Preparations

Georgia!

I was up at 4:50 this morning. After a shower and breakfast we loaded Miranda into the car (she likes car rides) and set off for the airport. By 7:00 I was on the plane, bound for Georgia.

I knew before I started this that it was going to be hard to leave for so long. I got my first real taste of that difficulty on Friday. It was my last day at work and on the way out at the end of the day the little responsible guy deep inside me was shouting, “Hey, you can’t just leave your job for 6 months!” Of course at the same time the adventurous guy in me was cheering, and I have to admit that I did drive home with a smile on my face. The perfect weather was a perfect accomplice, forcing me to roll down the windows and turn up the music.

Responsible guy of course showed up again this morning at the airport. However I have to say isn’t making me feel bad. If anything it helps me realize that I am incredibly lucky: I have a job that is as supportive of this as I could ask for, I have family and friends who are excited for me, I have the means and opportunity to attempt this, and I have a wonderful wife who supports me chasing my dream.

I haven’t talked yet about my job situation so let me do that briefly here in the interest of anyone considering a similarly crazy and outlandish undertaking. I am now on a leave of absence from work. I count myself lucky that I work at a company that provides this benefit. I will not be paid while I am gone, nor am I guaranteed a job when I get back. However if there is a position open when I get back then I can have it. I think this is fair, and it is about as much as I could ask for. My management chain was incredibly supportive of my trip, recognizing that it was a once in a lifetime kind of thing and that I had wanted to do it for a long time. I’m not too worried about there being a position when I get back either. I work as a statistician and, seeing as how Americans aren’t the best at math, there aren’t a ton of statisticians out there. Also my company has had openings for statisticians for most of the last decade, except for a brief time during the recession. So while I am definitely taking a risk, it is calculated and more importantly I believe it is worth it.

Tomorrow my dad and I will make a trip to the grocery store to pick up some last minute food items. Then we’ll make a trip to the sporting goods store to get some stove fuel before coming back here to do a final gear check and pack it all up. Dinner tomorrow? Ribeye and baked potato, yum! Wednesday morning we leave early and by 12 I should be on the Approach Trail hiking toward Springer Mountain and the AT!

Obligatory gear photo

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Categories: Gear, Preparations | 3 Comments

Leaving on the morning plane to Georgia!

Less than 24 hours until I’ll be on a plane to Georgia! Not quite the midnight train to Georgia, but it’ll do. I leave early in the morning tomorrow and arrive early afternoon. The flight would usually be shorter but I’m connecting on another flight. I can’t complain considering I got the trip for free by volunteering to get bumped on a flight last summer!

Friday was my last day at work. It felt really weird. I was busy right up to the last minute, so I didn’t have much time to actually think about the significance of my last day for 6 months. In one sense I’m disappointed about leaving because there’s going to be a lot of interesting work to do over the next 6 months as the company I work for starts integrating another that it is buying. My team is going to play a huge role in that work and it would have been great to be a part of it. However I know there will be more to do once I get back – save some cool stuff for me guys!

On my way out on Friday I thought about my internship 5 years ago. When it ended my manager walked me out, took my badge and computer, and we said goodbye. This time nobody walked me out and I kept my badge and computer since I’ll be back in 6 months. Still both times felt similarly simple. Not that I was expecting a party, a marching band, and people clapping and cheering as I walked out. Just sayin…

Yesterday we got some work done at home but there’s still more to do today before I leave. We have packed and shipped my first maildrop at Neel’s Gap and it is supposed to get there tomorrow. Plenty of time to spare since I don’t plan to be there until next Sunday – they aren’t fooling around with those “If it fits it ships” boxes! Christy and I reviewed our finances to make sure she knows where all the money is and what expenses we might have while I’m gone, and we made sure she has access to everything she might need access to. Then we went out to dinner – Mexican on St. Patty’s Day. What can I say, I’m Scottish! We also cooked another meal to dehydrate (Pasta Genovese).

Today we’re going to cook another zucchini casserole to dehydrate. I want to clean the house a bit before I leave. I need to pack all my gear up in the backpack and double check to make sure there isn’t anything that airline security would have a problem with. We have several documents I want to print out and file before I leave, and I need to mail a form for my taxes. I need to decide on the last 3 addresses to send my maildrops to and then create and laminate a personal info sheet with my name, date of birth, allergies, doctor’s info, etc to carry with me. Finally I want to make sure we have the Hiawassee mail drop packed up and ready to go before I leave.

Tomorrow when I get to Georgia there won’t be a ton left to do. I will need to pick up some stove fuel and swing by the grocery store to get some bagels, peanut butter, tortillas, gorp, and flatbread. Other than that I’ll just be hanging out with my dad for a couple days.

When a big event is coming up people always ask if you’re excited. “You’re about to get married! Are you excited?” “Are you excited about graduating?” It isn’t any different this time. “Are you excited about starting the trail?” I wouldn’t say I’m excited so much as I’m ready. I feel well-prepared. Although my knee could be better it shouldn’t cause me any problems, as my last 2 practice hikes have shown. I want to meet the other hikers I’ll be traveling with. I want to sign the register on Springer Mountain. I want to walk through Neel’s Gap. I want to get rained and snowed on. I want blisters and callouses on my feet. I want the whole thing.

Only about 72 hours until I start the approach trail, but I’ll be ready for it.

Categories: Preparations | 1 Comment

Less than 2 weeks!

It’s been a little while since my last post. I have now messed up the weekly schedule I had been keeping. I also don’t have one big topic to cover. However I do have lots of little stuff that has been floating around in my head. So this post is going to be quite a hodge-podge.

First, although the donation contest is over and I will not be chrome-doming it at the beginning of the AT, there was over $500 raised for Delta Society! I’m pretty stoked about this, particularly since it puts me (and Miranda’s mug) at the top of the rankings on FirstGiving! However the second place fundraiser is right behind me, so I’m obviously going to have to come up with another motivating factor in order to maintain my lead. Anybody with ideas should put them in the comment section! There could be a voting contest to determine how I shave my beard at the end of the trail, or maybe a postcard sent from the next trail town to the top donor for each section of my hike! Anything is fair game, so give me your ideas and by next week I’ll announce the new contest!

I sent all my gear, food, etc to Georgia ahead of me. I want to take everything I can onto the plane as a carry-on so I needed to reduce the dimensions of my pack a bit. There are also some things I was worried about getting through airline security with. Here are some of the things I sent ahead just to be safe: stove (it self-ignites with a piezo), liquids (hand sanitzer, sunscreen, etc), 4 dehydrated meals to get me to my first resupply at Neel’s Gap, tent poles and stakes, trekking poles, Pro Bars, and several other things. On the plane I will take my pack, tent (minus poles and stakes), sleeping bag, some first aid stuff like bandaids and moleskin, my clothes, and some other miscellaneous gear that shouldn’t pose a problem with airline security.

I’m making a list of the places I want to stay or see on my hike. I only get to do this once (probably) so I want to make the most of it. Some of the places on my list so far are: Standing Bear Farm hostel, Kincora Hostel, a restaurant in Port Clinton that a co-worker has been raving about, Dartmouth, and many others.

This last Friday was really hard at work. I couldn’t concentrate for a large part of the day. I don’t know if that was because my start date is approaching or because it was a Friday. The weather outside was great too, so that could have been a part of it. We’ll see how this week goes. I still have a lot to get done before I leave, both at work and at home, but it is definitely do-able.

I’ve had a lot of last-minute expenses pop up, most of which we planned for but some we didn’t. Luckily we’ve budgeted for unexpected things, so none of this affects my trip at all. First I wanted to get my car in for an oil change before I left. It was due for one anyway and this way it would sit for several months with clean oil. I forgot that I also needed new tires, so that put a dent into the savings. We also got our legal house in order – wills, power of attorney, and advance medical directives. These are things we needed to do anyway, but with me heading out for 5 months in the woods it seemed like a good thing to get done before I left. I’m especially glad we got the power of attorney done because, should anything arise, that will give Christy what she needs to get things done in my absence. Although I’m glad we got them done, they also took a bite out of savings. And finally I pre-paid for 20 doggie daycare visits for Miranda. Those will be instrumental in maintaining Christy’s mental health while I’m gone by tiring out the puppy. We usually take her once a week, partly to keep up her socialization with other dogs, but primarily to get all her excess energy out! Nights after doggie daycare are so quiet in our house! 20 visits should last for most of the time I’m gone.

While I’m on the topic of finances, I should talk a little bit about what it takes to hike the trail for those people who will read this blog and use it in their own thru-hike planning. Depending on how you do your thru-hike (maildrops or trail resupply, gourmet meals or ramen, gear choices, at-home expenses, etc) will change a lot about how much it costs you to do a thru-hike, so before I get too far into this let me caveat by saying I’m doing a fairway/ballpark estimate here.

The first thing to consider is that you won’t be working for about 6 months so there is an opportunity cost to hiking the trail – you won’t get the money you would have been paid had you stayed and worked. Second are gear costs. You can figure somewhere around $200-$300 each for a pack, sleeping bag, and tent if you don’t have them already or want to upgrade to a stronger/lighter design. Then you have other miscellaneous gear that could easily add up to about $1000 by itself (trekking poles, clothes, shoes, pack towel, stove, cook pot, etc). If you’re an experienced backpacker who already has this gear then your gear expense may be trivial. You’ll probably need to replace your shoes a couple times along the way, but your other gear should be ok. If you’re not experienced and you’re starting completely from scratch I recommend you budget at least $1000 and probably more like $2000. Of course there are ways to get your gear cheap – buy used or off-brand, DIY gear, no-cook meals (no stove/pot needed), etc. I won’t get into all the options here. Suffice it to say that gear can be expensive and you should budget some money for it. After you have the gear you should think about on-trail expenses (food, hostels, etc). The rule of thumb when I started considering this adventure 10 years ago was to budget $1/mile of trail. 10 years later I haven’t seen an updated figure, but would expect that may have risen due to inflation. If you budget about $3000 for the on-trail expenses I think you should be close. Finally are at-home costs while you’re gone. If you’re a graduating college student these might be small, especially if you put all your stuff in your parents’ garage for 6 months. If you’re married with kids, they will be larger. Some of the costs you might want to consider are housing (rent/mortgage), insurance (home, medical, life), loan payments, bills (electricity, water, etc), groceries for anyone at home, taxes (income, property), and travel expenses if anyone will be coming to visit you on the trail. All-told, between the amount of money you miss out on in salary and the amount you spend on the trail and at home, you can figure back-of-the-envelope that you’ll have almost a year’s worth of salary less in net worth at the end of this whole thing than you would have had had you stayed home and worked. If you can stomach that, then it might be worth pursuing.

One more week of work left. I have a bunch of lunches planned with co-workers and a dinner or two with friends this week. I was asked this weekend what my last meal will be before I start my hike. I’m not sure. My friend thought I would pick steak, but I may opt for pasta instead. I’m not sure it matters because I’ll still get town food along the way. Either way we agreed that the best thing about hiking on the AT might be that you get to eat everything you want and STILL lose weight while doing it. Also on the topic of food, can hiker hunger begin before you set foot on the trail? I think my gluttony has been increasing the last week or so, probably in anticipation of the aforementioned ability to eat everything in sight without consequences.

One week from tomorrow I fly to Georgia, and one week from Wednesday I start walking.

Categories: Preparations | 2 Comments

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)!

Categories: Preparations, Training | 4 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

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