Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Tent Practice Runs

One of the other things we did this weekend to prepare for the trip was to set up our tents.  I highly recommend setting up and taking down your tent more than once before you head out on a trip- even if you're familiar with your tent.  If it's raining or dark out, you want to be comfortable with setting up the tent without having to stand around reading a set of directions.  And if it's been a while since you've used the tent, it's always a good idea to set it up to make sure everything is there and in good working order. You don't want to fix problems on the trail when you could have fixed them in your back yard on a sunny day.

My tent sets up pretty easily.  I have the REI Quarter Dome T2+.  It's a 2 man tent with a little extra space.  I really like the tent even though I have yet to use it on the trail (I did use it in the back yard).  Reviews for this tent mention how complicated it is to set up.  At first I agreed, but realized I was over thinking the set up.  The tent and poles are completely color coded.  It's really a no-brainer and if you have trouble setting up this tent it's because you think it's more complicated than it really is.  Match up the colored lines with the colored poles and that's it.  I had heard or read somewhere that it's possible to set up just the rainfly for this tent and wanted to try that out.  It didn't work very well for me (yet) and since I have enough people to help me keep the tent dry if I need to set up in the rain, I'm not going to bother with it right now.  I did read the directions and discovered a few things about the tent I never bothered to learn about, so I'm fairly comfortable with setting it up.

My mom and cousin have a Eureka Spitfire Solo tent.  It isn't a free standing tent and has a funky shape (like an alien pod or something), so it was important to make sure we knew how to set that up.  Set up is actually pretty simple with 2 short pole configurations and some stakes. But the rainfly gave us a little trouble.  The instructions say the rainfly should not touch the sides of the tent, but in one spot we couldn't get it to not touch the side of the tent.  After some fiddling, I finally called my cousin to get her thoughts and we got it figured out.  With this tent, you need to make sure you stake it down in the exact order the instructions state.  You also need to make sure you have it straight and not "cattywampus" (my cousin's official term) because being slightly off can throw the fly out of whack.  Luckily, my cousin will be on the trip and available to help out with the tent if need be. 

I think for the most part, we're all set.  I'm hitting the store today for last minute items we need, and I'll be packing the food this evening and getting things arranged in my pack.   See you when/if we return!

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Bear Bags: What Not to Do

Spring means hungry bears, so I wanted to make sure that we were ready to hang our food to prevent any surprise visits from Yogi late at night.  I watched a couple of videos on how to hang a bear bag using the PCT method.  Basically, you use a small bag with a weight (like a rock) tied to the paracord, throw it over a branch that is about 20 feet off the ground.  Then you take off the small bag, attach your bear bag with a carbiner and run the rope through the carbiner as well, pull the bag so it's at the branch, tie a stick to the rope with a clove hitch then lower the the bag.  The stick let's the bag hang between the branch and the ground.  Easy Peasy. 
So we threw the rope over the branch (after many tries).  We attached the bag, ran the rope through the carbiner and tied the stick to the rope with a clove hitch.  But the bag wouldn't move up or down. 

So here my mom and I were, on the side of the road trying to get my brand new dry sack out of the tree.  First we tried using a broom and a hiking stick to grab the bag and pull it down.  Should have been a piece of cake, but we couldn't get a good grip on the bag.  It was about this time that I also realized the tree was covered with poison ivy vines. 

Eventually, we had no choice but to get a ladder, climb up and retrieve the bag. 
So here's what I learned:
1. Look for poison ivy vines on the tree before you throw your bag.
2. Pick a tree that doesn't have large cracks between the bark because your paracord will get caught in them.
3. Make sure your bag is sufficiently weighted so gravity will help you out and you don't have to carry a ladder with you.
4. Practice hanging a bear bag somewhere away from other people and not on a road where every one can see you screw up.
5. Hope that there are bear cables where you're stopping so you don't need to worry about getting all your food caught in a tree in the woods without a ladder.

Monday, April 18, 2016

One Last Hike

packs lined up at the Catoctin Mountain Park
Wolf Rock

With the gorgeous weather this past Sunday, we decided to head out for a hike to work out any last minute issues.  Most of us has a full pack (minus food) to see how we would do.  The terrain was rocky and had a couple of steep inclines.
And it kicked our butts.  Well most of our butts, my mom was good to go for more. 
It's true, it kicked my butt, but it was mostly sore muscles and fatigue.  The pack weight wasn't too bad and my back never bothered me.  My pack is right around 20.5 pounds without my food.  I'm hoping the food is under 5 pounds, and if not, I'm already thinking about what I can leave behind to save some weight.    Honestly, my muscles aren't that sore today either.  I'm wondering if the higher temps played a part and perhaps I wasn't hydrating as well as I should have been. 
Chimney Rock

So this week, I'm working on meals and relaxing.  I'm babying my crappy knee before the departure on Friday, and I'm hoping it won't give me too many problems on the trail. 
After the hike yesterday, I've been a little concerned about how well I'll do on the trail.  Our hike on the AT in Pine Grove Furnace had us doing almost 6 miles in 3.5 hours.  Yesterday we did almost 3.5 miles in 4 hours so half the speed we were thinking.  Luckily it doesn't get dark until 8pm so we'll have 12 hours to hike our first day.  Hopefully with Some well placed breaks during the day we'll all managed just fine.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Is It Really Just a Walk in the Woods?

Lately, I've had a lot of conversation about our trip, and have come across some misconceptions about backpacking versus hiking.  Is there a difference between the two?
Most people probably don't understand that yes, there is a difference.  Merriam-Webster defines a hike as "to walk a long distance especially for pleasure or exercise".  Backpacking is "traveling (on foot in this case) carrying your belongings, including a shelter, on your back for an extended periods of time".  One way to think of it is that a backpacker is always a hiker but a hiker isn't always a backpacker.  So even though you might have spent a lot of time out in the woods walking around, you aren't a backpacker without, well, the backpack. 
That might seem like a trivial difference to some, especially for those who might take some type of daypack with them on a hike.  I've used an old bookbag on my day hikes to carry things like water and first aide and sometimes a snack or lunch.  But a backpack is different.
When backpacking, you must carry everything you need for your trip in your backpack.  Your shelter, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, food, clothing, stove, water filtration, etc. all get carried on your back.  On average about 30 pounds.  That's 30 extra pounds that you're carrying around up inclines, down hills, over obstacles.  Yes, sometimes your pack can be lighter. Mine was 25 pounds on my last trip and this trip I'm hoping to stick close to 20.  But it can be heavier too.  My husband's pack weighed about 34 pounds last trip.  And I've known people who have carried 40 pounds. 
Another difference is the gear needed for backpacking versus hiking.  In hiking, you need a decent pair of shoes.  You can even hike in a sturdy pair of sneakers.  And while some people backpack in trail runners or even tennis shoes (Grandma Gatewood did a thru hike in a pair of Keds), it's usually recommended that those going backpacking purchase a sturdy pair of boots that are made to withstand the added back weight over potentially rough terrain.  You also need a pack, sleeping bag, sleeping pas, water filtration, rain gear, bear proof food storage (could be as simple as an odor proof ziploc type bag), a stove, tent or hammock and a bunch of other things.  Hiking requires really nothing thought you can opt to get trekking poles or a fancy daypack or hydration pack.
So to sum it all up, yes, backpacking is different than hiking, but that doesn't mean one is better than the other, they're just two separate types of experiences.  

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Packing Begins

Backpacking items have overtaken my dining room table.  This is packing central where I am meticulously weighing each item and making a list to get a better idea at pack weight.  I'm also hoping this system lets me pick and choose wisely to keep the weight as close to 20 pounds as possible.  I'm around 14 pounds right now without clothing or food.  I've been watching the weather forecast in order to make the best decision about what clothes to bring.  Last time, I packed way too many clothes.  This time I'm only bring 1 extra set and something to sleep in.  Right now, unless the forecast drastically changes, I'm going with convertible pants or leggings and taking a base layer that will be sleepwear.  I'm hoping my convertible pants work well with a full pack as that would give me the option for shorts if needed. 
I've typed up our itinerary with planned stops and closest crossroads for my dad who will be dropping off and picking up (well, hopefully he picks us up!).  Just need to finish purchasing the last of the food we need and get that packed and weighed and pack everything up.
Only 10 days to go!

Monday, April 11, 2016

Making Footprints

Mom's tent look like an alien. I'm jealous.
I'm not talking about footprints in the sand (though I love the beach and wouldn't mind being able to make that sort of footprint); I'm talking about a footprint for a tent.  The term footprint was relatively new to me.  Basically, it's material that is cut to the shape of the tent and placed under it to protect the bottom of the tent from moisture and sharp rocks or sticks.  Basically what I always used a tarp for when I went camping at camp grounds.  But, since a tarp has some weight to it, most backpacking tents have a footprint made by the manufacturer.  And sometimes, like in my case, the footprint is not available so you make your own.  My mom also had to make her own.
We looked at 2 different possible materials to use to make the footprint.  One was Low-E Insulation which is lightweight and offers insulation.  You can find rolls of 2'x25' on Amazon.  The other option was Tyvek house wrap.  After weighing the pros and cons, we went with the Tyvek which I purchased through Ultralite Outfitters.  I was able to get a 5'x16' piece to make 2 footprints.  I'm a little torn about recommending Ultralite Outfitters 100% because there was an issue with my order.  At first they said they didn't have enough Tyvek available to cut the 16ft I ordered.  I ended up telling them to cancel the order and refund the money (about $35), but I ended up getting an email saying they were able to fulfill the order and it had shipped.  I received it very quickly, and the response about the problem was prompt, but I was slightly irked about the snafu.   Anyway, I got what I needed and ordered and all was good. 
The reasons we went with the Tyvek over the Low E were 1. Tyvek is lighter and packs smaller (Low E is lightweight but has more bulk to it) and 2. With insulated sleeping pads, we didn't need the added insulation.  I think it might be nice to have a piece of Low E to line the inside floor of the tent or as an extra insulator under your sleeping bag if you're backpacking in colder weather, but for now the Tyvek is good enough.
Despite the crazy weather this weekend (it snowed), we were able to get the footprints cut by setting the tents up in the living room. We simply set the tents on the Tyvek and cut around them.  The most important thing is to make sure your footprint doesn't extend past the edge of the tent.  If your footprint goes past the outside edge of the tent and it rains, the water will collect on the footprint and run under the tent and you'll be floating on your sleeping pad.  Really.
So we managed to get the footprints finished, and we ended the weekend with a trip to REI.  I exchanged my leaky valved sleeping pad and got the smaller waterproof compression sack for my sleeping bag.  We purchased some of our food and got the last minute odds and ends that we needed from REI.  I need to dehydrate some things and pick up the rest of my meals at the store and other than clothing I'll be set (still waiting on the weather forecast). 
Only 11 days to go!

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Pine Grove Furnace

This past weekend, myself, my husband and my cousin  drove out to Pine Grove Furnace State Park to hike a section of the Appalachian Trail out and back.  We're getting close to our departure date for our trip, so we're trying to get ready.  Some of us are testing out how injuries are healing to see how we do and some of us are working on fine tuning our packs to get the weight and fit just right.
The weather was a little iffy at first.  Winds had been gusting to 60 MPH the night before and while they had died down some it was still quite blustery out.  And it was cold.  It gave me a chance to try out the $5.00 base layers I purchased on clearance at Walmart.  I'm happy to report that a top base layer, a long sleeve moisture wicking top and my Columbia Omni-Heat jacket were sufficient to keep me warm.  In fact, I had to unzip halfway through because I was sweating. On the bottom, I only had on a pair of fleece lined leggings (also a Walmart clearance steal) and I was good to go.  Should the weather be chilly, that will be the clothing I plan to wear.  Clothing is my one issue at this point.  The weather is so up and down (it was almost 80* 2 days before this), I won't be able to really make a choice until closer to the time we leave.
Our goal was to hike a mile or two, eat lunch then turn around and head back to the cars.  We ended up hiking 2.9 miles before stopping.  In total, we hiked just shy of 6 miles (5.8) in 3 hours and 30 minutes which includes the time we spent eating lunch.  All three of us were pleased with our pace, especially since the start was a steady incline.  I had to stop and take a few breaks on the way up and still we made decent time.  I was carrying about 19 pounds in my pack, and I was pleased with how well I did.  Those of us who are nursing injuries also did well and were encouraged that we didn't have any significant issues. 
All that is left for me to do is to start packing and deciding what goes and what stays based on need and weight.  I want to try to keep the pack around 20 pounds as much as possible.  I'm hoping for warmer temps because that means lighter clothing.
It was a really great hike full of positives- beautiful day, no problem with injuries and a faster hiking time than expected.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Salomon Boots: A Gear Review

I recently exchanged my Vasque Breeze 2.0 hiking boots for a pair of Salomon Quest 4D II GTX hiking boots.  You can read about my initial thoughts on them here.  Since getting this pair of boots, my cousin also decided to replace her Vasque hiking boots  (Of course her Vasque boots are 24 years old-seriously, I'm not joking).  She had been checking out the same Salomon boots, and long story short, she ordered a pair as well.  When she tried them on, she had the same initial thoughts that I did.  The boots seem to "hike for you" (like the magic dancing shoes Porky Pig had to wear for stealing leprechaun gold).  Seriously, the boot moves so well when you walk, it feels like they are rocking your foot forward.  They are also very cushy and feel closer to a sneaker than a boot.
This past weekend, we went for a test hike on the Appalachian Trail.  We hiked nearly 6 miles and had zero complaints.  The couple of little problems I had were due to trying out sock liners for the first time and not from the boot.  I was extremely grateful for the hiker ankle support on this boot compared to my former pair.  Several time I turned my ankle on rocks in the trail, and I never had an issue with injury.  And speaking of injury, I have a bad ankle from a nasty sprain several years ago.  Walking or standing for long periods tends to make it ache really bad.  I had no problems with it whatsoever on this hike, and I should have had problems.  I'm certain the added support helped hold that joint stable and gave it significant support.
According to the sales associate at REI, this boot is popular with the police and military.  It's also an actual backpacking boot, meaning that the sole is sturdy enough to protect your feet while carrying the additional weight of a full pack (regular hiking boots don't always offer the same protection for backpacking). These boots have also been very easy to break-in.  This was mentioned to me when I purchased mine, but I wasn't willing to believe it.  I've only really worn them on 2 trips that involved all day hiking on the trail and both times I was good.  I haven't experienced any blisters or hot spots.  The most annoying thing (and it isn't really that annoying at all) was getting used to having a higher ankle.
So far my cousin and I both are pleased with our choice