Shake Down…..

7 Weeks+ Until Departure:

Time to do a shake down on lots of things.  I got a new pack I’m intending to use on the section hike. Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60 Lightweight Backpack.

This is a pack I’ve had my eye on for about a year now. Nothing at all wrong with the ULA Circuit that I have. I did the last section hike with it and the pack was near perfect. The Circuit has been my go to pack for all trips whether car camp, group hang or solo. I even pack it and use it for vacation trips with the family. Everything in one spot and easy to carry.

I wanted to try the Mariposa for a couple reasons. One, for the additional pockets. There is a fold over flap pocket that I think will serve me well for quick access items like the FAK (First Aid Kit), wallet, maybe snacks or other bits and bobs. The set up of the side pockets is different from the ULA so the spare water, the cook kit and tarp all get carried differently in this set up as opposed to the ULA. The large back mesh pocket is a little different so I should be able to carry items differently there too.  Second, she is technically a good bit lighter than my ULA. 29.6 ounces for the Mariposa, 40.1 for the ULA. There are about an average of 5 ounces on each pack that are things which will be removed as they are added weight of items I don’t use in my normal set up. With that the difference is still about 10+/- ounces between the two. Ounces make pounds and I’m working to keep the pounds to a minimum.

All of this is very different and new compared to what I have been used to for the past two years of hiking with the ULA. I need to see how I want to load the pack, playing with placement of food, shelter and additional clothing. Whether I will use the aluminium curved stay or let the contents set the body of the pack. What can I reasonable use in the hip belt pockets, etc? All of this may seem to be no big deal to the average person and in truth may be of no consequence to the average hiker, but to me they are crucial. I’m all about economy of movement and time when I hike. I want to be able to see all I can see and go as far as my body and time will allow me. That being said, I’m in no crazy speed mode either. However, when I want to do something, eat lunch, get a snack, check the map or compass, set up camp, I want to be efficient in the process. Where things are placed, ease of access and economy of the task is of great importance to me. I’m trying to keep the overall weight, all in food and water, shelter, and equipment at or under 20 pounds for about 50 miles and four days of hiking. This is not what many would consider ultra light but a darn sight better than most average hikers for the same length of time and distance where I see pack weights in the 40 to 50 pound range. That hurts me just thinking about it. Going as light as I am means everything has to work, work every time and work efficiently.

So it’s time for a shake down hike. I’ll go to the Sipsey Wilderness in upper Alabama in a couple weeks and get a chance to wear the pack, play with the set up and get in some no joke elevation change hiking to see how she rides and what I need to tweak in the set up and use areas.

Once this is done, I can have a decision on which pack I will use and which one my son will use and how each of them will be set up.

7 weeks out and I’m already thinking about packing and transport of the backpacks on the airlines and getting through the airports as efficiently and completely as possible. Terrorism sucks on many levels.

If all this works out the way we hope, where will we go next? Well, 2017 may hold yet another section hike on the AT and possibly, dare I say it, a hike and hang in Peru on the Amazon or to Central Asia to the steps of the Caucus Mountains or perhaps a trip to British Columbia.  Not sure where God will direct us in 2017 but looking very forward to joining my passion for Jesus Christ with my passion for travel and hiking.

Time for a shake down….and then some shaking up.

IT’S TIIIMMMMEEEEEEE…….

Or so says the guy at the beginning of those UFC main event fights. No, not time to fight. Just time to get back to my beloved AT and the mountains of that Tennessee area.  I’ve probably stated this before, but if not, I’ll do so once more. There is no place I have experienced on the planet that puts me into full tilt relaxed, can’t even spell stress, blissful calm and peace, like the mountains of Tennessee. I’ve traveled there, honeymooned there four times all with the same woman, hiked there and known it as my happy place for the better part of three decades now.

I was fortunate enough to do a section hike on the AT (Appalachian Trail) back in 2014. A solo trip from the NOC (Nantahala Outdoor Center) up to Fontana Dam.  Some 30+ miles on the trail over the course of four days. A tremendous adventure for a fella looking for some mental R and R, as well as some physical limit testing.  Funny part was the physical turned out to be not that big of a deal but the mental was the game changer for me. It was intended to be a kind of shake down hike to see if I had the right stuff to do a through hike from Springer all the way to Katahdin. A hike, as the trail stands today of about 2,190 miles. What I discovered then and decided at the end was, no through hike for me.

That was 2014. Here we are in 2016. Things change. What changed? Well, a few things. First, I had a surgery. Nothing major, just a pesky hernia matter that needed to be resolved, and yes, I know what you are thinking, and I did do the hike in 2014 with that hernia albeit a somewhat lesser degree than when I had the surgery. Face it men, we’re not as bright as we might like to think we are at certain moments in our lives. That being said, there was zero hikes of significant lengths done in 2015. So with that particular physical issue resolved, the itch to get out for a longer trip and longer miles was in dire need of a scratch. Second, I lost about 20 pounds. Out of sheer embarrassment from a simple vacation trip with the family and being told by the sweetest little ride operator on the planet that I was over the weight limit to ride thus not only keeping me off the ride but precluding my son from doing it also. Granted the weight limit was 229 and I was 230 that day. One pound was enough to make me take stock and rethink not only my eating habits but other lifestyle changes needing to be made.  Lastly, the boy. He wanted to go.

I mentioned to my son that I wanted to get back to the AT and take another stab at this thing in 2016. He said he thought he would like to go. My reply? “How about you lay down for a bit and think about that. Then you get back to me with what you think about that.”  So he did. About a week later. “I think I’d like to do that hike with you.” Okay then. Let’s get this figured out.

So here we are in March with an eye toward late May and a new section hike on the AT. This will we a lot of firsts for us both. First time for the boy to fly….ever. First time for he and I to do a multiple day trip….just him and me. Alone. For days.  First time for him to really carry his own pack for multiple day. His own food, his own water, his own shelter set up. The whole kit and caboodle. First time for me to be long distance hiking with anyone other than me, myself or I. Fine fellas I assure you, but, well, a new companion is a new companion.

I’m excited to for many things in this small adventure. Excited to loose, hopefully, another 10 or so pounds. Excited to experience the adventure of it all through the eyes of my son. Excited to be on the AT once again and all that entails. Excited to document the planning, experimentation, decision making and the subsequent adventure itself.

I will admit, I have my eye and hopes toward one more bit of a daydream. Should my son enjoy this adventure enough to wish to do it again. The hope and the plan would be for us to do a longer trip when he graduates high school some three years from now. I would gather together all the vacation time I would have and we would spend three glorious weeks on the AT. Start at Springer Mountain and hike for roughly a week, then maybe skip up to about a week shy of Harper’s Ferry and hike into to that important and historic spot, then bounce once more to a few days shy of Katahdin and make the summit before coming home. A taste of the beginning, the middle and the end of a through hike. A rite of passage, here’s your man card, go and find your own adventure and know that I will miss you more than anything, that I love you more than anything and will be there to walk with you through anything should you need me.

Yes, indeed, it is time. Time to think, play with, plan, and embark on another great adventure. I think I am quite ready. Yes, ready indeed.