The Shakedown Part 1

The Plan

Photo courtesy of AllTrails.com

Now that I have my gear in order and my pack loaded, I think it is time for a shakedown hike.  “What’s a shakedown?” It’s a test run.  Plain and simple.  Here’s what I’m doing

Thursday morning I’m going to Green Lane Park.  An amazing place surrounded by great trails, fishing, and recreational activities.  They also have a tent camping area.  I will load my pack just as if I was going to step out onto the AT.  Then I’ll do a test run.

I’m going to start Thursday with the Green Lane Park Trail Loop.  12.5 Miles around the entire lake.    I’ll do the entire trail with a full pack of gear, food, and water.  When I’m done, I’ll hike to my camp site and set everything up just as if I were at a shelter.  This will give me a chance to work with my gear after a long day on my feet.  I’ll be able to figure out if I brought the right kind of food and the right amount.  I’ll get more practice making camp and then I’ll sleep with my sleep system for the first time outside. 

Elevation changes over the course of the 12.5 miles

It’s a lot.  Can I really do all of those miles?  I think I can.  10 days ago, I did 7.5 miles at Valley Forge without stopping.  It took me 2 hours and 40 minutes.  My thought is if I do five miles.  Stop for lunch and to rest.  Then pick up and do another five miles, I bet I could do that in under 8 hours.  Same thing with 12.5!  I’ve never woken up like I will on the AT and said “All I have to do today is walk from here to there.  Nothing else” I’m confident I can do it.

It’s time for me to put everything to the test.  My mind.  My gear.  My body.  My pack weight is right where I wanted it to be.  Check out my post tomorrow to see everything I’m taking with me as I break down my pack.  I’m going to push this old man around the lake and see what I haven’t thought of already. See what shouldn’t be stowed where and hope to hell there isn’t anything obvious I forgot!! 

Watch Facebook and Instagram for updates during the hike.  I’m thinking about trying out a Facebook live broadcast Thursday from the camp site.  Could be fun!

I’ll see you on the trail!

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Meet Big Agnes- My Tent

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In my opinion there are few decisions more important to backpacking that what your shelter is going to be.  This will be, at times, your only protection from the elements.  It will need to be a home in the middle of the night on the top of a mountain.  It is a place where you must recover at the end of each day from the pounding your body as taken.  This decision weighed heavily on me from the very beginning of this process.

We all know by now that the rabbit hole that Alice took to wonderland might be the only pit deeper than that of the pantheon of backpacking gear.  I listened to so many pod casts and heard so many names and ideas that at some point it seemed like it all became noise.  Cowboy camping.  Hammock.  Big Tent, Small Tent. YIKES!!!!  But then I started zeroing in on all the stories the “Triple Crowners” were sharing about THEIR gear.  These people had literally hiked over 6000 miles of trail… I think they might know a thing or two about gear.

I quickly decided that I wanted a tent and it needed to be ultra light.  It needed to be at least a two man ten (6 foot 4 don’t fit in no itty bitty tent) and I wanted something that I could pull my pack into in case it was raining.  A name began to rise to the top.  Big Agnes. Again and again people were commenting that it was the only tent they will ever buy.  I had it!  I had my brand.  Now which one?  Soooooooo many!!!

I started doing my research and the Copper Spur started to peak my interest.  It was ultra light (only 2lbs 11oz in the pack!!) Everyone said it was spacious.  It had something called a “vestibule” which I didn’t realize was an option.   The list of features goes on and on.  I had found my shelter.

I was doing all of this research during the winter holidays before Christmas.  I wanted to take advantage of the traffic and the holiday sales.  One very good find on Ebay later and it was mine, and for one heck of a steal!  Now I just had to wait for the weather to break so I could try it out.

That break didn’t come for MONTHS.  However, it did come.  Below you’ll see as I unpacked the tent and set it up on the lawn outside my front door.  It was easy even the first time.  Getting it back into the bag will take a lot more practice but when I stretched out inside with room to spare, I was incredibly happy that I had made this decision.  It has so many little features built in that I can’t wait to put it to use.

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For all of the specs and information about this tent, please visit Big Agnes online and see not only this, tent, but their amazing products.

https://www.bigagnes.com/Copper-Spur-HV-UL2-2020

 

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What Happened?

Hey everyone.  I have been contemplating how to write this post for three weeks now.  Do I shoot a video confession?  Do I write an in-depth explanation?  Do I just glaze over everything and pretend like I haven’t posted on here in months?  I want to be honest, but I don’t want pity.  I want everyone to know who has been supporting me on this journey that I’m ok, but that the road has been rough.

So here is the short version.  I’ve been gone.  I’ve be down in a place I didn’t like.  The weather.  My body.  My mind.  They all worked against me in a way like I have never experienced before and I retreated.  I couldn’t do more than I was doing just to get by each day.  Then the pandemic hit and my job became more intense than it has in the last 20 years.  It all weighed on me and when I get to those places, I don’t hide myself, but I bury the realty of the situation away from the outside world until I can figure out how to resolve it.  Not the healthiest of plans, I know, but I’ve started to come out of it.  Slowly…. Very slowly…. But it is happening.

With all of that I started hiking again a few weeks ago.  Building back up my strength.  Taking videos and pictures.  Documenting the beauty of the word that was bringing peace to my mind.  I made progress with my gear and have planned a shake down hike of my pack in a few weeks.  25 miles in two days with an overnight in a State Park.  When that’s done, I will start planning my first nights on the actual AT.  I refuse to let this journey stop in its tracks because life got hard.

A quote from General George Custer has been pushing me along these weeks.  “It’s not how many times you get knocked down that count, it’s how many times you get back up”. It seems so cliché until you keep falling down and don’t want to keep getting up.

So, I’m still here.  I’m hiking more than ever.  I want to thank all of you who have been asking about me and my journey.  Your energy has been amazing.  I want to thank those who stepped onto the trail with me and kept me going.  You’ve helped more than I can explain.

Watch for content.  Its going to be coming.  Share your thoughts with me but most of all, get out and take a long walk in the woods.  It will be good for your soul.

 

See you on the trail

The Garage Sale

I made a decision pretty early on that I wasn’t going to by just any gear.  I wanted to get the stuff that the hardcore hikers said held up the best, was the most functional, and would carry me not only through the AT but over any trail adventure I would want to do (Everest excluded as I’m not sure all of this gear would handle the Himalayas).  I know people change their preferences as they backpack more, but I didn’t want to start out with shoddy gear to taint the experience.   I want gear I know I can rely on and leave the variables up to my skill level.

With that in mind, I went to my first REI garage sale at the end of the year.  It’s where Adventure Club members can come and by overstock and used gear at ridiculous prices.  It worked out that the Conshohocken location started an hour before the King of Prussia location so I was able to hit both pretty early.  I was looking specifically for an Osprey backpack at this event.  I had done a lot of homework and they kept coming up as one of the top brands used by thru hikers.  They have this Anti-Gravity support system that shifts nearly all of the weight from the shoulders to your hips and makes it feel like you are almost not carrying a pack at all.  It’s all adjustable and the construction is incredibly reliable.  I also knew I wanted somewhere around 50 liters.  While my gear will be light, I’m a big guy and some of it may be more bulky than normal as I need a long version of this or wide version of that.  I didn’t want to be cramming everything into a pack every day when with a  little extra room and discipline to know fill the empty space up with useless junk I could make my life a lot easier.

I get to REI in Conshy about an hour before the open time and here is the line:

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I knew it would be crowded but OMG!  What was fun about the wait, though, is that it was my first truly hiker experience.  What do I mean?  I mean it was the first time since I started this journey that I was around like-minded people who loved the outdoors and the hiker experience.  Everything I have done up until this point was just me in a bubble listening and learned and doing some texting with folks.  THIS was an in the flesh culture bomb moment for me.  Everyone around me was talking about their favorite gear, their trail experiences, or their next great climb.  It felt kinda cool to feel for the first time like I might actually be a part of this community.  Is this really happening?

Doors open and it looks like black Friday.  People are scrambling to bins and climbing over boxes.  I knew what I was there for and head to backpacks and tents.  Nothing I’m looking for.  Ugh.  I had hoped to find a real deal here.  I wandered around and what they had (a lot of clothes and shoes) I just wasn’t looking for.  Feeling a little disappointed I was out of there inside 20 minutes and headed over to King of Prussia to get in line.

Same deal outside there.  Lone wrapped around the building.  I stood behind two young guys talking about their next rock wall speed climb tournament.  Whole new world.  We snake through the store as the doors open to an outside area in the back.  Looks like a lot less stuff but well organized.  Then I see it.  A rack with packs on it.  GOOD looking packs.  I dash over.  I see the name.  OSPREY.  What?!  I grab it and check it out.  This is used gear.  What’s wrong with it?  Some grime on the bottom from being sat on the ground.  Ok.  That’s going to happen anyway.  A little scratch on the material from probably catching a rock or branch somewhere.  Not huge.  Everything else looks really good.  I check out the model and size.  65L. Little bigger than I planned. Wait… that includes the outside add on’s.  The price:  30% of retail.  WHAT?!!! Merry Christmas to me!!!  I grab the pack, I take it inside.  The backpack guru there custom fits the pack for and I bring home this amazing pack.  Now I REALLY have to do this trip since I have the perfect pack for it.  Right?!  I did a shake down run with it a week ago.  Cut 2 minutes of my climb time and I’m sure that it had at least a little something to do with the comfort of this pack.

Not a bad way to end 2019.  Now to fill it!

Here is the official website for my pack:  It really is as cool as it sounds.

https://www.osprey.com/us/en/product/atmos-ag-65-ATMOS65S18.html

 

Thanks for checking this out.  See you on the trail!!

Trail Tourist- Mt Misery to Mt Joy Loop -Valley Forge National Park

One of the things I’ve learned through my use of the All Trails app (AMAZING app btw) is how many cool trails there are in southeastern PA.  I truly had no idea.  One of the areas this app has allowed me to explore is Valley Forge National Park.  I have lived most of my life within a half hour of this place yet I had never hiked it.  There are so many options and varying degrees of difficulty that you could explore these trails for many months and never see all of it.

One of the trails I have started doing on a regular basis is the Mt. Misery to the Church Trail to Mt Joy loop.  There are some variations of this trail that allow you to make it anywhere from 7.5 miles long to 9 miles long.  That’s part of the fun of it.  Additionally, it has over 900 feet of elevation climb.  That’s a huge bonus as I’m a naturally slow climber and I don’t know a whole lot of places so close to me where I can practice those climbs.

 

I usually start this trail near the base of Mt. Misery and head right into the fight.  Climbing the more difficult side of the mountain and peaking it at about 530 feet.  Its about a mile and a half to the unofficial top of the trail and then rolls down the back down some gravel covered and slippery declines.  There is an abandoned water structure and a small stream to cross before it calms down and gets to Valley Creek.  The view on the bridge at Valley Creek is wonderful and one of my favorite images in the park.

There you cross Route 23 and pass Washington’s Headquarters.  There is a train station and a restroom that are at about the 3 mile mark.  From there the climb follows the creek and hits the Church Trail.  This is a long section that winds through woods and has some technical spots to it.  The final assent from the low point of the trail to the church itself is quite steep and switchbacks at a good angle.

Crossing the road at the church takes you down to an old house a wonderful field crossing.  Last time I was there, a stunning red fox (not the comedian) seemed to be guiding me through one section.  The fields wind around the arch memorial and eventually take you to the base of Mt. Joy.  This climb feels quite easy compared to the starting climb and leaves you on a downhill past an old farm house and over a stone path back to the parking area.

An amazing trail that has varying levels of difficulty and some fantastic historic views.  I hope you enjoy the photos

Baby, it’s cold outside

I know it’s been a while since I’ve written here but with the holidays and the weather there have been a lot of things going on.  But now that the new year is here there is a lot to update you on and several trails and stories to talk about.

Some of the biggest developments for have been around finalizing the big parts of my gear, meeting and hanging out with Mike “Man Scout” Sedor (much more to come with that), and learning that my times are not as bad I thought they were.

I’ve also learned a lot about myself and my body over these last few weeks.  I learned that I don’t like night hiking.  I did my first one right around Christmas.  It was kinda intense and I was just in the woods near my house.  I scared the crap out of a bunny and myself when he hopped his furry ass in front of me unexpectedly 5 minutes in on my first night.  I was never so glad to be alone at that moment then when that screech came out of me like a little girl.  I’m a little ashamed.  I admit it. Add that to all of the reflections of eyes (deer, fox, who knows what) just out of the range of my headlamp and I’d rather not do a lot of those hikes.

I learned that I really don’t like hiking under 30 degrees and with the wind.  Once I discovered that my hike times weren’t as bad as I thought they were I’m finding little value in putting myself through those experiences.  I feel like I can utilize some cross fit training and gym time to condition myself without the pain of frost bite.

I also re-discovered my love of hiking to music.  I hiked almost 40 miles Christmas week and by the end I was a bit tired of the silence.  I had heard this from other hikers but thought to myself “I’ll be a purest and listen to nature and the thoughts in my head” .  Yeah.  They told me to put the music back on.  I have since then started curating a classical music playlist of my all-time favorites.  I enjoy the climbs to classical far more than any other genre and it grounds me to my roots as a classical percussionist.  If anyone would like that play list I’m happy to share.  And yes…. It does include Appalachian Spring by Copeland.  I couldn’t leave it off the list

A lot is planned over the next few weeks and months.  I’m excited and can’t wait to share it with everyone.  The support I am getting from all of you is amazing and I love talking to you about your experiences and insights about hiking and walking for fitness.  Please share your thoughts, suggestions, and ideas with me.  Several of you have reached out about doing hikes together so I think there are going to be some amazing group experiences coming in the spring.  I’m trying to figure out the balance on this blog as well.  What is too much content?  What is not enough to be interesting?  Video vs Writing?  Please email me you thoughts at fromattoeverest@gmail.com .  I’d really like to hear them

Alright!!  Time to hit it!  See you on the trail!!

Gear Talk- Trekking poles and so much to learn

Everyday that goes by I learn that there is so much more I have to learn about this entire trekking/hiking/camping in the middle of the mountains experience I am setting up for myself.  Some days I’m learning about socks.  Some days I’m learning about what my body can and can’t handle already.  And today I learned about trekking poles and why they are one of the most important pieces of equipment I could have.

I had seen trekking poles before but never truly appreciated them until my injury.  While I wasn’t hiking I did a lot of reading about gear (and OMG you could read about hiking gear for ever and still not get through it all) and discovered that a lot of hikers start out thinking they don’t want or need them and then change to them, never going back.

The obvious benefits are you can use your arms more to climb hills or navigate down slopes.  This is where I got hurt.  I learned a critical lesson that day about always having at least one point of contact on the ground at all times.  The poles help with this.  All of the studies also show that they reduce the wear and tear on your legs and knees over long distances.  They can help with rocky surfaces like we have in Pennsylvania and my favorite reason I’ve seen is that they can “Help deter bears, wild dogs, and other wildlife”  The more I researched all of this the more I realized it was not an option to be hiking without them any more

I took advantage of the holiday sales and purchased my own set of Black Diamond 4 Season Trail hiking poles.  Black Diamond has a fantastic reputation and these poles were highly rated by users online.  What I particularly like about them is that they have a clip and release system they refer to as the “Smashlock System”.  It reminds me of how my old cymbal stands used to lock together so I find an enormous amount of comfort in the system.  The shafts are an Aluminum Carbon Fiber comb that makes them durable on everything under a tundra rated trek condition.  They have cork handles which are easier to maintain and less wearing on the hands.  I learned that these poles range in price from $50 to $190.  These were in the middle and seemed like a reasonable expenditure for the benefit I’m going to receive from them.

There is a link below to the pole I purchased.  I’ll be trying them out tomorrow for the first and I’m excited to use them.  I know it may seem a little silly to be talking about trekking poles on a blog but for me, each time I buy a new piece of gear that will be going on the trail with me it because a little more real.  Hiking Montgomery County PA and talking about the Appalachian Trail is one thing.  Having the gear in your hands and going out and doing it something very different.  This is another step closer to my first section.  It’s exciting and I’m glad you’re here with me.

See you on the trail

Trek Poles

Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork Trekking Poles

http://www.blackdiamondequipment.com/en_US/trail-ergo-cork-trekking-pole-BD1125066006ALL1.html#start=15