Keep trekking on!

Late last week I accidentally slammed my foot into the couch and I swore I broke a toe. It was all swollen, in a lot of pain, and it was turning purple. Wouldn’t that figure? Two weeks before I hike the AT I break my toe. I was freaking out for a couple days and knew that even if I actually did break my toe I would still be going on this trip. If you’ve read my blog before, you also know that I don’t have health insurance, and there is no way I’m paying the $10,000 they’d probably charge me for an x-ray out of pocket.

After a few days of not walking anywhere except to the bathroom and kitchen and splinting my toe to the neighboring one, I am just fine. It was just a bit of a scare. It still hurts a little bit, but not when I walk. It’s more when I’m just sitting around. It’s also purple where I busted the blood vessels, but that isn’t a big deal.

It’s super close now. Last week the graduate school finally gave the final oke-doke on paper and I am officially published. Now that my Masters degree is out of the way I have absolutely nothing to worry about except the AT. And the AT doesn’t worry me, therefore I don’t have much of anything to worry about in my life. I’m heading to Cleveland this Saturday to meet up with my girlfriend. Then after a week of sitting around doing nothing of note, when compared to hiking the AT, we will be off! Great stuff all around.

On a side note: I’ve had the day of our departure wrong by 1 day this entire time. If you read any of my other blogs where I say how many days I have until starting, just add 1 day.

This could very well be my last blog before I begin. I haven’t much to add except talking about my excitement. If it is, I hope everyone enjoyed reading my blog. I should be back blogging after my trip. I have no real urge to blog during the trip. That’s using far more technology than I want to when I’m on the trail. You can’t truly connect with nature if you’re constantly worried about what to write in a blog, how many views you’ve had, or what your friend wrote on your fb wall.

Good luck to everyone and remember to keep trekking on!

12 days til’ Katahdin! #SOBO #Maine2Georgia

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Watch out, Mt. Katahdin! I’m coming for you!

I saw that Maine and much of the Northeast got battered by storms recently, so I’m glad I wasn’t try to summit Katahdin during that time. If I can have one good day of weather when I go hiking, I want it to my first day when I’m going to summit Katahdin. I don’t want to arrive at Baxter State Park the day I have a campsite reserved and it be storming all day, making a summit dangerous.

Anyway, I’ve been anxiously getting most of my final preparations done. I have really been going over all my gear and whittling down excess gear and weight. It’s really quite difficult to shake down your own gear but I think I’m doing well. I’ve cut out about 4 pounds of unneeded weight and it’s already making my pack feel more manageable. Anything is more manageable than the 40 pounds I was carrying around on my last practice day hike though. I’ve also decided to spend some money and replace some of my heavier items that I’ve owned for a long time with newer, but more importantly lighter, versions. I swapped out my rain jacket and long underwear and probably saved another pound. My rain jacket was always a bit heavy, I was just hoping I wouldn’t have to buy a new one. I didn’t have to but the saved weight and pack space is quite good.

What I actually did was take a kitchen scale and weighed each piece of gear individually, writing each weight down. This really helped. I was able to see every single piece of gear I was wanting to take with its weight. This method really helped show me what was weighing down my pack and how much weight I could save by taking out combinations of items. This is how I was able to bring my pack weight down pre-hike. I know I will lose more pack weight as I hike, but I feel I’m doing pretty well.

There isn’t too much more to report on. I’ve been keeping up my workout routine, so my body isn’t in a state of shock a week into the trail. I’m going to be making my own beef jerky soon, as I normally do, for my trip in the 100 mile wilderness. I can make a bunch and it’s super light weight. I’ve also started buying some cliff bars for the beginning of my trip. I’ve also repacked my pack a few times and I now have most everything inside my pack, which I like better than lashing things on the outside. My sandals and pack cover are the only things hanging on the outside now.

I will be heading to Cleveland (Cleveland rocks?) on July 4 to meet up with my girlfriend before we head off to Maine. She hasn’t managed her pack weight at all yet, so I figure I will be helping her with that. It will be good though. We’ll have a few days in Cleveland when we can really work out our gear together, so that should be really nice.

It’s getting close and I can’t wait to stop blogging because that means I will be starting my journey. I hope all the Southbounders on the trail now are doing well (and the northbounders….I’ll shoot them some love too).

16 days til’ Katahdin! #SOBO #Maine2Georgia

“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.” ~John Muir

Mom! Are we there yet?

All I’ve done for the past 9 months is think about the trail and plan my trip. I am 24 days away from beginning and I’m really just too anxious to write anything. I just want to get going!

24 days til’ Katahdin! #SOBO #Maine2Georgia

“It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.” -Sir Edmund Hillary

East Fork State Park trail runner conversations and slow moving Boy Scouts

Well good evening, internet. I’m sorry it’s been ages since I posted but it’s been pretty busy over here. Finishing up my Masters report, creating and editing the presentation, then defending it. Good news though, I passed and have minimal paper edits to make, so it looks like my AT plans are officially on…..well I guess more official than before.

Today I went out to East Fork State Park in southwest Ohio and I really wanted to get in a good hike that would challenge me and hopefully bring up some bodily problems I might have while hiking. I went on the backpacking trail, which starts at trail head parking and travels a single path for about 5.5 miles. Then there is a 3 mile loop at the end, looping back up to meet the main path. I hiked the 5.5 mile trail, the loop, and then went back 5.5 miles to the trail head. So about 14 miles total. I really wanted to challenge myself so I packed up my Osprey with all my stuff and then added weight for a grand total of 40 pounds, and went off on my adventure. Just a day hike though, I have too much to do tomorrow for an overnight.

Now I know that I will NEVER ALLOW MYSELF TO CARRY 40 POUNDS ON THE AT, but for this trip I wanted to stress my body and find any problems my body might have while hiking. So please don’t write in the comments that I shouldn’t be carrying 40 pounds on the AT, because I know and I was never planning on it. I’m sure there is some smart ass out there who will anyway.

Anyway, the hike started off great. I was zipping right along. The terrain on the 5.5 mile section isn’t too challenging, so I made great time from the get go. There just so happened to be a big running event going on at the park today, going the opposite direction on a section of the same trail, and so I kept moving off to the side and waiting for them to pass. I had good sporadic conversation with some of them. A couple dozen even did the loop twice so I got to talk to certain people twice. The guy who won, and very much the most hardcore out of all of them, ran the course three times. That guy must love some running. Though I did get 3 small conversations with him.

As I said, the first 5 and a half miles were pretty easy.

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Onward through the woods!

Onward through the woods!

The trail goes around the edge, or part of, Harsha Lake. Or maybe it’s Lake Harsha? You could almost always hear the boaters, but you never really came too close to the water.

This was about as close as you ever got.

This was about as close as you ever got.

Preeeetttyyyyy

Preeeetttyyyyy

I’m always a little paranoid when I’m hiking a trail that splits or changes directions at an intersection that it won’t be marked well. I’ve definitely gone down my fair share of wrong paths. That was definitely not going to happen on this trip.

Now which was is the trail front loop again?

Now which was is the trail front loop again?

Now the looping section of the trail was definitely the most difficult. There were some pretty serious ups and downs that were quite steep. Your newbie, Boy Scout, backpacker probably wouldn’t have the greatest time on this part of the trail. Now I went down the front trail and returned via the back trail. They both connect, no real need for a different name. Campsite 2 trail splits the loop in half at the back end. The front loop section was kinda nice and provided a great place to eat lunch.

Someone made a back country bench.

Someone made a back country bench.

Looks like Johnny Boy Scout did travel down this path looking to get his wilderness survival merit badge.

Looks like Johnny Boy Scout did travel down this path looking to get his wilderness survival merit badge.

Once I passed the Campsite 2 trail, there was a massively steep uphill. It took me by surprise. I managed just fine, but it might destroy a beginner. The back side of the loop trail is not well traveled or maintained. It’s overgrown most everywhere and it’s the only place I got a tick. Lots of stinging nettle got to rub up and down my legs and I’m still feeling it. Getting back to that sign was great just because I wasn’t running into all the plants.

On my way back I stopped a couple times for conversation. Once with a pair of guys who asked me countless AT questions and again to chat with a troop of boy scouts. Their leaders told me they were stopping at Campsite 1, just avoiding the 3 mile loop entirely. They took 3 hours to hike a couple miles, so I felt pretty bad for the group.

The 40 pound pack really didn’t take it’s toll until about mile 11. My upper body, waist and legs were just fine, but my feet were taking a pounding. They were definitely feeling that 40 pounds. I made it, but because of the weight I wound up getting a number of blisters on my feet. Compare this to me normally never getting blisters. They were mainly between and under toes though, so I think I’m gonna change to toe socks. I’ve read a lot of good things about people using toe socks on the AT. One guy claimed he never got a single blister on the AT when wearing toe socks. But that’s why I was loaded down with 40 pounds, to figure things out like that. I could have just brought my day pack with a couple water bottles and my lunch and probably finished in 5.5 – 6 hours, but I wound up getting done in just under 7 hours. Everything is feeling a lot better now. Oh, and I lost 4 pounds because it was soooooo humid.

34 days til’ Katahdin! #SOBO #Maine2Georgia

“I am much inclined to live from my rucksack, and let my trousers fray as they like.” ~ Hermann Hesse

Gear Review pt. 4 – Does the phrase “AT shelter” actually mean “4 Seasons Hotel and Spa?” How else do you expect me to get my weekly manicure and massage?

45 days til’ it all starts. 45 days really isn’t that long. I decided I was going to hike the AT over 8 months ago (and have been thinking about it for 5 years now), so 45 days shouldn’t feel like anything. I haven’t been checking for when Katahdin opens since that won’t affect me too much, but I assume the early SOBO folks are just now leaving or will be in the next couple weeks. Good luck to everyone!

As readers know, I have grad school stuff to finish up before that 45 days is up. I didn’t post last week because I was finishing my report/thesis. This week I’m working on my defense presentation. I defend next week and just hope I don’t have many paper corrections to make. Also, passing my defense would be pretty wicked. Failing my defense would set me back just a bit.

Anyway, so I hear there is a lot of camping and stuff I’m going to have to deal with while on the trail. I do know when my guide book says “shelter” or “lean-to” it’s really talking about a Four Seasons Resort Hotel. I don’t know what I’ll do without my bi-weekly massages and free hot breakfasts. I am a realist though and realize I’ll be roughing it at some point. I can stay at a Holiday Inn or Best Western as long as it has pool. It must have a pool, how uncivilized do you think I am? I know they won’t have the manicurist or 5-Star restaurant I’m used to, but these are the sacrifices I’m willing to make when roughing it. Holiday Inn’s can be quaint and all the rooms don’t smell like hookers and middle class Americans. Yeah, I can totally do this AT thing. I just hope the hotels carry my $45 dollar shampoo and conditioner because what if I run into some hot chicks on the trail? They’ll laugh at me if I use cheap hotel shampoo and that would just be embarrassing.

Backpacking can be a rough life for some people, and luckily I won’t be running into anyone like that (as described above) while I’m on the trail. I have some great backpacking gear that I love using and I think it will all be great on the trail. Let’s check it out:

Backpacking Gear

Backpack – Osprey Aether 70. I’ve talked about it before, so I’ll be brief. It replaces my 40 liter pack I’ve been using for a long time now. Got it for Xmas. I tried the Aether 60 and 70 and just wish I could split the difference and get an Aether 65, but that doesn’t exist. It’s all good though.  It’s a sweet pack. I think it just went on sale at REI or somewhere.

Pack Cover – Gregory pack cover. I bought the biggest one I can find and it fits a lot better than the second to largest one. It keeps water out, which is pretty sweet and the whole goal of a pack cover.

Headlamp – Black Diamond Storm. Big light. Small light. White light. Red light. Double light. Single light. Bright light. Dim light. It does take 4 AAA batteries, which sucks. It has a good lifespan though.

Shelter – Sierra Designs Lightning 2 UL. Other than some condensation issues you learn to manage, it’s a really great tent. Unbelievably easy and quick to pitch. It laughs at rain. It’s light. Has a motherf**ing awning, like we’re living in a cottage. It has really good floor space for a two person tent. It has two smaller vestibules, instead of one large vestibule like a lot of similar tents. They’re definitely big enough to stick all our gear under and nothing will get wet. Always keep the large window in the front door open to keep air flowing through the tent.

If you’ve never used a single-walled tent before I would definitely research condensation management before buying. We had one trip where the condensation was pretty heavy, but we were dumb and didn’t do anything to prevent it. After an afternoon of research I am filled with great tenting wisdom and our last trip with the tent was golden. It rained all evening and then we got some light condensation overnight. We just rolled it up and packed it away like normal and by the time we set it up later that day it was dry. Solid tent. And since it’s not near as popular as like an MSR, Big Agnes, or even an REI brand tent, you can normally find it on sale.

Rope – Just 50 feet of 3mm cord we use to hang our bear bag. I have a couple spare lengths of rope of varying diameters in case they are needed for whatever reason.

Dry Bags (4) – I have a compression dry bag for my sleeping bag (the last thing I want is a wet sleeping bag). It’s a bit of a pain to get into my sleeping bag compartment on my pack when compared to my sleeping bag’s regular stuff sack, but a dry bag is worth it. I have a 25 liter dry bag that I use for a food bag. An 8 liter dry bag for clothes. And finally a 4 liter (maybe it’s a 2 liter?) for small things. Matches, my cell phone charger, and other stuffs I wish to keep dry. I think it’s silly not to get dry bags. Wet gear is the enemy….along with lightning when you’re trying to summit a mountain…..and Nazi’s. All bags are Sea to Summit.

Trekking Poles – Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork. They’re adjustable and I love the cork handles. Far more comfortable than any other trekking pole handle material. I wish they were a bit lighter, but I didn’t want to spend $150+ on trekking poles. I always used to make fun of people using trekking poles, then I realized how amazing they are.

Sleeping Gear

Sleeping Bag – North Face Blue Kazoo. This is definitely not a new blue kazoo, because I can’t afford that. This is actually my dad’s old down sleeping bag he got in the 80’s. It’s rated at 20 degrees, but it has some years on it, so in reality is probably closer to 30 degrees. It’s in great shape though and is just a great bag. Free is also pretty awesome.

Sleeping Bag Liner – Sea to Summit sleeping bag liner. Adds 20 degrees of warmth to my bag. I got it to negate some of the warmth it’s lost over the years. It’s comfortable and easy to use. The original plan was to have it mailed to me when it starts getting colder, but I could bring it the entire time and use it as a summer sleeping bag on warm nights. Depends on if I want to carry my sleep bag and liner the entire time.

Sleeping Pad – Inflatable Thermarest ProLite. It’s really comfortable for back and side sleeping, oddly enough. I thought I would be stuck back sleeping the entire trip, but I can be pretty comfortable on my side using this sleeping pad. When it gets cold though I might switch to a foam pad for the insulation.

The AT is so close, yet so far away. I just need to buckle down and get all this graduate school stuff finished so I can just think about the AT. Also, does anyone have trail food suggestions? I’ve been putting together a list of food stuffs I can probably buy from small grocery stores, large grocery stores and convenience stores along the trail so I can get an idea of what I want to be looking for in towns. I’ve looked at several blogs and WhiteBlaze, but I’m just taking in as many suggestions as possible. Also, I’m not looking for a 3 course meal for dinner. It blows me away how much food people will backpack with along the AT. If I was looking to eat really fancy meals over this 6 months of my life, I would just skip the AT and make the food at home. Some of these dinners I see that people make on the trail are things I wouldn’t even attempt when living at home with a full blown kitchen set up. You can still eat well in the back country and keep the ingredients under 10 items. If you’re looking to eat that well while on the trial just go eat in every town you pass through. You can eat well, get the nutrition you need, have a happy tummy, AND not add an extra 8 pounds to your pack due to all the extra food you feel is needed. I’m sure we’ll do dinners like that every now and then, but for some hikers it seems like a nightly event on the trail.

Hang on to your butts everyone, it’s almost time for this kid to venture out into the woods.

45 days til’ Katahdin! #SOBO #Maine2Georgia

 “Only the mountain has lived long enough to listen objectively to the howl of the wolf.” ~ Aldo Leopold

Pull your head out of your ass and your earbuds out of your ears! There is nature all around us, singing its gentle lullaby to the world.

MY INTERNSHIP IS OVER! This is great because now I only have to wrap up things for my masters degree and then it will be time for the trail. Ever since May hit the AT has been getting more and more real. Until now it just felt like I thought about hiking the AT often while upgrading a good portion of my backpacking gear. More like it was just some fantasy I had. Some dream I wish to tackle someday. It’s just so close now. July 11, 2015. Since I decided to hike the trail I’ve always had either work or school to worry about and keep me from thinking the AT was imminent, but now it feels like the trail is right up in my face all the sudden. It’s like playing chicken with a semi and I’m at the point where I can feel the heat from the engine. I can’t finish my masters degree fast enough. I can’t wait to set off.

I’ve made a couple slight changes to my AT gear in the past couple days. First off, I replaced one of my Nalgene bottles with a Platypus water pouch/bag. It weighs like 5 oz less and still holds a liter. I know I said at the beginning of this blog that I wouldn’t nickel and dime my gear ounces, but look at me now. I thought about getting a hydration system, but I used to have one and didn’t like it. I tend to drink too often with it and I’m more apt to run out of water quickly. Also, it’s easier to check how much water remains with water bottles. I’m keeping one of my Nalgene bottles because it fits in my pack better, can hold hot liquid, and can be put in your sleeping bag with boiling water on very cold nights to help keep you warm.

Secondly, I got a compressing stuff sack for my rain jacket. I’ve had this great Columbia rain jacket for a few years now and I really like it. Unfortunately, since it’s Columbia, it’s not really made for backpacking. Therefore it doesn’t have a pocket I can just stuff it all inside. So I went and bought a stuff sack for it. It will be a  bit harder to get out of my pack when the heavens open up, but it will be easier to pack. It finally packs down well once I force it.

Once I’m on the trail I really don’t want to be that guy who gabs and gabs about gear. Though when it comes to preparing for the AT, gear is a pretty important topic. When I’m on the trail I will refuse to talk gear with anyone other than my girlfriend or if someone is asking for specific advice. Talking about gear is not why I want to hike the AT.

Maybe this just bothers me, but it annoys me when people wear headphones and listen to music, or whatever, when they’re hiking. Being among nature is almost entirely the reason I want to hike the AT, I couldn’t imagine tuning out nature so I can listen to a few albums that I’ve already listened to 8000 times. You can never truly be in touch with nature if you’re blocking out the sounds of the birds and the wind and substitute them for a Led Zeppelin or Death Cab album. I’ll have plenty of time to listen to my music once I’m off the trail. Use it to drown out the ugly noises of the city. If you’re really that bored on the trail, why are you even hiking it? Seriously. If you’re just looking to say you’ve accomplished something and are looking for fitness, go run an ultra marathon or something. Use wilderness to find some peace in the silence before going back to our world full of endless noise. One reason I love thunderstorms so much is because it drowns out the noises of all the automobiles, lawn mowers, construction, trains, etc.

I will miss my podcasts. I don’t know what I’ll do without This American Life, Radio Lab, and repeats of Car Talk. I’ll have to listen to them on my phone on nights I stay in towns. By the way, the latest podcast of Radio Lab is unreal. It’s so good and just churns your stomach at parts. I HIGHLY recommend everyone check it out. It was a recording from a live show they did about the heart. Shout out to WNYC! When I get home from the trail I will have all sorts of back episodes to catch up on. It will be nice to listen to them while I’m applying to any and every job in the environmental field I am qualified for when I return.

Again, just like with past blog posts, I do not feel bad begging for money from strangers that will help me out on the trail. I’m a graduate student, money is always tough to come by. Visit the Go Fund Me or Kickstarter site and check out some of the absolutely stupid and ridiculous things people are asking money for and are raising thousands and thousands of dollars. Somehow. Maybe they have a huge library of facebook friends. Maybe they’re all hot girls. I don’t know, but I think I could raise a few hundred from some of you mighty fine folks.

http://www.gofundme.com/sjrvsk

It’s so close and I can’t wait. Just a……little…..bit….further……..

55 days til’ Katahdin! #SOBO #Maine2Georgia

“Conservation is getting nowhere because it is incompatible with our Abrahamic concept of land. We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.” ~Aldo Leopold

Bath robes, bad weather, getting fired, and the Appalachian Trail

It’s a big milestone today in my preparation for the trail. I will be starting the trail in exactly two months. It’s insane to think about. I made my decision to hike the trail back in September and now it’s two months away. Hiking the Appalachian Trail has been a dream of mine for the past 5-6 years and now it’s only 2 months away from beginning.

Two months ago I was just making it through my everyday life at my internship, waiting for the day it would be over so I could start focusing on the trail more. Well this Friday is my LAST DAY at my internship and I can’t wait to be done. I’ll have plenty of time to get my graduate school stuff out of the way in time for the Appalachian Trail. I definitely won’t be walking at graduation, but I think the AT will be a better walk than the walk across the stage to get another diploma holder. I considered making a bath robe joke there, but resisted because there are enough bath robe and shower cap jokes this time of year to beat a cat with. Or a dog. Or a grandma. Or a rocking chair. Or a microwave. Which ever one of those you find least offensive, there are enough bath robe and shower cap jokes floating around this time of year to beat it with.

I’ve been thinking about my first day on the trail, the hike up Katahdin. I’m not so much worried about the physical difficulty of it as much as I am the weather. My girlfriend and I have a campsite reserved at the Katahdin Stream campsite in exactly two months. What if the weather sucks ass that day and it’s unsafe to summit? It’s not like I can stay another night in that campsite because you have to make reservations a few months out. It would just be an unfortunate circumstance. I guess we would have to find another way to stay at Baxter for another night and hike up when it’s safer?

I feel very prepared for the trail though, other than all the food dehydrating I plan on doing after I finish my internship. In all reality, if it wasn’t for needing to finish graduate school before I set off, I would be on the trail the first day Baxter State Park opened. I’ve been preparing for 8 months already, I just want to start.

Actually, two months ago I got fired from my internship for about a day. That was an insane day and I one of my first thoughts was “how am I going to save up money for the AT?” Then I got to thinking I could just suck it up and leave right then and go northbound instead of southbound. Granted my girlfriend would have been pretty damn upset, but it was definitely an option. Then I wound up getting my job back later that day, it was just a stupid misunderstanding.

I am going to wrap this up soon. I was up until 2:30 in the morning working on my internship report and only got 3 and a half hours of sleep last night. It’s been a pretty rough evening trying to stay awake before I wanted to go to bed.

Last thought…..

So if you know me well, which most all of you don’t, you’d know I am HUGE tree and plant nerd. I love examining trees, feeling the bark, looking for patterns in veination, making my own matching games with the tree leaf and nut or seed pod, identification, etc. I think they’re spectacular and are underrated by most of society. For my AT trip I really want to bring my Peterson Guide to Eastern Trees. I want to keep a log of as many tree species I can find and mark where I found them. Just a nerdy, personal science project. Now the Peterson Guides aren’t huge, but they’re definitely not compact. I’m really hoping to find space and weight in my pack to bring it along. That tree book is like an extension of my body, it would be hard to not bring it. But then again, I would need to find a place to put it. I know most thru hikers would tell me to definitely not bring it, but I guess I’ll just see if it’s reasonable when the time comes.

Lastly, I hope I get a kick ass trail name.

It’s either going to be the longest or shortest two months of my life coming up. I can’t wait. Also, I hope everyone is getting outside and enjoying this great spring weather on their local hiking trails. Well, it’s beautiful weather here in SW Ohio. Not so much in South Dakota and Texas currently.

Also, since I’m still a poor graduate student, I don’t have a problem sucking up to anyone for money. I started a Go Fund Me site, like some of you may know, to help pay for some of my off the trail expenses while on the trail. It would be super awesome of you to help me out 🙂 Even if it’s just a little bit. Help out a fellow adventurer. Please, please, please 🙂 If you do I will be your friend. Though if you don’t I’d still be your friend. Win-win situation for you, but you should still help me out.

http://www.gofundme.com/sjrvsk

Alright, enough pandering for the night.

60 days til’ Katahdin #SOBO #Maine2Georgia

“We need the tonic of wildness…At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.” ~Henry David Thoreau