Only the first half

Over my right shoulder, just behind me is a table with my “kit” spread out.  That way I get to think about the relative need of every piece of gear, as a whole, over a long period of time.  I have a philosophy on what gear goes into a backpack.  This reasoning applies to backpacking as well as thru-hiking.

Except for medical supplies, if a piece of gear doesn’t come out of your pack and get used every day, it’s probably not worth carrying.  Also, if a piece of gear doesn’t have more than one use then you need to consider alternatives.  Plan well, but don’t overthink it.

This is an “average” philosophy.  By that, I mean I apply this philosophy differently based on the trip.  For example, T.I.T.S. (Thanksgiving In The Superstitions) requires a whole different set of tools than a trip across the Tonto Plateau in Grand Canyon.  I apply the average of the philosophy as an “overlay” to the trip, so to speak.  However, for this upcoming AZT hike I’m also adding two other layers of consideration.  The first scrutiny can be explained in a simple equation: weight=pain=luxury.  The second analysis is of a “durability/ease-of-resupply” style, will it last the entire time and if not, how easy can I replace that item.

I have just about one of every single piece of gear in back up.  It might not be the exact same make and model, but the capacity is the same.  For example, if my MSR Micro-Rocket dies then I’ve got the most ubiquitous stove on the planet – the MSR Whisperlite.  I’m also pretty good at starting fires, so there’s that.

Anyway, the underlying, long-story, over described point is that I’m planning the $#!T out this trip . . . but only the first “half”.  I’ve hiked many of the sections north of Oracle.  I haven’t hiked a single segment south.  I’m roughly familiar with the topography due to some extensive scouring of the Arizona Trail Association website but I’ve not hiked a single inch of the trail, yet.

You see, I figure that since I’m hiking south-bound, by the time I get to Oracle I’ll have my shit together.  I’ll have shaken down my gear, streamlined my operations, and gotten my “hiker legs”.  I’ll have just enjoyed the company of friends and amazing food in the middle of the wilderness (T.I.T.S.).  The rest of the way I can make it up as I go, for the most part.  If, for some reason, I am forced to abandon my hike I won’t need to know the trail for this go-around.

Either way, I don’t think I’m going to worry about the second half.  Except for mail drops, water caches, hotel reservations, resupply logistics, “coyotes”, etc.  For that, there’s MasterCard.



Test #2 Results

Emi and MeSo, I’m back from my test run.  It didn’t go as planned – at all.  In fact, it was a rookie mistake that made the difference.

As you might recall the plan was to hike from Marshall Lake, which is just southeast of Flagstaff, around Mount Elden and into town.  A big counter-clockwise loop, if you will.  I was trying to familiarize myself with both routes around Flagstaff.  There’s a bypass and a resupply route.  Which trail you take depends on how you want to deal with the city.  Some people will want to take full advantage while others will probably just want some water and snacks.

Anyway, my plan came to a crashing halt because I made an assumption and didn’t test it out before . . .well, testing it out.  You see, there’s a pretty sizable difference between “backpacking” and “thru-hiking”.  “Of course” you might say?  Well, I said the same thing, but the reality is much starker than the thought.  I’ll compare it to the difference between mountain biking and road cycling.  Sure, both are on bikes but the actual “how to do this shit” details aren’t even remotely related.  Except for crashing – that always sucks.

So, I showed you my gear list in the last post.  For the most part that worked our perfectly.  I’m totally excited about the quilt – it saves me about 2 pounds, lots of pack volume and is toasty & comfy.  I’ll need to make sure to have a warm hat though because it’s JUST big enough for my body. I’m also getting used to my front-loading tent, the MSR Nook.  All of my previous tents were side-loading and I’m pretty sure I still prefer that, but this time the Nook did pretty well.  I don’t use the tent though; just the rain-fly and footprint.

The problems didn’t arise from my new kit.  It came about because of my footwear.  I was testing out some trail shoes rather than my standard leather boots.  For the most part, thru-hikers prefer trail shoes of some sort rather than “big, clunky boots”.  I’ve always asserted that in order to maintain happy feet you need a sturdy foot-bed to walk on.  Presumably the lighter load of a “thru-hiker” affords one the ability to select a less formidable option.  So, instead of my Vasque clod-stompers I opted for Salomon XA Pro3D trail-running shoes.  I absolutely love these shoes and have been using them on day-hikes for years.

Side note: I have some foot challenges and was prescribed some correctional inserts.

To make a long story less long the shoes, plus the inserts and my medium-weight wool socks created a way-too-tight result.  I knew it immediately when I put on my shoes (with this combination) at the trailhead FOR THE FIRST TIME!!. <<<That’s the rookie mistake I was referring to in my sentence #1 above.

You just looked up there, didn’t you?

Nevertheless, I hoped that the shoes would stretch a bit on the hike.  As fate would have it we only hiked about 2.3 miles that first day because we were running a bit late and we really just wanted to get in a few miles and camp.  So, the foot issue didn’t present itself until the next day.  We reached our objective, 10.4 miles away, by 12:30 and decided we’d had enough.  When I took my shoes off I discovered blisters in places I’d never seen.


Luckily I had phone reception and was able to call Tina, who was camping and waiting to meet us in Flagstaff upon completion.  Instead I asked her to pick us up at one of the next two trail/road junctions.  I decided to take the inserts out and see if that helped.  It did, but an insertless shoe also sucks, just in a different way.  I hobbled into the parking lot of the Conoco at the 89, 12.6 miles later, and basically told her that the hike was over.

We weren’t in a hurry to return to the oppressive Phoenix heat, especially since the campground was just around the corner and had a good mobile signal.  We spent the next few days lounging and hiking.

The final results include a hell of a reminder to be diligent in testing out gear before testing out gear . . .so I’m not testing gear out on the trail this fall.

Oh, and I discovered that Emi loves to ride on top of my backpack.