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.
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.
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.
The other day I made two posts to facebook about the hike. When Leslie got home that evening she asked me why I did not post them to the blog. My response was that they were just quick posts/thoughts and to put them on the blog would take more time. In between that comment and now I have thought about it some more. In the world of editing commentary I almost always go back and read what I have written and correct it before hitting send, but not always. The not always applies to text messages. I hate typing on my phone and a lot of the time will just hit send even though I see there is a typo because I know the person on the other end will be able to fifure out that fifure is figure. The point being, in that form of one on one communication, a typo or two, or maybe even a little shorthand is acceptable. In emails I tend to always re-read before hitting send to ensure it says what I want it to say and what I want it to say is clear. Facebook posts get the same consideration, a quick review to ensure that it is what I want and then send. Sometimes I miss a misspelling, especially if I compose the email or facebook post on my phone. Blog posts take longer. I tend to spend a couple hours on a blog post. Normally it is written, and then re-read and edited about three times. Finally, my book that I am working on takes the most time. I posted the dedication and introduction the other day. All told I probably have about 7 or 8 hours into those 2434 words and I am still not completely happy with it. The majority of the dedication was written in July of 2015, but it has been edited and expanded since then. The introduction was written the morning I posted it and I spent 4 ½ hours on it that morning. So depending upon the audience, the time it takes to properly communicate increases. The more people you communicate to, the more time it takes (or should take) to make certain you say what you want to say. Sometimes wish politicians would consider this…
So anyway, here are the two posts from Facebook and the expanded commentary. (read and re-read this introduction to this post five times now. Wow.)
The Appalachian Trail is 2,200 miles and crosses numerous trails and paths along the entire route. There is no way the trail itself can go to all places magical. This is where some research is due and necessary. I am putting together a list of side treks that are really cool so that when I get to these places I can make a reasoned decision based on time and other constraints as to whether or not to enjoy the side trips. This morning I added these “blue blazes” to my file. (Four part series)
Blue blazing refers to going off the Appalachian Trail proper, on a side route or alternative route. White blazing means to be on the official Appalachian Trail. The reason for this is that the trail itself is identified by a single 2 by 6 inch vertically painted white line which is placed on trees, rocks, and even the bottom of a canoe to mark the official Appalachian Trail. Blue blazing means a side trek off of the Appalachian Trail. In some places a blue blaze will loop back around to the Appalachian Trail, meaning the blue blazer may have skipped a short portion of the official trail. Some thru-hikers view this as sacrilege and won’t even recognize the person who did it as a true thru-hiker. Others don’t care because the fact of the matter is you walked from GA to ME. There are other blazes as well:
Yellow Blazing – walking, hitchhiking or driving from one point to another and skipping a part of the official Appalachian Trail.
Green Blazing – Smoking pot while on the trail. (Some also refer to this as a safety meeting)
Brown Blazing – Leaving the trail to dig a cat hole and take care of business.
There are a ton of other blazes, and some are very obscure. The three most common are white, blue and yellow. For those of you who wish to read more about the other blazes, here is a link or you can google “blazes and the Appalachian Trail.”
Normally I am not a fan of chemicals to ward of bugs. Oh, don’t get me wrong. I’ll use deet when I have to, but generally speaking I don’t like the whole idea of bathing in chemicals. However, today I am sending all my AT clothing off to Insect Shield to be treated. Apparently when they treat in house it will last for 70 washings. (wonder if hiking all day in the rain counts as one wash or more than one?) Not doing this for the mosquitos, but Permethrin apparently has some efficacy with mosquitos as well. Main reason is ticks. The benefit here is that the Permethrin will kill the ticks after exposure. This takes a little bit of time, so thankfully ticks like to wander around a bit before inserting themselves into my business. Mosquitos on the other hand, like to bite immediately, so the benefit with them is a bit less.
I think it is important to keep in mind a couple of key points from the article. There were only two times that he saw ticks. First, you had to be in the time window of May 29th and July 21st. Second you had to be below 2,000 feet. From May 29th to July 21st I project I will be hiking from Roan Mountain, TN to Delaware Water Gap, PA. So it will be the month of July where I need to worry about ticks if all goes according to plan. Prior to that I should be above 2,000 feet most of the time.
Some other “take aways” from the article are that ticks were most generally found on the trail, not in shelters or in camp. That makes sense to me as that is where you will find better underbrush and overall plant (grass) growth. So really, hiking off trail (to take care of business) or hiking on trail to, well, hike the Appalachian Trail are the two most common areas to pick up ticks. Cannot really avoid either and still do a thru-hike. Finally, he wore bug pants and claimed that helped. I will not wear bug pants. I am wearing running shorts for this hike. My socks, gaiters and shorts will all be treated, so hopefully that will solve any issues. Any ticks that I see trying to catch a ride on my legs between my gaiters and my shorts will be properly dispatched. And by that I mean fire.
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.
One thing for sure is there is no way to completely train for a thru-hike as to do so would require hiking for eight to twelve hours a day with a full pack. The majority of us simply cannot dedicate that much time to training, so the old adage that you will hike yourself into shape is indeed somewhat true. I believe that once on the trail it will take around 20-30 days, depending on age and starting physical condition, for most to get their hiking legs.
To start the trail without any preparation is simply inviting failure. You might attempt to keep up with others and if so will likely push your unprepared body too hard. Even if you don’t, the miles you do complete with a full pack without any preparation will zap your energy reserves and you will be exhausted. On top of being exhausted your muscles and joints will ache, your shoulders and maybe hips will be sore from the pack and very possibly you will be enduring blisters or at a very minimum some hot spots on the feet. Put all of those things together and all it will take in that physical condition is one bad day of cold rain, or some other everyday trail inconvenience and mentally you will be ready to call it quits. If you are in a bad spot physically and mentally, quitting is a real possibility.
With that being said, there are ways you can prepare yourself to better endure what is coming and you should do so. So what can you do to prepare for a thru-hike? In my opinion there is nothing better than simply walking. After all that is going to be what you are doing every day for five or so months. The key isn’t even distance walked while in training. Instead it is time put in. When you are hiking for eight to twelve hours a day that is eight to twelve hours of stress on your body. In order to train for that, you need to put in as much time as you can.
And as stated previously, very few of us have eight to twelve hours a day we can devote to training. So what should you do when time for training is limited? In those instances high intensity is most beneficial training regimen. I am of the opinion that nothing prepares you for hiking other than hiking, however, being in good overall physical shape is second best. So do whatever you desire that is high intensity and it will better prepare you for the trail. I base this in part on my experience. Back in my high school days I ran cross country and track. Coming off of track season I was normally in the best shape of my life. My junior year I went to Philmont Scout Ranch and did a trek they call Rayado. It was a lot of hiking, somewhat similar to what I imagine my second and third week will be like on the AT. My senior year I went to Philmont as a Ranger. Both were right after track season and in both cases I was not in near the shape I thought I was. Hiking is a unique animal and requires hiking to get in shape for hiking. Everything else helps, but nothing is better than hiking. Of course Philmont Base Camp, one of the lowest points on the ranch, is more than 6,500 feet above sea level, so there was the elevation to acclimate to as well. That should not be much of an issue on the AT as the highest point of the AT is 6,643 feet above sea level.
The situation I find myself in is that being a CPA in a tax practice, for the two and a half months pretty much starting February 1st I am going to be very short on time. Therefore I started my training in August. Prior to this I was playing racquetball three times a week, so that was somewhat of a base, but not a lot. I started simply by walking on the treadmill with a 20 pound weight vest. My first walk was August 15th and I did 3 miles in one hour on the treadmill. As of today, September 27th the longest I did was three days ago where I did 10 miles in just over three hours outside on a trail with the vest. My training plan is to continue to up the mileage and time as much as I possibly can through the end of January. That is going to be my base. In order to maintain that base through tax season I am going to play racquetball three times and week and try to walk for at least a half an hour to an hour on the three other days, leaving Sunday for hopefully a three to four hour walk. I am also going to build a small step, eight to twelve inches and on some days instead of, or in addition to walking, I will do step ups to help build the muscle strength. This is something I can do while watching TV, turning otherwise rather unproductive time into training time.
God willing this training plan will have my body in as peak of condition as possible come my date with Springer.