Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A Food Drop: Exposed!

An eye opening look into the seedy under-belly of Appalachian Trail hiking drop boxes!

Ok, that is a bit of an exaggeration, while it's true I'll be eating seeds, grains, and nut and they will be going into my (under)belly, and this post will force you to open your eyes, to at least glance at it quickly before your short-lived attention span skitters elsewhere. Retracted, not an exaggeration!!

The Box
I am using USPS Priority Mail boxes to ship my food and sundries to myself. Actually my awesome support crew, the woman that I love whom prefers chipmunks to squirrels and is occasionally called 'Songbird', will be doing the drop ships. Priority Mail really works out, she can just pop on line a week ahead of when i need the next box and schedule a pickup at the house. The mail courier grabs it and sends it on it's way. Very easy for her. I have the boxes preassembled for ease, including notebooks, maps, extra plastic bags, as well as food for until the next box is needed. The plan is to swoop into town, get to the post office and dump the food in my pack. If I have no plans of staying in the town, or the bounce box is further along, high tail it directly back into the woods, with maybe a stop to grab some extra grub or a hot meal.

Breakfasts of a Champion
To break each fast when I roll out of my sleeping bag in the cool morning, I will have an Oatmeal Breakfast cookie, a NutraGrain bar or other type of protein bar and nuts or a packet of MRE peanut butter. Additionally I am drying fruits to go along with this array. Finally I will be adding bagels to this as I go thru towns. Nothing is finer than Peanut butter on a bagel! I will heat up a cup of water for my coffee and drink that while I tear down camp and munch on a bagel. The rest of the food I will eat while I hike up the Trail. I have found I get hungry early and often while I hike, and my energy begins to flag if I don't have a constant something to ingest.
First Meal

Second Breakfast, Elevensies, Lunch, and Tea-time
I will have a piece of food for every hour I am hiking. I have consumed almost as much, and occasionally more, on weekend hikes. So I do not feel like I am packing too much. I may require supplements additionally beyond the heaps of food I will be toting.
Each lunch is separated in a sandwich baggie. In the mornings I will put the food for breakfast and lunch in my accessible belt pouch so there isn't stopping for eating. I find it completely OK not to break to eat. Contained in the lunch packet: Clif bar, Honey Stinger or other Protein bar, Lance Crackers, and Nature Valley Oat bar. I will also have jerky, summer sausage, and country ham - those are to add to dinners, but also snack on throughout the day. I will also buy blocks of cheese in town.
I have also tossed Slim Fast mixed with dehydrated milk to equal every-other-day in the drop boxes. I figure drinking a few hundred calorie boost when I'm feeling depleted and sick of water is good.

Not weak lunches rather a week of lunches so I don't get weak!

The Good the Bad the Cooked
Pictured below are some various meals I will be enjoying. A couple rice dishes with dried butter dried vegis and spices, some Knorr noodles with stuff added to make it better, Couscous and chicken with dried vegis, mashed potatoes+, and stuffing. Everything only requires water and heat. The rice dishes will take a bit of fore-thought if I don't want to waste 10 min of fuel. It's possible to reconstitute all of these meals with boiling water, in the bag that they are in currently. Add water and put it in an insulated pouch and wait a bit. Not shown here are some bean meals, lentils, and others that came from Harmony House. I did add Harmony House dried vegetables to nearly every meal. All the rice, couscous, and potato dishes have a huge variety of vegetables, from corn, spinach, peas, carrots, etc. Also I used fake meat from Harmony House to add some flavor to the rice as well. I tried to coordinate the spice with the appropriate meal, like dill to carrots, and chilli powder to faux-ground beef. I think I will have enough variety that hiker boxes from GA to ME aren't littered with little bags of Harmony House and rice!! Or the dreaded incognito bag of white powder!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Gear in Review - Camp Kitchen

The Skinny (which will hopefully keep me from getting skinny!)

Seven days of dinners

MSR Pocket Rocket
I have the MSR Pocket Rocket. A funny name, right? It sounds dirty, which is probably why it makes me giggle. But that's where the laughing stops. This device is light, at 3 ounces. And powerful, able to boil water in a couple minutes. The Pocket Rocket is also tiny, fitting into a small plastic case to protect it.
I have used this stove extensively, in Zion, the Cascades, all over West Virgina, Virgina, Maryland, and New York. I've used it in every season. I have been satisfied with the performance, and the cost of this equipment. There is a long list of why this is a valuable, quality stove which I won't bore you with. It boils water, it simmers with some work (hold the pot or skillet a bit off the cooking platform), the canisters last a good amount of time.

The Good
Burn time

I have some issues with the MSR Pocket Rocket though. The 3-pronged pot base is decently stable, but I am always aware of how I must be fairly exacting on placing the pot on the Pocket Rocket and with two cups of water watching it sway a little bit.
Also I had the great idea of putting a wind screen like a sleeve around the entire device and canister, as the wind has a huge, huge effect on the efficiency of this equipment. I did some research and found that what I was thinking about doesn't allow heat to escape and could make the canister explode, if I want a wind-screen I will be using my body, a shelter or a sleeping pad. I could probably engineer some tin-foil around just the cooking portion to keep the wind from effecting it too much.

The Not as Good
Lack of Wind-screen

The bottom line is that I will happily use this stove over the competition from ease of use, fuel type, weight and cost.

Cooking Food
For this next section I will be describing how I get food from course hard dry rice, to moist plump and delicious!
I will be posting soon a dissection of a food drop. To give you a taste I need to describe the types of food that I will be cooking. In the mornings I only have coffee water to heat up, the meals are breakfast cookies and bars, nuts, and dried fruit. Lunch is protein bars and shakes. Dinners will all be cooked, however all of the meals will not require dirtying a single dish. That's right, 6 months with no dishes! I will be using an Insulated Food Cozy. I found the product at Trail Days a couple years ago and I have tried it out every camping trip since. You have a freezer bag with your food in it. You boil water. You pour the water into the ziploc bag, stir, and place the bag inside of the Cozy, fold over the top and put it aside. Now, if you play the Harmonica, it is the time to play that instrument for 7 to 10 minutes. Viola! Your food is now tender enough to eat directly out of the freezer bag. How many dishes do you have to clean? None. Best idea ever.
So what will I do with rice? That method would leave it hard still. For this I will pour 1/2 the water I'm going to use into the bag at lunch time. The other half of the water I will follow the above steps. This method reduces my need for a cook set to a single metal mug that I can use for multiple purposes. Coffee in the morning, dinner in the evening. The entire cook set is a stove, a mug, a spork, and an insulated pouch.

Other Ingestion Related Gear

Steripen Adventurer + funnel pre-filter
 The Story
What's small, light, easy to operate, and leaves no taste. If you said a Smart car, you're wrong. The Steripen is it, I tested it out in the Cascades in Washington. Granted that was water almost directly from glaciers, so it really didn't need to be treated most likely. Still it was easy to use. My only complaint is that is should have a small piece of rope, like a camera has, to put around your wrist. That way when you drop it, it doesn't sink to the bottom of your bottle.
The pre-filter removes particulates like leaf matter, water spiders, very small rocks, and churches (now read the last two in a British accent). Of course neither remove the taste of the water, so if you are getting water from a stagnant pond, it will still taste like frog slime. Then again, I know from personal experience that iodine tablets don't remove that flavor either!
Nalgen bottles
The Story
I have a water bladder, but I found that they are not for me. They are a pain to fill up, I have an irrational fear that I will poke a hole in it. And I have never actually gotten it to fit in my pack with my gear in the appropriate pouch, to refill it one must remove everything from the pack. Instead it ends up getting put under the top flap. Half the time the hose gets crinkled and I must take off the pack to get water anyway.  A bottle is multi-use, easy to fill, easy to purify, indestructible, easy to clean after filling with wine, and cheap!

SeatoSummit folding bucket
The Story
A bucket is always useful, when the water source is far away, easier to let crap settle to fill the water bottles, a good way to let water warm up in the sun before taking bath. It is light-weight and has all kind of LNT principles as a reminder.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Gear in Review - Sleep System

UPDATE: After spending 5 months in a tent, I've updated this review here: Sleep System - UPDATE

Mountain Hardwear Sprite 1
3 lbs. 6 oz.
18 square feet

The Story
I have covered this in the blog previously. But to re-iterate:
I got a bivy for the Trail. I tested it several times and I found it to be unusably hot in the summer time. OK in the winter time. And worthless in the rain. Also cramped, not incredibly light. and I could feel a mouse running across my legs all night through the bivy. All in all, just terrible.
I switched out the bivy for a Mountain Hardwear Sprite 1 and I have been completely satisfied. I have used the tent in the canyons of Utah, the mountains of the Cascades, and for over a year on the East Coast. I find the tent roomy enough for me and my gear, including my boots and pack. I have enough room to sit up. Legolas even has a place to swing and cast light on me if I decide to stay up and write. Easy to setup and take down. I have yet to be in a deluge, if it leaks like a sieve I will be complaining about it!

Big Agnes Grouse Mountain Down Sleeping Bag
3 lbs
good to 15 degrees
Ground pad sleeve

The Story
I have never owned a down bag. After hearing horror stories of wet down I shied away from down. I have had synthetic bags all my life and have always had good luck with them. I have a 40 degree LL Bean bag that I have had for years, and might be switching out to when it gets very warm this summer. I needed a general purpose bag, something that would bridge the gap between too cold and hot out. After researching and weighting my options I found that Big Agnes is a really good brand. Accolades from customers, and the design features including no insulation where it's a waste, a pillow sack inside the bag, the sleeve for the ground cloth were all determining factors. The last, and most important factor: dividends from my REI credit card! I normally would never link a credit card, but if you do online bill pay, buy things from Amazon, buy things from REI, why wouldn't you use this to your advantage? I pay down my credit card month to month so there is no interest or fees. I travel for work, buy a lot of gas, and I have been buying many things from Amazon to prepare for this trip. I have gained a lot of "free" money from these rewards. I have tried to do this so I am using the system to as much of my advantage as possible.
Bottom line. Good bag. Expensive, but the right price for me (free)!

Stoic LTWT Step Sleeping Pad
1 lb 7oz

The Story
Not much of a story here. I had a closed cell foam ground pad for the winter months to use in conjunction with a 3/4 ThermaRest that I used by itself in the summer months. Together those 2 work great. I chanced upon the Stoic on Steep and Cheap with a price I couldn't turn down. Turns out the Stoic was close to the same weight as the ThermaRest, with a mummy tapered full length design. I'm happy with the design and weight, it is comfortable and does what it's meant to do - float me on a warm cushion of air as I'm floating in dream-land!

SeatoSummit Reactor Thermolite Mummy Bag Liner
8.7 oz
Adds 15 degrees of warmth

The Story
This big fuzzy body sock does what it does and does it well! I have had it for several years and have used it as a blanket in Brazil while hosteling and it has added warmth on 0 degree nights in West Virginia. The only qualm I have is the body sock thing! It doesn't have a side opening so if you're hot you can poke a single leg out, as I often like to do. Once inside it your in for the night. It is best used for cold weather camping or completely by itself in hot weather.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Things Missed...

...and NOT missed!

I often try to imagine myself on the Trail. Walking along, day after day. Waking with the sunrise, enjoying a breeze, hearing the pitter-patter of rain on my Packa or tent, even being sore tired damp and smelly (not to romanticize the Trail!). I can imagine those individual scenes. I can't imagine it day after day for half of a year. But that's going to be my life. And I crave it! However much I want to get away from many things there is going to be things that I will desperately miss as well. Until the Trail becomes normal, lack of normalcy will be echoing around me. How long will it take for it to sink in that this isn't a short trip? I have done over-night camping trips, and I have done 12 day canoe trips. It takes over a week for the life-style change to really sink in. Even then, you know in a few more days you will be moving with the help of gasoline again rather than your bodies own motive power.
So, what am I going to miss the most? And what do I think I will not miss the most? Here's a couple lists. At the end of my journey I will look back at these lists and then write again about which things on the list turned out to be missed more, less, or surprising!

I will miss:
1. Cara
2. Friends and family
3. Kaya
4. Home
5. Bed
6. Heating/cooling
7. Wine from the bottle
8. Cooking multi-sided meals
9. Showering daily
10. Pay-check

I will NOT  miss:
1. Traffic, other impatient drivers
2. Feeling rushed frustrated and angry at things I cannot control
3. TV
4. Sitting the majority of every day
5. Worrying about needing to exercise or eat right
6. Being bored
7. Immersion in a society consumed with short attention spans, lying politicians, greed, and rampant consumerism.
8. Dress pants
9. Looking at my cell phone every 2 minutes for email - once a day will be fine IF there's signal!
10. Commuting

I know these lists will change, maybe gradually. I may start not minding skipping showers for a week at a time. I may start to really like ambient temperature every day. I may miss dress pants (doubtful on that account, I wear jeans most every day and haven't had an urge to put on slacks).

Things that I take for granted, like water from a tap, a fridge, ease of buying whatever I want whenever I want could possibly become things that I really miss (speaking of consumerism!). I go on this trip to remove myself from typical American life, to get some perspective, and to find out what I really consider important. I may be standing way too close to see what I really value.

What about you? What did you miss? What will you miss?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Little Calf Mountain Reroute

I just got a PATC memo with talks of a new mountain to be climbed in Shenandoah; the Trail re-reoute will now include Little Calf Mountain, with west-facing views.
I look forward to enjoying the hard work of those volunteers, and will need to re-pay their work with some volunteerism of my own!

Doing some research:

Little Calf Mountain is at Mile Marker 99.5

Project Details

Gear in Review - Camera

This is the beginning of a Gear Review series that will cover the gear that I am using, that I have Trail tested and will update each review periodically as the trip progresses.

 Self-timer used

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS3

  -Altimeter / Depth Indicator / Compass / Barometer / GPS
  -12.1 mega Pixel
  -28mm Wide-angle Lens
  -Optical: 4.6x
  -Extra Optical: 5.7x (4:3 / 8M), 7.3x (4:3 / 5M), 9.1x (4:3 / under 3M)
  -Intelligent: 6x
  -Digital: 4x
  -(Max. 18.4x combined with Optical Zoom without Extra Optical Zoom)
  -(Max. 36.3x combined with Extra Optical Zoom)
Many other specifications are provided at the linked Panasonic wesite

The Story
Problem, I needed another camera! I had a fairly nice Kodak that had an unfortunate snow-boarding accident. I spent $100 to have it fixed, and the shots have never been the same, a tinge of blur on the left side of every picture taken.
I bought a cheaper Kodak and it also took nice pictures, had a decent zoom and was small and light-weight. A humid morning killed that camera in Dolly Sods! That's all it took. The camera was in a plastic bag, it had rained the night before but the camera was in a bag in a backpack with a rain cover under a tarp. And yet when I removed the camera from the bag to take a picture of a gorgeous sunrise from Bear Rocks, the screen became full of condensation and the camera breathed it's last, even after instantly removing the battery, and putting the camera in the freezer when I got home.
After going through two cameras in less than a year I was determined to get one that could live through my life-style, that is outside and on the go, with occasional bumps and bruises. I began searching and came upon several cameras that styled themselves as 'ruggedized'. After reading reviews, and having worked for a couple years with Panasonic Toughbook ruggedized laptops, I decided to go with the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS3... the only problem was that it hadn't been released yet! The TS2 was still being sold, but heading towards EOL. I decided to wait it out, put in a pre-order and go without a camera for a few months, with the hopes that it would arrive in time to go to Stehekin, WA for the Volunteer Vacation. The camera did arrive in time.
The camera took hundreds of very nice pictures, the battery life was good. The GPS, altimeter, barometer, and compass were nice features. After using the camera for 9 days we were hiking back to base camp with tools in hand. The shovel I carried banged, and not hard, into the camera that was in my cargo pocket. The back LCD screen cracked and spider-webbed. The camera still took pictures just fine, but with the screen compromised I figured the water-proofing was also compromised.
After the trip I sent the camera back to Panasonic, free of charge for warranty repair. The LCD screen was back-ordered for over a month, and a couple months after sending it in I got a fixed camera back. While I'm glad they made good on it, it took way too long. 

The pictures are decent, the stabilization is good, the color is true. However, you must understand that the zoom is not great the lens is contained within the housing so optical zoom is limited, and digital zoom always becomes lossy very quickly. The camera is rugged, but from experience, not invincible. I have taken pictures with it while swimming, but I would not go scuba diving with it, though I would probably go snorkeling.
The GPS takes forever to find satellites and it really must be under clear unobstructed skies. Even with the GPS left on the battery lasts for a long time, several days of constant use. In the time I was in Washington I changed the battery once.

All in all I'm glad I purchased the camera and it will be traveling the Appalachian Trail with me.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Class of 2012

Already the Class is forming. People are in planning and excitement  mode.

I've visited Trail Days in Damascus, VA the last two years. There is a hiker parade as the main event. Main St is shutdown, the crowd forms - many with squirt guns and water balloons (I assume to wash off the Hiker Stench) - and different Classes hike down the street. Some people wear their hiker garb, others wear diapers (no idea how that tradition started), others costumes. The Classes stretch back decades. These classes are a tight knit group of the larger tight knit Trail community itself. Some groups go further and camp in the same "towns" in group camping. These folks have shared experiences, their stories are inter-woven with one another. The events that happened that year on the Trail, weather or tragedy or hilarity, traveled via word of mouth and registry to many hikers that year, cementing a bond between them. This is something I am very much looking forward to.

These people, fellow adventurers, intrepid travelers all, will be my Classmates. I may never meet some, but they will still have a large effect on me. I will be reading their entries in the shelter registers, I will get to know their sense of humor, their frustrations, and I will look forward to news from up-Trail. Those following me will do the same. If I do finally run (or rather walk) into these hikers, I will have an understanding and feel a sense of kinship to them that they won't have for me if they have never read my musings in the registers.

I have already had the pleasure of reading the words laid down by a couple bloggers that are hiking this year. I am looking forward to reading future posts, both on the Internet and in the registers, as both are beginning before me. Laughing Dog and Appalachian Jake are two that I have found so far. Both are good reads, and give me insight into them. Meeting them will be a pleasure.

I have done some research and the more research I do the more blogs and resources I find concerning the upcoming 2012 season. Since the Good Badger has already begun a list of bloggers, I will link his site, and let you do some of your own research. I will be adding all these to Google Reader (RSS is a wonderful thing) so I can follow along.
I see a buzz on White Blaze about those that are preparing to hit the AT in 2012 as well. There are also a bunch of Facebook groups 1, 2, 3,  4, 5, 6
And since I'm a fan of Google+ this blog has it's very own Page for micro-blogging.

More prep talk
On other fronts I completely re-did my shipping schedule and ironed out the areas that I had as gray-areas (Shenandoah and White Mountains). I am pleased with the amounts of time between drops, and the closeness to the Trail. Most I have are within a mile, usually less. I have setup an average of 13 miles per day between drops. I guess the part I may regret and need to change is the length of time between drops. I am planning on some of two or three days, however most drops are for 7 days with a few 8 or 9 days (110+ miles between drops). This may be way too heavy. In the next few weeks I will be loading my pack with all my intended gear, water, and the heaviest amount of food I will be carrying. Virginia has some very long ridge walks, and the southern New England states are, well let's face it, they're easy - comparatively. I have read probably over a dozen journals and books of peoples experience on the Trail. Everyone talks of the hard the beginning, the length of Virginia, the rocks of Pennsylvania, and then the Green Mountains. There are several states, CT, MA, NY, NJ that people say, "another state - woohoo!" and that's about it. That being said, I have also heard those states are very pretty, and I am looking forward the the N.E. stroll (I hope it won't be too hot this summer). I hope that 1 weeks worth of food will not be too much on my back. I am trying to minimize time in town, either having to wait until the Post opens or getting drawn in to all the town calories($)! My meals are light and have high nutritional value, the Harmony House meals are very light! The packets of chicken and the summer sausage both are a bit heavier since they both have some moisture weight, but those will be eaten first!

Pack List
I found a nice web-site that has an enormous library of user generated item weights, as well as the capability of adding your own. It is a work in progress, since I'm not completely a gram-weeny I don't have too much concern with the exact weight of every single item. I care more about the approximate weight just for reference. Once I'm on the Trail for a few weeks, and the handle of my tooth brush is cut off, then you can call me an ounce-counter!