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).
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!