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Lessons Learned From My 2018 Thru-Hike Attempt

Lessons Learned From My 2018 Thru-Hike Attempt

With the New Yr comes a brand new climbing season and it looks like a very good time to mirror on some classes discovered throughout my failed through hike try final yr, a hike that ended abruptly on account of knee issues after simply six brief however superb weeks.

NOBO, SOBO or Flip Flop. A flip flop hike isn’t for everyone nevertheless it was the best choice for me and I plan on doing this once more if I’m able to make one other thru-hike try this yr. I began on 15 April at Rockfish Hole, Virginia, the southern entrance of Shenandoah Nationwide Park. Though the temperatures that first week have been sometimes a bit brisk, issues warmed up shortly as I progressed northward. I by no means needed to cope with the heavy snow and sub-freezing temperatures encountered by most of the early through hikers beginning conventional NOBO treks in Georgia. Beginning in Shenandoah Nationwide Park additionally allowed me to get my “trail legs” on a comparatively tame however rewarding part of the path and to ease into the bodily challenges related to a thru-hike.  I initially questioned if ending anyplace however Katahdin could be a bit anticlimactic however I shortly realized that, for me, it might not matter. My objective was (and nonetheless is) to hike the complete path. The actual itinerary or sequence that I comply with to perform that aim is essentially irrelevant and the various benefits of a flip-flop hike (e.g. much less crowded trails and shelters, beginning with higher climate and simpler terrain, and figuring out I’m doing my small half to mitigate the environmental impacts of path overcrowding) made the choice a comparatively straightforward one.

A quiet Pennsylvania stream reworked by heavy rains

Bodily and Psychological Preparation. Bodily and psychological preparation are necessary however, as my expertise demonstrates, this won’t all the time assure a profitable hike. I’ve been climbing for greater than thirty years, totally on the Appalachian Path, and felt each bodily and mentally ready for the trials of a through hike. I understood the myriad challenges, knew what it felt wish to stroll in relentless rain for days at a stretch, to get up chilly, moist and sore dealing with a day crammed with a seemingly countless collection of repetitive and unrewarding climbs, to battle by way of maddening swarms of mosquitoes and biting flies, and to spend most hours of most days daydreaming about meals.  Within the months main as much as my begin date I hiked numerous miles on native trails, adopted an train routine concentrating on my again, quads, hamstrings, and calves, and did a minimum of 5 shakedown hikes in Shenandoah Nationwide Park with a full pack, ranging in period from two to 5 days. I additionally learn extensively within the AT-related literature and gleaned what info I might from the expertise of others. Frankly, I’m not positive what I might have achieved in another way when it comes to my psychological and bodily preparation.

Gear and Pack Weight. I sought to maintain my pack weight as little as attainable, for consolation and, extra importantly, to save lots of put on and tear on my knees. I began with a base weight of simply over 17 kilos and that weight turned out to be nearly good. I did numerous analysis into gear earlier than shopping for something and made some additional changes because of my shakedown hikes (I talk about my remaining gear alternatives in an earlier Trek publish right here and in a video right here). Throughout my short-lived hike I solely made one adjustment to my preliminary gear: Once I reached Harpers Ferry, I swapped out my torso-length sleeping pad for a full size inflatable pad. I merely couldn’t get snug on the torso-length pad. My sleep was struggling and so I made a decision the slight weight penalty was value it. So far as my huge three and different main gadgets, my Granite Gear Crown 2 pack, REI Quarter Dome 1 tent, Mountain Hardware Lamina Z bag, Katadyn BeFree water filter, MSR Pocket Rocket 2 range, and Merrell Moab 2 boots, all carried out fantastically and for my subsequent try I don’t anticipate making any modifications to those gadgets. I used to be a bit disenchanted with my Black Diamond Distance Z carbon fiber trekking poles. They’re extremely mild and handy and served me nicely till I hit mid-Pennsylvania the place each of them snapped inside days of one another whereas navigating the infamous Pennsylvania rock fields. To their credit score, Black Diamond customer support was completely implausible and categorical shipped a alternative set of poles to my subsequent city cease. However I’ll in all probability be on the lookout for a brand new and extra sturdy (and alas, heavier) set of poles for my subsequent thru-hike try.

My gear (see textual content for hyperlinks to my gear submit and video)

Meals Storage System. Throughout my shakedown hikes, I experimented with all the major meals storage choices: conventional bear bag cling, an Ursack, and a bear canister (the Bear Vault BV450). I made a decision to go together with a standard  bear bag after discovering the Ursack a bit too cumbersome and the bear canister too cumbersome, heavy, and exhausting to pack round. Though I didn’t take pleasure in having to hold my bag each night time, notably if it was raining (which it typically was) or if I obtained to camp late when it was already darkish, I’ll nonetheless in all probability go together with the normal bear bag once more for my subsequent try merely due to the load and the packing comfort. I say ‘probably’  as a result of I’m nonetheless contemplating utilizing a bear canister for sure stretches of the path the place there appears to be an growing variety of problematic bear-human encounters.

Mail Drops. I used a hybrid resupply technique that concerned each mail drops and “on the fly” resupply at native shops. My plan referred to as for about 2-Three mail drops per 30 days with the remainder of my resupply obtained alongside the path. This labored simply high quality for the brief six weeks I used to be on path.  However subsequent time I plan to do even much less mail drops and rely extra closely on resupply choices alongside the path. Resupply methods are all the time a matter of private selection. For me, I discovered I a lot most popular the liberty and adaptability of resupplying alongside the best way and never being “locked in” to predetermined city stops and topic to the usually unpredictable hours of the submit workplaces one finds within the small cities alongside the path.

Day by day Mileage. That is the place I started to make some dangerous selections that finally resulted within the untimely finish of my hike. Earlier than beginning my hike, I labored up a really conservative climbing technique that concerned doing extraordinarily low miles for the primary Four-5 weeks of my hike and solely very regularly working as much as my goal common of 15-miles per day. I hoped that this, together with beginning on the comparatively tame part of path of Shenandoah Nationwide Park, would give my physique time to adapt to life on the path. This initially labored very nicely. For the primary couple of weeks these low mileage days resulted in a few of the most nice and relaxed mountaineering I’ve ever skilled. The leisurely climbing (7-9 miles a day the primary two weeks) allowed me to sleep in and benefit from the heat of my sleeping bag on these early and really chilly mornings, to take prolonged breaks at lovely views, to discover fascinating aspect trails, and to take pleasure in lengthy, sudden trailside conversations with the various fascinating individuals I got here throughout every day. I additionally spent spent a few of my appreciable free time studying my means round social media (running a blog, vlogging, Instagramming, and so forth.) which was helpful and enjoyable since I used to be experimenting with these instruments and platforms for the very first time. The times have been straightforward, the mountaineering was enjoyable, and I used to be really having fun with all that Shenandoah Nationwide Park needed to supply: nice trails, lovely views, bears, cheeseburgers and, in fact, the mind-blowing blackberry milkshakes. Due to my sluggish tempo and brief days, a lot of my time every day was spent resting and recovering and through this early interval I skilled none, and I imply zero, of the standard soreness or stiffness that often afflicts the primary days of a long-distance hike.  There have been challenges in these early days (e.g. excessive chilly, fixed rain, mud, exhausting climbs, and a relentless barrage of “pointless ups and downs” or PUDS) however these weren’t a shock and I used to be prepared for them. Two weeks into my through hike I used to be feeling completely nice. However whereas I used to be nicely ready for something the path might throw at me, I used to be not as properly ready for what turned out to be the most important problem of all: my very own impatience.

An early morning customer simply outdoors my tent

Since I used to be feeling so good after simply two weeks I started upping my every day mileage quicker than initially deliberate. Within the third and fourth weeks, once I had deliberate to common simply 10-12 miles a day, I began doing 12-15 miles a day and the occasional 16- and 17-mile day. It was nonetheless comparatively straightforward terrain so I used to be not too involved about pushing the miles a bit. I started to note a slight twinge in my left knee however I stored going, figuring it might work itself out. I developed a twice-a-day stretching plan however for no matter cause didn’t stick to that for various days. I reached Boiling Springs, Pennsylvania and picked up a resupply field that, on reflection, had much more provides than I wanted. However I packed all of it up and limped out of city carrying a load that was far too heavy. By the point I hiked down into Duncannon, Pennsylvania my knee had gone from a state of quiet protest to one in every of open insurrection.  I left Duncannon and two days later took a zero day alongside the path to relaxation the knee and to remain out of a raging thunderstorm. Then, in one other questionable determination, I did a 16-mile day adopted by an 18-mile day. At round this time, I additionally started hitting the infamous Pennsylvania rocks that put added stress on my knee (it was additionally throughout this stretch that I snapped each of my trekking poles). Because of a well-timed go to by relations, I used to be capable of take a number of zero days in Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania and this era of relaxation did wonders for my knee. Or so I assumed. Strolling unencumbered on paved streets and sidewalks is far totally different than climbing with a full pack on the uneven terrain of the AT and inside hours of getting again on path my knee difficulty reemerged. I coated simply 12 miles within the subsequent two days earlier than I limped into the emergency room in Palmerton, Pennsylvania the place I used to be suggested to get off the path. I caught an uber to Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania the place I holed up in a lodge for every week earlier than calling it quits after the knee confirmed solely minimal enchancment. On reflection, I’m satisfied that I might have prevented this disappointing finish to my through hike try if I had adopted my unique, conservative plan for my every day mileage objectives, caught with a day by day stretching routine, and never stubbornly insisted on mountaineering by means of the knee ache when it first manifested.

Trekking Pole Down!


Duncannon, Pennsylvania

Whereas these are the most important and most necessary classes discovered on my hike, I found a number of different issues that I shall be protecting in thoughts as I plan my subsequent try. In no specific order:

Audiobooks and Music: Earlier than my hike I bought a subscription to Audible and downloaded a number of titles to my smartphone. I additionally ready a number of music playlists by way of Spotify. For the primary couple of weeks I hiked with no audiobooks or music in any respect, being content material to benefit from the sounds of nature that surrounded me. Ultimately, I did begin listening to music throughout notably lengthy climbs or painfully boring stretches of path. However I by no means got here to take pleasure in listening to audiobooks whereas mountaineering. With music, you possibly can flip your consideration on and off when encountering obstacles or different fascinating issues alongside the path. Audiobooks, however, often require your full consideration lest you miss a key level or a key plot improvement. I discovered myself having to continually “rewind” them after discovering I had missed one thing necessary within the story.

Social Media and Electronics: This was a revelation to me. I used to be removed from social media savvy earlier than my hike however I shortly found that I beloved with the ability to share my hike with people by writing weblog posts, posting on instagram, and making movies. This was notably true in these first days once I was doing low miles and had numerous time to fiddle and discover ways to do all of it. I’ve additionally loved having my posts, pictures, and movies as a everlasting report of my hike that I can look again on. In the event you do determine to be lively on social media, undoubtedly convey an additional charger (or two). You’ll burn up your telephone’s battery faster than you anticipate, notably in chilly climate.

Meals: The 2 most essential issues I found food-wise are 1) I can eat tortillas full of pepperoni, cheese, and mustard on a regular basis and be joyful and a couple of) I can’t eat oatmeal on a regular basis and be comfortable.

Funds: Price range greater than you assume you’ll need. Treating your self to an outrageously good meal or luxuriating in your personal personal lodge room if you hit city is actually an awesome and wondrous factor.

Flexibility:  Be versatile. Planning is a needed a part of a through hike, notably on the subject of questions of meals, water, and shelter. However don’t let your schedule dominate your hike. Be open to enjoyable detours, blue blazing, unplanned zero days, or spending a bit additional time at that nice view, that tranquil pond, or that mesmerizing waterfall.

I hope a few of these observations are helpful to these of you planning to through hike this yr and perhaps I’ll see you out on the path!

View from Pen Mar Park

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