Monthly Archives: April 2012

Where am I again?

I ended up taking a very long walk yesterday because I was trying to get to a vantage point to see the space shuttle as it flew in towards Dulles, since I live next to the airport. But I couldn’t find a spot. At least I didn’t get too lost.

Getting lost is one of my worries about actually going hiking. I have a horrible sense of direction, and I get lost in places where I’ve lived for years. I can’t even figure out where to park at the mall to get to the store I want on the inside.

I’m not so bad with maps, I’ve never had to really rely on a compass but I understand how they work. I’m going to have to start studying on those.

I’m probably going to try to get a GPS device of some sort. But I worry about the power supply though. I know I’ll need a solar charger for something no matter what I do, but can I run a GPS without a huge power drain? Definitely going to have to figure this out.

Anybody got any advice on GPS devices for hiking?

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It always comes down to money

I’ve been reading up on gear, and one website I found was talking about the sheer cost of hiking the trail. I knew that gear was going to be expensive, but I don’t think I was counting on how much things are going to end up costing.

I found a really fantastic coat, and I need a new winter coat anyway. But it’s $200, just for a coat! Since I’m struggling to pay my bills right now in general, I’m not particularly thrilled at this idea.

I’m planning to make a list of the items I’ll have to have, then the cost for each, and make a priority list. I’d like to go ahead and get a pack soon so I can be walking with it on from the beginning, but for now I have a backpack that will do if I weight it down with a few books.

But I’m going to need a hammock, a sleeping bag, a really good pack, a new coat, new shoes, cooking gear, the list goes on and on.

And here I thought I’d found a more inexpensive hobby.

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Research and Reading

Yesterday I went to the library to grab a couple books that might help me at least figure out what I don’t know about what I’m doing here.

Mostly I want somebody to explain to me what kind of shoes I need.

But anyway, I browsed the selection at the library to see what they had and picked up two beginning manuals. I’ve only just started to skim them, and I’ll have a more full review later.

The Backpacker’s Handbook by Hugh McManners

I’m not particularly thrilled with this book, even though I love how it’s mostly illustrated and has a lot of great pictures and charts. I’m very much a visual person, having a page of pictures full of recommended shoes and backpacks will work much better for me than a list.

But the book itself is very focused on traveling to backpack/hike. Quite a lot of it is focused on the perils of international travel and how to deal with problems in unfamiliar environments. Which would be very useful if that was my plan. However I picked the Appalachian Trail for a lot of reasons, one of which being that I grew up in a town that’s actually on the trail. Most of my practice hikes will actually be on the trail itself too. The most difficult part of my travel plans for the final thru-hike is going to be booking a plane ticket to either Georgia or Maine, depending on which way I decide to go.

One thing I really like though is that he has graphics for first aid kits, repair kits, and other packs I’ll want to make. That’s a huge help, because I definitely don’t want to purchase a pre-made kit. First because I already own half the stuff on this list. Second because I really think that a kit like that should be perfectly tailored to the person and the hike.

Hiking by Jacques Marais

My first impression of this book was much higher. The text is very easy to read, and very conversational. While they do touch on the idea of traveling away from home to hike, they concentrate much more on just getting you through the basics. This book is also very visual, though the graphics aren’t as detailed and broken down as The Backpacker’s Handbook.

Even just from reading less than an hour, I’ve already picked up a lot of things to think about and had a lot of those “I had no idea!” moments. Granted, a lot of this information is probably also in the other book, but it’s because the text is so easy to read and so much more focused on what I’m doing that I’ve gotten much more into this one and faster. I’ve already figured out that I need to be walking with a pack on, even with my one mile walks that I’ve been doing. I hadn’t even thought about that, and it probably wouldn’t have occurred to me.

They also mention using a hiking club or group to help you get started. I don’t think I’ll be ready for that yet, since I’m not really doing much more than walking. But it is going to be something I’ll be looking for in the near future. If you know of a hiking group in the Northern Virginia area, please let me know about it, I’m very interested!

Like I said before, the point of the books was to start really getting down to business about what I do and don’t already know, and making a more concrete plan of what I need to learn before I go out, and what order to learn it in. Both books have pretty decent ideas for how to get in shape for a hike, but they both are focused on shorter hikes (a few weeks tops) and not something like a thru-hike. They have plans for getting in shape over three months or so, and I’m taking longer because I’m just that out of shape that I think my baseline needs to be brought up before I can focus on their ideas.

But it’s a good start, I’m glad I picked these up. And I was very happy to see the great selection at the library. Fairfax County Libraries are so great, it’s one of my favorite things about living here.

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The right shoes

I think my biggest problem right now is shoes. Well, that and making sure I make the time for my walks, which I’m not doing.

But the other day my foot was really sore for some reason, and my shoes were NOT helping. I have these simple and cute Sketchers sneakers, but they’re not made to support your foot for any kind of exercise. I need to figure out what I should do for footwear.

For now, I’m just doing walks on paved trails, so it seems like a good pair of walking shoes or sneakers would be fine. Although the last time I spent a ridiculous amount on “good” walking shoes, they had holes in the netting within a couple months and were worn out completely much faster than cheaper shoes I’ve bought in the past. I was extremely upset about it. They definitely didn’t give me any more support or feel any better than the general athletic shoes I’ve bought in the past either. It was such a waste of money.

But I’ve been wondering if I should go ahead and think about getting hiking boots, since I will need some when I do start actually going on trails. Or are hiking boots not the best plan for a thru-hike? I’ve had problems with boots in the past, because they hurt my ankles, but I just assumed I had bad boots.

Anybody got suggestions for good shoes for people walking? Or for hiking? I’ve got a board on Pinterest to put stuff on as I find it. Not just shoes, but general stuff for the hike. But I’m about to do some shoe research, so that’s what I’ll be pinning here in a moment.

If I find any answers I’ll post them on Wednesday.

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Baby Steps

The basic first idea is this: learn to walk.

Obviously, I know how to walk. In general. I can get from point A to point B.

The trick is that I never particularly do any walking for the sake of walking. And I certainly don’t go any significant distances.

So the first goal has been to walk a mile every day.

I live in an area full of walking trails and really scenic routes, so finding a place to walk isn’t a problem. There are almost too many routes to choose from.

The problem is that where I live isn’t particularly flat, and part of the goal of walking a mile every day is to build up endurance and muscle around a bad knee. My knee isn’t terrible, but it gives me just enough trouble that I need to do something about it.

I’m not really succeeding at this step yet, and I’m convinced that it’s the hardest one. Because what this step is really about, among all the things I’ve mentioned, is making myself make time for this. It’s about not getting distracted, not changing my mind, not making excuses. And so far that’s a lot of what I’m doing. I didn’t take my walk today because I’ve been cleaning my house because my sister is here visiting, and we had to gather paperwork for a meeting.

So that’s the basic goal right now: walk one mile, every day, despite the weather. Just get used to walking no matter what.

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The Crazy Idea

I can’t really tell you when the idea took hold. I think it really started when a friend was posting pictures from his hikes on trails in our area.

I do know that it became a real thought when I watched a National Geographic special about the Appalachian Trail that was on Netflix Instant. I knew that there were people who would hike the entire trail. I grew up next to it, hiking along the trail or bike riding for a day was so commonplace that it sometimes takes me by surprise that people will travel to see it.

To me, the trail is just home. Well, that stretch of it that runs through our sections of the Blue Ridge.

In the documentary, they talk about thru-hikers. These are the people that hike from one end of the trail to the other in a single season, either from Georgia to Maine or from Maine to Georgia.

At first, the idea was crazy. I couldn’t imagine what would possess a person to do that. Spend months hiking this long and sometimes punishing stretch of woods? Why?

But then as I kept watching, I realized why: to accomplish something. Simply to say you had done it.

The idea started to get to me years ago when I read an unproduced screenplay about the first expeditions to Mount Everest. I’ve never in my life been inclined to climb tall mountains like that, but reading this very personal story that captured the intentions and emotions of these men, I felt this drive to do something really monumental. To say I’d done something that most people would realize was an accomplishment.

That was years ago, but watching the documentary it came back and I realized what that something I could accomplish was: I could thru-hike the trail. The trail was already part of my life, already a part of how I grew up and what I love about the world. To see the entire length of it, that would be amazing.

There’s only one problem: I don’t really hike. I do silly little day hikes once in a great while, up well traveled trails that lead to scenic overlooks. But nothing like what this will be like. So I realize I couldn’t leave tomorrow and do this. I needed to build up to it, learn, research, and get there slowly. Step by step, just like it will be to do the actual hike.

I gave myself a deadline: five years. I will take five years to build up stamina, to work hard to overcome some physical limitations like a bad knee. To learn what I need to know to sleep overnight in the woods, to learn how to deal with finding water, bringing food with me, and everything else. To build up endurance for walking for six months straight.

I’ve known quite a few people that have trained from nothing to running marathons, using baby steps that they build on regularly. So I’m going to do that. Right now I’m designing my own program because I don’t know of one that is meant to help somebody get ready for a thru-hike. But part of the plan is to keep this blog updated with the plan, the progress, and generally use it to stay motivated.

I’ll be updating twice a week. Next time, I’ll talk about my first baby steps I’m taking.

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