A hiking blog about hiking blogs

There is no shortage of blogs about thru-hikes.  It would seem that everyone wants to tell you about their experience . . . which is a good thing.  I’ve been reading more blogs about hikers attempting long-distance trails and there seems to be a common theme: how brutally challenging these hikes are.

The last one I read was about a lady that had set too ambitious of a schedule and it was weighing on her.  Another one  talked about how unprepared they were and how it really caused some problems within the group.  One author was dismayed at how mentally draining the endeavor was.  Not all of them were hiking the Arizona Trail, but the sentiments translate.

As I make my plans for my hike I often dream of prancing through idyllic forests, gazing out over majestic landscapes in iconic locations.  I imagine taking naps next to babbling brooks or sitting comfortably watching sunsets.  In short, I think of the good moments rather than worry about the challenges.

Don’t think I haven’t considered the challenges.  In fact, I think all I’ve written about so far are some of the challenges – my back, my weight, my fitness, nutrition, hydration, etc.  I even wrote about how planning is important but the need to be flexible is paramount.  But what I haven’t really spoken about is the “why” I’m doing this hike.

As you might recall, my first foray into “The Wild” was when I ran away with Anthony in 6th grade.  Sure I had gone camping with my family as a kid, but that wasn’t wild, that was family.  When I got that first little taste of fear and freedom I was hooked.  Now, as a solo backpacker I don’t get fearful, I get excited.  I still feel the freedom though. In fact, it’s that freedom that I crave the most.

When I go backpacking I don’t have to please anyone except myself (and whichever poor lucky dog that gets to join me).  I can sleep in; I can hike without taking breaks; I can hike for hours after my intended stop time “just because”, or I can pull up early at a camp spot just because I like the view & access to water.  The only thing I have to do is live.

Reading these blogs has given me some great perspective though.  Knowing that I’m going to start off slow and work into my “trail legs” will help me get past that first brutal week.  I’m aware that at about day 14 there will be nothing I can do to slake my hunger.  I’m infatuated with the idea that for 8-12 hours a day I’ll be burning more calories than I can carry and will be inclined to lose weight.  I’m also looking forward to stopping into the gateway communities for hamburgers, pizza and beer KNOWING it won’t hurt my boyish figure.

All of these reasons, and more, are why I’m really looking forward to (rather than truly dreading) the hike.

I know it will be good for my soul.

Best laid plans

The practice hike went wonderfully, albeit miserably.  I was hoping to hike sections 22-28, from Sunflower, through Pine, and on top of the rim past Blue Ridge Reservoir.  What happened instead is that I slogged up a steep, long, rocky, brush covered mountain for 6 days, 2 of which WERE’NT in a driving rain/sleet.

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Where’s the trail?

I always tell my wife, when there’s rain in the forecast, that it’s getting to be perfect backpacking weather.  I actually didn’t mind the wet slogging, actually.  The worst part of the environmental challenges was that the mud sticks to your shoes and eventually you are stomping with 10 lb feet.  Then, unexpectedly, the mud will fly off your foot and you’ll high-kick into the air, throwing off your balance.

The worst-worst part of the rain was that my dog, Emmie, didn’t have any protection from the elements.  I felt terrible.  I don’t mind subjecting myself to hardship, but not others; and especially not an animal that wasn’t really given the heads up to prepare.  So, I’ll be buying a rain/fleece jacket for her for upcoming trips.

Anyway, the trip taught me a lot of valuable lessons; first – I need to lose weight, both from my body, and from my kit.  I took some things I didn’t really need that weighed me down.  My knees and back were in modest pain the entire time, but oddly enough it wasn’t any WORSE while backpacking . . . I guess if the pain is going to exist anyway I might as well have some fun, right?

One of the most crucial lessons I learned was that “just a little extra food and water” weighed a lot, and that I really need to get better at “nutrition/hydration management”.  What this means is that I’ll need to make sure that I’m not stuck carrying any more crap than I’ll need until the next re-supply.  That “what-if I get stuck and need to survive” scenario just isn’t going to happen.  Even if I do get hurt I’ll only be stuck there for a day or two; hell with my body-fat I could survive there for weeks.  I’d just have to crawl to a water source.

So, as I write this I’m actually in the process of coming up with a proposed itinerary.  From there I’ll be able to roughly calculate each day’s hiking distance and factor in “zero/nero” days, plan resupply/maildrops, and have a rough guide for the times I want to stay in a hotel when I pass close to some towns.  As I’m doing the math & extrapolations I have this voice inside my head that recites that adage:  “a plan is worthless but planning is everything”.

It is what it is . . . the best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men Gang aft agley.

I was a highway man . . .

I was a highway man, along the coach roads I did ride; with sword and pistol by my side. ~ The Highway Men (Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson)

It’s the eve of my 10 day shake down backpacking trip, in preparation for my hike of the AZT.  I’m “joining” a friend on his through hike.  I put “joining” in quotations because I’m not really going to hike with him.  In fact, I’ll probably only see him at the beginning trailhead.  If I see him again it’s because he will have taken a zero day.

I’m scouting 7 segments of the trail.  From passage 22 starting in Sunflower through passage 28 that ends at the junction with the 87 on top of the Mogollon Rim.  It’s only 110 miles and I’m doing it in 10 days; plenty of time, I hope.  From what I hear the segment over the Mazatzals are brutal – the scrub brush is overgrown and there is deadfall all over the place.  The Arizona Trail Association (ATA) is planning a work party for a week in May to clean it up so it should be beautiful by my big push.  But not this time.

There is one segment that I’m very excited to see though; it’s a segment JUST on the other side of Pine, Arizona.  I helped build a couple mile segment that made it easier to get off the Highline.  There are a few segments that I worked on by my lonesome and I think they’re beautiful.  I wonder if they held up.

I’ll be sure to take photos of the trail as it is now.  The trail will change, however – it always does.  I read somewhere that there are very few original segments of the Appalachian Trail.  Over the years it’s been diverted or modified in some way.  So, while I’ll be hiking this particular segment now, it’ll be completely different my next time.  Same, but different.

I guess that happens to the people that walk it as well?