Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Shakedown Hike #1 / North Carolina Adverturetime: Pre(mis)adventure Preparations

We had a blast on the trail, and there is a lot to be told! I will be breaking up these posts according to our pre-hike preparations, the hike, and an overall gear impressions post! Check back for updates!

Thursday, July 18

Today was a boring, uneventful day at my desk job that was only made brighter by the fact that I was leaving an hour early in order to go home and begin packing for our impending trip up to North Carolina. Chase was supposed to be at home gathering all of our gear and treating our clothing with pemethrin and I had already done a small amount of preparation so I thought that I wouldn’t have much to do when I got home. It turned out that we still had a lot of things to take care of and we were not all together ready for what we were about to do! This was stressful since we had talked about leaving by 7am to make it to Standing Indian Campground after lunch on Friday.

My pack was not fully packed until around midnight, and at that point I realized that no matter how I adjusted and fiddled with my pack, it was not sitting comfortably at all. I felt much of the weight on my hips, but the pack couldn’t get close enough to my back to prevent the shoulder straps from cutting into my collarbones. This was not okay. I tried everything over the next hour to get my pack to sit correctly on my frame. I reorganized the load with no luck. I adjusted all of my straps and the height of the harness itself, fiddling with different combinations of lengths but it was to no avail. Frustrated and defeated and more than a little grumpy, I finally decided to just go to bed an deal with it in the morning.

I did not want to start our adventure grumpy and with an ill-fitting pack so thankfully a decent night’s sleep changed my attitude for the better.

Friday, July 19

We awoke around 9am and slowly got the car packed while discussing our options for the day. We had already planned to stop at the Patagonia in Atlanta to exchange a pair of defective boots Chase had purchased on Steep and Cheap for me, so we decided to also stop at one of the REI’s in the Atlanta area, figuring that they would be more knowledgeable of my situation and needs than our local Jacksonville store. With a delicious smoothie for breakfast, we set off on the 6+ hour drive to Atlanta.

The Patagonia ended up being located in a little sketchy strip-mall area, but we were happy to make it there! Their customer service was phenomenal! The girl who helped us exchange my boots was extraordinarily helpful. She let us exchange the size after I tried the boots on again in the store and decided they were not the proper fit, but they didn’t have the next size up in stock, so she called Patagonia Boston and had them ship the correct size to our apartment at no charge! It was really incredible considering the boots are not even being made anymore and we did not even order them directly from Patagonia. What an awesome company!

Next we ventured to the closest REI and proceeded to spend two and half hours or more trying on multiple brands of packs and different combinations of sizes after it was determined that my Osprey Ariel was just a tad too small. I was between sizes, not quite small and not quite medium, and it was endlessly frustrating. I tried every brand with a pack that fit my specifications multiple times, debating over each one. The only bag that seemed to fit better than the Osprey that I had already was the Gregory Deva 60. It took a little bit of getting used to the intense lumbar support, but the pack fit my frame very nicely when adjusted properly. Chase and I wanted to test out one more combination of a medium harness on the small Osprey bag, but the REI we were in mistakenly only had a large harness for the medium Ariel pack. We decided to go ahead and see if the other REI had the correct medium harness for me to try out. We also decided to buy the Gregory pack in case they didn’t have it at the other REI (which was clear across town and it was rush hour) and if the medium harness did not help my situation. I’m glad we did because the other REI had the medium harness but not the medium bag to go with it, and the combination of medium harness/small bag was not working. So I spent $330 on a new pack and got a store credit for my Osprey since it was a gift. It was hard swallowing the cost of this gear change, but I’m sure we will spend that money on something else… like a Palisades Dog Pack!

It was now after 9pm and Chase had spent the last 30 minutes trying to find a cheap hotel for us to stay in, since we were obviously not going to be hitting the trail that day. We ended up booking at America’s Best Value Inn in Clayton, GA, and had a lovely night sleep. It was easy to sleep well knowing that my pack issues had been solved and that we would be finally setting foot on the trail the very next day!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Hey y'all!

We just finished up our vacation in North Carolina! Our shakedown hike went well, but I am too tired to post about it now. Maybe tomorrow or the next day. :)

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Friday, July 12, 2013

Book Review: "A Walk in the Woods" by Bill Bryson


A Walk in the Woods was the first book I decided to read in preparation for our upcoming thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. This book is praised as the inspiration of many a thru-hike, but I have to say the only way that this book inspired me at all was to grind my teeth in frustration.

A Walk in the Woods is a self-self-proclaimed rediscovery of America via the Appalachian Trail from someone who has not lived in the country in twenty years. After preparing for his expedition with a quick visit to the local outfitter and begging old friends to come with him, Bryson and his friend Katz set out on the trail, only to have misadventure after misadventure. Bryson and Katz eventually realize that they are in no way, shape, or form going to finish hiking the Appalachian Trail. They part in Front Royal and agree to meet back up at the start of the 100-Mile Wilderness one month later. Bryson takes the opportunity during this down time to drive along the Appalachian Trail and section hike. Once he and Kats are reunited, they make it to West Chairback Pond in Maine after Katz gets lost in the woods, and they decide to call it quits. They never get to even see Katahdin. 

Now, I am a big supporter of the idea of hike your own hike (HYOH), but my god how can anyone call this trip a “rediscovering of America?” At best, this book is a self high-five for taking a chance on a once in a lifetime adventure, full of personal opinions muddled in sarcasm and not much on his actual experiences hiking.

Bill Bryson is a sarcastic ass, and while I can appreciate some of his humor, I was mostly shaking my head in dismay. And Katz. Katz. I wanted to throw Katz off of a mountain just as he chucked half of the contents of his pack off a mountain. How these two men talk about and treat women is probably the most disgusting thing I’ve read in my life.

The number one thing that bothered my about this book was the manner in which Bryson flip-flops between wanting to preserve the nature surrounding trail and wanting to see it more developed or “restored” to farmland. He does this several times, especially through the Smokies. His prose reads as if he is an expert on national parks or conservation or preservation efforts or “how things should be,” but I highly doubt his expertise in any of these areas. This book would be infinitely more enjoyable if Mr. Bryson didn’t inject his own personal opinions on certain matters into every single paragraph. He is excruciatingly negative. Everything could be done better or differently, and he doesn’t hesitate to say so. I have to say I’m not used to this sort of subjective writing, as I’ve spent the last 5 years of my undergrad reading objective scientific papers.

I enjoyed almost nothing of this book; not even his descriptions of his interactions with people on the trail. Again, he has almost nothing nice to say. Every interaction is written in a way that makes whomever he is speaking with sound like a backwoods idiot. This is a sad disservice to the people of the Appalachian Trail, as I’ve heard from so many the people you meet are one of the great gifts of the trail.

I will concede that this book tends to give people an appreciation for what it takes to hike the Appalachian Trail or to do any extended backpacking, and that is something I am grateful for.

I encourage anyone to read the book and form their own opinion, but if you’re looking for a book that will show you what the trail is like, this is not the book for you.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Book reviews

I’m in the process of writing a book review of “A Walk in the Woods.”

When I say “I’m in the process,” what I really mean is “I have a draft of a post saved with nothing but the title ‘book review’ and I probably won’t actually write anything for another month.”

Anyway, if I can manage this, I will be writing book reviews for all of the books I’ve read on the Appalachian Trail so far. Hopefully this is something people will appreciate!

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Shakedown Hike #1

… is approaching quickly! Too quickly almost!

Chase and I will be hiking the popular Nantahala Basin Loop trail, which encompasses about 18 miles of the AT from Deep Gap to Glassmine Gap. I found this hike on Everytrail and it seemed to be the perfect hike for what we needed: a multi-day loop with a variety of terrain. We have a few options regarding the actual route of the hike, and I’d like to present those options here:

Option 1:
Long Branch Trail from Standing Indian Campground to meet the AT at Glassmine Gap (2.0 miles). Take the AT south to Albert Mountain, with the option to camp on the summit (3.5 miles), or continue to either Betty Creek Gap (5.7 miles) or Carter Gap (9.4 miles) depending on how we feel. I’m expecting a short day and the 5.5 miles to Albert might be enough to exhaust us completely. The next day, we could hike from the summit of Albert to Carter Gap (6.2 miles) , Betty Creek Gap to Beech Gap (6.9 miles), or from Carter Gap to Standing Indian (6.1 miles). Day 3 would encompass either Carter Gap to Standing Indian (6.1 miles) , Beech Gap to Standing Indian (2.9 miles), or taking the Lower Ridge Trail from the summit of Standing Indian back to the campground (4.2 miles). The 4.2 miles from the summit of Standing Indian would make for a short half-day hike on the last day. This would be 22 miles total over possibly 3-4 days!

Option 2:
Kimsey Creek Trail from Standing Indian Campground to Deep Gap (3.7 miles). Take the AT north to Standing Indian Mountain (2.4 miles) with the option to camp on Standing Indian. We could also push on to Carter Gap another 6.1 miles from the summit of Standing Indian, but I doubt we will. From there, Day 2 would be Standing Indian to Carter Gap (6.1 miles), or Carter Gap to Albert Mountain (6.2 miles). Albert Mountain to Glassmine Gap is only 3.2 miles, and the exit trail along Long Branch is only 2.0 miles, making for a short Day 3/4. This trail route is 23.6 miles!

Option 3:
Lower Ridge Trail straight up to Standing Indian Mountain (4.2 miles), where we could camp or press on another 2.9 miles to Beech Gap. On Day 2, from Standing Indian to Carter Gap is 6.1 miles, and our hike would be much of the same as Option 2 for the final miles. If we make it to Beech Gap, Betty Creek Gap is 6.9 miles away, and our third day would encompass the steep climb up Albert Mountain (2.5 miles) and camping at Long Branch Shelter (4.9 miles total from Betty Creek), and a short day from Long Branch Shelter back to Standing Indian Campground (2.8 miles). This would add up to a total mileage of 21.7 miles!

I’m personally leaning toward Option #2! This option will show us the trail as we will see it when we set off next year, with the opportunity to summit two mountains and camp on each. The mileage is also uniform, which I think I will benefit from as this will be my first backpacking trip.

AWOL’s A.T. Guide (2013 edition) shows the terrain for this section hike on page 16, which will be very convenient for us. I highly recommend this book to anyone hiking the Appalachian Trail, thru- or not.


Overall I’m really stoked to finally get out on the trail and test out my gear. I really wish we could bring the dog, but the logistics didn’t work out this time since we will be spending time after our hike with friends and family.

I will be posting lots of pictures and probably initial gear reviews after the hike!