pounds base weight, then the weight starts to become uncomfortable once loaded with food and water, causing shoulder and neck pain in a lot of cases.  The three main purposes of the external frame were to:  1)support the pack, 2)keep the pack off of your back to provide air flow and 3)to put the weight of the pack on the hip belt and ultimately on your hips, instead of your shoulders.  Further, most internal frames rest tight up against your back.  This makes them feel better from a weight distribution standpoint as they move with you.  Scrambling up a rock face is a lot nicer with an internal frame pack held tight against your body.  The downside to this is that they are hot.  For someone that sweats lot that is a huge issue.  I need the airflow.

The focus on weight has done a disservice to pack design.  I believe you could still have a fairly lightweight pack and maintain most of the convenience and functionality, or utility, of the older design.  Today, it is difficult to find an external frame pack for a long distance hiking (external frame pack with a focus on lightweight materials).

Zpacks Arc Haul Zip Design

My search led me to settle in on the Zpacks Arc Haul Zip.  The main reason I chose this pack is that it has a zipper so I easily access any part of the interior compartment.  Utility and organization.  However, I do miss the sewed on, sealed upper pockets and the interior shelf.  I have solved the external pockets by using stuff sacks equal to the size of the add-on upper pockets.  I have not solved the interior shelf as I don’t have the time to invest in attempting a modification to the pack by adding a compartment divider.  The added weight to the pack would be negligible, if the manufacturer had solved both design issues.

The frame is not as sturdy as the old external frames, but that gives a very nice weight savings.  However, the frame is sufficient for two purposes:  1)it keeps the pack’s weight on my hips and 2)the arc in the frame keeps the pack off my back creating airflow.  The design of the frame does not support the pack as much as the old external frames, but with the significant weight savings, I think it will work for me.

All told I think that Zpacks Arc Haul Zip design is almost perfect.  Sure, I would tweak a couple of things and unfortunately when I asked about modifications, they were unable to do so.  I am looking forward to giving this pack a more complete test on the trail and hope that it meets all my expectations.

The other day I ran into a review of this pack by the co-designer of the pack.  For those you interested in a more detailed explanation of the design of the pack, it is an interesting read.

ZPacks “Arc Zip” Backpack

What are your pack thoughts?


Blogger for The Trek

I decided to apply to become a blogger on the website http://www.thetrek.co.   (no, that is not a typo, it is co, not com).  Part of my decision in applying was I was hoping to reach a wider audience and have a home base where they took care of the behind the scenes software and site issues.  The benefit to them is more eyeballs on their site and more people that see their brand.

Zach Davis is the owner of the site and from what I can tell an all-around nice guy.  He wrote a book that I have read and would highly recommend, called Appalachian Trials.  The main focus of the book is the mental preparation that must take place in order to complete a thru-hike.

However, once I was accepted and read their terms, I realized it would not become what I had hoped, a complete repository for my blogging posts.  Part of the deal is they do not want me to repost stuff from a prior blog onto the Trek blog.  They desire new content.  So, all the posts I have made over here so far, would be lost to the system unless I was willing to rework them.  I am not.

So I have decided that instead I will maintain this site, and post everything I do over here.  That includes what I decide to post at The Trek and several things I decide not to.  They ask that I post at the Trek first and a day or two later I can post on my blog or I can post on my blog immediately if I include a link to the Trek’s post.

For now, I will post to the Trek things which I think reach a broader audience, gear reviews, trail tips, things like that.   I will post that stuff here as well, but in addition over here I will post the more personal stuff that friends and family would likely find more interesting.  As Leslie has stated before, no one wants to read about the benefits of merino wool over synthetics.  J  Leslie – the pulse of my blog.

For those of you interested in fabric blends, pack design and other equally as riveting topics, here is my blog page at The Trek.  You can bookmark it or sign up and get emails when I post there.