Thursday, March 29, 2012

Drawing Nigh

Time grows short...

The day I have been waiting for is finally here, and so it rushes at incredible speed....

I still need to show Cara how to find me using the SPOT, road maps, and Google maps. I need to ship the first box. I still need to go to Costa Rica for ten days before hiking the Trail. Oh, have I not mentioned that? Yeah, it was going to be a trip to bond with each other, Cara and I, but then we decided to see if our parents also wanted to go. So we have a party of 6. I am finally getting my mom out of the country to become a world traveler!

On Wednesday I had one last beer with some co-workers/friends at Kloby's BBQ joint in Columbia. On Thursday after work the dog goes to a friends house, and then go to another friends place much closer to the airport for the evening.

The disparity between the two vacations will be shocking, but also needed. I want to completely unwind in C.R. - no planning, no worrying, no nothing. Some light hiking, good food and wine and beer, good company. Then come back and drive to GA with my brother and into the Wild I will go, he leaving me on the shores of this adventure. It seems to be rushing to me rather quickly, after how slow the last month has been, this is suddenly hurdling toward me at break-neck speed. This is the point where I begin to second guess things. Have I remembered everything? Will I be able to handle it?

Visions of being on a lonely wind-swept mountaintop, alone, in the face of a roaring storm, with no one to share the experience with is rather daunting. Undaunted, part of me - most of me - craves it. I want to stand tall, back straight, smile on my face despite difficulties, and shout into the gale that I am strong enough to withstand, that the strength I find in myself to complete this journey will pull me through any hard times I stumble into on the other side of this hike; my reinforced strength of Will can also bolster those around me that may need a shoulder to lean on.

Each night as I lay in bed I try to capture and appreciate just knowing Cara is gently sleeping close by, all I need to do is reach out and feel the warmth of her body. Soon it will be a missed feeling, a memory that I will be hiking towards, a future I will again be looking forward to.

Words of Wisdom from a Loony Bin

Costa Rica has been in the works for 6 months. But beyond reading Lonely Planet and reserving a house, and a car I haven't done too much thinking about it. Come what may. I know it will be great. An adventure, and lots of fun. However it is mostly over-shadowed by the anticipation of hiking the Appalachian Trail. I will be surprised and happy by the things that happen in this region of the world. I will take many brilliant pictures and I will blog about this trip and give one final trip report that isn't related to hiking the AT for awhile. Trip report forth coming!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Hiking the Appalachian Trail is Selfish

Most times when I go camping I have gone with others. Either as a group or with one or two others. I definitely enjoy the smaller the group. I plan accordingly, the larger the group the less miles the more waiting around pointlessly (from my POV, to them not pointless!). I am really looking forward to hiking solo. I want to wake when I want to wake, start hiking early and go until I want to stop. I think I will get more miles and push myself further and at a more appropriate speed.
Despite this I am so looking forward for friends to come and visit and hike with me. Jimmy is meeting me and hiking with me for 8 days through the Smokies. Dan is meeting me during the second week of May to hike for a couple weeks through Greyson Highlands in Southern Virginia. At that point I will be within range for Cara to come visit and hike on some weekends (most I hope!!). Even further along, Anthony will hopefully join me along the Blue Ridge or in Shenandoah for a few days. Then I expect Jim to come out for a weekend or two in Northern VA, MD, and Southern PA.
I will often have people come see me - with plenty of alone time in between. This way I can throttle my hike. Hike early and long while I'm alone and have a much more relaxed pace when I get visited.

One really slow guy would try and get in front of everyone after every break and then not move over to let you pass

Back to the group mentality - I hear a lot of people becoming part of a group when on the Trail and beginning to hike with people. I have no intention of this. I like interacting with groups, and I hope to see the same people night after night at the shelter area, and even passing or being passed by the same characters. But I won't come to depend on others. I feel like this limits me and compromises my ability to make my own decisions and Hike My Own Hike. When part of a group, I put the group first, meaning the slowest and most in pain. That is my nature. If I'm committed to the group, then everyone is important within that group. This is good for many situations, but that is not the point of this trip. I am hiking the Appalachian Trail for myself. I've already come to the conclusion the the AT is a very selfish endeavor. It is the ultimate 'doing for oneself' and ignoring the exact wishes of loved ones. I have a T-shirt that says it all: 'It's All About ME' (ME is inside the state of Maine and the postal abbreviation of the state). I have been selfish before, but in a defeating way. I have, for several years now, turned that around and been positive, but I also had this underlying want to do something completely for myself in a good way. And I love Cara so much for being able to support me in this. I can't wait to support her in whatever selfishness 'for her only' thing comes upon her during her life! All that being said, I don't want to be apart of a group that limits me, or makes me do for someone other than myself. (I will help a hiker in need if I come upon one. I will give food, moral support, or even carry their pack... to the nearest road!)

When my friends come out and visit I will be catering to them, because I want to share this adventure with them. I want to share my love of nature and the outdoors. And I will NEED the support and promise of seeing people I care about out there. I will be looking for other people to build relationships with while out there as well. I will be open to making life-long friends. I want to care, and already do, about people that are out there already, even if they don't know it. I'm rooting for these people I may never meet to win thru!

Small groups with good people are VERY fun!

Group dynamics are an odd thing as well. I often sit back and observe, and participate, but I normally try to be on the outskirts of a group with interaction with one or two people. Even while leading I do this. When groups divide and sides are taken I try to stay aloof, I do not want the drama. Some people crave drama as they crave the air they breathe! These people will create drama where there should be none. This class of people aren't bad people, they don't even know or realize that they do this intentionally and seemingly maliciously. I have seen it time and time again. Especially in the backpacking Meetup group. I figure even socially awkward people want to be part of groups, but for whatever reason, push people away. They go to these Meetups, and clash with other people that might be hard to be around, just like them. The Appalachian Trail is a very much solitary adventure. I perceive that those hikers able to hike and sleep alone do better and have a better chance of winning. I have read and seen some people on the Facebook AT page already get off because they can't be alone. One, D~, went with several people and the group split up the first day of the Trail - obviously the dynamic was discordant. D~ immediately attached herself to another guy that turned out to be nice and pack her pack and forget to put her cookset in it. Of course this was his fault so she said some mean things about him and ditched him. And immediately attached herself, post-haste, to yet another person. She gets lost going pee in the middle of the night and, according to her, would've wandered to her doom had it not been for her new friend. Soon after she quits the Trail. Promising to herself, and to anyone who will listen, that she will be back next year with a friend that will stick with her. I would like to see a study done on those that hike, an 'entrance poll' and a 'exit poll' of some kind, that asks some questions to get to the center of a hiker psychological profile. I feel the self-reliant are much much more likely to climb the other end, and the needy drop quicker than a ripe apple on a windy autumn day! This of course excludes injury, family, or monetary issues that can face any hiker on the Trail.

One guys' blog has him gushing. "I love it" "I hiked further than I thought" "This is awesome" That is the mentality to have, and the reason to be out there. Because the Appalachian Trail is such a selfish endeavor you shouldn't bother to be out there if you aren't loving most of it! Be selfish, don't be out there for anyone but yourself. On a hard day, use the disappointment others will feel in you to stay out there; ultimately that shouldn't be the deciding factor of staying out there, just a reason to follow the "Rules of Quitting"

Rules of Quitting:
1. Never quit on a gray day
2. Never quit on a rainy day
3. Never quit on a very hot day
4. Never quit until you have that same decisive feeling for seven days in a row
5. Never quit in town!
6. Take a couple zeroes, eat lots of calories
7. Hike a few 5-mile days and see if that makes a difference
8. Your over-active brain is not always your friend on the trail
9. Never quit because people are passing you
10. Never judge any one else's decision to quit or hike on
- Borrowed from a former Thru Hiker

I will miss this
Time grows short until I quit talking about it and start doing it!!
And this

Monday, March 12, 2012

Up Up and Away!

Cara and I went to REI attic sale and I found an MSR Hubba Hubba 2P tent for $50! The tent is damage free. After first thinking to have Cara bring it with her when she comes and visits, I made the call to replace my one person Mountain Hardware Sprite 1 for the MSR. I made this decision despite the tent being probably a bit less than a pound heavier. The fabric, itself, is the same or lighter, however the poles account for a bit more weight. What prompted my decision was the ability for the tent to be free-standing, and the ability to take down  or setup the tent rain-fly first. Even in torrential downpour I will be able to keep the inside of the tent relatively dry. And being free-standing I can carry less stakes, and set it up on platforms, or hard surfaces. I also like the idea of having a $330 tent for $50 - to prove to myself that the Trail can be hiked economically with "second-hand" gear. I returned the Sprite and foot-print and got Cara a Osprey pack that we fitted for her. The Aura 50 is a great pack, and it fits her very well. I can't speak more highly of Osprey.

My new home
To try and justify the extra pound I went through my pack item by item and weighed the pros and cons and rid myself of over a pound of things I probably won't need, including: 2 smaller sections of rope, 4 tent stakes, half of the chamois towel, long under pants, a mesh bag, 2 caribeaners, my Reactor sleeping bag liner, and the small funnel part of the Steripen pre-filter (I have wide mouth water bottles, so it's extraneous). I am at the bare minimum of what I am willing to take, everything else will be used or should be kept for emergencies. My sleeping bag is rated for 15 degrees, I have a down vest and extra pant and long sleeve shirt, if I'm chilled I can put on all my layers, and some other tricks I know to keep warm - I am beginning 'late' and won't run into weather colder than 15 at night, I will be surprised if I see that temperature. If I regret this, the next town will get my money for additional gear, it's in the budget.

I weighed my pack with all my gear and 3 days of food, it comes in at 33 pounds, add water to that to 36 pounds. A bit on the weighty side, but it will get better when I am firmly in summer time and I can switch out some gear. The first mail drop at Mountain Crossings with 8 days of food is going to be a tough slow climb up the next few mountains. I will definitely be eating the heavy meals right out of the gate - maybe 3 dinners on the first day and Clif bars for dinner later in the week!

Up in the Air! 

Cara flew a plan this weekend. We went to Potomac Airfield with a Google Offers coupon and, as she has always wanted to pilot a plane she sat up front. I sat in the back enjoyed the view. On the distant horizon I could see the mountains I will soon be on! Oh how those Appalachians call to me!
Cara did very well, and enjoyed herself, she flew around in circles within sight of the US 301 bridge over the Potomac river. The day was clear and sunny and perfectly calm, we really couldn't have asked for a better day to be up there. After we landed we went and hung out with a couple friends, Anthony and Liz, in Alexandria since we were so close.

Pilot Cara
We are keeping busy between now and when I leave for the Trail. Our time grows short and the ache of missing her is already there even though I'm with her. It's great that she has been so understanding of my special form of insanity! I will be looking forward to the day that the Trail leads me close enough that she can come and visit me easily - somewhere around where 64 hits 81 north to NY is not too far a distance for a weekend visit.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Sign of the Times

Cara and I went with Kaya on a 7.5 mile hike around a lake. Apparently the only hiking trail of any length here in St Mary's County! It was a fun trail, lake on our left at most times, and bogs at our feet. Much of the trail had puddles and crossed many streams. At the start of the trail, I found this:

The Sign of the Times!!
The trail around the lake was also blazed white. So I could feel like I was on the Appalachian Trail already. The spring Peepers were out in force, deafening in one spot. We knew the frogs were in the pond in front of us, but could not see a single one, the noise emenating from the grasses and water. Further along on the trail there were frogs eggs in a puddle in the trail, I'm rooting for those little guys to make it back up into the trees! We didn't see anyone for the first 5 miles, so I suggested we break a cardinal rule and allow the dog off leash just to see how she would react. She freakin' LOVED it. The sheer joy she had to run circles around us, jump in every puddle, and sniff out every bit of excrement in the area made her one happy pooch. She listened very well and came when called. Seeing the happiness on her face makes me understand a bit better why people so often let their dogs off lead. I don't agree with it if there is even a chance encounter with other people. When she comes and visits on the AT she will be kept on the leash, but on the back few miles of a lake with no one else around late-afternoon on a Thursday, it was fine and fun.

We Found Winter

Last week end Cara and I drove up to Ridgway Pennsylvania to go to the Chainsaw Carvers Rendezvous. We got to the dog-friendly Comfort Inn the night before and went to sleep fairly early. The next morning we went to the next town over to see my brother. Over night snow had fallen and was still falling, from 70 degree weather the day before in Maryland to below freezing temps in 'Up-State' PA - what a shock!! The event coordinators shafted my brother and the couple other carvers where he was placed. He was on the out-skirts of town over a bridge, down by the river, in his old Dodge van. The only commonality these carvers shared was that they were sleeping in their vehicles. All the other carvers got preferential treatment. Cara and I walked the town after catching up with my big bro. There were many people wandering around the town despite the cold harsh conditions. Had he been over there he would have sold out his stock. I was surprised, though, seeing many of the other carvers that seemed amateur, not too surprised, that he still made fairly good bank, despite being in BFE. There were some amazing carving there also. One carver had carved a horse so life likfe, the muscles rippled, the mane seemed to be stirred by the wind. The piece transcended carving to sculpture. The event ran the gambit, from sculptors to people that just picked up a chainsaw.

Over the river, not quite thru the woods. And more signs!
It was good to see Kevin and support him, I hope he appreciated it. It's a tough business he's in, and he really does do some lovely pieces.

We left Sunday as it was warming back up. Winter really has skipped Maryland. We have flowers coming up and blooming, and the tree out front will be blooming probably tomorrow! Spring is here, and I can't wait to walk north with it!

Preparation Updates

I have all my gear squared away, I have checked and triple checked my drop boxes. I have all the money I need saved. I have time off from work and a job waiting when I get back. Fortunately all my planning for the trip is done, now it's just waiting. I am taking four certification exams for work between now and when I leave, give my company one last boost as to why to want to keep me around! Plus it'll keep me occupied for the next month to study and pass all these tests!

Gear pictures for your enjoyment:

Compressed clothing bag

The tent 

Slack pack bag/bear bag and food bag

El Packa

Ground pad



Steripen - needs a better case so the button isn't randomly pressed

Pocket Rocket

'Mess-kit' add salt shaker to this