Monday, February 27, 2012

Looking back - What I have learned over the last couple years on the trail.

It's funny to look back on some of the pictures of my first hikes on the Appalachian Trail. I had a lack of knowledge and a lack of decent gear. I had done a couple of 7-10 day hikes on the Pacific Coast Trail as a kid and always dreamed of hiking the AT. Now living in Virginia I had my opportunity to set my now aging and weary feet on that very path I had dreamed about. Well I paired up with Kris Otten, a neighbor, friend, and fellow firefighter who shared the same desire to spend some time out in no mans land. I was well equipped for car camping and the only gear I had reflected that very well. My sleeping bag was a huge Coleman bag that was part of a pair made to be zipped together for a couple to sleep in. This thing was a monster! It weighed about 5-6 lbs, and even when rolled up was the size of my youngest son. Needless to say, it didn't fit in my pack so I attached it to the bottom. Seemed like a good idea at the time.
So that big green thing in my first sleeping bag, rolled in a tarp. It hung down to the backs of my knees.
Well, at any rate I had some tents... some 3 man, 5 man, crap... those aren't going to work. Well I wasn't about to lug around some atrocious, oversized tent behind me in a Radio Flyer so I did what every other American would do.... google! Well I had a budget inversely proportionate to the size of my sleeping bag so when I can along this deal from Walmart online for $20 + 1 penny for shipping I could not pass it up. Once I got it, I was pretty excited. It was a small one man solo tent. Seemed legit and so into the pack it went. I realized sometime about 4AM the first morning that what I had was not a tent - but a high powered condensation maker. Being wet, at 4AM in 45 degree weather was not mentioned anywhere on the box this thing came in. Well it was not rain proof either so I ended up using a system of wrapping the whole thing up like a burrito in an oversized tarp. If I was going to be wet, I wanted to be warm!.
Here is my burrito tent (left) in the rain and mud

Hanging my tent and sleeping bag out to dry from a night in the condensation machine

Cooking was not going to be a problem. I had a pot and Kris had a camp stove. I think his stove was a hand-me-down from his dad or great granddad. Hard so say, it was THAT old. My beloved pot was the one I used many years for car camping. It was large and non-stick. What is wasn't was backpack sized and lightweight. Aside from the weight and size of these 2 items, they served us well.
Note the massive size of our cookwear.
Much of the rest of our gear followed this same theme. Boots were $15 at Wally World (fell apart after 30 miles), clothes cotton shirts and cut off jean shorts (just kidding!), and food was heavy and bulky. After I talked him out of packing fishing poles, Kris even brought a Rambo sized knife in case he had to hunt for bear, lol. I wish I still had my first gear list for a good laugh. We weighed our packs before we set food on the second morning and tipped the scales at 58lbs! (that was after consuming that huge summer sausage seen above). Other notable items of backbreaking silliness; a hatchet, a folding tree saw, a GPS, a medical kit suited for vietnam, and a change of clothes for "in town". I wish I was making this stuff up. We earned the trail names of "Knot Here" (as I was never around the house due to all our serious planning and packing) and "Rusty Nuts" (cause the sound Kris made as he waddled down the trail with all that clanking from his pack).

What I did have was a strong back, willingness to experiment, and a desire to become more adept at backpacking. Since then we have tossed out all the stuff we can live without for a few days at a time and replaced many of our items with smaller, lighter, and more efficient equipment.

The Burrito Tent / Condensation Machine has now been replaced with a Hammock Tent (HH UL A-Sym Zip), the cookware with a ultra-light pot set, plastic sporks, and a MSR pocket rocket small enough to fit in.. well, your pocket. Boots upgraded to nice Merrel Moabs, sleeping bag is now an ultra-light mummy bag (that fits INSIDE my pack), among better clothing and lighter easy to make meals. My pack now weighs 22lbs without food or water (30ish fully loaded). Our first hike was 3 days with an average of 8 miles a day. We are about to set off on a five day hike covering up to 25 miles in a single day.

MSR stove set and Bugaboo pot,

Hennessey Hammock Tent

Max supervising the packing process. He has learned to sniff out un-necessary weight.

Planning has been a big factor in getting our pack weights down. Everything we take gets stripped to the bare essentials, weighed, and logged for further evaluation. Forums such as and have been a huge factor in getting information and questions answered.

I don't regret a single item we ever packed or a footstep we ever made. It has all been a part of the learning process and to me, that has been half the fun.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Day dreaming of sping hiking

Well, as spring begins to show itself I find myself longing for the trail again. Since my last hike I have upgraded from my crappy $20 solo tent of doom to a new Hennessy Hammock Ultralight Backpacker A-Sym Zip. I have set it up in my backyard a few times just to get the "hang" of it and figure out how well I will be suited for this in place of grounding myself in a tent like I have been doing for 30 years. All in all, I am very pleased. I have caught a couple naps in it and find it very comfortable down to about 40 degrees. I am working on some type of radiant padding that will shield my butt from the convective loss of heat from the bottom side of the hammock.

So with this new found excitement I am planning a SOBO hike through the Shenandoah National Park with 'Rusty Nuts' at the end of March. The weather could really go either way as this winter has been more unpredictable than ever before. 60 degrees one day then 5" of snow the next. We are looking at a 5 day trip averaging about 15-25 miles a day which is pushing the limits for my daily mileage. I am hoping with the cooler temps and more subtle trail conditions we should have no issues in achieving that distance. I am also hoping to get a food resupply or cache halfway through as we pass within a few miles of my house. What's that?... Yeah, I'm smelling steak that night too!

Well as this is my first post to this blog, or any other for the matter, I will leave it cut short for now to test out the feasibility of updating this via my iPhone.