So, 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.