The Lodge at Amicalola Falls

I am spending three days here at the lodge with my wife, before I begin my hike.  I am glad we took the time to enjoy the beauty of the park, instead of just beginning my hike. 
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Today was Springer Mountain day.  We drove about 90 minutes to a parking area one mile NORTH of the beginning of the AT.  We then hiked south to the top of Springer, and took pictures of us and the plaque of the beginning of my 2185.3 mile journey.  Janet got to see the beautiful vistas and experience first hand what hiking the AT is all about, as we walked the one mile north back to the car. 

Tomorrow, we will spend time in the park.  The first mile of the approach trail is magnificent and challenging, with 604 steps along the falls for which the park is named.  We will hike this together.  The rest of the day will be spent doing nothing concerned with hiking!

Tuesday morning I begin my quest with the 8 mile approach trail. I will be on my way!

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Support and a Party

From my readings of successful through hikers, most give credit to a strong support system. There are typically parents, a wife, significant other, or close friend to help with logistics. This expands to family and friends who follow the hiker and offer moral support, encouragement, and perhaps even meet up with us at points along the way. I’ve mentioned it before, but it needs repeating.

I experienced one of many such events yesterday, two weeks BEFORE I leave on my hike. First, months ago, I received the encouragement of my wife, Janet, to tackle this dream. If you are in a relationship, you understand how significant this is, for as difficult as my hike will be, my wife takes on the burden of everyday living for six months by herself.

Then, she throws a wonderful going away party of friends and family, so that they can also feel a strong connection to this quest. This is just the beginning, but so important. Thank you, Janet! Thanks to all who came to say goodbye and wish me well. Thanks for the words of encouragement, even if you can’t fathom doing something like this yourself. I feel truly blessed; I WILL complete my hike of the Appalachian Trail!

Five Ounces

Five ounces. 5/16 of a pound, less than a third. I spent $35 for those 5 ounces, and very happy for it! What is that, $7 per ounce?!

To a long distance hiker, every ounce is at a premium. The less weight I have to carry, the more comfortable I will be. It’s then reasonable to assume that I will enjoy the hike just that little bit more. Each of my 5 MILLION steps will carry 5 ounces less than previously planned; for $35, that’s not a bad deal at all.

I’ve alluded to the weight tradeoff equation before. For a particular function, saving weight is a good thing, as long as it does not compromise quality or usefulness. Example: I have heavy, rugged boots that weigh 3 pounds, and could last the entire hike. To save weight, and be more comfortable, I will take trail runners, at 1.5 pounds. I may need 3 pair as they break down, but that is a reasonable compromise.

Money is also part of this equation. Technology permeates hiking as it does other sports. We have titanium cookware, ultra light nylon cloth for tarps and tents, new weaves of wool that reduce clothing weight substantially. It all depends how deep your pockets are, and what is “OK” if it’s a bit heavier.

My biggest compromise is my hammock, which weighs in at 3 pounds, plus another 8 ounces for a tarp. Many high tech tents now are just over 1 pound, complete (at $400 and up!). But, this hammock is rugged and comfortable, and I JUST LIKE IT. That’s the fun of this individualist sport: you get to choose what lights you up, as long as you accept your choices.

So… what was my big purchase? Camp shoes! At the end of a long day of hiking, airing out tired feet is a luxury. Many of us bring Crocs, slides, or the equivalent: waterproof, light shoes. They are also useful for river crossings and in town, in the shower, whatever. Inexpensive, yes, but at 14 ounces for the pair, on the heavy side for the one or two hours a day they get used.

croc

Enter Vivobarefoot, the company, that sell a variety of minimalist running and hiking footwear. I came across a discussion of these on Whiteblaze.net, my primary source of information about all things hiking on the AT. I can’t wear many shoes as I have a wide foot and a bunion on my right foot, but I ordered a pair of their “Ultra Pure”, and at about 9 ounces, they are great! So… my Crocs will stay at home, and the Vivo’s will take to the trail!

vivobarefoot

Support Systems

Support Systems. How important are these in our lives? I would suggest that for most of us, a good support system is critical, be it at work or play, in business or within your own family. Yes, people can succeed alone and many a movie is based on individuals that overcome all odds to achieve their goals, but… how much easier would life be with that support already in place?!

Well recently, I added greatly to my Appalachian Trail through hike support system. First, a shout out to my wife. She will be my day to day contact, and has supported my dream since day one. Amazing, and thank you honey!

Next, a fantastic forum of hikers exists on Whiteblaze.com, and I have several acquaintances from time spent there. Being new to hiking, I especially appreciate the technical expertise, whether gear or trail techniques. Recently, however, I had the great pleasure to meet with two local hikers, Teacher and Snacktime!

I’ve been on the Whiteblaze forum for about 18 months now, and I’m still learning that it is a all about the people and community.
teacher pic
I’m hiking the AT this year, and happen to live near Teacher. She likes to follow the blogs of local through hikers, likes to put a face to the name, and asked if we could get together. How can you refuse lunch with a lovely lady and her grandson?!

We planned to get together, met at a local restaurant, and had a wonderful time over lunch getting to know each other. Well, before I put one foot on the AT, I received 2 types of trail magic! First, Snacktime, an impressive young man who has learned how to sew(!), gave me a small bag that he makes. Then, he fills the sack with such trail magic as candies, matches, and toilet paper. I’m taking the bag with me, which will be perfect as part of my bear-bagging kit.

Then, after a great lunch, Teacher picks up the check, and will not allow me to pay. I’m embarrassed and wowed at the same time by this gracious lady. Talk about paying it forward!

So, thank you again, Teacher and Snacktime. I now have new friends, and as I go along, I’m sure I will add many more. Thank you AT community and Whiteblaze community, for supporting me before, during, and after. I really don’t know what I am in for, but know that there will always be somebody who has my back!

Cooking Gear

Cooking equipment is one of the more debated areas of one’s hiking gear. The object is to provide a meal, taking into account the size, weight, and cost of the gear. Other factors are the type of fuel, speed to set it up, and how quickly and efficiently it cooks your meal. Lots of options, but where do you begin?

I started with fuel. The two primary fuels today are propane in a small canister, and alcohol. There are many articles on the pros and cons. I have a Jetboil system, an all in one canister system that works great, but is a bit bulky and heavy. I tried an alcohol system on my September hike, and though it worked fine, I decided to go back to the canister route, but something other than a Jetboil.

I did a lot of research over the past couple of months to find the perfect system, for ME. I wanted both a cooking pot with lid, and a coffee cup, which can double for eating cereal. With my alcohol system, I kept the fuel separate, in case it leaked. I carried a separate coffee cup, as it did not fit in the pot.

ECA278_img1My new system fixes those problems. I now use an Evernew titanium ECA278; I got it from Trail Designs for about $65. It is a stackable .7L/.4L pot/cup combination, 2 for the price of 1.

soto windmaster on canister

For a stove, I bought the new Soto Windmaster, another $65. Great reviews, and on a 40 degree day, I boiled 8 ounces of water with this setup in 2 minutes.Like the Jetboil, a small 100 gram canister, the Jetboil canister stand, and stove all fit inside the pot. I then purchased a cozy from George at Antigravitygear.com; great service and about $10!

Expensive? About $140. Weight: 10.2 ounces: pot, cup, lid, stove, canister stand, cozy, and bag. Add the weight of a canister, which again fits inside. Nice!

A Positive Experience

Are you aware of how you affect the happiness of those around you? Do you make it a point to praise performance, be it your workers or children, spouse or salesperson?

I really work on this. I’m not great, but I really try to smile, to be pleasant, and to offer praise, when deserved. As an example, if a transaction is involved, the money received is nice, but the smile, the “thank you” is what leaves us with that little glow inside.

So how does that relate here? I make it a point to respond to each sale I participate in. When I buy a product from an entrepreneur, I send off a quick note of thanks, and also acknowledge them publicly, if warranted. I believe that nothing works better than unsolicited, free, and heartfelt thanks to stimulate sales. If I buy from a larger site, most ask for feedback, and I am happy to provide it, to improve the next experience.

So, Adam, of Hammockgear.com, thank you, both for your workmanship and service.

Here’s the story.

I bought a 20 degree top quilt (like a sleeping bag, but for a hammock) from Adam. It is my first quilt, and I was a new hammocker. I asked about adding extra down, being the new guy. Adam said, no, should be fine, try it and we can fix it if you desire. 9 months later, last week, I decided after a few cool nights of hanging, that I wanted an extra 2 ounces of down. I call Adam. He says FREE. FREE shipping. Come on, ADAM! I want to keep you guys in business, and don’t mind spending a few bucks to do it!!! Quick turn around, of course, and it is now perfect.

He certainly did his part in this exchange. The quilt is one of the most important items for my hike, and I am confident that it will perform well.

Who have you praised today?

50 DAYS!

All of a sudden, what seemed like such a distance in the future, is now close to happening! I’m going on a hike!

I am 50 days or 7 weeks and a day from leaving Springer Mountain, in northern Georgia. Am I ready? YES! Excited? YES!
I still have work to do, final inventory, a few gear tests, but I could leave tomorrow. When do I start?
I actually have 3 start dates.
–  March 23rd, 2014. Day one is the plane ride, from Providence to Atlanta. We will rent a car to drive the 2 hours north to Amicalola Falls State Park, and stay at the state park lodge for 2 nights.
–  March 24th, I walk the approach trail. This 8.8 mile hike is not a part of the Appalachian Trail, but is one of two means to get to the start point, Springer Mountain. I choose to hike this trail, as I am into doing the little extras that will add to my experience, and this is step one! The other starting option is to hitch a ride to a parking lot one mile NORTH of the start point, hike SOUTH, and return on the same path. My plan takes the best of both: I will hike the approach trail, continue to the parking lot, hitch a ride back to the lodge, and go to the top on the 25th with Janet!
– March 25th. Janet and I go to the parking lot one mile NORTH of Springer Mountain. We hike SOUTH to the start point, take lots of pictures, and Janet gets to hike the first mile of the AT with me! I love that we can do this together, even if it is only the first mile. Kisses in the parking lot, and then off I go, day 1! Janet returns to Atlanta.
The countdown begins…

Retired. Now what?

It’s time for me to restart my blog.

I’ve spent the past year getting prepared for my upcoming hike. Much of the preparation was gear related, as I am new to hiking and needed the full complement of gear. I have 2 backpacks, a variety of clothes, several types of shoes, and the list goes on.

Mental preparation. I will focus on this several times before my hike, and I’m sure many times during the hike. From all I read, the successful hikers are mentally tough, and have strong reasons for finishing. I have spent time defining my personal why’s; I think myself mentally tough and able to deal with stress. We will see!

Commitment

Are You Committed?

Ah, the commitment word. Strong or weak? Do you keep it to yourself, or tell the world?
I am committed to walk the AT.
I am committed to keep up my blog.
I am committed to doing the Insanity workout every day for 60 days.
I am committed to losing weight.
So… are these just words, or do they have power? Do they depend on your strength of character?
Have you shared these commitments with others? Yes? All of a sudden, YOU ARE COMMITTED!

Journaling

Journaling – is this something that you do on a regular basis?
 
I do; usually a couple of posts per week is my average. It’s easy to do; it’s easy not to as well! I think it is very important to keep a log of what you experience, your thoughts, a bit of the “WHY” of your life. Why is it important? Here’s one good example: I can go back in my notes, my journal entries, and find out when I first started thinking about this crazy notion of walking the AT!

 
Like most ideas, it was not an epiphany. I did not wake up one morning, and think “Hark, I need to walk the AT to satisfy my purpose in life.” NO! It started from reading something, or some article in the news, or some aspect of camping that I was aware of because I also camp out on motorcycle trips.
 
The beauty of my notes, or journal entries, is that I can “guestimate” when I started with this crazy notion that a 6 month hike was necessary for my wellbeing.
 
Going back to my notes, my first thought about doing the AT was April 29, 2012. What piqued my interest? Well, I am an airline pilot. We all have crew bases, where we originate and terminate our flying. After 22 year with my company, they decide to reduce flying at my base, and I get “displaced” from flying at Boston to New York. This means that every week, I have to drive at least once to New York City and back to RI to go to work. Ouch; a 3 hour drive… So, I decide to listen to books on CD to keep me away. I go to my library, to the books on CD section, and come across Bill Bryson’s book “A Walk in the Woods”. It is all his fault!!! I read his book many years ago and loved it; so listening to it on CD was fun. I mentioned to my copilot that I had listened to it, and remarked “wouldn’t it be crazy to do something like that”, and a subconscious thought was born.
 
Pretty cool… Bottom line: keep a journal!