Preparations

Sunset from Clingman's Dome Great Smoky Mountains National Park Tennessee.
Sunset from Clingman’s Dome Great Smoky Mountains National Park Tennessee.

Though I have been thinking and dreaming for a while about a doing a thru-hike on the Appalachian Trail, I didn’t ever really think it would become a reality. Then, the topic came up again and I decided to talk it over with Bud (my husband). I was very surprised at how supportive he was of the idea. The option of him hiking with me is out due to his knee problems. One thing led to another, and he said, “Well, better to do it sooner, rather than later.” So…here I am, planning for my 2016 thru-hike! He has been incredibly encouraging.

In the last two weeks I have spent a great amount of time researching gear on the Internet. I am (of course) trying to keep costs down as much as possible. Though it is important for all hikers to keep their pack weight low, I feel like it’s imperative that I, especially, keep the weight down since I am built so small. Unfortunately, lighter gear is usually more expensive. Bud has budgeted money for my gear (based on what others have said gear will cost.) The figure I have seen estimated was around $2,000. I’m hoping to keep it much lower than that, while not sacrificing quality (or low weight) too much.

Living out in the sticks does not leave me with a lot of options to get gear, other than ordering online. For my shoes, I have decided to go with ‘trail runners’ rather than traditional hiking boots. I have ordered, and had to return THREE PAIRS of trail runners due to them being too small (mostly just not wide enough.) That has been very frustrating. So far, I have tried:

Keen Targhee II WP Hiking Shoes

Zamberlan 130 SH Crosser GTX RR Hiking Shoes

Salomon Women’s XR Mission Running Shoes

All of these are just too narrow, and even if I ordered a size up, they would STILL be too narrow and would probably slip on the heel. Since walking is all I am going to be doing on the hike, it’s important that I get a shoe that fits right. I am thinking about giving up on ordering shoes online. You can just never tell if a shoe is going to be wide enough without trying them on, unless they are sold in widths (and very few seem to be.) Postage to return things that don’t fit is too expensive. It was around $15.00 to return one pair of shoes! Sorry to sound like I am complaining, but I am in shock. I think I am going to drive to Little Rock (almost a three hour drive one way). It’s the closest place that will have a decent choice of hiking shoes, clothes and gear.

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Copper Spur 2  (Photo courtesy of rei.com)

I ordered my tent, a Big Agnes Copper Spur I. It is an ultra-light tent. I got a great deal on it on Amazon. It was so easy to set up, and was, indeed, very light! Then, the other day, I saw that REI had their Big Agnes Copper Spur 2 (a 2 person tent) for only $5 dollars more than I paid for the one-person version, and the weight was not all that much more. It will give me more room, should I want to keep my gear inside the tent. Also, if Bud wants to go with me on a pre-thru-hike trip to try it out, we can both fit in the tent. If the Copper Spur 2 turns out to be as great as I think it is, I will return the Copper Spur I.

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(Photo courtesy of Rei.com)

I have also ordered and received my backpack. It is an REI Flash Pack 58. It is an internal frame, lightweight pack. It was on sale, it was blue (my favorite color) and it had some great reviews. I also like that it has so many outside pockets. I hope it will serve me well!

I have been walking here at home as much as I possibly can. We are in the Ozark Mountains here, so there are plenty of hills to help get me into shape. I bought a pedometer which tells me how many steps I take, how many miles I travel, how many calories I am burning and how many MPH I am walking. Pretty cool. I have been doing 5-6 miles at a time, but not every day.

It is surreal to think that this time next year I will be thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. It’s all I think about lately and I’m so excited I’m about ready to bust!

~Arkansas Traveler~

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You’re only as old as you feel, right?

Talkin’ to myself and feelin’ old
Sometimes I’d like to quit
Nothin’ ever seems to fit…


This is my online journal. Though I will talk about gear and stuff, this is the blow by blow of my thoughts and feelings, plus all of the technical aspects of the hike-pre, during and maybe post. (We’ll see. I hear the aftermath of the hike and integrating back into society is a killer. So that might be kind of interesting to jot down. I might need the therapy.)

I’m 50 years old. Most of the time, I don’t even think about ‘age’. It doesn’t usually bother me, but lately…it’s been on my mind a lot. I certainly don’t FEEL like I’m 50…but 50 is almost 55 and 55 is almost 60 (and so forth and so on.) I have gray hair, yes. It is my choice and I don’t regret growing out the color, and I like it. That’s really  not the deal.

I’ve read that there are ‘retirees’ on the trail, and quite frankly, I have seen a LOT of trail journals for them. The other majority are the young’ns in their 20’s. Not many in between. I guess I just feel like I’m in the Twilight Zone for ‘age’.

What kind of hiking clothes am I supposed to buy? The athletic clothing is a mystery to me, anyway. I’ve never had to wear them. Base Layers. Middle Layers. Medium weight. Light weight. WOOL! I’ve never worn wool in my life, that I remember! I just don’t think I’m going to look very cute strutting around in my gray hair and woolen long undies. Apparently, that’s what people wear in camp after a day of hiking when it’s cold.

I’m really young at heart! Still… I’ve been thinking a lot about the time a couple of years ago that my Dad told me that I was no Spring Chicken anymore. My DAD! Think about that. (Selah.) I felt like I had been socked in the gut! That was really a reality check for me, and the point at which I began to think that maybe I was getting kind of ‘old’.

I recently joined a hiking forum. I have really been feeling the part, lately, and excited about my upcoming hike.  I even donated $10 so I could edit my posts and have a custom Avatar picture. (The hiker cartoons they had on there to choose from were kind of lame.)  I posted a picture of Eula (one of my favorite chickens) for my Avatar. So I posted on the 2016 Thru Hiker’s thread…basically you answer some questions about your hike (When you are hiking, which direction, trail name, etc.) There was also a place to put anything else you want people to know. I posted all about myself and why I wanted to do the hike. Later, I decided it was dumb and deleted that part. It sounded like I was trying to hard or something.

I bought a hiking skirt on Amazon. Believe it or not, hiking skirts are actually popular these days. I was excited about that, because not only are they cool, but there is one other VERY important thing to know about hiking skirts. YOU CAN PEE KIND OF DISCRETELY WHEN YOU HAVE TO GO IN THE WOODS. Normally, we women have to squat with our naked fanny hanging out in all it’s glory. (I hear it’s not all that uncommon to think you’ve found a hidden place off the trail to ‘go’, and then find that there is a switchback right in front of the place you thought was deep in the woods! Along comes a hiker and you are exposed! Gotcha! And so I thought that even though someone might catch me peeing in the woods, at least my fanny would be covered when I did it.

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So…I ordered a hiking skirt. I thought it was a cute one. It was a longer one (to the knees)…because even though I’m in pretty good shape, I don’t think I can really pull off a shorter one at my age. Someone had started a thread about hiking skirts on the forum, so I posted a link to the hiking skirt that I had ordered. That went over like a lead balloon. No responses. I have found, though, that I pretty much tend to be a ‘thread killer’ on forums. Why I keep trying, I’ll never know. I guess it could have had something to do with the fact that I had a chicken for my avatar.

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Well, my skirt arrived and Bud happened to walk through when I was trying it on. I was feeling kind of cute, and pleased with how it fit (though it was a little longer on me since I’m short).  Anyway, Bud called me a Mennonite! I’m sure he was just teasing me, but still… I let it slide and explained how hiking skirts were popular these days. I tried it on again today before I took my walk and looked in the mirror. Mennonite. Definitely Mennonite…not that there is anything WRONG with the Mennonites. Of the ones I know, they are very nice! I admire them, actually…but I am not a Mennonite…nor do I want to look like a Mennonite-Wanna-Be (even though there might be a bit of truth to that.)

I really wanted to wear that skirt today for my walk, but I was too self-conscious…especially since our ‘hood is densely populated with Mennonites.  I just felt awkward. On a positive note, I walked 8 miles today…in my blue jean cut-offs rolled up just above the knee. It took me 2 hours. Unfortunately, on one downhill slope, my ankle sort of wobbled and cratered underneath me. Everything felt like it was in slow-motion. I landed on my knees. The momentum of being on a decline carried me down further onto my hands…and then…*BOOP*…you guessed it. Down on the ol’ noggin. The first thing I did when I realized I had fallen and actually fallen so badly that I bumped my head,  was to look around. I was flooded with relief when I realized that there was no one around.  I felt a little shaken, but I was okay. I could still walk.  It scared me a little. Things like that can END a thru-hike if you are on the trail…especially for us old people. Thankfully,  I only had little scratches on my knees and one on the left side of my forehead. I washed it off in the creek on the way home. I guess it’s a good thing I wasn’t wearing the Mennonite skirt, even though it was just me and the birds and squirrels. It WAS on the gravel road, though. Anyone could have come down that road at that time, you know.

I have aches and pains now. I try not to go on and on about them, because well…you know…nobody wants to hear about it when you get to a ‘certain age’. I haven’t been able to determine whether the aches and pains are age related or otherwise.

In spite of all of this, I’m still determined to do this. For those of you who doubt me, I will not be deterred! I WILL hike the Appalachian trail, all the way to Katahdin. I come from hard-headed, strong-willed, tough stock. Who cares what I look like while I’m doing it? Really?! I’m going to HMOH (Hike My Own Hike) no matter what I look like or what people may think. Devil May Care!

A Trip To REI

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If you haven’t done much hiking before, you wouldn’t realize what a learning curve there is when you start hiking, especially if you are preparing for an extended hike. It’s more than just ‘a long walk’. You will be on the trail for months, and everything you own will have to be carried in a backpack. You will be exposed to the elements (rain, wind, snow, cold, heat, etc.) and will be living in the woods for most of that time. Your ‘house’ will be your tent or a three-sided shelter, your food will have to be lightweight and easy to prepare, and your feet and body will bear the burden of all of that weight.

I have been researching to learn everything I can about hiking and gear. Every different piece of equipment and maker of hiking gear have ardent fans, and they are very convincing on why their chosen piece of equipment is best; however, what works for one person, may not work for others. The mantra I keep hearing is ‘hike your own hike.’

A big part of this journey (for me) is researching and making my own decisions for my own trip. I’ve never been a great decision-maker, and have most often left decisions to others. Now, I’m in a place where I am the ‘one and only’ decision maker and I’ll have to live with the consequences of my decisions.

I have ordered and returned so many things already! I keep wavering back and forth and this is after a LOT of research. Sometimes I feel like I am watching an episode of, ’48 Hours’ where I am being convinced that one person is the culprit. After the commercial break, I am convinced it is someone else who did it. Then, I go back to thinking the first person presented is IT. Thus it has been with hiking gear for me. Every argument I read for a particular product has pros and cons. It’s all a matter of choice and what will work best for me. Therein lies the problem, since I’ve not had much experience hiking.

After I received the backpack (Flash Pack 65) I ordered online, I became convinced it was too big. The shoulder straps were hovering about 1-2 inches above my shoulders. I also thought that my shoes were not giving me enough support. Bud, my husband, (who has been my biggest advocate and cheerleader through all of this) suggested that we go to REI. He was willing to make the four hour drive to get to the nearest REI to us in Kansas City.

Long story short, I got a lot of advice and help at REI, not to mention personal fitting for what I believe will be a great backpack. After my experience, I don’t see how anyone can really order their first backpack online.  It turns out that I am borderline in sizing, between a Small and Extra Small. There were three backpacks I was going to try: The Osprey Ariel 65, REI Crest Trail 65, and Flash Pack 65 (in a smaller size).

After being measured, I first tried on the Osprey Ariel in an XS, and it felt GREAT! I was almost sold on it, and then the guy helping me suggested that I try the Osprey Aura 65 AG. He did not have an XS in stock, so I tried on the Small. I also have to add here, that they had sand bags of certain weights which they stuffed in the packs so I could feel what it would be like with the weight I intended to carry in my pack. It was VERY helpful.

The Osprey Aura AG has ‘anti-gravity’ technology which makes you feel like you are carrying a lighter load, AND I COULD REALLY TELL THE DIFFERENCE. I was amazed at the difference between the Ariel and Aura. I was sold on the Aura AG 65 right then and there.

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The guy who was helping me felt that I needed an Extra Small, but since they did not have it in stock, it had to be ordered and shipped to me. When it arrived, I immediately put it on, and something felt horribly wrong. Even without weight in the pack, it was hurting my shoulders.

Bud strongly felt that we should go back to REI (another four hour trip, one-way.) He was thinking that maybe it just needed to be adjusted. Although I was reluctant to make the drive again, I was thinking the same thing. I hated to make another long drive. Add to that, we had to be back in time to lock the chickens up before dark…so we made plans for another long, quick trip.

This time, a different guy helped me, and he tried and tried to make the Extra Small work with different adjustments, but it just felt awful. He finally let me try on the Small again, and I let out a big sigh of relief. “Ahhh….this feels like the hip belt is resting where it was made to go!” I said. It was so much different! The hip belt rested around the top of my hips, and the shoulder straps were no longer cutting into the tops of my shoulders and chest. The weight of the pack was where it should have been…on my hips, rather than on my waist and my shoulders.

The Extra Small felt like some kind of mutant baby was clinging to my back like a spider. The Small felt like a tightly swaddled papoose on my back.

The moral of the story is: When looking for your first backpack, and you are inexperienced, go to a store where they can fit you for a pack and you can actually try them on! The sizes seem to vary with different models, even for the same maker.

I was very impressed with REI. All of the workers there were a veritable fount of knowledge and experience. I also tried on yet more shoes while I was there the first time. The girl who helped me was a hiker, and when she found out the weight of my pack, she suggested a more sturdy shoe. I tried on some Keen Targhee II’s (which I really liked), but then she suggested that I *just try* another shoe which supported the ankles more. I had been opposed to boots because I didn’t want a really heavy shoe. They had a fake boulder there in the shoe department which I was able to climb to see how the shoes would work on the terrain I’ll be hiking on.

I have been a little worried in the back of my mind about not having any ankle support, since I rolled my ankle last year. I’ve heard that once you roll or sprain your ankle, you are much more likely to do it again.

So…I got another pair of shoes:

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ASOLO Fission GV Hiking Shoes

These are not as light as trail runners, but they are much lighter than traditional, leather hiking boots. They give my ankles much more support, they feel like there is much more support on the bottom of my shoe. I don’t feel rough terrain as much (like walking on the gravel road here at home), they have great traction, my toes have plenty of wiggle room, my toes don’t even come close to hitting the tip of my shoes. I have hiked 6-9 miles about 5 times in them, and I don’t have any hot spots, no blisters, no rubbing, no squished toes, etc., and they aren’t even broken in yet! They are also water-proof.

REI allows returns for up to one year, no matter what the reason or condition of the item. Though these shoes are more expensive than trail runners, I’ve read that trail runners have to be replaced at least four times on a thru-hike. According to reviews, there are people who have had these ASOLO’s for 12 or more years and they still look almost new, with no tears or signs of wearing.

I’m still learning how to pack my backpack, and I’m already trying to cut my pack weight. I’ve taken one walk with the backpack with all of my stuff (minus food) and it seems really heavy to me. I made an EXCEL spreadsheet with the weight of all of my items and it was about 17 pounds. (This includes the weight of the pack which is 4 pounds, 2 ounces.) I want to get a scale to actually weigh the pack, because I’m not sure this is correct. It’s all based on weights listed on websites, not actual measured weight.

On that first walk with my pack, I had about 4.5 pounds of water (2 Quart Bottles.) I’m figuring that food for 5-6 days will add another 10 pounds and I think I will be miserable with that amount of weight, based on my first walk with the pack at 21.5 pounds (and I’m assuming my weight on paper was correct.)

We have some ‘hills’ around here that are pretty respectable as hikes go. They aren’t easy. I went about 5 miles with the loaded pack. I came back with a beet red face, and Bud looked worried and told me to sit in front of a fan and ‘recover’. LOL. When I add my food to the backpack -right now- the estimate of my loaded pack will be 31.5 pounds. I’m 5’2″and I don’t know if this amount of weight is typical for someone my height to carry. I think I weigh about 120 pounds, but I might be a more.

I’m looking to try to cut some of the pack weight. As I think about hiking 15-20 miles a day, I can’t imagine carrying that much weight (the 21.5 pounds of my pack is without food.) It was do-able on even ground, but climbing the hills was tough. When my pack is up to 31.5 pounds…I’m just not sure how it will be.

Maybe you get use to carrying that much weight as you get stronger and hike more. I don’t know. If anyone has any advice or suggestions, I’m open to hear it!

I have been trying to connect with a hiking club in this area in hope that I can do some ‘shake-down’ hikes and get some practical, hands-on advice. My first ‘outing’ will be camping either in front of our house, or if I’m really brave, somewhere on our land. We have about 30 acres deep in the heart of the Ozarks. It’s wild enough that we have seen deer, Elk, wild turkeys and pigs. Some of our neighbors have seen a black bear. I have never camped alone, so camping in our front yard will be a big first step for me. I want to try out all of my gear (set up my tent, cook some food, pack everything up, etc.) before I take a real over-night hike.

Conquering the Fear of Looking Like a Nerd

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I have been training for my hike since last Summer. I walk on a gravel road that runs by my house. We are basically out in the ‘sticks’, but you would be surprised how much traffic a gravel road out in the sticks can have at times.

I was very hesitant to start hiking with my backpack. Why? I was afraid of looking like a nerd. I would no longer be just someone out for a walk on a gravel road out in the sticks (which garnered plenty of attention on it’s own,) but walking around in these hills with a huge backpack on my person just seemed even more conspicuous. I’m a wallflower, and I don’t like to be noticed. I just want to do my thang, and get it over, without a lot of hullabaloo.

We live on the road, and we are in the minority here in our ‘hood. Most people live off of the road a piece. When we first started looking for houses, I didn’t want to live on the road…it was too conspicuous for this introvert; however, it has turned out to be a blessing in disguise. We’ve met a lot more people than most who live out here, simply because people stopped by to meet us…since we were on the road. In fact, I know more of my neighbors on this rural road out in the ‘sticks’ (even though the closest ones live 1/4 to 1/2 mile away) than I knew in my house in the ‘burbs where we were packed in like sardines.

I have met so many MORE of my neighbors (and some people ‘just passing through’) by walking on my gravel road. Often, we just wave, but I found that more people stopped to talk during my walks when I started wearing my backpack. It’s sort of a ‘conversation piece,’ and gives them a reason to stop when driving past. It has been a great confidence booster. I forget, sometimes, that not everyone wants to (or can) strap on a heavy backpack and walk these hills. Walking these hills without a backpack is a feat in itself. These hills are not for the faint of heart (or the ‘out of shape’.)

‘Support’ for my hike has come from the most unexpected people. We have a strong ‘Plain People’ presence in our community and in our ‘hood. ‘Plain People’ is a catchall term to describe the different religious sects of people who dress plainly. They can be Mennonites, Amish, Quakers, etc. Though their religious beliefs vary, they all believe in living and dressing plainly.

The Plain People in my neighborhood have been among the MOST supportive of my hike; two ladies, in particular. They are also among the few who I’ve seen actually walking these roads. They always ask me lots of questions about my hike, and though they have the same concerns as most people (mostly for my safety) I think they think it’s a good thing.

I have even been invited to stay with the relatives of one lady (who are also Plain People) when I get to Pennsylvania. They have farm that is very close to the Appalachian Trail. She said I could stay overnight, get a shower and have a home-cooked meal. I have the utmost respect for these people, so the thought of getting to stay with them was quite  a treat. I said, “Are you SURE? …because I would LOVE to do that!” She said, “Are you kidding? An Appalachian Trail hiker? It’s not every day that they have a chance to host someone like that.” She said it in such a way that said I would be viewed with celebrity status simply for thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. Now, I have a contact number and plans to stay there. I know she thinks enough of my hike, that she has mentioned talking with other relatives about it, and mentioned that they, too, would like to do a thru-hike someday.

What has surprised me the most in hiking around here, is the admiration I have amongst the men-folk. One of the men I’ve talked to was born and raised here, and he was full of questions. When I first started walking that far toward his property, he would pass by in his beat up old truck EVERY time I went walking. We would just wave, and he would look at me with suspicious eyes. You have to understand that strangers are looked at with a wary eye in these parts, and people really watch over their property out here. There are no strangers around here, and if you are a stranger, you shouldn’t be here.

After I started wearing my backpack to walk, he finally stopped when driving by and started asking paranoid questions about my backpack. Once it was established that I was a neighbor from down the road, and I was going to hike the Appalachian Trail (and this was confirmed to him by a neighbor close to us who knew us well), he loosened up a bit and started asking lots of questions about the hike. He was in amazement, and said he would never do something like that. He asked if I was afraid. He said HE would be afraid. He asked if I was taking weapons, if I was going alone, if I was going to sleep in the woods, was I afraid of animals, etc. Several walks later, I saw him, and he mentioned that he and his wife had rented the movie, “Wild,”…probably because they knew I was going to do something similar. This is a good thing, I think, because it never would have occurred to me that a woman could do something like this if I had not read the book. (Still haven’t seen the movie.)

There is an ex-military guy who did a tour in Afghanistan, who lives out here. He has stopped to talk when driving by. We’ve compared notes about hiking with backpacks, and I even picked up a few tips from him. He, too, has the utmost respect for what I am doing, and he even had a military friend who has hiked the Appalachian Trail.

Starting conversations ain’t easy for us Introverts, and doing something that draws attention to us is even worse. I’m so glad, though, that I’ve conquered the fear of looking like a nerd, because it has truly been a blessing for me to have opened up the chance at meeting new people, especially my neighbors that I probably wouldn’t have met (or had an excuse to talk to) otherwise. It has also been a blessing to find support in the most unlikely places. Several of the above have encouraged me to write a book about the experience because they want to read about it.

The moral of this story is: Release the nerd within. Do everything you do with confidence, even if you look like a freak. Don’t apologize for being different or coloring outside the lines. It’s good practice for ‘hiking your own hike.”

Buffalo River Trail – ‘Shake-Down’ Hike – Day 1

IMG_1577A ‘Shake-Down’ hike is basically a ‘test run’…a chance to test your gear, and to find out what you need or don’t need to take with you on an upcoming long hike. I really wanted to do this before my Appalachian Trail hike.

The Buffalo River Trail is in Newton County, Arkansas. It is a 37 mile hike if you do the whole thing from Boxley to Pruitt. Here is a map of it, if you are interested. There are basically 4 sections, and there are campgrounds at the trail head of each section. The trail is a hop, skip and a jump from where we live, and I have wanted to hike it ever since I started planning my Appalachian Trail hike.

I happened to check the weather and saw that we were going to have some unseasonably mild weather–the high’s were supposed to be in the 70’s, and the Low’s, in the 50’s. The seed of an idea began to sprout, and I mentioned to Bud that I was thinking about going. I woke up on Wednesday morning and decided to go for it. Most of my stuff is always in my backpack. I got my food together (which I have been working on dehydrating fast and furiously) and Bud took me to the Boxley trail head, which is about an hour from our house. The direction I would be hiking would be toward home.

It was about 11:30 a.m. when we started out. I was very nervous. Though I’ve had one short hike to a campground, with an overnight camp-out by myself, this would be my first real backpacking trip by myself. When we were almost to the end of our road, I realized I had forgotten my water bottles, so we decided to stop by the Dollar Store to pick some up, rather than go back home to get mine.

When we were finally on our way, and almost there, I realized with panic that I had forgotten my trekking poles. Trekking poles not only help you with climbing uphill, and steadying yourself going downhill, but with a heavy backpack, they help you with balance and prevent many potential falls. I have balance issues, anyway, because of the M.S., so I couldn’t fathom hiking without them. Bud asked if I wanted to go back home and get them, but I said no. I was already worried that I was getting a late start.

IMG_1579When we got there, Bud found a small tree and cut it down and made a hiking stick for me. I bonded with that stick! I was so glad to have it. I don’t know if I would have made it without that stick! I know for a fact I would have had more falls without it.

It was hard to say goodbye, but Bud and I kissed and hugged each other, (more than once). Bud told me he had complete confidence in me, and that he would be praying for me, and I began my journey at about 12:30. Right off the bat, I had to cross a low water crossing. It was covered in cement, but had water flowing over it. My shoes (Merrell Moab Ventilators) got wet, but I was happy to discover that they dried out quickly.

The first miles of the trail had some pretty steep climbs, but my legs were fresh, and I took them at a pretty fast clip. I was concerned that I had gotten a late start, and concerned about finding a place to camp before dark, so I kept a pretty fast pace.

IMG_1593There were several creeks to cross, but all were low, and I was able to rock hop them with no problem. I stopped and filtered water for the first time at one of the creeks. My Sawyer Squeeze filter fits on a Smart Water bottle, and the Smart Water bottle is malleable, so I can squeeze the water into my other bottle, which is a Powerade Bottle, then fill up the Smart Water Bottle to be filtered later. I was relieved that it went off without a hitch.

The maps do not list where the water sources are, like the guidebooks for the AT do. Many of the creeks are seasonal creeks, meaning they only flow after a good rain, and we have been pretty dry, lately. Also, the trail is not well-marked at all, and there were really no good landmarks to judge how far I had gone, or how soon I would come to a campground. The sun was getting lower in the sky. The thing about being in the mountains, is that in the hollows, it’s gets dark earlier than it does on the top of the mountain.

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I do not have a lot of experience hiking, but since this summer, I have been hiking on our gravel road about every day for 6-8 miles. There are some tough climbs, but it’s not like being on a trail. On a trail, there are roots, and rocks that bend your feet this way and that. They cause you to trip and slide a lot. There were some tough inclines, but my legs felt good, and my adrenaline was pumping, so I did very well on that first day.

I saw very few animals. I saw one squirrel. I saw some cattle when the trail passed through private land.

IMG_1601 I saw what I believe to be Coyote scat…it looked like a poo poo shaped fur ball. At one point, I heard a horrible sound, and I thought for sure it was an Elk. They have introduced them to this area, and we saw some in a field on the drive to the trail head. It took about three seconds for me to realize that it was only the engine breaking noise of an 18 wheeler on the nearby road.

IMG_1603A little while later I heard a loud crashing noise in the leaves off to my right, and I thought for sure it was an Elk. It was only an Armadillo, and it was running as fast as a horse to get away from the terrible monster invading its territory. (That would be me.) It was so funny watching it tear through the woods, because it was practically not even touching the ground as it glided over the leaves in its hurry to get away.

At about 5:00 p.m. or so, I came upon a bluff that had a cleared place where someone had camped before. There was even a fire ring with some wood by it. I decided to camp there for the night.

IMG_1605I set up my tent first. I feel confident with setting my tent up, but I was a little nervous that the sun was setting so quickly. Some clouds had blown in and it was blocking the sun, making it look darker.

IMG_1604I somehow put my rain fly on inside out, and had to flip it over and get it hooked in and secure. I kept tripping over my tent stakes. Then, I unloaded my backpack, and blew up my sleeping pad (Thermarest Pro-light Plus). It’s supposed to self-inflate, but I’ve had to blow it up every time I’ve used it. I got my Enlightened Equipment 20 degree quilt and laid it out, and I put my Sleeping Bag Liner underneath it. My bed was ready.

After I got that all set up, I put on my long-sleeved shirt, because it was cooling down quickly. I decided not to make a campfire, because we’ve had a burn ban out at our place, and I figured it was the same here on the trail. Also, the wind was extremely gusty!

I checked my cell phone to see if I had service. No service. I began to worry, because I knew Bud would be very worried. I had told him I would call him when I arrived at my camping spot -if I had service- but I really expected to have service. It was dawning on me that I would have no way to call for help if I needed to. I didn’t think I would need to. I would just wait until I hit a high hill tomorrow and give him a call…but it was nagging at me that I was ON a pretty high hill already, and had no service.

I decided to go ahead and get my bear bag line tossed and ready to go, so I could quickly attach my food bag  and hoist it up after I had eaten supper. There ARE black bears in this area, but I talked to a camp host a while back who told me that hanging a bear bag was probably not necessary…that the bears around here are not used to people, and don’t associate people with food, like the more tame bears do in other parks. Still, I wanted the practice, since I’ll need to hang a bear bag on the AT.  I also wanted my food to be safe from any raccoons or other critters that might smell it.

Bud told me a camping story about how raccoons ripped into his tent and tore into an ice chest to get to his food. He had to fight them off all night because they were trying to get in the hole in his tent. I didn’t want to take any chances. I’m not sure I tied it up correctly, but I was able to get it tossed over the branch with only a few tries! I threw it underhanded and it worked like a charm. I hooked the bag onto the carabiner when I was ready to hoist it up.

IMG_1609I heated the water for my dehydrated meal (Taj Mahal Chicken Curry) on my little MSR Pocket Rocket stove. I realized that one thing I did not have, was a wind screen. With the wind blowing so strongly, it took a little longer to heat the water up. I put my stove behind a large rock, and that helped.

There is not much worse than eating alone. With the adrenaline wearing off, I began to feel a little lonely. I ate quickly. I wanted to get into my tent before it got dark. I figured I would be less afraid if I didn’t have to see the place when it was dark! I hung my bear bag on the rope, hoisted it up, and tied it to a nearby tree. I quickly brushed my teeth to get rid of my Chicken Curry breath. (Didn’t want any raccoons getting a whiff of that.)  I took a second to watch the sun yawn one more burst of color before it went to bed, and then zipped myself into my tent.

IMG_1610The first thing I did was lay out my headlamp, my kindle, my ‘night-time pee things’, my glasses, etc. so I would know where to find them in the dark. Then, I changed into my Cuddle Duds and got into my sleeping bag liner and under my quilt and I read a book about the Appalachian Trail.

I was not sleepy. It continued to get darker and darker, and I was thankful that the moon was out, because it was like having a built-in night-light with it glowing on top of my tent. I could see the shadows of the leaves dancing on my tent ceiling, as I listened to the wind howl. I read and I read, and still I could not sleep.

Then, I thought I heard something. What was it? It sounded like a pig grunting off in the distance! Not unheard of to find one here. We’ve seen wild pigs on our dirt road close to home. I kept on hearing the grunting sound, but it never got any louder or closer. Finally, I figured out that it was my stomach digesting my Chicken Curry.

I put away my Kindle and tried to sleep, and I began a routine of reading for a while, and then trying to sleep. Reading. Trying to sleep. It went on and on. Thankfully, I can honestly say I was not afraid! Praise God, I was not afraid. I did hear some real animal sounds. Something was rustling in the leaves, and I feel sure it was an Armadillo or Possum. The most exciting thing I heard was the snorting of a Deer, or maybe an Elk? (I really wanted to see an Elk. I’ve only seen them from a distance.)  Whatever it was, it trampled around snorting for quite  a while. I’m guessing it was angry at that strange thing (my tent) in it’s territory. I finally heard it’s feet trampling off and away.

At times, the wind blew so hard, that it knocked leaves and twigs onto my tent, and a few times, I thought it was starting to rain, but there was no rain in the forecast. It started to get colder, and I put on my down jacket and hat. My hat would not stay on my head. I was not comfortable on my sleeping pad. I tossed and turned. Side. Stomach. Back. Side.Nothing was comfortable.

I bought a stuff sack that is reversible with felt on the inside, and can be stuffed with clothes and used as  a pillow. This worked pretty well. For the most part, with my down jacket on underneath my quilt, I was able to stay warm. Later, when I got home, I found out that it had gotten down to 28 degrees that night.

I tossed and turned, and finally, yes…I HAD TO PEE. I couldn’t deny it any longer. For those of you who did not follow my trail journal before I deleted it, I don’t want to go outside in the middle of the woods in the dark to PEE! I had heard of a lady who used a ziplock to pee in. I had used a coconut oil jar when I went on my first overnight campout by myself, and had grown confident just peeing right into it while on my knees. I decided to switch to the ziplock since it took up less space in my pack. In my over-confidence, I didn’t even get off of my sleeping pad to go. I didn’t want to lose all of my warmth by getting completely out of my sleeping quilt. I ended up getting pee on my sleeping pad, sleeping pad liner and cuddle duds. Dumb move on my part, but lesson learned. On the second and third time, I got off of my bed, and to the side. I used my F.U.D. (feminine urinary device) to pee into the ziplock, and SUCCESS! No spills.

Finally, I fell asleep in the wee hours of the morning with my sleeping quilt over my head and a little opening to breathe out of.

(To Be Continued…)

Buffalo River Trail – “Shake Down Hike” – Day 2

IMG_1633I woke up around daybreak. It was COLD! The sun was just beginning to wake up, spreading a dim glow through the canopy of my tent. I didn’t want to get out of my sleeping quilt. I thought about waiting for the sun to come up over the rise, but with these hills, I didn’t know how long that would be. I knew Bud was concerned, not having received a call from me, and I really wanted to get to a place as quickly as I could to call him.

I pulled my hiking clothes from the foot of my tent, and put them in the quilt with me to warm them up. I dressed underneath the quilt. I started packing up my backpack, which was in the tent with me. I stuffed my quilt in first, then my sleeping bag liner. I deflated my sleeping pad and rolled it up, and put it and my other things into my backpack (Osprey Aura 65).

When I got out of my tent, my hands were stinging. I had thought my gloves were in my pack, but apparently, I did not put them back into my backpack the last time I hiked with them at home. I could have used socks, but I didn’t want to go to the trouble of pulling them out of my pack. My hands were stinging as I took down my tent, and this was my first clue that temps had gotten quite a bit lower than I had anticipated. Stinging hands are the marker I use to describe to Bud how cold it is when I let the chickens out in the mornings.

I opted not to have coffee or breakfast. I was eager to get on the trail and start walking so I could warm up. You can’t wear anything with ‘down’ in it to hike in. If it gets wet with sweat, it won’t keep you warm. Having light clothes is imperative, because every ounce of weight in your backpack counts. I had on my fleece jacket, a short sleeved ‘quick dry’ shirt underneath, and compression shorts with hiking pants over those. I knew it was supposed to warm up into the 70’s.

After I had everything packed up, I headed down the trail with haste. It was about 7:30. I had no idea exactly where I was, except that I was on the trail, and headed toward Pruitt. There was supposed to be a campground down the trail, and I made plans to have my breakfast there.

About a mile down the way, I came to the Buffalo River bridge at Ponca, and a sign that said that Steele Creek Campground was about 1.8 miles down the way. This meant I had gone about 10 miles the day before, with several climbs of about 1700 feet. My legs felt very stiff, and I felt several blisters cropping up. I knew the next leg of my journey would be much tougher than the day before, and I was worried that my legs and feet did not feel as good as they did the day before. I had also forgotten to stretch, which I always do at home.

Shortly, I came upon an old Homestead. I’m very interested in how the pioneers lived, and their simple and self-sustaining way of living, so I wanted to make a quick trip through it. The homestead belonged to ‘Beaver’ Jim Villines and his wife, Sarah Arbaugh. They started living here in 1882. The placard said that Jim lived his whole life within a mile of where he was born. He died in 1948.

IMG_1622(The House)

IMG_1613(The Barn)

IMG_1617(The Root Cellar)

IMG_1621(The Smoke House)

IMG_1618

IMG_1619(One O’ them Fancy, City-fied, U.S. Government Outhouses)

There was also a crude hen house, and much more to the farm, but my trip through it was quick. I wanted to find a place where I had cell phone service to call Bud.

In a couple of miles, I came to Steele Creek Campground. All of the campgrounds along the trail are accessible by car. Though they are technically closed during the winter, there were still people camping there. It is permissible to camp there during the winter, but the water is turned off, meaning no flush toilets or water from the spigots. This is because of the possibility of the pipes freezing and bursting during winter. They do have vault toilets at the campgrounds.

It was amazing to me that there was really no easy access to the Buffalo River that I could see. I was concerned about my water supply, but the map showed there was a stream just beyond this campground.

IMG_1631I found a picnic table in the sun, took off my backpack, and ate some Paleo Granola with some dehydrated milk and a little water. This is dehydrated milk from a good source and from grass-fed cows. Dairy doesn’t bother me much. I experimented with dehydrated coconut milk, but it didn’t dissolve well. The recipe for Paleo Granola is a good one, and I hope to post the recipe soon.

I was concerned about my dwindling supply of water, and didn’t drink much in addition to what I used in my cereal to reconstitute my milk. I felt rejuvenated after eating, and ready to conquer the world.

I didn’t stay long. It was starting to warm up, so I took off my fleece jacket, put it in my pack, and headed back toward the trail. It was about 9:30 when I left.

Shortly down the trail, I came upon a creek, and I was able to filter water.

IMG_1632I made note of the fact that I need to get something to scoop water up to pour into my squeeze bottle. Sometimes, the water is not deep enough to submerge the water bottle. A friend suggested using a ziplock to scoop water, and pour into the bottle. Next time, I will try that. She also mentioned cutting down a water bottle to be used as a scoop. I also have the bag that came with the Sawyer Squeeze filter, but I really dislike that thing. It’s hard to fill up, also, because it only has a ‘bottle-sized’ opening at the top.

After I filtered my water, I was on my way. I passed many dry stream beds. When it rains in these hills, the water pours down the crevices quickly. Consequently, there are a lot of dry stream beds during the dry season. Many of the dry stream bed crossings look like this:

IMG_1594I had to cross that to get to the trail on the other side. Some of the dry stream beds were very wide, so it was amazing to think of what it must be like when they are actually flowing with water after a rain! It was one of the reasons I wanted to go on this hike before the rainy season. I didn’t want to contend with dangerous water crossings.

This leg of the journey would have several climbs of 1600 and 1800 feet, and most of it would be snaking along the edges and into the crotches of hills. I didn’t think there would be many water sources, according to the poorly marked map, so I was conserving my water as much as I could. The segment from Ponca to Kyle’s Landing was supposed to be 9.7 miles.

Some of the trail was a worn path.

IMG_1602The smoothness and levelness of the path in the above photo was NOT the norm. There were many places where I was left wondering where the trail actually was, because it was covered in leaves or grown over. Underneath the leaves, there were often grapefruit or honey dew melon sized rocks that made for unsure, slippery footing. Most places were just plain rocky.

There were some interesting rock formations along the trail.

IMG_1628I came upon this cave early in the morning before the first campground. This area is riddled with caves and sinkholes.

IMG_1611There were also some beautiful vistas.

IMG_1637IMG_1638My cell phone pics do not do these vistas justice.

Mostly, the trail was boring. I was not expecting that. I didn’t see any animals at all this day, save one friendly Blue Bird that followed me from branch to branch for a while. It reminded me of that scene in “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” and it cheered me a little.

I was getting tired. My legs did not feel good and were very stiff and getting sore. My blisters were really starting to hurt, and one of them on the inside of my heel was shooting pain up my ankle. My feet felt bruised and were aching. My tongue was sticking to the inside of my mouth, and I had little flakes of dead skin on my lips. Even though I was drinking water every little while, I was trying to be judicious with my water intake since I wasn’t sure when I would be able to find  the next water source.

Then, I felt nature starting to call. My original plan was to try to make it Kyle’s Landing where I could use the vault toilet. This segment was 9.7 miles, and I was frustrated that it was taking so long. I’m used to making 3 miles/hour on our gravel road, even on the hills. On the trail, I was making about 2 mph, (when I was really trying to ‘book it’) and on the hard climbs, maybe 1 mph or less. When the trail leveled out, I would try to walk as fast as I could to make up the time, but my feet and legs were aching. I tried to tune it out.

I began to plot where I might answer nature’s call. I had seen NO ONE on the trail. There were no trees to hide behind because the woods looked like a skeleton with no leaves. I was also on the side of a mountain, so it was steep on either side. I was almost ready to ‘drop trau’ right there on the trail, but I had a nagging fear of someone coming down the trail. I hiked on.

I finally came upon a curve in the trail which went around some large boulders. I thought it might afford a little bit of privacy, and the trail was wider there. There was a place where some dirt had collected. Fortuitous! Most of the soil around here is a mix of mostly rocks with a little top soil.

I quickly dug my cat hole with my ‘Deuce of Spaces’ titanium trowel. I’m not sure it was 6-8 inches deep, but it was ‘close enough for jazz’, as they say, and time was of the essence. I was pleased that I actually hit the hole! I had just pulled up my pants, put up my toilet paper, put on my backpack, and was taking a swig of water, when lo and behold, a guy on a mule came around the corner! I nearly jumped out of my skin! I didn’t even hear them coming! If he had rounded the corner just a few minutes earlier…I don’t even want to think about it. That would have been one of the most embarrassing incidences of my life! …second only to walking across a restaurant in a dirndl with a strip of toilet paper stuck to my shoe!

Me and the guy on the mule made polite chitchat, but he was having a hard time holding the mule…he said it was ‘new’. I quickly asked him if I was on the wrong trail. There is a horse trail that crosses the BRT numerous times, but the horse trail also crosses the Buffalo River many times.  I didn’t want to contend with that. I became worried that I had somehow gotten onto the horse trail. He reassured me that ‘this was for both,’ but that didn’t sound right to me. I found out later, that sometimes, both trails conjoin for a while.

He went on, and I followed, but he was soon out of sight. My loneliness grew. I had been checking for cell service frequently and on every  high point I came upon. Finally, on the highest hill yet, I was able to get cell phone service and call Bud. It was about 12:30. He was very relieved, and I was very relieved. After a short conversation, we finally hung up, and I was sad. Bud was concerned about my cell phone battery, so he didn’t want to keep me on the phone too long. I was worried that I might not have cell phone service again.

Amazingly, a short while later, I met the guy on the mule again, and was able to confirm that he had made it to Kyle’s Landing and was on his way back. He told me I was making GREAT time, which really encouraged me. I confirmed with him, again, that I was on the correct trail. There were places on the trail where I spent about 3 minutes trying to figure out where the trail was. Bud later told me that he had sensed that I was having trouble finding the trail, and had prayed for me during those times!

 The guy on the mule told me that just up the way, I needed to take a right to get to Kyles Landing on the People Trail. It was there that the Horse Trail intersected with the People Trail, so I was very grateful that he alerted me to this. When I got there, I saw a post indicating that it was only about 2 more miles to Kyle’s Landing.

I was hobbling along at a decent clip and I finally came upon signs indicating that Kyle’s Landing was near. Every step had me in pain. Still, I pressed on. I had trouble finding the entry off the trail to the campground and had to pull out my map several times, and finally, double back to get there. My plan was to eat something for lunch at Kyle’s Landing. It was 2:00 by the time I got there. They say that hikers who are thu-hiking hate every ‘side mile’ they have to take off the main trail, and I was beginning to understand that.

I painfully made each step into the campground to a picnic table close to the river.  I left my backpack there, and went to go filter water. I had to go through a stand of cane, and down a very steep and sandy bank to filter water from the Buffalo River. My feet sank into the sand and got wet while I was filling my bottle. I sat at the picnic table for a few minutes and ate a few handfuls of trail mix. I was so dehydrated that I wasn’t very hungry. I knew I needed to eat something, so choked down that little bit of trail mix, and put some in my pocket for easy access later.

As I sat there, I debated whether or not to go on. My desire to be home was growing, and I just wanted to get on down the trail so that it would take less time to get home. I also contemplated what it would be like, stopping for the day at Kyle’s Landing at 2:00 and twiddling my thumbs for the rest of the day.

At 2:30, I made the decision to hike on. In retrospect, I believe this was my downfall. The hike out of Kyle’s Landing was tough. My feet and legs felt somewhat rejuvenated after my break, but after the first steep climb, they felt as bad as they did before my break. Even though I had refilled my water bottles, I still felt very dehydrated. My lips felt like they were peeling, and my mouth felt like it had sticky goo on the inside of it.

Shortly down the trail, I had my second face-plant of the day. I was going slightly down hill, and I tripped, falling on my knee, first. My backpack is about 30 pounds, and pretty heavy on my back. The momentum downhill, in addition to the weight is what propelled me into the face-plant. My forehead came down on rock that was mostly covered with leaves. This scared me…a lot…but I was okay. My forehead felt bruised, but I didn’t feel any blood. My knee also felt bruised, but I had no trouble walking on it. I had a very hard time getting back to my feet from a full face-plant because of the heavy pack. That, too, was scary.

Not one or two minutes later, I met a guy going the opposite direction. My immediate thought was to wonder if he had seen my face-plant from a distance. We made polite chit-chat, and I noticed he was looking strangely at me, and his eyes kept darting to a spot on my buff on the opposite side to where I’d hit my forehead. After we parted ways, I reached up to feel there and there were several dead leaves sticking to my buff.

I pulled out my map and saw that I had only gone about a mile and half. That was discouraging. I was tired, in pain, dehydrated, lonely and bored. A seed was planted in head ’round about that time, and began to germinate. I was not in a good place mentally, emotionally or physically. My mind began playing with an idea to hike to Erbie, and have Bud pick me up there, even if I had to hike in the dark to get there. I checked my phone. No service.

I wrestled with this thought of quitting my hike and going home, as I hiked on. I kept on telling myself that I would be a ‘quitter’ if I stopped now. If I couldn’t hack this measly little 37 mile trail, how could I manage a 2, 180 mile thru-hike on the Appalachian Trail?

I continued to hike, with more climbs. I was on auto-pilot…a walking, dehydrated, hobbled zombie. All I could think about was that I wanted to be HOME. I was so lonely. This really surprised me, too, because I’ve never been a lonely type of person, nor have I been prone to loneliness. In retrospect, I should have stayed the night at Kyle’s Landing, and I probably would have felt better the next morning on all fronts about continuing on.

This whole hike had felt like a race to me. I was always worried about pressing on and getting there fast. I couldn’t relax. I didn’t even take much time when I filtered water. I just wanted to make the miles.

Finally, I came to Camp Orr Road. I had gone about 2 1/2 miles from Kyle’s Landing. It felt like 5! I looked at the map and saw that I still had a really bad climb to get to Erbie.  There was no way I could muster the strength to do that. I thought about the possibility of finding another little camp site like the one I had found the night before. I checked my phone. No cell service. I stood there looking at the trail on the other side of the road. I couldn’t move beyond the road to the trail on the other side. I decided that I wanted to be home so badly that I would do whatever it took to get cell phone service and call Bud, in  spite of the looming, monstrous ascent up Camp Orr Road.

I started hobbling up the very steep incline on Camp Orr Road. I kept checking for a signal as I hiked about 6 inches with each step. I was prepared to hike to Highway 74, and hitchhike home if I had to do so. I started planning to camp in the woods on the side of the road if I could not get a signal at the top of the road.

Finally, I got a signal, and I called home. The answering machine picked up.  I left a message, anyway, telling Bud where I was and to COME GET ME! I WANT TO COME HOME! I began to worry that I would not be able to get in contact with Bud. A little way up the road, I tried calling again, and Bud picked up. He had been outside giving the chickens some scratch, and ran inside to pick it up when he heard it, thinking it might be me. We worked out the details of where he would pick me up, and he said he would leave in about 5 minutes to come get me. I asked him to bring me some water.

I continued hiking up the road to the fork. When I got there, I took my pack off and sat down on a rock. A guy in an old pickup truck stopped to ask if I was okay, and I thanked him for stopping, but told him I had someone on the way to pick me up.

He puttered on down the road, and shortly, I heard him backing up. He started asking about my hiking experience, and began to tell me about other ‘more interesting’ trails in the area. He said he’d lived in this area all his life, and was an experienced hiker. He said he had hiked the trail from Boxley and said he thought it was boring…that some of the other trails in this area were more interesting. I couldn’t have agreed with him more. When he found out I was training for the Appalachian Trail, he said it was a dream of his to do that trail someday. We said goodbye and he trucked on down the road.

Shortly after he left, I saw Bud’s car coming down the road. I have never been so glad to see a person in my life. I put my backpack in the back seat, and then threw my hiking stick into the back seat. Bud said he was surprised I didn’t throw the stick away. I looked at him with a shocked look, and said, “NO WAY!” After a while, you bond with these things on a hike. Everything you have with you is so important. That stick had saved me from so many falls, and helped me up so many hills, and down so many steep descents. It felt like an integral appendage! I tried to explain to Bud that I now knew how Tom Hanks’ character felt in, “Castaway,” when he lost ‘Wilson’.

 The whole ride home, I felt like a failure…a quitter. I pondered it all the next day, too. I wondered what my experience on the BRT meant, as far as my Appalachian Trail hike was concerned. I know the AT will be twice as hard, and twice as uncomfortable.

The thing is, that I’ve learned from my mistakes. I shouldn’t have pushed so hard, nor hiked so fast. A hike is not a race, and I am not a trail runner. On the AT, I will know exactly where the water sources are,  and where the shelters are, because I will have a very detailed guidebook with me. I also know that at almost every shelter, there will be people who I can commiserate with, and vent with…people who have just gone through exactly what I have gone through.

Though I know Bud doesn’t consider this hike to be a failure, he told me about a quote he saw that talked about every success being built on a series of failures. The key is to not give up.

So…I’m going to continue on to the Appalachian Tail. A friend asked me if I wanted to go back to the Buffalo River Trail to complete it. The first day after I got back, I did not. Now, on the second day back home, I’m seriously thinking about it.

I feel that I was brave to hike the trail alone. I wasn’t afraid to camp alone at night! I feel like I kept my whits about me, and made a good decision to come home. I was prepared physically, and felt comfortable with most of my gear, and I knew how to use it. I feel good about that. I think I just overdid it and pushed too hard.

Many people start the Appalachian Trail without trying their gear, and with no physical training beforehand. They get their ‘trail legs’ as they hike the trail. I think that though I will be in decent shape, I still need to do more strenuous and longer hikes before I go.

I also need to be more gentle on myself when I start off and not do so many miles in the beginning. Adding it up, I did 10 miles on my first day. On the second day, I did about 13.2 miles, not including the hike up Camp Orr Road.

I’m going to look into inserts for my shoes, and I’m also now considering getting a ‘spot’ device. I want to see how expensive it and the subscription service to it will be before I make a decision on that. I know that there will be far more people on the AT, so if I injure myself on the trail, someone will be along in time.

 I’m feeling better about things today, and I am still very much looking forward to my Appalachian Trail Thru-Hike. I’m thankful for lessons learned, and I’m especially glad that I will have a friend to start the Appalachian Trail with me.

The Blister On My Heel:

IMG_1640

Therm-a-Rest Pro Lite Plus Vs. Women’s Therm-a-Rest Neo Air Sleeping Pad

I wanted to do a quick review (so far), mainly to show the size and weight differences between the Therm-a-Rest Pro Lite Plus and the Women’s Therm-a-Rest Neo Air.

829822

I have not been happy with the Pro Lite Plus. My main issues with it, are that it’s bulky in my pack, and it’s heavy. It has never ‘self-inflated’ when I’ve used it. It was supposed to be comfortable, but I’ve never had a decent night’s rest on it. For the ‘Regular’ size, it weighs 1 pound, 4 ounces.

881598I’ve only slept on the Neo Air one time. It was not like sleeping on my bed at home (obviously) and I can’t say I had a great night’s sleep, either…but it was much better for me than the Pro Lite Plus. I did not have trouble blowing it up, though it wasn’t as easy blowing it up as the Pro Lite Plus (which I shouldn’t have had to blow up, anyway!) I think they said it should take 15 breaths, and I took probably 25 to blow it up completely. The women’s version supposedly has a second layer of ‘heat reflecting technology’ to help ladies stay warmer at night. The Neo Air weighs in at 12 ounces and packs up small, so it leaves a lot of room in my pack!

DSC_0011DSC_0016Even if the difference in comfort level was negligible, the savings in weight and space, alone, would make me choose the Neo Air.

At this point, I’m hoping that hiking all day will leave me tired enough, and sufficiently knock me out so that I won’t care where I sleep at the end of the day!