Monthly Archives: February 2012

Trail names

“At present our only true names are nicknames. I knew a boy who, from his peculiar energy, was called “Buster” by his playmates, and this rightly supplanted his Christian name. Some travelers tell us that an Indian had no name given him at first, but earned it, and his name was his fame; and among some tribes he acquired a new name with every new exploit. It is pitiful when a man bears a name for convenience merely, who has earned neither name nor fame.” – Thoreau

On the practice hike last weekend I started reading Thoreau’s “Walking”. I did this partly because Christy was reading and I wasn’t ready to go to sleep yet, and partly because it was a title that I had been able to download for free to my phone and I wanted to test the battery. I did have other titles from which to choose but I chose this one because the title itself seemed peculiarly suited to my impending adventure. I continued reading it this week and came across this quote which reminded me of the phenomenon of trail names which (to my memory) I have yet to share on this blog.

The AT thru-hiking community has a number of distinguishing characteristics, but one in particular is that every hiker is given a trail name. Trail names are so ubiquitous that hikers are recommended to tell their family back home as soon as they receive one in case something happens to them – other hikers may end up only knowing them by their trail name. I’ve mentioned some that I’ve seen/encountered in previous posts: Zipper, Rusty Bumper, Portrait, Moondoggie, Gumby, Fishhead, Ghost, Buffalo, Peach, The Diva.

It seems everyone on the trail gets a trail name whether they want to or not. Some hikers name themselves before setting foot on the trail. Although I won’t begrudge them the right, I don’t believe in this practice. As they say in the AT community, hike your own hike (HYOK). But why would you willingly remove the sense of community that can be derived from the anointing of nicknames? When I was on the crew team in college (all of 1 year) we made it a point to give each guy a nickname. We derived hours of fun looking for opportunities in the silly things people did, discussing possibilities based on attitude and character, and debating between possibilities. I really believe that the whole exercise of giving each other nicknames brought us all closer together. To this day I can’t see someone from the crew team without being reminded of my nickname! I don’t share it here mostly because I don’t want it to influence the selection of my trail name.

I’m looking forward to getting my trail name. I do feel, as Thoreau said, that a trail name is something that should be earned rather than borne for convenience. As my start date gets closer I sometimes ponder the ways my name might come about. Will it be something about my clothing (as Fishhead’s was)? Will it be some attribute of my personality, background, or hiking style that the other hikers fixate on (as Ghost’s and Peach’s were)? Or will it more likely be something stupid I do that must be forever indelibly assigned to me via a related nickname (as my crew nickname was)? I don’t know, but it is an experience I’m looking forward to no matter how it comes about. And when it does you’ll find out here soon after, complete with backstory.

Random tidbits:

Meals

Today I inventoried the stash of dehydrated meals. We’re cooking 2-3 meals per week, but most meals we make divide into 4 meals which can conveniently be spread across the 4 trays of the dehydrator. Currently we have the following:

Meal Count
Beef Stew 4
Black Bean Stew 4
Black Bean Stroganoff 4
Blue Cheese Potato Puff 4
Chicken and Rice Curry 2
Cowboy Pasta 3
Lasagna 5
New Mexican Stew 3
Saucy Tuna 4
Stirfry Salmon 4
Tortilla Casserole 3
Tuna Souffle 3
Turkey Chili 6
Vegetable Stew 4
Zucchini Casserole 4

The plan is to make 1 more batch each of Cowboy Pasta, Tortilla Casserole, New Mexican Stew, Tuna Souffle, and 2 other (probably new) recipes. This should give me an inventory of approximately 75 meals before I leave for the trail. Assuming it takes me about 150 days to finish the trail and that for about 20-30 of them I’ll be either in a town, at a hostel, visiting Christy, or otherwise in a place where I can get a civilized meal, I should only need about 40-50 more dinners. Assuming they are done over 5 months and that each batch makes 4 meals, that leaves Christy with about 2 batches to make per month, which should be do-able. This also leaves some wiggle room in case for whatever reason once I start I realize that I don’t want to eat dehydrated meals the whole way to Katahdin, I can let Christy know and she can stop cooking and simply space my remaining meals across the rest of the trek.

Health

I got a physical a few weeks ago and my doctor gave me a clean bill of health – I am physically able to take on the trail! I do still have some nagging injuries including the aforementioned chondromalacia patella. However these all seem to be subsiding. My back feels good (herniated disk almost 10 years ago, started seeing a chiropractor about 2 years ago and made it all better!). My achilles tendonitis from about 2 years ago is pretty much gone. The big question is still the knee, but over the last couple weeks exercising it has made it feel much better. I think I just need to strengthen it a bit more and I’ll be ready to go, although I’ll still be taking the patellar support strap just in case.

One thing I also talked to the doctor about was the possibility of Lyme disease. I read several hikers’ trailjournals last year and almost all of them mentioned that someone they knew on the trail contracted the disease. Apparently last year it was particularly bad on the trail. With the warm weather we’ve had this year I suspect the ticks will be out en masse once I reach Virginia/Maryland. I asked my doctor if he could write a prescription for me in advance in case I observe the tell-tale symptoms (i.e. bullseye rash after a tick bite, flu-like symptoms, joint pain, etc). I was glad when he agreed. He did give me some precautions about side effects of the antibiotics and getting seen by a doctor anyway if I become symptomatic, but I’ll feel much better about carrying the prescription with me so I can begin treatment immediately if necessary.

Delta Society

Only a few days left to donate to Delta Society if you want me to start the trail without any hair on my head! So far it isn’t looking good, but a few large donations could still seal the deal. Don’t forget you’ll be able to deduct the contribution from your 2012 tax returns (assuming you itemize)!

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Categories: Preparations, Training | 4 Comments

I almost forgot pictures!

I forgot to add some pictures from the hike this weekend.

First, a view from Skyline Drive

Christy got an action shot of me hiking

An AT trail marker! We were on the AT for about 0.6 miles until we got to the Big Run Portal turn-off.

Christy had to stop and ask for directions

On the way out we saw some deer on the side of the road.

My hike is so close I can almost taste it!

Categories: Training | Leave a comment

Last practice trip!

The Trip

My practice is done. Next time will be the real thing.

We didn’t end up getting to post from the wilderness like I thought we would. Christy and I hiked into Shenandoah National Park Saturday afternoon and set up camp down the Big Run Portal trail at a lovely campsite – I need to remember it for the future because it was actually a perfect spot, out of sight from the trail and sufficient distance from the stream. However the downside was there was no cell service, hence no update.

The plan was for a 2 night trip, but due to the cold weather and the impending snow we cut it short in the interest of Christy’s toes. I should mention that although the morning was quite cold, once we got moving I was warmed up and ready for another night, so I consider myself ready for the AT!

We did get to test a few last things I wanted to try. I got a down jacket for Christmas. I asked for a Patagonia down vest and got it (thanks!). But then I decided to go with something a bit warmer and exchanged it with REI for a Marmot Zeus jacket. It worked great during this trip, quite warm! For Christmas I also got a harmonica (thanks!). Although I have already played around with it at home, I got to try it for the first time in the wilderness! Christy was not as excited about this as I was. Finally I got to try using my wool socks as gloves. Although I’ve camped in the cold in the past, this is the first practice hike I’ve had (read as first hike with my AT gear) that got down to freezing temperatures. I’ve decided I don’t want the extra weight of gloves, and I had read that socks do just fine as a substitute. After testing, I agree. My hands were fine. I expect if it rains/snows it will be a bit more difficult, but in that case I’ll just pull my rain jacket sleeves over my hands to get some protection.

As I mentioned, we didn’t get to post from the wilderness. We were in a valley for the evening and had no cell service. This actually let me test a few things. First, the mapping app I am using to update the “Where is Travis?” page doesn’t seem to be able to save GPS coordinates for uploading later. I opened the app and logged coordinates at both the campsite and at the parking lot on the way out. Only the parking lot shows up on the map now. That’s good to know, so I won’t waste my phone battery trying to log coordinates if I’m out of cell service.

My sleeping bag was warm as expected. I did need to wear my short sleeve shirt and my long underwear during the night, but that’s fine. I’m taking an external battery for my phone for the first segment until I convince Christy that I don’t need the extra 4 oz. It worked well though, keeping my phone at maximum charge. It actually worked well because I was able to read a bit of Thoreau on my phone before going to sleep.

Christy took some Mountain House meals to eat but I took one of the dehydrated meals we’ve made. This time it was chicken and rice curry. Besides the rubberiness of the chicken it was pretty good and only took until the water boiled for it to cook.

Overall I’m feeling great about my gear. I’ve created my final gear checklist based on what I had with me on this last practice hike and I’m uploading it to the gear page. You can see my progression of gear through time (although the two earlier lists actually left some items off such as phone). I’ve replaced some heavier gear (pack, stove, towel), rationalized some other gear (shovel), and even added a couple luxury items (notebook, harmonica).  I also did a weigh-in when we got back to check the weight of the gear versus the sum of each measurement and got all of my calculated weights within 0.3 pounds of what I actually measured (the bathroom scale I did empirical measurements on is probably +/- 0.5 lbs, so that’s great).

Random Tidbits

It appears I will not be shaving my head for the start of the trail. Thanks to everyone who has donated so far (you’ll all be getting a postcard from Amicalola Falls when I start!), but with only 9 days to go I have raised $520 which is $4480 short of the number needed for me to break out the razor. Absent a last-minute surge, I’ll be starting the trail with what’s left of my hair!

$520 is still a great number though and I’m not at all disappointed with it, especially since it makes me the biggest fundraiser for Delta Society through FirstGiving.com! Don’t forget that the fundraising will still be open throughout my hike, so if you haven’t donated yet but you want to you still have about 6 months. My competitive nature would love for you all to donate so I can thoroughly beat the other Delta Society fundraisers! 🙂

With 1 month left (as of tomorrow) until I’m on the approach trail, I have limited blog posts left to give you background on the trail and my preparation for it. Once I’m on the trail my posts will more often be summaries of what I did each day, so if there’s anything I haven’t covered yet that you still want me to write about, let me know in the comments section!

Categories: Fundraising, Gear, Training, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

My first post with my trail phone!

Testing out the app I’ll use on the trail! Christy and I are going on a hike this weekend so we’ll be posting from the wilderness. Just a quick update for now: I got my AT data book in the mail a little while back. Here it is!

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If you are interested in doing trail magic this year the data book has some useful guidelines:

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Expect a couple more posts this weekend from my last practice hike before hitting the trail in 33 days!!!

Categories: Preparations | 3 Comments

Maildrops

One of the questions I’ve been asked frequently is how I’ll get food along the trail. No, I won’t be bringing a gun/knife to try to live off the land. Every several days the trail either passes through or near a town, allowing hikers to resupply. There are two main strategies that can be employed here. Some hikers like to resupply in the towns – going to grocery stores, gear shops, etc to buy food and replacement gear (if needed). This is the most flexible strategy because it doesn’t put any pre-defined time constraints on you, but the risk is that you may not find what you want or that the price for what you want is very high.

The other strategy is to do what are called maildrops. Hikers can prepare food and supplies before they leave for the trail and have it mailed to them by someone at home. If you give the person at home frequent updates it is easy enough to project where you will be in 10 days and mail the box ahead to a town or post office. Maildrops usually include things like a few meals, hand sanitizer, toilet paper, possibly new shoes, and any other items a hiker might need all neatly packed into a box (USPS “If it fits it ships” boxes work well). Downsides to a maildrop include the need to time them correctly and the time constraints imposed on your hike by needing to arrive at a post office during open hours. For instance if it is Friday you may need to speed up to get to the post office on Saturday since they aren’t open on Sundays. If you hit a town with a maildrop on a Sunday you’ll be forced to stay the night until the post office opens on Monday.

Most hikers employ a strategy somewhere in between maildrops and pure trail acquisition. Some will have 5 maildrops or so in the areas where they know grocery stores are few and far between and rely on towns to provide the rest of their food and supplies. I’m planning to lean more toward the maildrop end. I have nearly 20 maildrops planned at this point, although a few of them are actually “Christy-drops” where I will get my supplies when I see her. Several others are going to be shipped to places I’ll be staying like hostels and friends’ houses so I won’t have to worry about post office hours. As mentioned in previous posts, right now we’re working on dehydrating my meals and stocking up on supplies like meat pouches (3oz packages of tuna/salmon/chicken found in stores, great for adding to lunch), hand sanitizer, instant coffee, etc.

Why have I decided to go this route? Here are some reasons:

1) I’m not a big fan of Ramen every night for dinner. If I only get food along the trail it limits my nutritional options. My trip will be more enjoyable if I like what I’m eating. Some of the recipes we’ve dehydrated for me so far include Blue Cheese Potato Puff, New Mexican Stew, Salmon Stirfry, Chili, and today we’re making a Black Bean Stroganoff. Vegetables are often hard to find in hikers’ backpacks, but there is a good helping of them in each of those meals.

2) Dehydrated food = excellent. I was skeptical, but we’ve tried a bunch of recipes at this point and they were all tasty before putting them in the dehydrator. I’ve rehydrated a few to try and except for the occasional texture difference, the taste is great. Here’s the book that got us started.

3) I’m not a fan of paying twice as much for a pack of noodles on the trail as I could pay at home. If there isn’t a large grocery chain in a town I’m sure I’ll end up paying more there than I would here.

4) I found I REALLY like Pro Bars (they have them at REI). They’re high in calories, have a good helping of fruit (something that is hard to find in a hikers’ pack), and they taste really good. Fat chance finding them along the trail, and if I do, see #3. They are a little expensive already, but for the taste and the nutritional value I think they’re good. Plus I can buy them in bulk before I leave!

5) I hate planning. HATE it. So maildrops may not seem like the route I would choose. But my wife loves planning and she’ll be the one sending the maildrops, so that works out well. At the same time I like to cook, so I don’t mind adding to our stock of dehydrated meals before I leave to get her a bit ahead of the game.

6) Finally, although we have created a maildrop schedule, I can change it. The first 2 or 3 will go out before I hit the trail, but if I find they’re too frequent I’ll just call/email my wife and let her know the new way I’d like them spaced. If it looks like I’ll be in a town on a Sunday I can either do a low mileage day and enjoy the slow time or have her send the drop somewhere else.

Here is what my current spacing of maildrops looks like. My discerning readers will note that the projected schedule below doesn’t match the projected schedule in my “Projected Schedule” page. I will be updating that page soon with a more scientifically derived schedule. I still don’t expect to keep strictly to the schedule, but it helps with planning and will give everyone an initial idea of when I should reach different landmarks.

Location Date Days since last maildrop
Neel’s Gap, GA March 25 4
Hiawassee, GA March 29 4
Fontana Dam April 5 7
Hot Springs April 12 7
Erwin, TN April 17 5
Damascus, VA April 25 8
Atkins/Pearisburg, VA May 4-ish 9
Daleville/Troutville, VA May 13 9
Waynesboro, VA May 21 8
Harper’s Ferry June 3-ish 13
Palmerton, PA June 18 15
Unionville, NY June 26 8
Kent, CT July 4 8
Friend’s house, MA July 10-ish 6
Hanover, NH July 23 13
Gorham, NH Aug 2 10
Monson, ME August 19 17
Categories: Preparations | 2 Comments

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