Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Peakbagging The AT

With a thru-hike along the backbone of the Appalachian Mountain range, and crossing 14 states, I thought one would certainly be able to bag several of the 50 States high points. I consulted Peakbagger.com, mapped the provided coordinates, and consulted the ATC's Thru Hiker's Companion. This is what I found.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Fire Starters

It's one of those Ten Essentials things. The ability to start a fire. A life saving skill in the cold, and one that can be difficult in the worst of conditions - when everything's wet. So when I ran across Jermm's blog post "DIY Fire Starter Wafers," I had to give it a try.

Folks have been using wax-impregnated stuff as emergency firestarters for years. Lately a few vaseline-soaked cotton balls stored in a pill bottle is a common solution (tho it sounds like a potential mess). Alcohol-based hand sanitizers such as Purell can be brought to task, and there are all kinds of commercial firestarters available. What Jermm did was to saturate those flat, cotton cosmetic pads with molten candle wax. When dried, they harden into very packable flat discs.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Eating Like Hobbits

"And laugh they did, and eat, and drink, often and heartily, being fond of simple jests at all times, and of six meals a day (when they could get them)."

While this might sound like a description of thru-hikers, it was Tolkein describing Hobbits in The Fellowship of the Ring.

But long-distance hikers do eat whenever they can, and as much as they can. Hiking in the mountains with a 30 lb pack burns more calories than one can generally consume or even carry comfortably. Common estimates of caloric requirements in this environment are from 4500-6500 calories per day. Add cold temperatures and these requirements go up.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Keeping Juice to the Camera

In a previous post, I outlined just why I wanted a camera that sucks down battery power like a thru-hiker does milkshakes. Ok, that isn't a feature so much as an issue. I did get a spare battery, and that might just be sufficient, but if I'm inspired to shoot, I can go thru a battery in a day or so ... Two batteries might just not get me thru five days between town visits, adding more batteries is adding more weight, and I might have another option.

I have that New Trent ACD66 I got to keep my Droid powered up between town visits. It's a 7000mAh battery pack, with USB outputs that should store more than I need for the Droid. I started looking for a way to recharge the X100's batteries with the ACD66. A search of chargers for the X100's battery uncovered the PowerGen Rapid Smart Charger. It sports a USB port, which can either be an output to charge a device, or an input to power the charger from a USB source. It comes with a cigarette lighter/USB adapter.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Now 2184.2 Miles

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy has announced that the A.T. has grown by 3 miles! The official Appalachian Trail mileage for 2012 is 2184.2.  

That works out to about one more hour on the trail.

No details were given, but is generally understood that these annual fluctuations are the result of trail relocations, new land acquisitions that allow the trail to be moved off of roadways, and new switchbacks made on formerly straight trails by the many volunteers associated with the 31 trail maintaining clubs.

The theory that it is caused by global warming causing the earth to expand is hotly contested...

"A journey of 2184.2 miles begins with a single step"

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Tangerine Fizzy

When I saw the little packets of Emergen-C Joint Health vitamin drink, which provides a mix of antioxidents, B vitamins, electrolytes and other nutrients, along with glucosamine and chondroitin, I thought this sounded like a great supplement to take on a thru hike of the Appalachian Trail. I ordered a box of thirty through Amazon.com, and found them to be tasty and convenient. Dump the packets into a water bottle, shake and drink. Easier than taking a bunch of pills. The tangerine flavor is pretty good, and the fizziness is a treat.

I went to their site looking for case lots, and saw their "Sponsorship" link.  I applied, thinking that this is perhaps a bit of an unusual "event" for them. But I made my best pitch as to how this product seems perfect for those hiking up and down mountains for 8-10 hours a day, over several months, while eating a sometimes less than optimal diet.  They offered to sponsor my hike with enough Emergen-C to provide for most of our needs, with plenty of samples to give out along the way!

Heh ... We're sponsored!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Cutting the Toothbrush Handles

It's become a cliche' of the ultralight crowd.  Folks who look at every item in their pack with a jaundiced eye.  "Do I need that?"  "Can I improvise the function with something else?"  "Can I make it lighter?"  After getting rid of nice to have and redundant things, and making sure that one's big four items are as light as practicable, many embark on a process exploring items made with lighter materials, trimming excess straps, and unused features off of packs, trimming the edges of their maps, and yes, cutting their toothbrush handles in half.  Whereas each thing taken out of context seems silly, combined it's not unusual to trim a pound of excess off one's back.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Trail Food - Bill's Suet

I've been playing with recipes for fruit nut bars for awhile now, and have more or less settled on a concept I like. I say concept 'cause, with a larder full of dried fruits, nuts and seeds, one can have an almost infinite number of recipes based on the same basic no-cook concept ...

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Outfitting for the AT - What I'll Wear

An Appalachian Trail thru-hike spans all the seasons. From winter in the mountains of Georgia and North Carolina, pleasant spring weather in Virginia, brutally hot and humid in the mid-Atlantic and southern New England sections, and fall thru New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine.  Snow, mud, bugs and lots of rain.

Monday, October 17, 2011

A Backpacker's First Aid Kit

Anyone venturing into the woods should carry a basic first aid kit.  But what should be in it? Should I buy a pre-packaged one?  Or build my own?

Friday, September 30, 2011

Getting to Springer Mountain

Mary and I plan to start hiking the Appalachian Trail in March. But, how do we get to the southern terminus?  With  hundreds of souls doing this every spring, the way is pretty well marked.  The Thru-Hiker's Companion offers lots of guidance.  Here's what we've found so far:

There are several options and decisions to consider.Will a friend or family member get us there? Or will we fly into Atlanta? Take a bus, or train?  When will we get to the area, and where will we spend the first night? Will we hike the approach trail from Amicalola State Park, or get someone to get us up the forest roads to a spot close to the top of Springer Mountain?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Backpacking Camera

No, this ain't it ...
You see, I've been a photographer most of my life.  I had a Brownie Hawkeye in grade school. In high school, I was the yearbook/ school newspaper geek, and spent all my spare time in the darkroom. I was an Art/Photo/Film major in college where I developed a street photographer's style and ethic. I dropped out to join the Navy and went to the Navy School of Photography. I served as a combat cameraman, and 23 years later retired from the Navy as a Photo Officer. So you might understand why I ain't inclined to hike the trail with just the camera in my Droid.

Now, to be fair, that's not a bad camera, I use it a lot, and it would be a rational choice not to add the weight of another camera on a long hike. But, to try and capture the essence of the trail and the people hiking it, I want a camera that allows more creative control, and that is capable of producing high quality imagery. Heck, I may try and get a coffee table book outta it ...

Friday, September 9, 2011

When to Start an AT Thru Hike

Having decided to tackle the Appalachian Trail, we needed to decide when we wanted to start. We found that decision was affected by the time of year and seasons we wanted to hike, and our tolerance for cold, crowds, and black flies.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Posting Waypoints Along the Way

I thought it would be cool if I could put a map on here that showed my progress as I hiked the Appalachian Trail. I started looking to find a way to create a map that could be embedded in the blog, and update it by placing a waypoint at my current position each day, using my Android smart phone.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Outfitting for the AT - Packing It All Up

Picking a pack requires some strategy. One can do all the research and pick a bag based on the industry's marketing niches and end up with one that just doesn't fit their body, or fit the gear, food and water they plan to carry. Old timers tell you to buy your pack last. Get all your food, shelter, clothing and cooking equipment together, take it to an outfitter, pack several packs the way you would, put the pack on your back, and walk around with it long enough to tell if it fits.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Keeping Electronics Alive When There's No AC

When considering how to maintain this blog while hiking the Appalachian Trail, I decided to get an Android-based, HTC Incredible 2.  Its a 3G, single core phone with a 4" screen, and that adds up to better 'n' average battery life.  Unfortunately, better 'n' average is relative.  With heavy use, I find it needs to be recharged daily.  With light use, it can go two days between charges.

An advantage of Droids is that you can carrying a spare battery for them.  This is a fine option for someone who leaves the phone turned off, and only makes a few calls.  For the usage I envision, I'd have to carry and recharge fistfuls of them!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Blogging Via Droid

Picked up my HTC Incredible 2 Android cell phone today. I'm using the Blogger app, with Flex T9 by Nuance Communications to do a speech to text input to this blog.

I welcome your comments, and invite you to follow our journey by plugging your email addy into the box at the right.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Electronics on the Appalachian Trail

In a February post, I outlined some requirements for which I hoped to find a system.  I want to have a cell phone, to be able update this blog on a regular basis, to take high quality pictures, to have reading and reference material via Kindle Books, and to use a GPS to navigate and find the occasional geocache.  All while hiking the Appalachian Trail - meaning, going 5-7 days between AC power and the potential for wifi, with spotty connectivity in between.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Outfitting for the AT - Our Sleep Systems

For northbounders leaving in late March, the first several weeks on the AT can be brutally cold. You might think that Georgia and North Carolina in spring would be nice, but the trail runs around 2500' above sea level with several peaks well above 5000'. Snow and overnight lows in the low teens and below are common.

We're looking at two sleep systems - One for the "shoulder" seasons of spring and fall on either end of the trail, and another for the dog days of summer. The shoulder system needs greater insulation - both from the air, and from the ground. Sleeping bags, rated for 15 degrees, with insulated sleeping pads are prescribed. We'll dedicate a pair of dry socks to sleep in. On colder nights, we'll wear any clothing required to supplement the bag!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Adapting BD trekking poles to replace tipi pole

When we bought our Shangri-la 3, I had seen several references to an SL 3 adapter that extended a trekking pole for use in place of the supplied pole. It was a 16" x 5/16" tube in which the tip of one's trekking pole simply went in one end, and the other side was capped to prevent puncturing the tent floor.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Backpacking Sleeping Bear Dunes

Over the winter we've been reading about the trail, planning local trips, and outfitting ourselves. Taking advantage of end of season sales, we picked up a GoLite Shangri-La3 tent, a pair of sleeping bags rated down to 15 degrees, insulated sleeping pads, hiking clothing, cooking stuff, rain gear, etc. With all this yakking and preparation, and with me now uncommitted to any employer, we were itching to get out there. So, when the long-delayed spring weather provided an opportunity, we loaded up our packs for a mid-week trip!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A Trail Food Find

Went to Amazon looking for dehydrated beans and found the Mexicali Rose and Santa Fe brands. Both were highly regarded by reviewers. I could get a single bag of the Mexacali Rose, whereas one has to order case lots of Santa Fe, so I ordered a bag of Mexacali Rose instant refried black beans.

A 1/3 cup of dry beans is an alleged serving, and provides:

Fat - 0g
Cholesterol - 0mg
Sodium - 280mg
Carbs - 19g
Dietary fiber 7g
Sugars - 0g
Protein 6g

The directions call for bringing ~1:1 ratio of beans to water to a boil and simmering 5-8 minutes - Not ideal for the freezer bag cooking method, but maybe?

Thinking I'd like to try them as a rice and bean dish, I picked up some Minute Rice. It's added 1:1 to boiling water, removed from heat and allowed to sit for 5 mins. 1/2 cup of dry rice is a serving and provides:

Fat - 0g
Cholesterol - 0mg
Sodium - 5mg
Carbs - 45g
Dietary fiber 0g
Sugars - 0g
Protein 5g

I put 2/3 cup of beans in a freezer baggy along with a cup of Minute White Rice, a tsp of cumin, 1/2 tsp of black pepper, 1/2 tsp of chili powder 1/2 tsp of cilantro. Didn't figure it needed more salt ... I covered everything with boiling water, sealed the bag and put it in a cozy for 8 mins, squishing occasionally.

They came out great. Both the rice and the beans were rehydrated and they were tasty. I'd probably add olive oil to provide some fat. That amount (two "servings") fed two of us for lunch, but would probably feed one hungry hiker.

I'd like to find a source for individual bags of the Santa Fe product ...

Friday, March 18, 2011

Outfitting for the AT - Our Shelter System

I have an excellent REI Cirque ASL 2 tent which tips the scales at just over five lbs. It's perfect for one, it's real cozy for two, and it weighs too much. I used it for winter camping when I was pulling a pulk, and for solo motorcycle camping. At our age, we are interested in packing light to keep our bones and joints from screaming in protest, and started looking for something roomier and lighter. I was attracted to some of the sil-nylon tarp tents made in the US of A by cottage industries supporting the ultralight niche, and found Golite's Shangri-La 3.

First thing you learn when looking at tents is that if you're a toss & turning side-sleeper, a "2-Person" tent is really very suitable for one, and a "3-Person" tent is perfect for two. Especially if those two are stuck in it for a few days of sustained nasty weather ... The Shangri-La 3 is a floorless pyramid shaped tent. It weighs 26 ozs if you eliminate the included pole and use an extended hiking pole. At 59 sq ft, and 62 inches high, it is a palace for two.

It has a couple of options - A bathtub style floor, which at 19 ozs will work very well during the shoulder seasons when we are concerned with staying dry, but not so much about keeping bugs out. For buggy summer months we got the Shangri-La 3 nest which combines a bathtub floor with mosquite netting. At the heaviest, we'll be packing 3.81 lbs - which we can split between us.

Timing was perfect as we managed to get these during a sale, and additional savings coupons could be used. The tent normally goes for $275, but I got her for $81 including shipping. Similar deals were available for the nest and floor. 

Can't wait to set her up in the back yard!

"It always rains on tents.  Rainstorms will travel thousands of miles, against prevailing winds for the opportunity to rain on a tent."  Dave Barry

Monday, March 14, 2011

A Milestone Day

Today is my first day as either retired or unemployed - Again. 

See, I retired from the Navy, went to work as a federal bureaucrat for awhile, left that job to be with fambly as our folk's health declined. Mary and I sailed our 32' sailboat from the Chesapeake to Michigan, and settled in.

After a bit I decided to supplement my meager retirement stipend, and took part-time gig with a brand new big-box hardware store. About the time I was starting to worry about my exit strategy so that I can make this hike, the mucky-mucks at corporate were worrying if this particular store was ever going to be profitable. In the end, they decided to close the store that I had helped open just five years ago. I was offered a position in another store, or a severance package, and I accepted the latter. 

I'm still not sure if I'm finally retired, or just temporarily unemployed, but at least I don't have to worry about my exit strategy. This will allow us to backpack this summer and fall, and to maintain a conditioning routine through the winter.

So today, Mary and I put on our hiking clothes and went for a 6 mile walk. She's been doing 3 miles a day for the last week while I've been working, and this was the first long walk I've taken since early winter. We decided to walk to a nearby nature preserve where a geocache was recently hidden. It was 32 degrees with a light wind and sunny when we left, with promises of reaching 40. Sounds like late March in Georgia - except maybe the sunny part. I wore a base layer, a thin fleece and my new Goretex Paclite jacket on top, a base layer and thin nylon hiking pants, a fleece hat and soft-shell gloves. It was near perfect. Mary got a bit overheated, and her lightweight down-filled gloves were too much for her. The trail in the preserve was covered with well-consolidated snow that we could walk on without post-holing. Wool socks with trail-runners were fine. A few joints protested, but that quickly passed. My hip started to bother me a bit towards the end. I'd expect that to just get better with more walking.

We found the cache.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Internal Battle Over Electronics

My inner geek has been struggling with my inner curmudgeon over my desire to carry electronic devices during our Appalachian Trail thru-hike. I thought it would be nice to have some ability to take pictures, send email, update blogs, read ebooks, refer to scanned pdf files, upload pics, listen to music, find my way when lost, and find the occasional geocache ... Humping a separate camera, GPS, iPod, smartphone, and all the batteries and chargers seemed like a lot of weight, and a smartphone could do it all, if not as well as the stand-alone devices.

I'm a photographer, and I can not imagine settling for any camera in a smart phone. My Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5 is an excellent, if not eggsactly an ultra-lightweight camera, with a great wide-range lens. If I didn't already have it, I'd get their DMC-LX5 which is a few ozs lighter and allows RAW capture.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Outfitting for the AT - Rain Gear

To stay dry, warm and safe while keeping pack weight down, I looked for rain gear that will serve both in the rain, and on cold, windy days. To me, that means light, waterproof, breathable and comfortable enough to wear as a wind shell. Conventional wisdom is that one has to shell out something north of 200 clams to get into a well-constructed Gore Tex or eVent jacket. However, new, even more breathable fabrics are coming out, and those "old school" jackets made with Gore PacLite and even eVent are available at big discounts.

We found a 13.5 oz women's REI Kimtah in eVent at REI marked down from 229 to 159. They didn't have a comparable men's version, so I turned to the intertubes. There I found an 8oz Marmot Nano in Gore PacLite at Campsaver.com, marked down from 250 to 163.

We both found relatively inexpensive / somewhat breathable rain pants we'll carry during shoulder seasons.

'Course, new jackets will replace them in their former price points. Will I wish I had the new, state-of-the-art stuff? Sure, but I'll live with the "old" state-of-the-art stuff at 30-40% off ... That's a lotta pizza money!

"Life isn't about waiting for the storms to pass,  it's about learning to dance in the rain."
- Vivian Green

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Outfitting for the AT - Our Kitchen

Like much of my other old backpacking gear, my stove was a true classic.  The iconic Swiss-made Svea 123.  A brass stove that burns white gas, weighs well over a pound - before you add in the weight of the fuel ...  It was time for an update.

I did get an alcohol stove on sale from Minibulldesign, but decided that while I'd certainly use it on a solo hike, I wanted something that would boil more water faster for the two of us.  So, I started looking into cannister stoves - The type where the stove screws directly into the top of a propane cannister.

Backpackinglight.com is an excellent reference for those looking to shed pounds off their backs.  They did a review of what, at the time, was billed as the lightest  canister stove on the market - the Monatauk Gnat.  Primarily constructed of titanium, it sports a large burner head and collapsible pot supports that grip the pot to prevent it from sliding off.  It weighs in at 1.7 ozs (before you screw on a canister of fuel) and is rated at 12000 BTU. 

I am becoming a fan of the Freezer Bag Cooking method.  The idea is to carry easily rehydrated foods, premixed in freezer baggies that can withstand boiling water.  One simply adds boiling water to the baggie, zip it closed, and place it in a wool hat or other cozy for 5-10 minutes.  Open the baggie and eat it with a spoon.  This all but eliminates any cleanup, costs a fraction of freeze dried foods, and retains nutrients better.  The folks at trailcooking.com really promote this concept, and publish the must-have cookbook "Freezer Bag Cooking: Trail Food Made Simple".

This concept also simplifies the backpacker's kitchen.  A stove like the Gnat, a windscreen, a simple pot, and a long-handled spoon is really all one needs.  

Because there will be two of us, I opted for the award-winning, REI Ti Ware Nonstick 1.3 liter titanium Pot weighing in at 6 ozs.  Spendy, but titanium is light and strong - Not likely to become misshapened by dropping my pack in exhaustion!  As of this writing, REI is no longer offering this, but Evernew (who probably made it for REI in the first place) is.

I just need to acquire a couple of long-handled Ti spoons (sporks could puncture baggies), and fabricate a wind screen for the stove, and I'll be set for cooking on the trail.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Why Hike The AT?!

I've camped a fair bit through my life. Did some backpacking in scouts. In the Navy, I spent more time wearing cammies in the field than the average Sailor. More recently, I took the National Ski Patrol Mountain Travel & Rescue course for which I used my old Svea stove, my 1976 vintage REI sleeping bag and a 5 lb tent... Mary is retired Army, and spent a fair piece of time in the field - But never backpacked for fun. So, you could be excused for wondering how in the hell we got it in our heads to to attempt to hike the Appalachian Trail next year ...

Mary and I first day-hiked a section of the AT back in 2001, and talked about hiking it's length someday. We were both retired from the military, and working for the federal government in DC. A few years later, my folk's health started to go south, and we decided to move to Michigan where the rest of my family had migrated. We packed up, and took the summer to sail our old sloop from the Chesapeake to Michigan by way of the Erie Canal. (See our eBook on this trip here.)

We've been here for a few years now. Mom passed on, and Dad's relatively healthy and living in an assisted living community. I got into Ski Patrol, and outfitted myself with some winter camping gear for a course in Mountain Travel and Rescue. We started talking about the AT again, reading trail journals, everything we could find on the web, and several of the better books ... We decided on a 2012 late March, northbound start. We're outfitting ourselves this year, walking a lot, and we'll be backpacking in some of the great parks here in Michigan.

We have the typical maladies of folks our age, and we latched onto the lightweight backpacking concept in the hope it would spare our knees and backs! We're outfitting ourselves with gear that we feel is the best compromise between weight and comfort, and we're hoping to keep our total pack weight under 30 lbs including  water, and food for 5 days.

We're thinking thru whether we want to replenish thru drop shipments, and maybe a bounce box, or just go with the flow and replenish at grocery stores along the way ... We're inclined towards a hybrid of the two.  A few strategically-placed boxes to supplement what we find in trail towns.

Mary long ago told her employer to take her job and shove it, and I just need to figure out when to leave my part-time gig at a big-box hardware store. We'll want to have plenty of opportunity to get out into the wilderness, get our legs under us, and fine-tune our kit.

None of this answers "Why?" but, perhaps explains how we got to this point ...

Anywhere is walking distance, if you've got the time. - Steven Wright